The Top 10 went into full swing tonight, as all ten dancers took the stage with some of the best All Stars in the history of the show to show off the ways they have improved throughout the season and to attempt to measure up to their more accomplished and (sometimes) more talented partners. This also marks the first week the judges don’t have any power to save a dancer, so Nigel and Mary were joined by…Tara Lipinski? Uh, sure. She was OK during the auditions and acquits herself well enough tonight, but doesn’t add any critiques that were especially insightful or original. One of the other major things I noticed tonight was the possibility for some routines to be longer as necessary due to the lack of any solos or group dances besides the opening routine.
As usual, we are joined by the wonderful Elena Rivera.
Elena: Cat Deeley Outfit Watch: This week Cat is wearing a very flower child 70’s outfit, a glittery off-white tunic with large bell sleeves. It’s from Matthew Williamson’s Pre-Fall 2014 collection. It’s less structured than her other dresses, so it hangs a bit baggy, but the color and the shine are delightful. Her hair game is so point, this is probably my comment every week, and she’s wearing dainty white earrings to match with her outfit.
Top 10 Routine (choreographed by Jamal Sims), “Bang Bang” by Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj
Whitney: Only recently released, but “Bang Bang” is destined to be that sneaky song of the summer that turns out to be the most memorable despite being released during the last of the beach months. It worked very well here and I’m glad the show bothered to use it even with such quick turnaround time. Not a fan of the cowboy costume motif as it didn’t really make sense for the song, although I could see the stretch from ‘bang bang’ to a cowboy’s gun, but the use of neon colors was a fun twist to the concept. Not really any parts that incorporated the entire group, but that falls on Jamal to accomplish not the talent. Could have been sharper from most dancers, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt because of the obvious rehearsal time constraints. A fun start to the show.
Elena: As someone who loves colors, this day-glo dance saloon costuming and props made me so happy (and “Bang Bang” is so catchy I was waiting for So You Think You Can Dance to choreograph to it). Would you consider this hip-hop? I’m going to call it that, even as it had a tap breakdown and some jazz movements for the women. Everyone seemed to hit hard and genuinely looked like they were having a good time wearing cowboy hats and carrying around parasols. Ricky and Jessica took front and center for the men and women, as they have for many of the group routines, and Jessica’s face was exactly as expressive as it needed to be, something I’ve been critical of her before.
Bridget and Brandon – Bollywood Disco (choreographed by Niquel?), “Disco Khisko” by Dil Bole Hadippa
Whitney: Don’t think the first Top 10 episode is the time to experiment with routines as strange as this. More of a creative endeavor than a legitimate genre to assign to a couple and expect them to perfect. It screams of the show pulling ideas for originality out of nowhere at the behest of the network. However, it was energetic and well executed. Bridget’s smile did her right here and she maintained her energy level from top to bottom, showing off how improved her stamina is as the season has gone on. Brandon and Bridget have some of the best lines in the history of the show, and they worked well together. It’s a shame she went home in a week where she had some of the best energy and looked the happiest all season. It may not have mattered though, since I’m unsure how willing America would have been to vote for a Bollywood Disco routine no matter how impressive it was. Also, did they choose the music just because it had a Bollywood feel and the word disco in it? It didn’t really work for me as far as representing this seemingly made up genre.
Elena: Brandon is such a strong dancer, and he’s always been called on for great Disco elements, but Bollywood Disco is definitely a first. Bridget needs to remember her face: although the dance was relentlessly fast, the smile on her face would disappear for a second or two when she was breathing more heavily. I liked the different lifts they did in the routine. Traditional Bollywood doesn’t have a ton of lifts, and Brandon was always praised for his strong partnering. It wasn’t necessarily bad, but it also wasn’t very memorable to me.
Tanisha and Ryan – Argentine Tango (choreographed by Leonardo & Miriam), “The Gaucho’s Pain” by Tango Jointz
Whitney: Tanisha’s appeal eludes me. Even after speaking with multiple people who say she is their favorite at this point, I don’t see it. She is not personable on camera at all and her skills are technically incredible but not overwhelming entertainment wise. The strength exhibited in the routine was crazy to see, specifically the many holds and lift splits. Her flicks and kicks very sharp (as was Ryan’s footwork but that you could have guessed before he set foot on stage). I agree wholeheartedly with the judges about the lift that ended with Tanisha ending up on Ryan’s neck. But even as I was nodding along with them about her skill, I wasn’t really entertained. Realistically speaking, how was she safe? Not understanding America’s infatuation with her persona when there are more exciting and engaging dancers left in the competition.
