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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: Top 16, 2 Eliminated

images-1The good news is it is very unlikely this week’s episode will have a larger percentage of underwhelming dances than last week’s did. The bad news is that the dancers and choreographers alike really need to step it up or my interest and connection with this season will fade fast. Cat introduced the cast as “the incredible Top 16” and I immediately thought “eh”. Can you name all 16 dancers off the top of your head? I definitely can’t, and there is absolutely some dead weight remaining in the cast that if there is any justice in the world America will have put in the bottom three tonight to make it easy for the judges to snip them from contention. The guest judge tonight is…Misty Copeland? Oh, ok. Listen, I love Misty. She has been one of the best judges the show has ever seen whether guests or permanent fixtures on the panel. However. Her multiple appearances in this “3 Week Tour” on the panel has done nothing but reaffirm the shakiness of SYTYCD on Fox’s schedule going forward. The lack of pull for other celebrity guests to appear speaks to a severe budget cut this season and a lack of commitment from Fox to put any level of effort into the quality of the show. On the other hand, budget cuts mean less reason for Fox to cut it from the summer schedule, and gives me another reason to post one (or more) Misty Copeland picture for everyone’s benefit.

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Cat Deeley Outfit Watch: This week Cat Deeley’s rocking a sparkly silver turtleneck dress from Walk of Shame, which when typing this sentence out sounds ridiculous, but looks amazing on her tall British self. She’s also wearing some black jewelry, including one stunning black statement ring, from XIV Karats, which she’s favoring lately as she wore their jewelry last week.

Top 16 Group Dance (choreographed by Mandy Moore), Take Me to the River” by Annie Lennox

Whitney: Well, starting things off with a group dance set to an Annie Lennox classic is a sure way to get me to perk up and be excited for this episode. The Top 16 did the best of any group performance up to this point in the season in regards to connection as an entire group and pure entertainment levels. The outfits were very “moody 90’s interpretative dance” but in a fun way, and I liked that there was only one point where they broke from synchronicity in favor of individual set pieces, as that has been a favorite motif of choreographers this season. I was shocked that this was a Mandy Moore routine, and in retrospect you can definitely pick out facets of her work in the more questionable parts of the routine that weren’t as strong, but overall it was a start to the show that instilled confidence as to what was to come later in the night.

Elena: Maybe it was the Annie Lennox song, or the female dancers’ slicked-back wet-looking hair, but this whole routine reminded me of the 80’s. It felt more pose-filled than an opening routine usually should, and like last week’s, it existed, I saw it, but it didn’t really make me feel anything. I’m not surprised that it was a Mandy Moore jazz production, because as a choreographer she usually doesn’t make a strong impression on me, but I’m still wishing this first number didn’t feel like filler every week.

Valerie and Ricky – Bollywood (by Nakul Dev Mahajan)Diliwaali Girlfriend” by Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani

Whitney: That was certainly not the way for Valerie to prove herself on the stage after weeks of shaky performances back to back. It wasn’t blatantly bad, but similar to last week Ricky stole the show and relegated her to second in the audience’s eyes. She was at least more energetic than previous efforts, probably because her background as a tapper gives her the confidence to be in character mode in her dancing excellently. One of the most important facets of Bollywood (as we’ve heard over and over again on the show) is the specificity and sharpness of the hand motions, neither of which Valerie achieved. That lack of sharpness overcame the rest of her movements as well, including the ease of her transitions and steadiness of her spins, directly working against the confidence that was so apparent in her face throughout the routine. Ricky, once again, was great. I just noticed tonight how much he looks like Fleur Delacour when she drinks Polyjuice potion and morphs into Harry Potter, but in kind of a cute way? If someone could screen shot this comparison for me I would be forever grateful, because I swear it makes sense. This was probably his weakest routine of the season only because of the choreography he was tasked with, but that distinction should be taken with an entire bowl of salt as his “weakest” routine was still better than 95% of the others we’ve seen this season. I am not incredibly familiar with Bollywood-style music outside of a few viewings of the studio’s movies and this show, but the beat of the music matched up well with the choreography and contributed heavily to the fun both dancers were having throughout the routine.

