Tag Archives: So You Think You Can Dance

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: Final 4 Perform

I won’t give this week much of an intro, as there are lots of routines to get through tonight seeing as each of the Top 4 will dance with each as well as with an All Star in their own style plus a solo on top of it all. I’m still bitter about Valerie, and the judges complete lack of critiquing was only saved by Jesse Tyler Ferguson being hilarious on the panel. The Hey Ricky! rhyme he spewed out was one of the most entertaining things to happen on the judging panel all season. This is what happens when you spring for some original judges instead of reusing the same ones three or four times, FOX. Elena Rivera joins us again tonight, so penultimate episode of Season 11 ahoy!

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Elena: Cat Deeley Outfit Watch: I might be getting repetitive, but Cat Deeley in shiny, shimmery fringe dresses is my special fashion favorite. She looks the best in structured (but not overly tailored) outfits, and the Kate Moss for Top Shop outfit has a defined waist while still channeling some flapper fabulousness. Cat Deeley’s been wearing a lot of these looks this season, but I never get tired of them. And it’s worth noting her Emmy outfit by Burberry was ballgown perfection in a really lovely dusty rose color.

Top 4 Group Dance, (choreographed by Travis Wall), “Wind Beneath My Wings” by RyanDan

Whitney: This dance did for me what a lot of the routines over the season have done, absolutely nothing. It was pretty and well-executed, but overall a bland display of the talent onstage. For a performance that should have held emotional weight for each of these dances, onstage together for the last or second-to-last time, every dancer’s expression was blank and they barely interacted with each other beyond the requisite partner work. Travis may be hitting a rut in regards to the weight his work holds over the back end of the season, but I’m more willing to blame it on the dancers remaining in the competition. This was routine heavy with meaning and emotion, explicitly representing a pair of same-sex relationships for the first time on the show that I can recall, and still any emotional heft was left to the audience to interpret and enjoy rather than the dancers actually showing them what they were thinking while dancing. No one is able to present themselves as anything more than a body going through the motions and it has brought down my excitement to crown a winner quite a bit. I’m also a serious proponent of using a cover of a classic song only if the cover provides something difference, which this did not. If you can’t afford the rights to the original, pick a different song.

Elena: The routine was slow when I needed and wanted something electric and joyous, and it only got there in the last thirty seconds when the music picked up. The partnering between Jessica and Valerie, and Ricky and Zack, was balanced and supportive, but I wish the choreography hadn’t waited so long to unleash the dancers’ collective power together as an ensemble.

Valerie and Ricky – African Jazz (choreographed by Sean Cheesman), “Voices of Savannah” by DJ Chus

Whitney: The first two words that come to mind when I think of African Jazz are “fierceness” and “energy”, and this routine gave me neither thing. Cheesman’s choreography asked a lot from the dancers as far as stamina and energy, but neither Ricky nor Valerie was able to make it to the end without seeming tired and behind on the steps. Even before the back half, both were out of sync and off when doing basic moves like low-kicks or the African Throws. Even when considering their arms were meant to be loose, the looseness seemed tired rather than true to the style. A better person than I can touch on the cultural appropriation line this routine crossed with the addition of the tribal tattoos to an already borderline costuming, but that didn’t help my love of the piece at all. It has been established what I think of the judges fawning over everything Ricky and (especially) Valerie do with nary a critique in sight, and I was even further let down when Jesse Tyler Ferguson followed them down an identical path. This season is a mess.

Elena: African Jazz is always an athletic dance that is less about performance and more about stamina, but I wasn’t entirely impressed with what Ricky and Valerie brought to the routine. They performed it admirably, but I don’t have a ton to say about the routine.

Jessica and Zack – Broadway (choreographed by Spencer Liff), “Hernando’s Hideaway” by Ella Fitzgerald 

Whitney: Jessica’s lines and splits shall save us all! She may be bland, and she may be dealing with a shoulder injury, but by golly she is the saving grace of this final four. Her early facial ticks are mostly gone and she is able to actually put on an expression of sexiness or smoothness that compliments the routine. Zack was fine, nothing he did made me upset or anything but I was watching Jessica the entire time and he barely drew my eye. Even with a few mistakes (Jessica’s dress got caught on her shoe on one turn), we heard nothing from the panel except for extensive praise. This was the point I began to think that might be a them tonight, unfortunately.

Elena: Nigel echoed this in his critique, but this season has been a standout Broadway season for the contestants, and this Spencer Liff routine is a nice end to the great run of Broadway routines thus far. The Khaleesi of Dance channeled Jessica Rabbit in her costuming, and impressively did turn after turn on steps in heels. The best part of the dance was watching Zack and Jessica transition seamlessly between slower and faster parts of the music. It had a dynamism that showed off their technique as well as their much improved acting chops.

