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SYTYCD: Season Finale

So we arrive, after weeks of auditions and eliminations and wonderful dancing. The season finale, and quite possibly the series finale, of Season 11 of So You Think You Can Dance. Over the years the show has turned in to a cultural touchstone for any dancer or fan of dance. It has either produced or featured some of the most accomplished choreographers and dancers in the business, and gave us some truly beautiful and entertaining routines over the past decade plus. At this point in the run, however, it is hanging by a thread in FOX’s summer lineup more and more each year. The ratings have steadily declined as the gimmicks they use to up the entertainment value have done little more than increase the quality of dance but not the legitimacy or fun of the show. For anyone not a hardcore fan of dance, it is understandable that after a decade plus on the air the show has lost its luster quite a bit. Personally, that extends to the talent level as well. After Season 9 (and possibly even Season 8) the talent has failed to reach the same heights, even as Nigel and Mary insist that it has only improved due to the current competitors growing up with the show and being influence by it. An earlier introduction to this level of dance doesn’t necessarily lead to more talented competitors though, which is something the producers haven’t admitted to themselves or to the audience. All the hype and lack of critiques in the world won’t lead me to believe Ricky from this season was better than Melanie or Eliana or Chehon or Jeanine.

It’s because of this general stasis that I would be completely fine with this being the last season. Nigel has been outwardly pessimistic in regards to a potential renewal, possibly the most publicly in doubt I have ever seen a producer. Instead of his usual platitudes about people loving the show and being confident about another season, he has turned to what seems like begging for the audience to start a write-in campaign the likes of which is only seen after a beloved show has been axed. The show is at the point where there isn’t enough talent to make me wish there could be more seasons and we have been gifted with such great seasons in the past I feel that I am at a very content place when confronted with the possibility of this being the end of the road. FOX quite clearly slashed the budget in a big way this season which doesn’t leave much to the imagination when considering what discussions behind the scenes must be like. Moving Hell Week from Vegas to LA, hiring less than 10 judges for the entire season, musical guests and foreign dancers dwindling in appearances, the increased amount of cross-promotion within the show; it all adds up to a show that was given one last chance with a minuscule budget and couldn’t even stem the bleeding. Unfortunate, but 11 years is nothing to scoff at. The only thing I ask if and when FOX makes their final decision is for Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Cat Deeley to host something together on the network in the future. They have such great chemistry it would be a shame not to see them interact ever again (but seriously get Cat something else stateside ASAP).

Tonight, the recap of tonight’s dancing will be at a minimum because so much of it will be repeats of judge favorites. Elena Rivera is back with us for the finale, and instead of the usual step by step opinions from both of us it is more of a hodge podge of our thoughts on various parts of the show. Plus, our Top 3 routines of the season! Come for the memories, stay for the Valerie snark.

Cat Deeley Outfit Watch: Cat Deeley ends the season with more of a fashion fizzle in an almost see-through sparkly purple turtleneck dress from Tadashi Shoji’s Fall 2014 Runway. It looks and feels as busy as that previous sentence feels, and I have a strong aversion to anything that has a turtleneck that isn’t actually just a straight turtleneck shirt. The color is gorgeous, but the whole outfit is confusing. Better to remember other sparkly Cat numbers over the season and let this one fade into the background a bit.

Top Twenty Redux (choreographed by Warren Carlisle) “Doctor Jazz” by Jelly’s Last Jam Original Broadway Cast

Whitney: One of my favorite parts of the finale every year is the return of the entire top twenty to entertain as a group one more time. This routine was a lots of fun with nothing too difficult to keep in sync with as a group. Every dancer looked to be having as grand a time as possible performing with everyone again, and the sharpness of the costuming made it seem as if they had dressed up specifically for this occasion as if it were a gala only they got to enjoy. For a show that will be mostly crowd favorite performances being done for the second time, this was a nice splash of originality to start off the night.

Whitney’s Top 3 of the Season: 

“Like Real People Do” choreographed by Travis Wall (Jessica and Casey)

I appreciated this routine even more so the second time around, but I distinctly remember this being the first Travis piece of the year that I loved and the first time I felt like Jessica had some captivating talent beyond her technical excellence and Casey had any staying power in the competition.