Elena: I had to look up who Ryan was because I didn’t remember him, turns out he was on Season 6 as a Latin Ballroom dancer, but even in the interview package he looked like such a powerful dancer and seemed so much older than Tanisha, who looked like a tiny baby bird. The routine itself was fantastic: sexy and sultry and full of insane lifts that ended in kicks through Ryan’s legs. This is the gold standard for Argentine Tango, Leonardo Barrionuevo and Miriam Larici choreographed a routine that made me remember how good Tango can be on the show. It helped that both Ryan and Tanisha were Ballroom dancers, but Tanisha’s never danced better. This is why I love the All-Stars, they raise everyone’s game (or prove who really deserves to go home).
Jasmine and Emilio – Hip-Hop (choreographed by NappyTabs), “Get Low” by Dillon Grancis and DJ Snake
Whitney: Emilio’s concern over his last hip-hop performance going over poorly with the audience was one of the most important things we’ve seen in the prepackaged clip this season. Unfortunately, it turns out it was included for a reason, as his worry that he would go home tonight turned out to be accurate, even if it wasn’t in direct connection to the performance he put out. This was my most anticipated All-Star couple, and my anticipation was rewarded handily. The only major distraction or problem was the height difference slightly, but both dancers brought it at such a level that was out of my mind almost as soon as I noticed. The music was a nice option for the intensity of the routine, if not all that creative. Every movement was precise but powerful at the same time. NappyTabs choreographed to both dancers’ strengths and it showed in the result.
Elena: Jasmine was my favorite last season, and Jasmine plus NappyTabs equals all my dreams come true. The idea for the routine is a little bit Aladdin, a little bit bananas, and Jasmine’s wearing a princess Leia-inspired outfit (that also has pants). There are baskets, there are gold thrones, and like only NappyTabs can, there’s such a sense of fun to the Hip-Hop routine. Jasmine rocks the hell out of the routine, but Emilio keeps up the pace with her. I was just distracted by how hard Jasmine hit, and it reminded me there are a ton of women who are beautiful dancers this season, but not a lot of powerful ones. This is the problem when so many of the Top Twenty women are Contemporary dancers, it’s not always a style that lends itself to showing off strength.
Valerie and Ade – Jazz (choreographed by Tyce Diorio), “Hearts a Mess” by Gotye
Whitney: What a shock, as soon as Valerie and Ricky were broken up she turns into a semi-mess and her true skill level is revealed. Her hands were floppy and terrible, nothing was crisp and none of the lifts were transitioned into or out of properly. The one lovely part was Valerie posing on Ade’s back just so he could show off how strong he is (fans self). Bottom line is she had no stage presence besides being a cute dancer flitting around with someone twice as talented. Also, it’s about 2 years too late to be using Gotye for anything. I’m taking away all of the points from House Music for that digression. Both Tanisha and Valerie being safe from America’s vote makes me think there is someone hacking into the official count and taking all their votes from Jacque and Bridget. No way they should both be in the top 40% of this season in favor of one of the two girls at risk.
Elena: Tyce Diorio channeled some funky Jazz choreography this week with Valerie and Ade. The choice of “Hearts A Mess” by Gotye, which I’ve never heard before but was a really interesting piece of music, gave the piece the exact right vibe. I know we talked about this last week, but song choice is so essential in the show, and choreographers who know how to pick songs (Travis Wall) always seem to create captivating moments on the stage that transcend instead of take up space in the program. Valerie’s intensity was what was lacking for me: all the extensions and breadth of Ade couldn’t compensate for Valerie’s lackluster showing, although she seemed more comfortable than before. What we predicted was right, Whitney, separated from Ricky, Valerie isn’t all that good.
Jenna and Rudy – Cha Cha (choreographed by Louis Van Amstel), “Maps” by Maroon 5
Van Amstel making a reference to the Rudy/Jacque love story was everything I never knew I wanted from a SYTYCD choreographer. Personally, I didn’t buy in to Jenna’s sexiness last year and certainly don’t buy it this year in a one-off performance. She does too much mugging for the cameras and face-making when she should be focusing on her partner, and it was a detriment to Rudy inasmuch as his performance could be brought down. Rudy didn’t have as much strength in his upper body as he needed to make every piece of this work, but he was brimming with confidence that more than made up for any tiny slips in his technique. Overall, it was as sexy a performance as a Cha Cha set to a Maroon 5 song can be (Rudy being shirtless under that vest notwithstanding). Most importantly, Jacque avoided elimination and he was safe so their infatuation can continue, although this is probably the last week that will be the case.