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Zack and Valerie – Contemporary (choreographed by Tyce Diorio), “Pearls” by Sade 

Whitney: Asking Valerie to inhabit the mind of literally anyone else besides her own is a ridiculous concept, therefore it makes perfect sense to put her in the position of pretending to be blind. The good thing about this routine was that it allowed me to look at Zack more closely than the previous piece and I was so happy with what I saw. Interacting with a girl incapable of playing blind is no easy feat, and his easy strength during some of the low moves and leaps was a big reason why the routine flowed from one place to another with little difficulty. His facial expressions were nothing to go crazy over either but his talent covered for him slightly there. Diorio’s choreography was simple at best and pedestrian at worst, with very few difficult aspects beyond the “acting challenge” that he and the judges both considered to be so original. Overall, this looked like two children pretending to be dancers pretending to be blind, and both of them can do better than that.

Elena: I’m on record as saying that Tyce Diorio isn’t my favorite person, and I tend to think he choreographs smaltz that the judges buy into, and this Contemporary dance with Valerie and Zack I just plain didn’t like. The concept of a woman who is blind and her partner supporting her didn’t seem organic, and Valerie’s facial expressions struck me as odd. The quality of movement didn’t do anything to make me feel the struggle or the difficulty of this obstacle between the couple, and without the concept I’m not sure the dance would have stood by itself.

Jessica and Ricky – Jazz (choreographed by Ray Leeper), “F For You” by Disclosure ft. Mary J Blige

Whitney: These two are probably the partnership we have seen the least of this season, and as such a routine with the two of them brings the most originality and newness of the night. This was a routine with fierceness, sexiness, desire. This was a routine that challenged the dancers and convinced me either of them actually deserve to win this thing. They both did exactly what a partner should do, connecting with each other beyond the bare minimum and allowed the other person to succeed in moves they may not be able to do on their own. Jessica’s top-ponytail and leather pants made a lot of Ariana Grande VMA’s outfit comparisons running through my head but in a good way (as in – this is how you do a top pony and leather outfit, Ariana). If the rest of the night was scrapped and replaced with only Ricky and Jessica dances, I would be okay with it.

Elena: Ricky and Jessica’s Jazz piece suffered from a lack of dynamics, a failure on Ray Leeper’s part as the choreographer to create moments that resonated. It wasn’t a bad Jazz routine, but there wasn’t anything special about it, nothing finale-worthy. The thing that surprised me the most was that Jessica seemed to be really deep into the movements and the feeling of the piece, but Ricky seemed lackluster to me, like he was missing his connections and playing catch-up with the music. While everyone seems to be growing week by week, Ricky’s been stagnant for a while, which makes me pretty apathetic about whoever ends up winning.

Valerie and Jessica – Bollywood (choreographed by Nakul Dev Mahajan), “Ghagra” by Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani

Whitney: This routine was definitive proof that they have about 700 flashing “Applause” signs in the audience. The audience kept going crazy when nothing was happening of any excitement, which was most of the routine. There wasn’t a lot to this routine and the skirts did most of the work but both ladies were able to handle the notoriously specific hand movements and the minor floor work that was asked of them. Not much in this routine to discuss, pretty by both ladies and it was good to see them dancing together. Pretty much a filler dance while the All Stars get prepped, which is fine.

Elena: I enjoyed Jessica and Valerie’s Bollywood number, which might be the first Bollywood routine with two women on the show, but the main thing it did was highlight the difference between Jessica and Valerie as dancers. The Khaleesi of Dance is intentional with her movements, for good and for ill: every step is perfectly placed and is danced with a reason. Sometimes this could come off as Jessica just going through the motions, but in this Bollywood routine it stood out to me against Valerie’s sloppy execution. Valerie, while “cute,” is the weak link in the Top 4, and I’m still surprised she’s there.

Ricky and Zack – Hip Hop (choreographed by Phoenix and Pharside), “The Antidote” by District 78

Whitney: It is never a good idea to describe your routine as explosive if it can’t deliver on the other side, and fortunately for Phoenix and Pharside that wasn’t the case here. Both boys came out to prove themselves as promised and gave us the best competitor dancing with fellow competitor routine of the night. The judges spoke about stamina at the beginning of the night during a routine that didn’t have any, but for me this was the routine that should have mentioned for because it was a great display of knowing when to conserve energy and when to explode. If Ricky had the same power and expressiveness in every routine that he had here and in his solo he would be one of the best dancers this show has seen. Mostly, I would like a remake of West Side Story immediately, except with the Clubs and the Diamonds instead of Sharks and Jets.

Elena: It took until the finale and a Phoenix and Pharside Hip-Hop to finally feel like the show did the genre justice. Ricky has been the only one over the course of the season who really understood how low Hip-Hop actually is, and proved it here again in the finale. Zack held his own, but I think his tall frame makes it seem like he sits a little too high for Hip-Hop, and it just doesn’t seem as natural to him. I really liked all the tricks that involved the two men jumping in and out of shapes with each other, especially Ricky’s split jump that turned into Zack in an impressive backbend. And what is it with Hip-Hop finale dances between two men, why is it constantly some fight or show of dominance? I’m going to write a whole Gender Studies paper on it someday.

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Valerie and Aaron – Tap (Anthony Morigerato), “Love Me or Leave Me” by Sammy Davis Jr.