“Pas De Deux from Black Swan” choreographed by Marat Daukayev (Jourdan and Jacque)

Even with the amount of ballerinas and contemporary dancers the show casts from season to season, there aren’t too many opportunities to include an original classical piece in favor of another style. I was so happy to see that the show made the best use of having two classically trained ballerinas at once on the show and gave them a piece as traditional as you can get with this Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. Neither girl was entirely in sync with the other throughout the piece but the costumes were beautiful, their turnouts were near perfection and the pirouettes were mesmerizing. An early surprise in the season from two girls that ended up making it fairly deep in the year.

“When I Go” choreographed by Travis Wall (Jessica and Robert)

I was going to try and avoid doubling up and dancers or choreographers here, but I managed to miss out on both with the inclusion of this piece. It was one of my favorites and most memorable of the season because of the emotion and power both dancers brought to the story, at points it was so strong as to be believable that either of them were actually in that situation right in that second. Travis had a comparatively rough first half of the season as far as his batting average goes but bounced back in a big way in the back half. If the voting public had any interest at all in rewarding the most expressive and technically accomplished dancer Jessica would have won the season  but alas that was not meant to be this year.

Elena’s Top 3 of the Season: 

As underwhelming as this season has been, it’s produced a lot of singularly great dances. Group dances, especially, took off after episode 3 and have been a huge highlight for me across the season. And Travis Wall and Sonyah Tayeh’s body of work this year proves that they are So You Think You Can Dance’s biggest assets.

Top 16, “So Broken” (Choreographed by Sonya Tayeh)

I was torn between this and Travis’ explosive choreography to “Love Runs Out,” but in re-watching them I found that this piece left a stronger impression. Travis’ routine was fire and passion, but this one, centered on Tanisha’s vulnerable, broken-down dancing, was painfully beautiful. Sonya as a choreographer is always playing with the dancers, challenging their bodies to bend and twist into impossible shapes, and this routine had a lot of shaky, unsettling movements that illustrated illness. It’s the first time Tanisha stood out to me as a dancer, but the whole ensemble was supportive and emotive, something I wish everyone could have harnessed in their partner routines.

 Top 6, Casey and All-Star Makenzie, “Over You” (Choreographed by Stacey Tookey)

It isn’t that this is the most original Contemporary routine, or that Casey was my favorite dancer this season (although he won me way, way over and then, of course, was voted off), but this piece had two technically proficient dancers getting lost in the emotions of the piece. Makenzie’s extensions and perfectly pointed feet are a sight, but beyond that, she and Casey imbued even the small moments with such a palpable sense of sadness, desperation and heart that I could almost feel it through my television screen. The end of the dance is what has stuck with me: Casey and Makenzie, heads touching, holding each other, Casey’s chest rising and falling. Those small moments are as much what dance is about as the bombastic grand jetés.

Top 18, Tanisha and Rudy, “Sing Sing Sing (Part 2)” (Choreographed by Warren Carlyle)

This season of So You Think You Can Dance included a part on Broadway, and the Broadway numbers have been consistently the best danced and the most interesting routines on the show. While Rudy was prized for his bubbly personality and Tanisha’s Ballroom training came in handy during more technical routines, this Broadway number was the perfect marriage of technique and personality, classic and yet timeless. Instead of a tired, schmaltzy storyline, this was pure Broadway: a woman in a glittery dress doing awesome kicks, a man in a three-piece suits knee-sliding across the floor and into our hearts.

Runners-up: Top 20, Carly and Serge, “Latch (Acoustic)” (Choreographed by Sonya Tayeh); Top 4, Zack and All-Star (And Future Boyfriend) Aaron, “Piano Man” (Choreographed by Anthony Morigerto)

Whitney: 

Michael Dameski

At first I wasn’t sure what they were doing trotting Paula out. Publicity stunt? Secret announcement? But no! A surprise performance from the SYTYCD Australia winner that was truly wonderful. That is the type of thing I love that this show makes an effort to include, highlighting talent from all over the world in order to broaden the audience’s appreciation of the form. Michael is a whirling, flying, astounding talent that I’m glad I got the opportunity to watch even once. Loving those leather pants too.