Elena: This Cha-Cha by Louis Van Amstel was all based on chemistry, which is good because Rudy’s not always been the strongest partner in Ballroom. Jenna I could watch for ages, though, and this seems a good enough time to bring up the Mark Kanemura routine she was in last season, which remains one of my all-time favorite dances on SYTYCD. I thought that the dance seemingly complemented Rudy’s strengths, but after such a strong Argentine Tango from Tanisha earlier, it was a slight letdown. I hope Rudy gets to show off his strength as a dancer soon and doesn’t just coast on his personality. His bubbly demeanor does remind me a lot of Fik-Shun, though, a contestant I also thought coasted on his personality for a good long while.
Jacque and Chehon – Contemporary Ballet (choreographed by Travis Wall), “Adagio for TRON” by Daft Punk
Whitney: After a drought of ballet routines due partly to the talent available and partly due to the willingness of the show to take the chance it would translate on television properly, we finally got a ballet duet! Choreographed by the ever-amazing Travis, the routine used a combination of back lighting, music choice, and stunning skill to put forth one of the best routines of the night. There seemed to be a problem with the spotlight at one point, as instead of getting a mixture of light and shadow we got only darkness. The song choice and costuming were both creative ways to tie the classical side of the style together with the contemporary aspect of the routine. Travis made a smart choice by allowing them some moments of movement without forcing them to reach every part of the stage, instead focusing on the technical aspects of the dance. Points for House Choreography for having Travis exist. This was the first good critique Tara had all night with her remarks about Jacque’s fabulous extensions. Most shocking was the magical chemistry between two people who have never danced together before, something Travis is always able to bring out in his subjects.
Elena: Travis Wall choreographed a Ballet Contemporary duet for Chehon and Jacque, set to a Daft Punk song from Tron: Legacy? Sure, why not. The dance wasn’t as fluid as it should have been, there were a lot of sticky moments when Jacque wasn’t turning fast enough in her pointe shoes, and I couldn’t figure out if it was because Travis didn’t know how to adapt Contemporary to pointe shoes or because Jacque didn’t dance to the level of the choreography. Around the middle of the dance it truly became something special, but those technical issues in the beginning made me less rapturous.
Lauren and Ricky – Jazz (choreographed by Mandy Moore), “Bossa Nova Baby” by Elvis Presley
Whitney: So happy to have Lauren back on the show. The leap from Ricky where his legs were perpendicular to the stage was so enjoyable. In the first slip up Ricky has had this season, he looked like he was getting just a tad tired as the routine went on, he was a little behind Lauren on some connections but only slightly. Mandy definitely let them down here as far as giving them material to show off their skills. The dancers carried a routine filled with cliche moves and elements that didn’t flow together nearly well enough. Elvis was a cliche to use for a jive, even if it was a remixed version of a classic. Deduction of points from House Music for trying to pass off fake ingenuity for the real thing.
Elena: Mandy Moore, oh she of questionable song choice and slightly supbar Contemporary routines, turned out a pretty fun Jazz routine with Ricky and Lauren (sidenote: Lauren has been adorably dating Dominic Sandoval for a while, and them dancing together is my jam). While I appreciated a Jazz routine that moved quickly, I wanted more style and less choreography, if that makes any sense. Quick routines aren’t always better than slow ones, and I find that for Jazz to make the biggest impact there have to be staccato holds to accentuate the movements. Ricky and Lauren were zippy and snazzy, though I wish we got to see a routine that really challenged Ricky instead of just being another standard Jazz routine.
Casey and Kathryn – Broadway (choreographed by Spencer Liff), “Maybe This Time” by Liza Minelli
Whitney: The music choice for this was perfect timing as far as my personal connection to the song goes, seeing as last week I was just at a performance the Cabaret revival watching this song live while two ladies behind me were ruining Michelle Williams for themselves because they had the gall to compare her to Liza. Focusing on the dancing, this was by far the best stage presence and partnership Casey has shown all season. Kathryn brought whatever grit there was inside of him out, similar to what Emilio did for Bridget in the first half of the summer. His leaps held all of the emotion of the song and he responded in kind to everything Kathryn threw at him. Good for him for being safe. I may not have called that earlier tonight but he deserves it after the performance he gave here.
Elena: Spencer Liff clearly has seen Casey dance before, because in his Broadway routine he gave him so many impressive turns to do. Casey faltered on the final lift in the routine, but other than that I finally understood his appeal. While he wasn’t on his acting game as much as Kathryn, there was something so long and lean about the way he danced that number. I still think he’s too boyish, lacks a depth, but I’m warming to him. I’m still waiting for him to wow me, though, and I hope he continues to grow.