Elena: The first Bollywood routine of the season, choreographed by Nakul Dev Mahajan, was sparkly and smiley and fast and fun, as all Bollywood routines usually are. Valerie started off shakier than Ricky: it seemed that in the beginning of the dance the quick succession of so many moves was overwhelming her. Ricky was precise in his movements where Valerie’s face showed plainly that she was concerned with hitting every move. As the dance continued Valerie seemed to get more comfortable, and while both of their smiles never wavered this was the first time I’ve ever seen Ricky look tired during a routine. Like we said last week, Whitney, I’m still not convinced that Valerie can come up to Ricky’s level of dance fast enough to make this partnership work. Chemistry they have in spades, but Ricky is so beyond Valerie in both technique and performance it’s hard not to focus on their discrepancies in their dances together.

Bridget and Emilio – Contemporary (choreographed by Travis Wall), The Leaving Song” by Chris Garneau

Whitney: If there is one thing that I thought would make Bridget am 100% lock to stay this week after unfairly finding herself in the bottom three it was a Travis Wall contemporary routine, so I was pleased to see that’s exactly what she and Emilio were granted. It has already been established how strong this partnership is, and Bridget’s talent really shines when given material that is slow and steady as we have seen from her early auditions on through to this stage of the game. This is the first week she hasn’t cracked a smile (other girls pay attention please) and the entire performance was so measured and emotional I was happy to see her show off what she can do after a few shaky weeks. The lyric-less opening worked to highlight the elite levels of skill present on stage, especially with the stage shrouded in darkness as it was, and after that point they never looked back, giving their all every inch of the way. Nigel made a good point as far as the growth of Emilio, which is what the men’s side needs at this point. Growth has been few and far between with the guys but this is mostly because of how strong most of them are already. It will come down to which of the boys has it in them to work on the little pieces of their dancing and outshine the others instead of resting on their laurels. Except you Ricky, you stay gold.

Elena: Every time that Travis Wall describes his contemporary routines, it always makes me think he’s got a lot of things in his past he’s channeling through his dance. This week on Travis Wall’s Therapy Dance, Emilio and Bridget are doing a piece about leaving your past behind you. There’s an empty bed frame as a prop (Travis Wall does love his props), and Emilio and Bridget artfully dance in and out of it throughout the routine. What I’m struck with in the end is how incredibly strong they both looked: there were multiple times where Emilio lifted Bridget with fluidity and grace, and Bridget’s legs were pointed and perfect. The routine played with dynamics: up and down, falling and being caught, being held and letting go. It was moving, evocative, and probably my favorite routine of the night. Although this showing by Emilio and Bridget just points out the fact that there isn’t one couple who’s been consistently good so far. Usually by the Top 16 there are clear stand-out partnerships, but for right now it really depends on weekly performance (and the luck of the draw on what dance styles they all get).

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Tanisha and Rudy – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Dave Scott), Good Kisser” by Usher

Whitney: There’s one way this routine would have been a hit, and that’s if it was performed by Usher and Ciara on a concert stage. Tanisha doesn’t have the “leather jumpsuit with strategic cutouts” sexiness aspect to her dancing that would be expected from a dancer with a background of ballroom dance and extensive partner work. Some of her illusions looked cool, but then all I could think of was how that is what Catwoman would look like if she started taking Gotham Dance Academy classes between her burglaries. The few transitions the routine included had some shakiness, but the confidence of the partnership saved them from looking too unsure of the moves. That confidence didn’t completely save the performance though. All I could think about was the scene in Save the Last Dance when Derek and Sara are on the dance floor together for the first time and he has to show her how to loosen up her hips, and then I just really wanted to watch Save the Last Dance instead of the rest of these routines. Oops. Rudy is absolutely playing things right as far as soliciting votes go, because at this point I’ll vote for him just to keep his romance with Jacque alive.

Elena: Tanisha and Rudy did a comic book-inspired Dave Scott hip-hop routine, a smooth piece to Usher that had a lot of Tanisha showing off her flexibility and Rudy being impressed while wearing a fedora. It seemed a lot more like a jazz routine to me, maybe because of the addition of so many flips and splits, but overall I was underwhelmed with the way they both danced it. Tanisha’s face was blank, and she, like Valerie before her, looked too concentrated on doing the moves correctly instead of just dancing and feeling the piece. Rudy looked adorable, but didn’t have a lot to do in the routine (and was he supposed to look adorable?). I have a feeling the judges were just mesmerized with Tanisha’s leathery black cut-out Catwoman-chic bodysuit and missed the so-so dancing. The way Tanisha and Rudy performed their hip-hop was the equivalent of someone drunkenly mumbling the words to a karaoke song. I expected more from these two after their Broadway routine last week.