Whitney: “A conversation through their footwork and their musicality”. Even before they set foot on the stage I was wary of this routine since working with the musicality of a routine has been something few and far between for a lot of the competitors this year. Unfortunately, I wasn’t proven wrong by this performance. Most of the tapping didn’t match up with the pacing of the music whether at double time or normal time. Valerie got lost because of how good Aaron is and my inability to tear my eyes away from his charisma. What was that hideous dress they stuck Valerie with though? It looked like something a grandma would wear in the 1930’s. Focusing on amazing Aaron related things only until this routine is out of my mind.

Elena: We haven’t talked about this yet, Whitney, but I’m incredibly obsessed with All-Star Aaron. He’s a whole lotta man, and he’s beautiful and one day I dream of dancing with him. But anyways, Anthony Margierato’s routine was pitch-perfect, a routine where the tappers’ got to converse with their feet. Valerie still had problems with emoting with her face, especially next to Charismatic, Gorgeous, Please Be My Future Boyfriend All-Star Aaron, but both of their tapping was so clear and so in sync I’m letting Valerie slide on her face this once. I could watch the section of the routine where Valerie and Aaron.

Ricky’s Solo – Ricky wisely echoed his best dance moment in the show by repeating his “Skin and Bones” routine from the Los Angeles Round in his solo, and when he lets go, he’s still the best dancer on the show.

Ricky and Katherine – Contemporary (choreographed by Stacy Tookey), “Not About Angels” by Birdy

Whitney: As happy as I was that this wasn’t another love story from Tookey, what it was was about as close as you can come to that without actually saying “this is about love”. Katherine and Ricky are a beautiful pairing that should find a dance company that will let them partner and do that forever and ever, and giving Ricky at least one contemporary routine during the final performance episode was very needed. This was a beautiful interpretation of the pain associated with suicide, and I was very pleased to see Ricky inhabit that pain 100% in his performance. The costuming assisted in setting the stage for an impactful dance as well, with Ricky’s clothing very down to earth and Katherine’s ethereal and flowing. This should lock in Ricky’s win once and for all, unless Valerie continues to pay the voting public off or Zack literally grows wings and flies across the stage in his next routine.

Elena: Stacey Tookey’s Contemporary routine for Ricky and All-Star Kathryn told the story of Ricky, at his lowest, being visited by Kathryn as an angel. The lighting for the piece seemed a bit too dark in the beginning, it was hard to make out Kathryn and Ricky’s faces which took me out of the moment. I wanted to feel more of Ricky’s despair and then hope at finding his angel, but the movement didn’t necessarily convey those feelings. There were a lot of beautiful extensions, but I just didn’t emotionally connect with the routine.

Zack and Aaron – Tap (choreographed by Anthony Morigerato), “Piano Man” by Billy Joel

Whitney: I love Aaron. Aaron is in my Top 20 of all time with ease. But you can’t tell me there wasn’t one single other dancer in the history of the show available to come tap with either Zack or Valerie so we could see some variety. Not one? The tapping itself was incredibly well done but the routine was lackluster. Between the music choice and the generally contained movement around the stage, it felt like a high school theater program showcase for some seniors instead of the powerhouse routine it should have been. If you’ll excuse me, it’s about time for me to find a YouTube rabbit hole of Aaron routines and fall down it…

Elena:The best thing about having two tappers in the finale is getting to revisit the style again: it’s not a style that the show can really give week-to-week because there’s not enough time to master the sound isolations, but it’s always a treat when good tappers get to showcase their skills. A second helping of All-Star Aaron as a bartender and Zack as his customer is breezy, memorable and what I want every last call in my future to be like. I could have watched a whole tap musical of Aaron and Zack talking about their days and dancing around an empty bar.

Valerie’s Solo: Valerie dances to “Valerie,” which isn’t technically impressive but just makes me smile.

Jessica’s Solo: A lot of turns, a lot of hair flips, but unlike Valerie, Jessica has a great combination of technique and personality. I still think she tries too hard at being sexy, but she’s also only 18, and Jessica more readily could fit into a Broadway company or dance at the VMAs than the other three dancers. She’s marketable

Jessica and Robert – Contemporary (choreographed by Travis Wall), “When I Go” by Over the Rhine

Whitney: This piece blew the roof of the place. And by “place” I don’t mean the auditorium, I mean my living room. What a powerful, quietly difficult, emotional piece by Travis, Jessica and Robert. This simple three minutes are the difference between a simple routine being easy and a simple routine allowing for the strength of the piece to have a voice without unnecessary additions. I’m so in love with Robert, and am sad we didn’t get to see he and Jessica dance together more than this one time. His arm around her neck gave me chills, but her reaction to that occurrence was the highlight of the routine. Jessica, more than any other girl this season, has learned how to harness gravitas it takes to make a routine like this truly work. This has been a night of socially geared routines, one coming first and one ending the show. Thankfully the latter was the better of the two.

Elena: All-Star Robert and Travis Wall are my favorite combination of dancer and choreographer. Last season’s “Medicine,” with Robert and Tucker, is maybe my favorite routine of the entire show, emotional and painful and ultimately a profound story of redemption. I thought Jessica and Robert were well-matched, and I loved the red spotlight that cast an eerie glow over the routine. There were some great moments with feet and simple steps being turned into battles for control, and I was impressed that Jessica has grown into an assertive, confident dancer who has toned back her facial expressions to reflect the feelings of whatever piece. I also want Robert to stay forever, so that’s something.