Here is a solo he did set to “Not In That Way” by Sam Smith (not the only reason I picked this specific video, but it definitely contributed). I’m convinced he is an Olympic caliber gymnast and accomplished contemporary dancer and talented choreography all in one body. You can thank me later for sending you down this particular YouTube rabbit hole.

Season 11 All-Stars, “Sweet Disposition” by The Temper Trap

There will never be a time that this song doesn’t bring to mind a 90’s teen romance/dramedy and an earnest ending sequence that involves the two leads realizing they are in love, and this routine fell squarely into that cliche. This doesn’t mean it was a bad showing, in fact it was one of the more creative examples of choreography this season. The action of each bench’s inhabitants as the camera zoomed in and out was cloying but well done and the group pieces were entertaining enough to warrant the inclusion of the routine at all. I thought we had decided to retire all bench-related routines in honor of Travis Wall though.

Elena: 

I really think Jessica deserved the win, from her season of growth to even last week’s stellar performance with All-Star Robert. Ricky has been too stagnant for me over the course of the season, although he really stood out in group numbers and did a lot better when partnered with the All-Stars. I think Ricky will have a long career in Broadway if he wants it: he’s got the personality and the long, long legs for it, but I was still hoping the Khaleesi of Dance could run away with this one.

Overall I feel pretty “meh” towards the whole season. I’m happy the show exists, and I think it’s essential that it keeps going (so I hope Fox keeps renewing it even though it’s pulling low numbers), but the combination of this group of dancers didn’t do a lot for me. While I had some early favorites, they faltered quickly week to week, and this top 4 wasn’t the one I could have predicted even a couple of weeks ago. I’m hoping the show has a chance to find some more dynamic, diverse dancers in following seasons, because this season wasn’t my favorite.

Whitney: 

I’m with you as far as my general feeling towards this season, Elena. Valerie making it to the Top 10 (nonetheless to the Top 2) was one problem indicative of a much larger issue at play. The critiques from judges were practically nonexistent this season except for when they wanted a specific dancer to find their way to the bottom. I remember the days when Mary would freak out over one knee gap or missed turnout instead of placidly patting everyone on the head and hoping Nigel would do the dirty work – which he barely did this season.

Jessica deserved the win, but I’m perfectly happy with Ricky getting it in her place. They will both have long careers whether as supporting players on Broadway or in a company of some sort. As contemporary dancers, they are both incredibly talented and have the skills to go far in that lane. Neither is very diverse, but Jessica beats out Ricky there and as such should have come out on top tonight.

Thanks to everyone for reading this summer and following along with our opinions, even if you didn’t always agree. In gratitude, I leave you with the greatest .gif of the season…

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SYTYCD: Week 4 Auditions

As previewed last week, Atlanta will be the last stop for audition rounds this season and I am (as always) intrigued by what the Southeastern US will bring. Any auditions in Atlanta/Miami/New Orleans etc. tend to bring out such a wide variety of dancers and styles due to how far people are willing to drive in the region in order to prove themselves in front of the judges. A strong hunch tells me there will be a majority of Hip-Hop/R&B routines closely followed by ballroom, with at least one stunning classically trained ballerina (probably male) that blows everyone away and stands out all that much more because it’s an Atlanta audition. As with the first few installments, I will be skipping over the intentionally awful auditions as well as anyone who has no chance from the start. Here we go Atlanta!

 

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First thought: I would like Cat to say “The ATL” much more often. In context, out of context, whatever. Make it happen universe.

Mariah Reives: There has been a trend in recent seasons of starting out every audition day’s tape with one of the strongest dancers, so it wasn’t a shock when Mariah walked out and proved herself in style. I, like most of America, do not seek out jazz willingly for the most part but she put on a performance from top to bottom here that made me enjoy the song she chose (“I’m A Woman” by Maimouna Youssef). Lyrically, it matches up to her aesthetic and lines, and the mood it set worked well with the laid back style she employs even with her more difficult moves. Mariah may be the first person this year to have what I like to call a “holy shit split” and she shows it off here almost half a dozen times to great effect each time. Her mom also has a serious case of StageMomitis but thankfully that won’t be much of a problem during hell week and after if she makes it that far.