Jessica and Marcquet – Foxtrot (choreographed by Dmitry Chaplin), I Put a Spell on You” by Nina Simone

Whitney: The two musicians the choreographers seem to be obsessed with this season are Sam Smith and Nina Simone, and I for one could not be happier. The musical choices are half the battle when winning the audience over, and perpetuating the use of great artists regardless of how many times they have been included in the season all ready is a great idea. Unfortunately, the song is where the standout aspects of this routine both begin and end. Jessica and Marcquet were classically beautiful, technically precise, and at some points they seemed to be floating ever so slightly, but those characteristics do not an entertaining routine make especially when one of the dancers is perilously close to being sent home. Jessica has been the black widow of partners so far this season, and that will continue to be the case unless the other men in the bottom three absolutely fall apart. She deserves one chance to dance with a strong partner and see if that makes a difference in her charisma on stage. Somehow I don’t think it will matter one iota and she’ll end up becoming the pretty-yet-bland face of the season, but she at least deserves the opportunity in the hopes that I’m proven wrong. Marcquet should have been sent home in place of Stanley last week and if the judges have any concept of justice, he won’t be saved another week. He has shown zero growth over the first three performance episodes and doesn’t have the charisma to make up for his lack of talent in styles outside his own.

Elena: Jessica and Marcquet get a Dmitry Chaplin foxtrot, where Marcquet is a businessman and Jessica is…a beautiful woman who works for him? There’s a reason both of these dancers’ partners have left, and they’re probably close behind them in leaving the show. While the routine had some beautiful lifts, their foxtrot frame wasn’t tight enough, and there was no chemistry whatsoever. Unlike Tanisha, Jessica had the opposite face problem: she was pulling doofy grins and over-performing her “sexy face” to the point where it was uncomfortable for me to watch. Marcquet was pulling his face a bit as well, but he mostly fell flat for the fourth time in a row for me. Better dancers could have saved this routine, but these two couldn’t.

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Carly and Serge – Contemporary (choreographed by Mandy Moore), Foolish Games” by Jewel 

Whitney: Sometimes, Mandy Moore tries to be Mia Michaels. She has her own artistic talents and points of view but at least once every season she puts out a routine where you can just tell how hard she is trying to be taken seriously. Her best work is with cheesy, 80’s style romantic choreography. The Nancy Meyers of dance, if you will. This routine seemed too earnest to be fun and too cheesy to be taken seriously. The whole thing would have worked better as a whole if Moore had committed to the Mia-lite aesthetic she was trying for instead of succumbing to her instincts and using a Jewel song with this choreography. The only explanation for this song being used besides “my name is Mandy Moore” is that it came up next on shuffle on the 1995 Pandora station Mandy was listening to while she curated these routines. Something slightly darker or heavier may have allowed the routine to truly speak to the audience, but that was not to be. Carly and Serge have markedly improved over the last two weeks, and it was sad this week that they couldn’t have continued to receive solid material with which to work. Fortunately, it should at least keep them out of the bottom three and allow them to be confident in their next routine should it be a choreography far outside of their comfort zones.

Elena: As so-so as Mandy Moore’s opening number was, her contemporary for Carly and Serge was a welcome reminder that she can create some wonderful routines when paired with the right couple. I know Serge is a ballroom dancer, but his movements for contemporary are just so right I want him to switch styles. He and Carly found success in their last contemporary routine, and I think it’s because out of all the couples they have some really mature chemistry. If I can borrow last season’s power couples, Valerie and Ricky are like the Amy and Fik-Shun of this season, where Carly and Serge are Jasmine and Aaron. When Carly and Serge get a contemporary routine, there’s something breathtakingly raw that goes on between them. There’s an intentionality to their movements, both when they’re partnering each other and when they’re dancing alone: their focus is always fully inside the emotion and the beauty of the dance. While I thought Travis Wall’s contemporary choreography was stronger for Emilio and Bridget, Carly and Serge have exactly the right weight and honesty to pull off a contemporary routine. Now if only they’d channel that into other styles! They’re my favorite couple right now, I just hope they find out how to get into hip-hop more the next time they dance it.