Jessica and tWitch Hip-Hop (choreographed by NappyTabs), “U Got Me Up” by Cajmere feat. Dajae
Whitney: Not many notes for this one besides WOW. No one can keep up with tWitch when he’s in his element but Jessica did her darndest to come as close as humanly possible. Jessica and Casey have progressed in similar ways in regards to their energy on stage. Her face was great (can I get “Things I Never Thought I’d Say for $800 Alex?) and she bought into the of the routine story 110%. Her hair was very Sailor Moon-esque and the music was so upbeat and enjoyable it would have taken something atrocious for the audience to come out of this routine in a bad mood. I wouldn’t be surprised if this did wonders for her popularity with the audience, mostly because it was the first instance she didn’t look like Contemporary Dance Barbie. Nigel smartly acknowledges that this is the first time she has lived up to her potential so America realizes before they vote heading into the Top 8.
Elena: If SYTYCD has a king, it’d be Twitch. He’s the most winning combo of talent and personality, and manages to elevate every dancer he is partnered with. He’s also found a really fantastic career after his season of the show, so it’s always nice to have him back and performing a NappyTabs choreography, even! I loved this routine, from the weird concept of an old man creeping on a younger pinup woman while waiting for the bus to the image of Twitch dancing full-out with a pillow under his shirt, everything just worked. I wanted Jessica to get lower, but she kept pace with Twitch, though, and continuing from the opening number her face was exactly as expressive and silly and fun as it needed to be for the choreography. Khaleesi of Dance, for the second week you’re rocking it. She’s becoming my favorite woman on the show, and not just because I keep forgetting everyone else’s names.
Amy and Zack – Contemporary (choreographed by Sonya Tayeh), “Europe, After the Rain” by Max Richter
Whitney: If you weren’t prepared to cry enough tears to fill a reservoir during a Sonya Tayeh routine about sudden loss, you can’t blame anyone but yourself. Everything here was beautiful and moving as expected, but I’m not sure how much of a connection I saw between the two dancers in a routine that was built on so much emotion. It’s very difficult not to have chemistry with Amy so I’m inclined to blame Zack for that at least partially. The cutaway of the music for the last 20 seconds, representing the sadness and pain that comes with an abrupt loss of a friend, was one of the most powerful things I’ve seen on the SYTYCD stage. Choosing a song with rain in the title and that uses storm sound effects could come off as too obvious if deployed by any other choreographer, but Sonya can usually do no wrong this being one of those times.
Elena: Sonya Tayeh, just come and choreograph my whole life with your pieces, please. Her choreography is like art in motion, and this Contemporary routine, about her friend who passed away all too soon, was so thick with longing and sadness. The choice of music was haunting and at the same time serene: classical music mixed in with the sound of a rainstorm. Zack’s not really made an impression on me, but he was just so inside of the routine, so in touch with Amy and the emotions of the piece that it would be impossible to forget him now.
Whitney: Adding a dance element to Christina Perri’s performance is smart as she doesn’t have a ton of fans that might cheer for her and build a good atmosphere in the theater. The producers probably should have let her know that was happening beforehand however so she could just stand and sing with some hand motions to accent her presence on the stand, and let Kheon and Kathryn show off their skills without the distraction of her constantly turning to sing at them. One of the better musical performances of the season, and unlike A Great Big World she chose smartly as far as her song choice.
Elena: And, Emilio and Bridget are sent home. I’m not sure if I feel sad or not about them leaving, but as partners they had some really wonderful moments. I thought Bridget was more deserving of staying than Jacque or Valerie, but so much of this season has been week-to-week performance judging whether people are sticking around or not. Last season there were some clearer, stronger dancers, this season I still feel as if it’s Ricky and then everyone else. But what’s clear is the All-Stars upped everyone’s game, and brought some much-needed gravitas and talent to a pretty uneven group of dancers.
Whitney: Neither of the dancers tonight deserved to go home, and America needs to get itself together before they make any more mistakes with the bottom two. It’s a strong crop of dancers left for the most part, so every week someone’s favorite will be going home. At this point that is the nature of the beast, but if one more dancer goes home before Valerie is even in the bottom two it may force the judges to rethink their inability to save dancers once the Top 10 begins.
Next week – Jacque and tWitch! Ricky and Jamie! Jessica and Will! So many good pairs to look forward to. But wait, what’s that I heard? A Michael Jackson tribute episode is upon us? The bad news is they still haven’t learned how terribly tribute episodes always go, the good news is that the chances I’ll get to see someone slay a contemporary routine set to “Man in the Mirror” are high and that I am excited for. Somewhat of a concern the fact that a choreographer they work with fairly often has leveled quite a few accusations against the Michael Jackson Estate in regards to alleged behavior in the 90’s, a fact that at best makes next week seem awkward and at worst seem incredibly insensitive especially when new reports about the situation has been released as recently as today.
Regardless of any awkwardness that may occur based on ongoing events, the most important thing that needs to happen is for the panel to have a third judge who can critique more specifically and intelligently than Tara Lipinski, especially if they’re being tasked with a tribute episode.