I won’t give this week much of an intro, as there are lots of routines to get through tonight seeing as each of the Top 4 will dance with each as well as with an All Star in their own style plus a solo on top of it all. I’m still bitter about Valerie, and the judges complete lack of critiquing was only saved by Jesse Tyler Ferguson being hilarious on the panel. The Hey Ricky! rhyme he spewed out was one of the most entertaining things to happen on the judging panel all season. This is what happens when you spring for some original judges instead of reusing the same ones three or four times, FOX. Elena Rivera joins us again tonight, so penultimate episode of Season 11 ahoy!
Elena: Cat Deeley Outfit Watch: I might be getting repetitive, but Cat Deeley in shiny, shimmery fringe dresses is my special fashion favorite. She looks the best in structured (but not overly tailored) outfits, and the Kate Moss for Top Shop outfit has a defined waist while still channeling some flapper fabulousness. Cat Deeley’s been wearing a lot of these looks this season, but I never get tired of them. And it’s worth noting her Emmy outfit by Burberry was ballgown perfection in a really lovely dusty rose color.
Top 4 Group Dance, (choreographed by Travis Wall), “Wind Beneath My Wings” by RyanDan
Whitney: This dance did for me what a lot of the routines over the season have done, absolutely nothing. It was pretty and well-executed, but overall a bland display of the talent onstage. For a performance that should have held emotional weight for each of these dances, onstage together for the last or second-to-last time, every dancer’s expression was blank and they barely interacted with each other beyond the requisite partner work. Travis may be hitting a rut in regards to the weight his work holds over the back end of the season, but I’m more willing to blame it on the dancers remaining in the competition. This was routine heavy with meaning and emotion, explicitly representing a pair of same-sex relationships for the first time on the show that I can recall, and still any emotional heft was left to the audience to interpret and enjoy rather than the dancers actually showing them what they were thinking while dancing. No one is able to present themselves as anything more than a body going through the motions and it has brought down my excitement to crown a winner quite a bit. I’m also a serious proponent of using a cover of a classic song only if the cover provides something difference, which this did not. If you can’t afford the rights to the original, pick a different song.
Elena: The routine was slow when I needed and wanted something electric and joyous, and it only got there in the last thirty seconds when the music picked up. The partnering between Jessica and Valerie, and Ricky and Zack, was balanced and supportive, but I wish the choreography hadn’t waited so long to unleash the dancers’ collective power together as an ensemble.
Valerie and Ricky – African Jazz (choreographed by Sean Cheesman), “Voices of Savannah” by DJ Chus
Whitney: The first two words that come to mind when I think of African Jazz are “fierceness” and “energy”, and this routine gave me neither thing. Cheesman’s choreography asked a lot from the dancers as far as stamina and energy, but neither Ricky nor Valerie was able to make it to the end without seeming tired and behind on the steps. Even before the back half, both were out of sync and off when doing basic moves like low-kicks or the African Throws. Even when considering their arms were meant to be loose, the looseness seemed tired rather than true to the style. A better person than I can touch on the cultural appropriation line this routine crossed with the addition of the tribal tattoos to an already borderline costuming, but that didn’t help my love of the piece at all. It has been established what I think of the judges fawning over everything Ricky and (especially) Valerie do with nary a critique in sight, and I was even further let down when Jesse Tyler Ferguson followed them down an identical path. This season is a mess.
Elena: African Jazz is always an athletic dance that is less about performance and more about stamina, but I wasn’t entirely impressed with what Ricky and Valerie brought to the routine. They performed it admirably, but I don’t have a ton to say about the routine.
Jessica and Zack – Broadway (choreographed by Spencer Liff), “Hernando’s Hideaway” by Ella Fitzgerald
Whitney: Jessica’s lines and splits shall save us all! She may be bland, and she may be dealing with a shoulder injury, but by golly she is the saving grace of this final four. Her early facial ticks are mostly gone and she is able to actually put on an expression of sexiness or smoothness that compliments the routine. Zack was fine, nothing he did made me upset or anything but I was watching Jessica the entire time and he barely drew my eye. Even with a few mistakes (Jessica’s dress got caught on her shoe on one turn), we heard nothing from the panel except for extensive praise. This was the point I began to think that might be a them tonight, unfortunately.