Teddy and Emily – Salsa (choreographed by Oksana Dmytrenko & Jonathan Platero) Bruk it Down – Soca Remix” Mr. Vegas feat. Alison Hinds

Whitney: Poor Emily. Between her previous injuries this season and today’s dislocated shoulder, she is turning into the Derek Rose of Season 11. Refrains of “She would be great, if she were healthy” or  “That move would have been gorgeous, if she could move like I know she can” kept repeating over and over in my head throughout this routine. She broke one of the cardinal rules of ballroom, that of the requirement (with few exceptions) to always keep your knees together unless in a lift or split. Her feet were shuffling instead of snapping into place and her hips were dropping when her posture should have been pulling towards the ceiling. Where Emily was merely lacking in execution, her partner was nowhere to be found as Teddy faded into the background completely here. Most of the problems were most likely produced by the sheer pace of the music, leaving both dancers unable to keep up with the footwork they were asked to accomplish. The precision was way off what a professional performance of this routine would have been and both dancers seemed consistently a half second behind. The one true positive I pulled from this performance was the fact that Emily was smiling her trademark grin when she was actually supposed to do so. A happy routine requires the pearly whites, an intense routine requires giving face. Pin it to your dressing room mirrors, ladies.

Elena: While salsa is neither Teddy nor Emily’s style, and Emily was working with a dislocated shoulder, I was disappointed in how amateurish this routine looked. While Emily did recover nicely from her slip, it’s unfortunate she slipped at all because after that it was hard for me to focus on anything else. There were a lot of issues with Teddy and Emily preparing to do lifts or tricks and forgetting to dance in-between the tricks. Misty Copeland keeps bringing up how the dancers are performing in their face, but it’s an essential tool that dancers continually misuse. Too much face pulling or a blank face can ruin otherwise impressive technique or partnering. Emily’s pained face was probably due to her dislocated shoulder, but it looked like she was unhappy throughout the whole dance, whereas Teddy looked like a natural. Ballroom so far has been a dud of a style to pull, and I can’t tell if the bad couples keep getting it or if the choreographers aren’t giving them dynamic enough routines.

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Jacque and Zack – Jazz (choreographed by Sonya Tayeh),Back to Black” by Beyonce feat. Andre 3000

Whitney: I am going to write one sentence about the costumes in this routine and then we are going to forget they ever graced the stage. Costuming department: I love you, you are great so much of the time and especially when complementing Sonya’s vision…but my God if you ever try to make “Little Bo Peep joins the cast of Penny Dreadful” happen again I’m going to have to take some points away from House Wardrobe. Wiping my mind of that pink ruffled catastrophe, I was disappointed in a few moments of this routine but overall both Zack and Jacque showed tremendous growth as individual dancers and in their partnership. Jacque didn’t really take Sonya’s advice to bring some fire to her performance and unless she learns how to bring some intensity to her dancing I fear she is not long for this competition. For Rudy’s sake she should really try to stick around, because I fear without her there that poor boy will be like a swan who loses his mate and turn into a depressed mess. Save yourself with some game face before it’s too late! The music choice made it hard to decide how intense this routine was actually supposed to be, as the mood of the music was hard but the pace of the song and of the choreography didn’t allow them to really dig in to the movements with any gusto the way it seemed they should have. A muddle of a routine, but a decent performance. If that makes sense. You make sense of it, I’ll be over here ‘shipping Jacque and Rudy.

Elena: Sonya Tayeh’s routines, even the middling ones, are so much better than everyone else’s. She and Travis Wall really are So You Think You Can Dance’s secret weapons. Sonya’s jazz specialities are creating unique body shapes that are effortlessly weird and beautiful, lifts and holds that are captivating in their almost animalistic natures. There’s a controlled wildness to her choreography that makes the dancers push and stretch beyond their previous capabilities. I thought Zack embodied that fully in the routine: he was all deep desire and extended arms and was a very strong partner. In the beginning, I thought Jacque was acting a bit too much, but even she got taken over by the ferocity of the dance. Jacque and Zack aren’t my favorites, but Zack really impressed me with the way he got lost in Sonya’s choreography.