Erik “Silky” Moore: “I wanted to take some time off and study the show and who got through and why” is the So You Think You Can Dance version of “Will Smith picks apart blockbusters to optimize box office results”. It’s actually a very smart strategy and I’m surprised no one has admitted to doing it outright before. Another rarity is Nigel stopping the music during a routine that doesn’t look terrible, but I’m glad he did because he brought up the same thing that was on my mind in regards to Erik’s music not matching his freestyle movements in the least bit. After all of the talk about using his family’s experiences in an insane asylum I expected something much darker, instead he went with the guitar-laden “Ants” by Edit. The two together work better than anticipated, and the five years between auditions for Erik clearly improved his skills immensely. I think his

Kelly MacCoy: Another jazz dancer, thanks Atlanta. Kelly had the “drag queen styling” corner of the competition locked down before the music even started and then RuPaul of all people comes through the speakers and I was almost out on Kelly before her first step. Her routine had the artistic appeal of an exercise tape porn spoof with the skill of a 14 year old gymnast who’s parents think she can still make it to the Olympics someday. She’s a skilled dancer, but combine her jerky transitions between every move, the campy faces, and her sway back the odds are against her to make it much farther than the Broadway round of choreography. She’s one of the few 18 year olds who has auditioned so far who doesn’t seem to have much potential for growth past the skill she possesses right now. I can’t fault her for working “Looking Good, Feeling Gorgeous” to the fullest extent though.

Christopher “Mr. Strange” Griffin: Can Dragon House make it a dynasty of dancers making it to the Top 20? I’m torn between “Yes” and “Hell Yes” but you never know what can come of the tough choreography rounds. Christopher maintains the legacy of his housemates by being endlessly entertaining while on stage and an overall charming persona period. Animating to “Going Back to Cali” while wearing a Cosby sweater is a pretty baller move and really made me feel like the 90’s were back. I’m not going to delve too deeply into a later audition that occurs that manages to prove the opposite, but I’m happy Mr. Strange was able to show up and prove that Dragon House still spits out talent regularly. Hopefully people will remember this performance instead of the embarrassment a few auditions down the road that the entire house has to flat out apologize for, but with the way reality television works that may not end up being the case.

Conrad Dechabert: Conrad chooses the Main Title Theme from Planet of the Apes and pardon me if I never expected a Danny Elfman score to look so good on an audition stage, but he definitely proved himself to be able to dance in a more masculine style with that theme as his soundtrack. Some part of me was upset last year when the main reason Nigel and Mary decided against moving him to the next round was because of his feminine dancing, because as long as you have talent you should be able to show it off no matter if the gendering is skewed. On further thought though, it does make sense as far as partnering in the later rounds goes to make sure everyone can support a partner and bring the heat when needed. Also, Conrad should stop letting his friend use him as a practice board for tattoo work.

Taveaus “Dynamic” Woods: I’m sorry if I butchered the spelling of his name, but for the longer and more complicated names/nicknames the producers really should leave the chyrons up on screen longer. I’m speaking as an army of one here but it needs to happen. Dynamic is a protege of Fikshun’s and comes across as one in both good and bad ways. The good side of things is that he has the same level of talent as his mentor, yet on the flip side he will have to traverse the same difficult path that Fikshun did in order to get a sniff of the Top 20. Fikshun was the exception to the rule, and I don’t see Dynamic making it deep into the competition even if he is able to prove himself in choreography. (Note: I was right, as his choreography is a huge letdown). 

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How DARE YOU bring Jenna Dewan Tatum out here as a judge without Channing in tow. Absolutely unacceptable, judging panel. I understand Mrs. Tatum has a drastically different schedule than her hubby but don’t try to tell me a certain host couldn’t have pulled some strings in her circle of friends to get those abs in the house.