Elena: Nigel echoed this in his critique, but this season has been a standout Broadway season for the contestants, and this Spencer Liff routine is a nice end to the great run of Broadway routines thus far. The Khaleesi of Dance channeled Jessica Rabbit in her costuming, and impressively did turn after turn on steps in heels. The best part of the dance was watching Zack and Jessica transition seamlessly between slower and faster parts of the music. It had a dynamism that showed off their technique as well as their much improved acting chops.
Zack and Valerie – Contemporary (choreographed by Tyce Diorio), “Pearls” by Sade
Whitney: Asking Valerie to inhabit the mind of literally anyone else besides her own is a ridiculous concept, therefore it makes perfect sense to put her in the position of pretending to be blind. The good thing about this routine was that it allowed me to look at Zack more closely than the previous piece and I was so happy with what I saw. Interacting with a girl incapable of playing blind is no easy feat, and his easy strength during some of the low moves and leaps was a big reason why the routine flowed from one place to another with little difficulty. His facial expressions were nothing to go crazy over either but his talent covered for him slightly there. Diorio’s choreography was simple at best and pedestrian at worst, with very few difficult aspects beyond the “acting challenge” that he and the judges both considered to be so original. Overall, this looked like two children pretending to be dancers pretending to be blind, and both of them can do better than that.
Elena: I’m on record as saying that Tyce Diorio isn’t my favorite person, and I tend to think he choreographs smaltz that the judges buy into, and this Contemporary dance with Valerie and Zack I just plain didn’t like. The concept of a woman who is blind and her partner supporting her didn’t seem organic, and Valerie’s facial expressions struck me as odd. The quality of movement didn’t do anything to make me feel the struggle or the difficulty of this obstacle between the couple, and without the concept I’m not sure the dance would have stood by itself.
Jessica and Ricky – Jazz (choreographed by Ray Leeper), “F For You” by Disclosure ft. Mary J Blige
Whitney: These two are probably the partnership we have seen the least of this season, and as such a routine with the two of them brings the most originality and newness of the night. This was a routine with fierceness, sexiness, desire. This was a routine that challenged the dancers and convinced me either of them actually deserve to win this thing. They both did exactly what a partner should do, connecting with each other beyond the bare minimum and allowed the other person to succeed in moves they may not be able to do on their own. Jessica’s top-ponytail and leather pants made a lot of Ariana Grande VMA’s outfit comparisons running through my head but in a good way (as in – this is how you do a top pony and leather outfit, Ariana). If the rest of the night was scrapped and replaced with only Ricky and Jessica dances, I would be okay with it.
Elena: Ricky and Jessica’s Jazz piece suffered from a lack of dynamics, a failure on Ray Leeper’s part as the choreographer to create moments that resonated. It wasn’t a bad Jazz routine, but there wasn’t anything special about it, nothing finale-worthy. The thing that surprised me the most was that Jessica seemed to be really deep into the movements and the feeling of the piece, but Ricky seemed lackluster to me, like he was missing his connections and playing catch-up with the music. While everyone seems to be growing week by week, Ricky’s been stagnant for a while, which makes me pretty apathetic about whoever ends up winning.
Valerie and Jessica – Bollywood (choreographed by Nakul Dev Mahajan), “Ghagra” by Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani
Whitney: This routine was definitive proof that they have about 700 flashing “Applause” signs in the audience. The audience kept going crazy when nothing was happening of any excitement, which was most of the routine. There wasn’t a lot to this routine and the skirts did most of the work but both ladies were able to handle the notoriously specific hand movements and the minor floor work that was asked of them. Not much in this routine to discuss, pretty by both ladies and it was good to see them dancing together. Pretty much a filler dance while the All Stars get prepped, which is fine.