Brooklyn and Casey – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Wildebeest), Hustle Hard Remix” by Ace Hood feat. Lil Wayne and Rick Ross

Whitney: Well, this is a low point of the season. It looks like Brooklyn and Casey fell victim to a trend that is slowly but surely taking over most of the season, that being the inability of most of these competitors to dig in to any hip-hop routines with intensity or legitimacy. I understand there is a glaring lack of hip-hoppers or animators this season, but at some point the show may have to scale back the inclusion of this style of dance unless one couple or another start to step up and prove they can execute what is asked of them by someone with the hip-hop talents of Wildebeest. Both dancers were very light on their feet and looked more upbeat than the routine required. I agree with Misty that Brooklyn looked the most confident out of any routine she’s done this season, but I differ in regards to that aspect of the routine bringing anything to the performance. Someone backstage needs to do whatever the opposite of the vaseline-on-teeth trick that they use for beauty pageants might be, because if these girls don’t stop smiling when they don’t need to be I’m going to throw something (that sounds like an overreaction but it really isn’t that difficult to look aggressive at the same time as you’re acting aggressive on stage). Casey tried so hard to look like this was anywhere close to his style and I admire the effort but it really didn’t pan out for him at all. Brooklyn is absolutely going home after this showing, so we’ll have to see what Casey can do with a more energetic and intense partner next week.

Elena: Will Adams’ hip-hop was about dirtying up Casey and Brooklyn, and even though hip-hop isn’t either of their styles I was hoping they’d pull out some hard-hitting moves. Unfortunately, like everyone else who has done hip-hop so far, neither of them got low enough. They danced too much from their shoulders and forgot about their hips and the rest of their body. The choreography provided Casey and Brooklyn with a lot of moments to shine, and Brooklyn went in and out of doing well, but Casey was really out of his element. They also weren’t in sync for some of the dance, which looked awful when they were dancing side by side. Memo to everyone who gets hip-hop: get low. Get low, and use your whole body.

Group Dance #1 (choreographed by Sonya Tayeh), So Broken” by Bjork

Whitney: I got very happy about a bonus Sonya routine, so of course she named it the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard a dance routine be named. I can’t recall the particular wording, but it might have well been called “Murder Party Murder Party Let’s All Die” for the mood it set. Then she went and set it to Bjork which made the entire thing dour beyond belief.  This all sounds as if I hated what she produced, but in reality it was one of the best things to grace the stage this season. Every piece of the performance cohered into one mood, one focus, and most importantly one level of talent. The only major complaint I have (and it’s nitpicky) is that the costuming was very “Logan’s Run 2: The SYTYCD Routine”. More demerits for House Wardrobe, they now trail House Judging and it looks like they won’t be able to come back to win the House Cup at this point int he season. House Makeup is putting up a fight for second, but House Choreography may be too far ahead to reach already. This piece was heartbreakingly beautiful from to to bottom, due largely in part to the dancers chosen to participate. Considering the amount of time they usually have to rehearse the group routines in comparison with the duets, this should have come out terribly and instead I’m keeping my eyes peeled for the first YouTube upload so I can watch it again and again.

Elena: A Bonus Sonya Tayeh Group Routine!: I want to let Sonya Tayeh just choreograph everything. Every So You Think You Can Dance routine, and then extend that to everything in my life. Cat Deeley said that it was a beautifully ugly routine, and I completely agree. It was full of flailing limbs and an unsettling urgency, with the dancers’ make-up pale and full of disease-ridden blemishes. It was exactly what I imagine a zombie jazz dance movie looking like if Sonya choreographed it. Tanisha, who got a spotlight moment, was impressive: her face was pained and horrified and searching, exactly what the dance needed. It’s the best I think Tanisha’s danced on the show, and I hope more group routines have a sense of place and purpose like this one in the future.

Group Dance #2 (choreographed by Travis Wall), Love Runs Out” by OneRepublic 

Whitney: My first thought: Oh, OneRepublic sings this song? Second (and infinitely more relevant) thought: This was the best dance of the night, period. This will be one of the performances that is recreated in the final episode of the season to be enjoyed live once more, and if Travis Wall doesn’t win another Emmy for the way he transformed these dancers tonight the world will make no sense. This routine had the most electric energy, most creative choreography, sexiest vibes, and was flat out the most entertaining thing the season has given to us so far. Why can’t any these dancers bring this intensity and aggression to their partnerships?  I would give all of my votes to every dancer on stage with this routine if it meant it could replace their paired routines. I was getting a lot of Colin O’Donoghue feelings from Ricky here, which is so appreciated now that I have stopped watching OUaT for good. House Makeup, I will let you leave grounds after hours if you keep Ricky endlessly supplied with guyliner for the rest of the season. Poor Lucy Hale for having to follow that routine.