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Zack’s solo: Zack has a charming way about him, and his solo was effortless and inviting, totally made me want to start taking tap classes.

Based on tonight’s performances and the past couple of weeks, I’m really feeling a Khaleesi of Dance takeover on next week’s results. She not only got the Travis Wall Contemporary trump card, but has transformed herself into a versatile, personable dancer over the course of the season. I’m disappointed that Ricky’s been so subpar lately, and if Valerie wins I’m readying my arms to do a lot of table flipping, but overall I’m not strongly rooting for any one dancer. I wouldn’t even be that upset if Zack won. Overall I wish I felt more passionate about the finale, but there’s been good dance over the weeks, we just took some sweet time getting there.

Whitney: Do we have statistics on who comes in last place? Because I’m pretty sure Ricky has this win all tied up but if Valerie isn’t fourth out of four than I would like to order an official investigation on the voting practices of this show. Go Ricky and Jessica!

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SYTYCD: Top 6 Perform

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Another repeat judge in Christina Applegate this week, and we’re off to the races for the pen-penultimate episode of Season 11. Based on this year’s ratings and the budget cuts that obviously took place between last season and the present one it could also be the third-to-last episode, period. As much of a shame as that would be, it might be the best time for the show to go out. It hasn’t stuck around so long as to get tiring but the talent level has clearly dipped down to a level where the feeling of missing out on a bright future for the show is absent. As promised, if Valerie made it to the last six, my reaction was just going to be an angry GIF, and of course I delivered but first I was nice enough to actually review the routines tonight. After a week off from being a traveler/starting a new job/cool things, Elena is back with us to discuss this travesty of an elimination.

Elena: Cat Deeley Outfit Watch: According to Cat’s Twitter, her dress for the night was found on her last trip to India, which is probably why I love it so much. I’m a sucker for sparkles and with Cat’s long legs and long hair, she’s channeling a more demure disco dancer for her choice this episode. Her jewelry, including an emerald pendant, is from her favorite, XIV Karats. Her jewelry choices so far have been very on point, complementing colors and shine with her outfits. I’m so sad we only have a couple more episodes, I’m still gunning for Cat Deeley to have her own talk show or at least guest on Fashion Police. The world needs more of her!

Top 6 Perform (Choreographed by Nick Demoura), “H.I.D.E by NASA feat Aynzili Jones”

Whitney: Started out thinking this was one of the best group dances of the season, only to immediately change my mind once I saw how lackluster an effort the dancers were putting out. The idea that they were all DJs was cute, but it would have been nice to see the faces of the final 6 as they were dancing in order to increase voter’s willingness to vote for each one. The concept blocked most enjoyment I could have had, but did prove how much these competitors have relied on their expressions to overcome difficulties with hip-hop routines.

Elena: TRON DJs is a strange concept to get behind. I liked the music, but the reliance on lighting and throwing those record discs around in the beginning wasn’t as dynamic as it should have been. Plus, positioning the dancers behind large DJ booths for the whole first half of the routine zapped the energy of the piece away. Props are good, but the important part is the dancing. Some contestants were dancing some truly paint-by-the-numbers Hip-Hop, which has been a season-wide disappointment for the contestant group as a whole (save Ricky). Also, masks again. Sigh.

Valerie and Ricky – Broadway (choreographed by Spencer Liff) – “I’ve Got the World on a String” by Frank Sinatra

Whitney: What Chicanery this is. Putting Valerie back together with Ricky basically for the sole purpose of pushing her through to the final. Choreographing to Frank Sinatra is a blatant attempt to make them as appealing as possible for the prize of a part in On The Town. Valerie had knees farther apart than the sides of the Mariana’s Trench on her spins, was not at all sharp on her kicks and seemed off balance half the time. There was absolutely nothing mind-blowing about her performance and the judges once again let her off the hook, which is never anything that should be said about a Top 6 dancer. Shockingly, I didn’t think Ricky was actually that good in this either. He wasn’t as energetic as usual and seemed too focused doing steps we all know he can pull off at this point. As a side note, I just realized Spencer Liff looks like the love child of Matthew Lillard and Lucas Grabeel.

Elena: The dynamic duo back again, although I have to say I’m surprised so many people voting like Valerie. Whitney, we’ve both said this time and time again, she’s probably one of the weakest dancers on the show, and her lack of technique comes through when she isn’t partnered with Ricky. What Valerie and Ricky do have in spades is chemistry, and the Spencer Lift Broadway routine is classic and classy, a perfect showcase for Ricky and Valerie’s personalities together. Ricky acts and emotes so well during his performances I could easily see him in the ensemble of a Broadway show. Make it happen, universe! Broadway also is a style suited to Valerie, she always seems to do well when dancing smaller and contained within herself and falters when she has to make large leaps and turns.