Elena: I enjoyed Jessica and Valerie’s Bollywood number, which might be the first Bollywood routine with two women on the show, but the main thing it did was highlight the difference between Jessica and Valerie as dancers. The Khaleesi of Dance is intentional with her movements, for good and for ill: every step is perfectly placed and is danced with a reason. Sometimes this could come off as Jessica just going through the motions, but in this Bollywood routine it stood out to me against Valerie’s sloppy execution. Valerie, while “cute,” is the weak link in the Top 4, and I’m still surprised she’s there.
Ricky and Zack – Hip Hop (choreographed by Phoenix and Pharside), “The Antidote” by District 78
Whitney: It is never a good idea to describe your routine as explosive if it can’t deliver on the other side, and fortunately for Phoenix and Pharside that wasn’t the case here. Both boys came out to prove themselves as promised and gave us the best competitor dancing with fellow competitor routine of the night. The judges spoke about stamina at the beginning of the night during a routine that didn’t have any, but for me this was the routine that should have mentioned for because it was a great display of knowing when to conserve energy and when to explode. If Ricky had the same power and expressiveness in every routine that he had here and in his solo he would be one of the best dancers this show has seen. Mostly, I would like a remake of West Side Story immediately, except with the Clubs and the Diamonds instead of Sharks and Jets.
Elena: It took until the finale and a Phoenix and Pharside Hip-Hop to finally feel like the show did the genre justice. Ricky has been the only one over the course of the season who really understood how low Hip-Hop actually is, and proved it here again in the finale. Zack held his own, but I think his tall frame makes it seem like he sits a little too high for Hip-Hop, and it just doesn’t seem as natural to him. I really liked all the tricks that involved the two men jumping in and out of shapes with each other, especially Ricky’s split jump that turned into Zack in an impressive backbend. And what is it with Hip-Hop finale dances between two men, why is it constantly some fight or show of dominance? I’m going to write a whole Gender Studies paper on it someday.
Valerie and Aaron – Tap (Anthony Morigerato), “Love Me or Leave Me” by Sammy Davis Jr.
Whitney: “A conversation through their footwork and their musicality”. Even before they set foot on the stage I was wary of this routine since working with the musicality of a routine has been something few and far between for a lot of the competitors this year. Unfortunately, I wasn’t proven wrong by this performance. Most of the tapping didn’t match up with the pacing of the music whether at double time or normal time. Valerie got lost because of how good Aaron is and my inability to tear my eyes away from his charisma. What was that hideous dress they stuck Valerie with though? It looked like something a grandma would wear in the 1930’s. Focusing on amazing Aaron related things only until this routine is out of my mind.
Elena: We haven’t talked about this yet, Whitney, but I’m incredibly obsessed with All-Star Aaron. He’s a whole lotta man, and he’s beautiful and one day I dream of dancing with him. But anyways, Anthony Margierato’s routine was pitch-perfect, a routine where the tappers’ got to converse with their feet. Valerie still had problems with emoting with her face, especially next to Charismatic, Gorgeous, Please Be My Future Boyfriend All-Star Aaron, but both of their tapping was so clear and so in sync I’m letting Valerie slide on her face this once. I could watch the section of the routine where Valerie and Aaron.
Ricky’s Solo – Ricky wisely echoed his best dance moment in the show by repeating his “Skin and Bones” routine from the Los Angeles Round in his solo, and when he lets go, he’s still the best dancer on the show.
Ricky and Katherine – Contemporary (choreographed by Stacy Tookey), “Not About Angels” by Birdy
Whitney: As happy as I was that this wasn’t another love story from Tookey, what it was was about as close as you can come to that without actually saying “this is about love”. Katherine and Ricky are a beautiful pairing that should find a dance company that will let them partner and do that forever and ever, and giving Ricky at least one contemporary routine during the final performance episode was very needed. This was a beautiful interpretation of the pain associated with suicide, and I was very pleased to see Ricky inhabit that pain 100% in his performance. The costuming assisted in setting the stage for an impactful dance as well, with Ricky’s clothing very down to earth and Katherine’s ethereal and flowing. This should lock in Ricky’s win once and for all, unless Valerie continues to pay the voting public off or Zack literally grows wings and flies across the stage in his next routine.