Elena: A Bonus Travis Wall Group Routine!: Urgency seems to be the magical spice in tonight’s best routines that gives these dancers fire and purpose. Travis Wall choreographed a fast and furious routine heavy on jumps, and one complex lift with Carly that was backwards and forwards and so high in the air. The only little snafu was that when Carly was coming down from the routine her foot got caught in Teddy’s jacket, but it was almost imperceptible. Ricky, as always, was insanely watchable and captured my attention for the whole routine, a dance chameleon and a choreographer’s dream. I’m waiting for the Top 10 when he gets to dance with the all-stars, because the boy’s gonna shine.

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Whitney: I guess it would have been “Poor Lucy Hale” for having to follow any routine, because yowzers that appearance was not good. I haven’t seen Lucy Hale perform any of her wannabe country pop live before, and I was initially impressed with her stage presence until her voice cracked three times in the first two lines and the entire facade of singing talent fell away. Girl needs to pull a Lizzy McGuire and up the auto tuning during live performances if she’s really serious about giving music a shot. I give her a lot of credit for trying hard and bringing some energy to the song, especially because she has repeatedly stated in interviews that singing is her true passion over acting, but in the end I was more impressed with the guitarist’s moves than her own. Thanks for coming, grab a party favor on your way out.

Elena: Lucy Hale sang, and it was a thing that happened. I wish they’d cut these music moments and replace them with letting the bottom 6 do their solos again. A lot of people impressed when they danced for their lives, and I’m not sure if it’s a budget thing or a timing thing, but I want the solos to come back. While I thought that Brooklyn and Marcquet deserved to go home this week, it would have been nice to see them (and everyone) dance in their style again before shuttling them off the show.

Whitney: I don’t have much to say about the eliminations tonight, other than America got it right and the judges were correct in following suit. Keep it up, and maybe by the Top 10 we can get through an entire episode without an atrocious routine (it’s late, I’m snippy, dance better).

Elena: Next week, four people are getting voted off? It’s going to get so Red Wedding-y up in So You Think You Can Dance.

Apologies for the extra long post this week, next time we promise it will only be emojis from Elena and one word commentary from Whitney (although we’ll both be otherwise detained during the live show so that may be what you get regardless).

 

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SYTYCD: Season 11 Premiere

 

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For 10 years now, So You Think You Can Dance has brought the talents of thousands into our living rooms during the hot summer months. With the exception of one or two less than exciting seasons a few years back, every season has been better than the last. SYTYCD’s 10th anniversary brought with it the first year where the influence of the show on dancing across the country was plain as day, as many of the contestants specifically attributed their love and passion for dance directly to watching early seasons when they were younger. I imagine that trend will continue this season as more of the first generation that grew up watching the show put their talents to work.

I will be recapping the dancing throughout the summer, hopefully mostly consistently from week to week, but looking ahead I already know some week’s I will have to sit out writing if not watching as well (next week I’m already missing a night as I will be in Texas for the 3rd annual ATX Television Festival). Throughout the auditions that take up the first few weeks, it will mostly be rundowns of the standout performers and the music they choose for their first impressions (although the show has moved away from this for the better in recent years, I will be avoiding any recaps of the purposely terrible auditions). Once the live shows begin, these write-ups will take a turn towards more analysis of whether the music makes or breaks the routine, especially as new choreographers and old favorites make appearances throughout the season. I already have some examples in mind as to which choreographers are surely going to make missteps week in and week out as far as music decisions go, and I’m sure you do as well.

Without further ado…Week One of Auditions kicks off in New Orleans and Chicago!

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Shelby Rase: A strong, if not show stopping, start to the season. I would have liked her to dance to the Avicii version of “Wake Me Up” in order to facilitate more explosiveness in her routine, but the Madilyn Bailey cover she chose didn’t harm her routine so much as leave it flat. As with many covers Bailey performs (which you can see on her YouTube channel if you are so inclined) she doesn’t bring anything to the composition that any amateur wouldn’t be able to come up with. Her voice is pretty but there’s nothing behind it, which is more or less how I feel about Shelby’s routine. I agree with Mary that she has great stage presence, but thought the use of that presence could have been more well employed. Annalise’s routine also brought with it the first “awkward family member” called to the stage from the audience, in which her dad did some NSFW things with a water bottle while “Blurred Lines” played. Let us never speak of that portion again.