Jessica and Casey – Disco (choreographed by Doriana Sanchez) “Dim All the Lights” by Donna Summer 

Whitney: OK, Ricky and Valerie got a style as close to their comfort zones as possible and these two got Disco? This is the point this episode officially turned into a full-on joke. I have never seen them fix the proceedings to this extent in all 11 seasons. Fortunately for Jessica and Casey, they stuck it to the producers by absolutely knocking this one out of the park. Every spin was flawless save for one near the very end. The split spin Jessica did while Casey was holding her at waist level was the most impressive thing she was given to even attempt all summer. This routine alone probably sealed Jessica’s win, which is so deserved. Casey was great as well, but I his performance here or in his second routine didn’t make me any more upset at his elimination tonight. It was time.

Elena: I wish So You Think You Could Dance could give out sports awards like in high school, because Jessica and Casey would win my “most improved” awards. I’m still not swooning over them like I am Ricky, but Jessica’s learned how to channel her skill as a dancer into really working on her facial expressions and emotions in a piece. Casey, as well, isn’t just a guy who can do thirty turns anymore, but a well-rounded Contemporary dancer. I’m happy Khaleesi of Dance and Turning man figured out their stuff before the show ended. And while I’m running out of things to say about Disco (fast! fun! lifts! spins!), Casey and Jessica were inviting and kept their energy up through the marathon of the routine.

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Jacque and Zack – Foxtrot (choreographed by Jean-Marc Generaux) – “Anything Goes” – Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett 

Whitney: Your corporate tie in of the night, ladies and gentlemen! On the heels of the recently announced duets album between Lady Gaga and Bennett, here is a track from that exact project. It works in the is case, as the original recording would put the show in too much of a classic music hole, but it allows a little fun to sneak in this routine. The Foxtrot is a classier dance (liked Mary’s use of “snazzy”) which makes it hard to put any fun into things if you aren’t already confident in your movements. As a whole, it was a very stodgy version of the foxtrot and as such was not very endearing to the audience or the cameras. Jacque’s dress allowed her to get lost in the backdrop just enough that even when she was showing off she didn’t stand out.

Elena: This Jean-Marc Généreux Foxtrot was uninspired, which is sad to say about a dance package that started with Jean-Marc as a movie director and some nods to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. The best Foxtrots look like the contestants are floating on the stage, and this one seemed a little choppier. When Jacque and Zack entered into the more standard Foxtrot frame and were moving around the dance floor together, it seemed like I was watching an amateur youth Ballroom competition. I desperately wanted to like it, but the choreography and the performance just weren’t there.

I didn’t know who Rixton was before this performance, and it did not make me want to. Move along, sharply clad boys…

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Valerie and tWitch – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Wildebeest) “Yeah” by Usher” 

Whitney: This is the type of hip-hop routine I would expect from this show in week 3 or 4, not one close to the end of the season. That sentiment applies to both the dancers and the choreography. A pedestrian effort by all parties that was quite honestly beneath tWitch completely and so far above Valerie that she couldn’t help but look far out of her depth. Nothing was sharp or energetic enough for what was supposedly an “all-out” hip-hop routine. 90% of the transitions were jerky and unprofessional, yet once again the judges make excuses for Valerie in order for her to look better. I don’t know what kind of dirt she has on the judges but it isn’t good and it is ruining the credibility of the whole panel.

Elena: Currently petitioning all my loved ones who are getting married next summer to skip the played-out Bruno Mars aisle dance to “Marry You” and replacing it with Willdabeest’s Hip-Hop choreography to Usher’s “Yeah.” All-Star Twitch, as we’ve already established, is So You Think You Can Dance’s secret weapon, elevating every dancer he’s paired with, but I found Valerie slightly bland. If this season had a theme, the theme would be “Everyone needs to get lower (and stop forgetting to dance through the moments).” Once the detachable skirt in Valerie’s outfit came off, she seemed to liven up, but at this point in the competition it’s not enough to get comfortable in a dance halfway through. It has to be there from the first count.

Jacque and Will – Contemporary (Sean Cheeseman) – “99 Red Balloons” by Sleeping at Last 

Whitney: If they weren’t going to use the Goldfinger cover of 99 Red Balloons, they should have used the original. This random cover no one has ever heard was pretty but inconsequential as a background to a piece this pretty. The piece itself, although beautiful, did not seem like something I will remember a few weeks from now. The imagery of the ball as a prop and the balloons was creative on Sean’s part, but for a dancer like Jacque who is capable of so much more there were not enough set pieces for her. A lot of unused potential here, even though it ended up as one of the most aesthetically pleasing routines of the night.

Elena: Sean Cheeseman bringing on more conceptual prop Contemporary dances with the inclusion of a red yoga ball. The colors are a great contrast, the stark white of Jacque and All-Star Will’s outfits against the strong red of the ball, and it gave the routine a flowing feel. Will is an incredibly strong partner, and together he and Jacque seemed effortless in the piece. It wasn’t anything new in terms of Contemporary dance, but it was executed well.