Ricky Ubeda: By far my favorite dancer of the night, Ricky manages to be one of the few people on the planet besides Shonda Rhimes who can transform a random Coldplay track into an emotional set piece worthy of his talent. Don’t get me wrong, “Us Against the World” is actually my favorite song off of Mylo Xyloto but I wouldn’t recommend it for a performance in the least. Ricky also proves me right in my prediction that there would be one stand out (probably male) ballerina amidst all of the animators and hip hoppers tonight. Nigel says what everyone is thinking when he tells Ricky that he’s already a favorite to make it all the way, and my only worry with him is that he won’t have enough upper body strength to properly partner during some of the lifts and swings that will undoubtably pop up later in the year. A minor quibble, but keep it in the back of your minds when Mandy Moore asks him to lift someone over his head and we get a “this practice is so tough” montage during a live show.

Marissa Milele: There has been a much higher proportion of dancers who are friends of previous competitors or returning dancers being shown this year during auditions. I’m not sure whether it is a product of having too many solid dancers in one year therefore making it necessary to pick the already known dancers out of the fray to highlight, or whether there is a lull of talent this year requiring some fudging of the talent displayed by using previously seen dancers. The first reason makes more sense logically, but the latter has me a little worried as we move forward. I’m glad they kept Marissa’s cut short and sweet as even though I enjoyed her performances last year, it doesn’t look like she has grown much in the past year. She has too much muscle without the actual strength to get any height on her lifts, and relies on her gymnastic elements slightly more than necessary. Her music – “Black Blade” by Thomas Bergersen & Two Steps From Hell – is right along the lines of something Sonya will presumably choreograph to this year so if Marissa makes it past the Green Mile this season we know she will be able to step into Ms. Tayeh’s rehearsal room with confidence. The judges giving her a ticket so quickly seemed like the easiest way for them to shuffle her off to the next round without a promise that she will make it any farther than last season.

Elaine Kimble: The first audition all night where I didn’t take any notes, Elaine absolutely captivated everyone watching in our living room. She doesn’t have the strengths that some dancers have, but her arm control and lines are classically pretty. Her performance is the human embodiment of “All of Me”, which I originally expected to appear with the same frequency as Sam Smith’s music this year but that hasn’t been the case. No matter, I’m sure Mandy Moore will put together a “classic love story” at some point around the fifth week of the live shows built around the concept of John Legend and Chrissy Teigen. Elaine was also the first tearjerker video package of the night, and one that is actually legitimate in its sadness instead of ratcheted up to make it seem more life and death than it was. I would have liked to see her get her ticket immediately instead of an arbitrary choreography round, and the reasoning behind the judges’ decision to keep her there for a final tryout didn’t match up with their rationale for other performers, but hopefully she glides right through and can prove that she has fierceness inside of her during hell week.

Angelina Granitz: Shyness is one of the biggest turn offs for an audience when a dancer comes on stage and it initially turned me off in a big way before she even began her performance. Angelina has the demeanor of a much younger and timid woman when speaking to the judges, but when she has the opportunity to dance that shyness melts away and leaves behind a bold and controlled dancer who has more confidence in a move that lasts 3 seconds that she does in the entirety of her clip reel. Dancing to the elegant “Quartet N. 2” by Dustin O’Halloran contributes heavily to her simplicity and extreme steadiness, but I wish there were a few “dancier” moves to her performance to break things up. If she gets to the live shows her demeanor isn’t going to help garner her any votes from viewers.

Christina Moya-Palacios:  Out of all four weeks of auditions, Christina may be the best pure dancer out of anyone. She is one of the few who could make it in a company right this minute and has the legs to match the skill. She reminds me of Alex Wong in a big way, and the show would be stupid to not bring him back as a guest later in the season if they need someone to fill in as an All Star partner for her. The second person to dance to a movie soundtrack (weird trend alert) she performs to a song from the Perfect Sense score. I love me some Eva Green and Ewan McGregor dark romantic comedies, so that was a welcome surprise. Christina is one of those dancers who I don’t really have much to say about until we see some variation in style from her, but until then it is clear she is as experienced a ballerina as almost any other dancer in the competition is at their genre. Placing her on my Mia Michaels wish list immediately.

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