Tanisha Belnap: Tanisha is one of 12 siblings, so while her story was the first feel good clip show of the night, all it did was bring to mind the kind of musical theater stagings this family of dancers could and should have done at home (7 Brides for 7 Brothers complete with almost full stable of understudies!). Although I appreciate Tanisha’s willingness to work her ass off to get herself studio time, something about this routine still left me wanting. Her technical ability was present but didn’t blow me away, and although I don’t necessarily agree with Nigel that she should have danced with a partner, an additional facet to the performance would have been nice. Staging ballroom steps to “Take it Slow” by Odny (feat. Reija Lee & Kito) was nothing groundbreaking but I liked her willingness to take a risk and pair her style with dubstep. Even as dubstep slowly takes over the entire country taking no prisoners and leaving no survivors, most times when it pops up it is exclusively paired with anything besides classic ballroom routines, so that was a nice difference to see.

Megan Marcano: The skills of a classically trained dancer with the expressiveness and stage presence of a Browadway veteran. Megan is such a clear Top 20-worthy dancer I almost don’t want to talk too much about her here so I can save all of the adjectives needed to describe how great she is for down the road. The song she used was “Oh Heart” by Tank and the Bangas. I had never heard of this artist before finding this song, so I guess I can also thank Megan for introducing me to a new talent in that regard as well. The music matched up well to her dancing, but more importantly it felt like the song matched up with the attitude she puts out into the world. An under the radar choice that paid dividends during her performance. For now, her back story is the classic reality show tragedy-turned-triumph cliche (not in a bad way) and her talent is undeniable. All I keep repeating over and over in my head is “Don’t fall apart during Vegas week, don’t fall apart during Vegas week”. Fingers crossed!

Trevor Bryce: THIS ladies and gentleman is how you incorporate multiple styles into one routine. If he had come out and just done the hip-hop aspects of this piece I would have been tempted to send him to choreography (tempted, but not completely convinced to do so), but because he worked in so many other ballet and theatre facets he was able to blow everyone away from the beginning. From what I can tell, the music choice he went with was a remix of “Da Dip” by Freak Nasty, combined with a techno track that utilized Windows 98 start up sounds and ticking clock effects. I enjoyed what he did with the music, and the way that the beat contrasted with his more balletic movements. The only thing I’m worried about with him going forward is his ability to work well with a partner or as a group. It’s a small quibble, but the only thing that may sink him as the rounds go on.

Courtney Barnes: This was a Bring It On blooper brought to life, tracked by “Turn Down For What” which I definitely did not need to hear any more than I already have. The judges have made it clear in the past that flipping and tumbling to music does not a routine make, and that reasoning stands here. A Wendy Williams impression (even an hilarious one) should not give someone a ticket and I’m happy to see Nigel stood his ground here while Mary and Wayne could not and unreasonably sent Courtney on to choreography.

Novien Yarber: Sam Smith alert! Sam Smith alert! There was an 150% chance that someone would use a Sam Smith song during the auditions this year and I am seriously overjoyed it came this early in the season.  I cannot make this clear enough: if you have not heard In The Lonely Hour, call up your closest mental hospital and kindly admit yourself until you have done so. Pleading insanity is the only option for not having at the very least watched his breakout performance during the Louis CK episode of Saturday Night Live.  “Lay Me Down” is one of my personal favorites from his flawless debut album and it makes for an appropriately emotional pairing for this routine. As far as the routine itself, it isn’t likely to be remembered seasons from now, but it was technically very well done and I look forward to seeing what Novien brings to the table when paired up with other dancers.

Caleb Brauner: I really, really wanted Caleb to come back this year much improved over his audition last year. The heartbreaking story about his dad’s unexpected passing after they danced together on the SYTYCD stage was truly gut wrenching like not many contestant clips are (as hard as the producers may try) and his earnestness was endearing. Unfortunately, his skill remained at the level it was last year at this time with no signs of any additional training or aspects of his dancing. Jason Mraz has also been so overused on this show both in auditions and during live shows (especially “Words”) that unless the routine is flawless and emotionally affecting it isn’t worth it to try and force a connection using any of Mraz’s songs. As sad as it was to see him break down after getting cut during Choreography (which, c’mon cameramen, don’t follow contestants in emotional states such as this for that long please) it was the right choice and we can only hope he takes the judges advice to heart and does more partner work before next year, giving him a much better chance at getting to at least Vegas before falling short.