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Jessica and Ade – Jazz (Ray Leeper) “Boneless” by Steve Aoki 

Whitney: Jessica is the only one tonight who didn’t get a routine right in her wheelhouse, and instead of being hamstrung by it she rose to the occasion both times. There were moments here where she didn’t dig in to the movements as much as she should have but mostly it was a great showing. Appreciate that Ray noted how Jessica’s age affected her here (she is still only 18 so she has never been to a club before) as that aspect of the season hasn’t been delved into as much as necessary in regards to the lack of maturity that is represented in these dancers through no fault of their own. The big thing I noticed here was the return of Jessica’s beaming smile where it didn’t belong. Probably a result of her inexperience with this genre, and she tried to control it the best she could but it slipped out enough times to be a distraction.

Elena: When I think of the word “Jazz,” “Japanese dance club” are not the words that come to mind immediately. Ray Leeper’s choreography puts Jessica and All-Star Ade square in day-glo Tokyo, but the combination of whatever ridiculous lime green, furry boots Jessica is wearing and all the strobe lights just made me laugh. Less is more, everybody.

Ricky and Anya – Cha Cha (choreographed by Jean-Marc Genereax) “Dare” by Shakira 

Whitney: This episode is (reasonably speaking) the worst showing Ricky has had, which is still better than anybody else’s efforts but speaks to where he truly falls talent-wise once forced out of his usual routines. While Anya was forcing the audience to keep their eyes on her with steaminess and sex appeal, Ricky grinned like a little boy. I thought he kept up but didn’t overcome the pace Jean-Marc set for them. The judges were covering for some of his faults here, even though he definitely brought it as best he could and his footwork was free of any major mistakes. If I hadn’t watched Ricky for two months at this point I would not have pegged him as the strongest dancer based on that one routine, luckily every dancer tonight had an off piece which can be explained by the insane rehearsal schedule they have by this point in the season.

Elena: This was selling sex, first and foremost, and I bought it. While Ricky was worried in the interview package that he couldn’t pull off the same energy as All-Star Anya, the one thing he’s consistently done better than the rest of the contestants this season is immerse himself in a role. Sultry Cha-Cha dancer? Check. Mature romantic? Check. 1950’s gentleman? Check. I could go on and on, but Ricky knows how to act, and dancing in a lot of ways is acting without words, telling a story and a feeling through hands and feet extending.

Casey and MacKenzie – Contemporary (choreographed by Stacey Tookey) “Over You” by Ingrid Michaelson and A Great Big World 

Whitney: Boy did I think this routine could have allowed Casey to climb within inches of Ricky in the final tally in the event he made it through to the finale as it was a beautiful contemporary piece and one of the best Stacy Tookey pieces in a long time. I’m as over her stories about love as the next person, but sometimes it still works to hand out an emotional punch. The lifts that Tookey entrusts to these two are gorgeous and the way Casey handles them renders MacKenzie nearly weightless. As Casey stood on the stage unable to articulate how he felt during the routine, it dawned on me that that was the first time that had happened all season. Not even with Travis Wall has a dancer been so overcome right after completing a routine. I am so happy Casey got a moment like that before his elimination.

Elena: Stacey Tookey gives Casey and All-Star Makenzie a powerful storyline for their Contemporary dance: what if you found out you only have one day left with the person you love? Stark lighting that played with shadows and one of my favorite songs off of Ingrid Michaelson’s latest album gives the piece the setting and feelings it needs. It’s the best Casey’s danced all season, he and Makenzie created a safe, intimate space for the dance, and Casey’s big leaps are used for emphasis at exactly the right moment. The last moment of the routine was my favorite: Makenzie grabs Casey, and Casey painfully tries to remove her hands from his face, finally sinking in, heads touching, Casey’s ragged breathing the last thing seen before the lights go out. Can Casey and Makenzie be partners forever?

Zack and Fikshun – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Phillip Chbeeb) – “Sail” by Awolnation 

Whitney: Everything I assumed was going to happen during this routine did not. Fikshun didn’t show Zack up in the slightest, other than falsely making it look as if he wasn’t getting low enough due to the height difference between them. This song is a cliche at this point no matter the setting but other than that there were very few problems I had with this routine. I was on the same page as Nigel thinking he wouldn’t get into the finale, but he gave it his all this season and certainly lessened by tapper prejudices, however slightly. I’ll be interested in seeing how he fares going into a performance finale where Ricky pretty much has the win tied up already. I hope he maintains his confidence no matter what. (Yay for Chbeeb getting the chance to choreograph!)

Elena: Phillip Chbeeb (most recently seen hanging out in Step Up: All-Stars In Vegas And Hey There’s Kind Of A Plot This Time!) choreographs a shape-filled Hip-Hop for Zack and last season’s reigning male champ Fik-Shun. Chbeeb is a marvel in his own style, but I was wondering how his unique Hip-Hop take would translate to two dancers, one of whom is a tapper. The synchronicity of the dance was so fascinating to watch: Fik-Shun and Zack had to move seamlessly in and out of each others’ space to create dynamic shapes, and it worked. I did feel the nature of the dance was slightly pose-y, more a series of disconnected moves than an actual dance, but something new from an old So You Think You Can Dance alumni is always fun.