Elena: Stacey Tookey’s Contemporary routine for Ricky and All-Star Kathryn told the story of Ricky, at his lowest, being visited by Kathryn as an angel. The lighting for the piece seemed a bit too dark in the beginning, it was hard to make out Kathryn and Ricky’s faces which took me out of the moment. I wanted to feel more of Ricky’s despair and then hope at finding his angel, but the movement didn’t necessarily convey those feelings. There were a lot of beautiful extensions, but I just didn’t emotionally connect with the routine.
Zack and Aaron – Tap (choreographed by Anthony Morigerato), “Piano Man” by Billy Joel
Whitney: I love Aaron. Aaron is in my Top 20 of all time with ease. But you can’t tell me there wasn’t one single other dancer in the history of the show available to come tap with either Zack or Valerie so we could see some variety. Not one? The tapping itself was incredibly well done but the routine was lackluster. Between the music choice and the generally contained movement around the stage, it felt like a high school theater program showcase for some seniors instead of the powerhouse routine it should have been. If you’ll excuse me, it’s about time for me to find a YouTube rabbit hole of Aaron routines and fall down it…
Elena:The best thing about having two tappers in the finale is getting to revisit the style again: it’s not a style that the show can really give week-to-week because there’s not enough time to master the sound isolations, but it’s always a treat when good tappers get to showcase their skills. A second helping of All-Star Aaron as a bartender and Zack as his customer is breezy, memorable and what I want every last call in my future to be like. I could have watched a whole tap musical of Aaron and Zack talking about their days and dancing around an empty bar.
Valerie’s Solo: Valerie dances to “Valerie,” which isn’t technically impressive but just makes me smile.
Jessica’s Solo: A lot of turns, a lot of hair flips, but unlike Valerie, Jessica has a great combination of technique and personality. I still think she tries too hard at being sexy, but she’s also only 18, and Jessica more readily could fit into a Broadway company or dance at the VMAs than the other three dancers. She’s marketable
Jessica and Robert – Contemporary (choreographed by Travis Wall), “When I Go” by Over the Rhine
Whitney: This piece blew the roof of the place. And by “place” I don’t mean the auditorium, I mean my living room. What a powerful, quietly difficult, emotional piece by Travis, Jessica and Robert. This simple three minutes are the difference between a simple routine being easy and a simple routine allowing for the strength of the piece to have a voice without unnecessary additions. I’m so in love with Robert, and am sad we didn’t get to see he and Jessica dance together more than this one time. His arm around her neck gave me chills, but her reaction to that occurrence was the highlight of the routine. Jessica, more than any other girl this season, has learned how to harness gravitas it takes to make a routine like this truly work. This has been a night of socially geared routines, one coming first and one ending the show. Thankfully the latter was the better of the two.
Elena: All-Star Robert and Travis Wall are my favorite combination of dancer and choreographer. Last season’s “Medicine,” with Robert and Tucker, is maybe my favorite routine of the entire show, emotional and painful and ultimately a profound story of redemption. I thought Jessica and Robert were well-matched, and I loved the red spotlight that cast an eerie glow over the routine. There were some great moments with feet and simple steps being turned into battles for control, and I was impressed that Jessica has grown into an assertive, confident dancer who has toned back her facial expressions to reflect the feelings of whatever piece. I also want Robert to stay forever, so that’s something.
Zack’s solo: Zack has a charming way about him, and his solo was effortless and inviting, totally made me want to start taking tap classes.
Based on tonight’s performances and the past couple of weeks, I’m really feeling a Khaleesi of Dance takeover on next week’s results. She not only got the Travis Wall Contemporary trump card, but has transformed herself into a versatile, personable dancer over the course of the season. I’m disappointed that Ricky’s been so subpar lately, and if Valerie wins I’m readying my arms to do a lot of table flipping, but overall I’m not strongly rooting for any one dancer. I wouldn’t even be that upset if Zack won. Overall I wish I felt more passionate about the finale, but there’s been good dance over the weeks, we just took some sweet time getting there.
Whitney: Do we have statistics on who comes in last place? Because I’m pretty sure Ricky has this win all tied up but if Valerie isn’t fourth out of four than I would like to order an official investigation on the voting practices of this show. Go Ricky and Jessica!