Marqoet Hill & Brooklyn Fullmer: Why couldn’t they have danced to anything else in the world besides “Blurred Lines”? A lot of talent on display here between these two and it was all brought crashing down for me by the presence of Robin Thicke being all rape-y and skeezy in the background. Stop choosing this to dance to, everyone. It isn’t trendy anymore and it does you no favors with the audience in house or watching at home. Other than that unfortunate song choice, Brooklyn and Marqoet had chemistry for days and the execution that everyone knows makes Mary shed tears of joy. Their toe flicks stood out for me, but their spins and symmetrical sections were was just as impressive. They promised sexy and delivered more, which at this early point in the competition is really all we can hope for from ballroom duos.

Not sure about everyone else, but all I saw during the time when they said Justin Bieber was on screen was this:

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Come on, SYTYCDyou can do better than him as a ratings draw for this season’s shameless promotional stunt. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to adding in a dance crew competition, but involving Bieber in any way is just plain dumb. It is plainly below the quality of entertainment that this show subscribes to and whoever is behind this decision should be sent back to America’s Got Talent where they belong.

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Nick Garcia: Even with a few slip-ups as far as sharpness in his steps, Nick came to impress and accomplished just that. He was fiery, energetic, and has ridiculous control over his core which is a must for any ballroom dancer. Many ballroom contestants rely on their partners to control their upper body and arms, thereby hiding any structural weaknesses they may have. As much as I would have liked to see him dance with his sister due to what I’m sure is a great connection between them on stage, something tells me the opportunity for him to audition solo that stemmed from his sister’s ankle surgery was a blessing in disguise that allowed him to show off just how strong a dancer he is. His song choice, “Begging You” by Madcon, brought just the right balance of energy and sexiness to his performance as well. The whole thing screamed “Miami” so loudly I forgot for a minute he was auditioning in frigid Chicago. A performance that makes you forget where you are? Sign me up for that any night of the week.

Rudy Abreu: “Stabat Mater” by Woodkid is a song of epic proportions, and Rudy danced to match that sentiment. His presence on stage is nothing short of magnetic, and the way he used his strength to complement his skill as a dancer instead of using it to compensate and falsely impress is something that few people are able to do (or realize they need to do) when they first appear on the show, which makes Rudy one to watch. The strength he had on display here means he will probably acquit himself well with a partner when the time comes for him to pair up with someone. Is it wrong that I’m already wishing for a Megan/Rudy duet choreographed by Mia when we aren’t even close to the Top 20 yet? I can’t possibly be the only one thinking about it.

Caleb Brauner Part 2: Oh Caleb…Caleb, Caleb, Caleb. I can’t recall if a dancer has ever showed up twice in the same round of auditions but in different cities. Regardless, I was skeptical of what he could have possibly changed in such a short time. I won’t say he proved me wrong completely as his skills were basically in the same range as they were a mere days/weeks beforehand, but he was very smart to frame it the way he did for the judges. By showing up and being honest about the fact that he was coming at this routine with a different strategy and a different mindset, while also admitting it was still going to be his style of dance, he didn’t set their expectations too high and was able to prove himself. The fact that he used yet another Jason Mraz song, this time “Details in the Fabric” (a personal favorite), doesn’t give me much hope when it comes to his originality, nor does his match-matchyness of the song and the theme of the dance. However, Caleb was able to step it up during the partner portion in order to push through to callbacks. I admire his perseverance, even as I don’t think he’ll make it much farther than the next round.

(Side note: I am so happy – sans sarcasm – that the choreography song this year is “Story of My Life” by One Direction. It’s one of my guilty pleasure songs this year and am not against hearing snippets of it two or three times an episode for the next month.)

All in all, an impressive first week back with the SYTCYD crew and this crop of new dancers. Next week Chicago auditions continue, and I will be back with a recap of the episode the following week.

What did everyone else think? Who was your favorite dancer to have made it through tonight? Any instances where you adamantly disagreed with Nigel/Mary/Wayne/Jenna? Let me know in the comments!

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