Solos –

Elena: Ricky’s solo stood out to me, grand and big using all the stage as his space. It wasn’t as polished as I’m used to seeing from him, but there’s something so captivating about him as a dancer, regardless of style or routine, that keeps me coming back. Jessica’s was full of well-executed turns, a celebration of her journey thus far. Of the tappers, Zack’s upbeat choice of Jason Mraz paired well with his style of Tap, and Jacque tried something new with a 50’s-inspired Ballet routine, but all the solos were just so-so tonight.

Final Four reactions:

Elena: Pretty torn up about Rudy leaving last week, and every week it gets harder and harder to say goodbye to everyone, but it definitely was not Casey’s time to go, nor was it Jacque’s. I really wanted a Jacque, Jessica, Ricky and Casey Final Four, and Zack is admirable, but I’ve never connected with him. And so help me, if Valerie somehow coasts to a So You Think You Can Dance win I’m going to flip all the tables. Every single table, Whitney.

Whitney:  My reaction in four .gifs…

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This right here.

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Oh, Cat was joking. She must have been joking.

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 WAIT. She wasn’t joking?

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NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

See everyone next week for a night of heavy sighing.

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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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So You Think You Can Dance: Top 18, 2 Eliminated

The first episode after an elimination this season, and this is truly the make it or break it time for the dancers. The second and third eliminations are usually where some strong dancers slip and end up going home mistakenly, and others who have exhibited some weak characteristics step it up and prove they should make it through to the Top 10. I’m very unhappy with the Bottom 6 this week and was tsk-tsking at America from my couch after every name that was called. Zero dancers of the six that landed in the bottom deserve to go home, but such are these early episodes where voting is based on charisma over skill more often than not. Misty Copeland returns as a guest judge for the second week in a row, which is out of the ordinary but in no way unwelcome. She has proven herself to be one of the best judges the show has ever had and if they made the panel four judges with Misty a permanent installment in the third seat I would be fine. It calls in to question, though, whether the show has started to lose its weight when calling upon guest judges or if this was a unique situation where the previously scheduled guest was unavoidably detained and Misty was available and willing. The lovely Elena Rivera joins us again this week after a week away, so without further ado let the critiques begin!

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Cat Deeley Outfit Watch: Of course Cat Deeley can rock a silky black pantsuit from Bird, because she has mile-high legs. Accessorizing with long necklaces, dangly black earrings and some really stunning red lipstick, she’s mixing 70’s glam with 20’s flapper jewelry from XIV Karats, and it’s working for me. Her Emmy nomination as host last week was also so well-deserved. She’s such a sweet, genuine person with all the contestants, and I’m hoping she hosts her own talk show soon.

Top 18 Group Dance – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Pharside and Phoenix), “How It’s Done” by District 78

Whitney: I appreciate the makeup and costuming departments of the show getting a shout-out from the judging panel as they deserve every accolade they get for the unique and creative facets they bring to the show, but here those two pieces of production managed to take me completely out of the performance. Between the “living chess set” tableau and the over the top costuming, it was decidedly difficult to focus on one particular dancer in the madness or see how the entire routine was meant to come together. The entire thing came off like a rip-off of a Lady Gaga or Gwen Stefani concept video. Hip-hop with this many dancers at once (unless they are a highly practiced dance crew) tends to muddle everything rather than making it look sharp and impressive. After the energetic opening, the talent that was shown off didn’t impress me enough to keep my attention.

Elena: I don’t have a ton to say about the opening number other than it was funky and chess-themed, but I am so glad Misty Copeland’s back on the judging table. May she stay for most of the season! Her criticism is always specific enough for the dancer to really improve from it but explained well for people who don’t necessarily know dance as intricately. She’s my new favorite.

Zack and Jacque – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Mari and Keone Madrid), “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith 

Whitney: Right off the bat I had basically no trust in the choreographers to make a hip-hop routine work to this song, and I was right. As overjoyed as I am to see the show working through In The Lonely Hour seemingly track by track each episode this season, the song still has to work with the energy of the routine itself. The early floor work and tutting had just the right amount of specificity of movement combined with emotional connection and entertainment, yet as soon as they left the horizontal position I lost all interest. The majority of this routine was the worst thing a performance could be: boring. Even the costuming brought nothing to the table but the fact that it clothed them successfully. I’m not sure if Zack and Jacque actually deserved better from this routine, because I still don’t feel like I know what their capable of at this point. This could be their ceiling or it could be a sad case of choreography missteps bringing a couple down, but either way it’s not an especially good sign that I have no idea which it is heading into the Top 16 dancers.

Elena: I’ve mostly forgotten about this partnership since last week, but I’m all into married couple hip-hop choreography (NapTabs as the shining best of this). Keone and Mariel Madrid threw a lot of intricate hand movements into their hip-hop, tying the choreography to the story about a couple realizing they’re in love with each other. I enjoyed that this routine had a bit more tutting but still stayed on the lyrical side of hip-hop with some really tender embraces and hand-holds between Jacque and Zack. It had intricacies and character moments, my only criticism is I wish that Zack’s concentration didn’t show so much on his face. At some moments you could tell he was focusing on the dance instead of getting lost in it, but that’s understandable seeing as hip-hop is neither Zack nor Jacque’s style. Cat compared it to the amazing NapTabs routine to “Bleeding Love” with Chelsea Hightower and Mark Kanemura during season four (which is maybe my absolute favorite dance from the show), and while I don’t think it quite reached that levels, it did remind me of a different NapTabs routine, season five’s “Mad” with Jeanine Mason and Philip Chbeeb. Sam Smith also seems to be a really popular choice for choreographers this season, which I’m all about.

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Jourdan and Marcquet – Contemporary (choreographed by Dee Caspary), “Disappear” by Mikkey Ekko 

Whitney: What perfect timing to discover that Jourdan is a gym rat, as she certainly shows off her strength in this performance. Of all the nice pieces of this routine, what most impressed me were the transitions from the floor to a lift and vice versa. The music felt like something Marissa would dump Ryan to during the heyday of The OC, and it almost took me out of the emotional component of the routine. I agree with Nigel that there is no connection between the dancers and the audience, but what’s really working against both Jourdan and Marcquet is their lack of emotional connection with each other. They both dance as if they are alone on the stage with a prop that they are dancing opposite to, which is preventing them from taking par-for-the-course choreography and bringing it to the next level. This can’t have been the performance Jordan was hoping for with her neck on the line tonight, even if it was technically impressive.

Elena: Dee Caspary has never been my favorite contemporary choreographer: while Travis Wall has that Mia Michaels emotionality and Sonya Tayeh has quirky and unsettlingly beautiful, Caspary fades into the background for me because he doesn’t have something that defines his choreography. The dance itself was just okay, because I don’t feel that Marcquet and Jourdan have enough chemistry together to sell a dance like this. I also didn’t understand the umbrella props, as lovely as they looked suspended in the air. I’m surprised that Marcquet, who was so dynamic in the Los Angeles callbacks, seems to be fading away with his partner Jourdan week by week.

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Stanley and Jessica – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Tyce Diorio), “Funkier Than A Mosquito’s Tweeter” by Nikka Costa

Whitney: I’ve never been a fan of Tyce Diorio, but one thing I will give him credit for is that for all of the crazy and creative concepts he throws at dancers on this show, he always knows exactly how to execute the choreography follow-through of his ideas so they don’t seem quite so absurd. Making “magic carpet ride” a legitimate performance takes exactly that type of mind, and I am happy he was paired with Jessica and Stanley tonight to give them something more out of the box. I understand constraining them to the carpet’s area was part of the concept but watching two of the show’s most explosive and energetic dancers forced to stop short of moving across the stage like they should was borderline painful. Everything else worked well to combine into an aesthetically pleasing piece; the music didn’t take away too much from the story while still being light, and the costuming allowed them to move naturally with only the smallest pieces of distressed netting giving the sense of flying.

Elena: A new couple this early in the competition can have the chance to develop chemistry quickly and succeed, but they can easily be mismatched. I’m not sure this Tyce Diorio jazz number did anything to make the new couple stand out or be memorable, but it was a fun two minutes. The concept of a magic carpet ride didn’t really read in the choreography other than having the couple dance on a giant bargain bin rug, but Stanley and the Khaleesi of Dance (I can’t unsee Jessica as Daenerys, all of her hairstyles and her face are so much like Emilia Clarke’s in Game of Thrones) had some great air on their leaps. And while Nigel’s glad to have Tyce Diorio back as a choreographer, am I allowed to reveal how much I think he’s overrated and way too full of himself? He’s always grated on my nerves, and while he does have some spectacular choreography, it doesn’t negate his pompous attitude.

Emilio and Bridget – Jive (choreographed by Pasha Kovalev and Anya Garnis), “Happy” by Pharrell Williams 

Whitney: This is what “Happy” was meant for. I don’t know about you, but this is exactly how I dance along to “Happy” when I’m in my apartment cooking dinner or vacuuming. The whole routine was fun, fresh, entertaining, and up-tempo in all the right ways. Bridget is still falling into the same mistake that all the girls left are, in that she doesn’t know how to stop grinning when she’s on stage, but fortunately for this routine she was meant to be beaming from ear to ear as she bounded around the stage. She  looks so perfect as a 50’s pin-up if I were casting a Broadway musical or movie set in that era Bridget would be one of the first names on my list for a chorus role. The little bits of solo work Emilio got near the end were a nice nod to his native style while still fitting well with the rest of  the routine. This is the high bar for jive routines for the rest of the season, which usually doesn’t happen until an All-Star is in the mix, so high praise for these two indeed.

Elena: Anya Garnis and Pasha Kovalev as choreographers is kind of my dream team of ballroom dance, but jive is one of the more difficult dances that a couple can get on the show. The flicks and kicks have to be so quick and precise, and it’s a dance that’s heavy on footwork and foot retraction. Anya and Pasha choreographed a dance that catered to Emilio’s hip-hop background but also showed off Bridget’s technique by including a lot of lifts and some musical breakdowns for Emilio to do some flips and floorwork. Jive isn’t the most emotionally connected dance, but at least Emilio and Bridget seemed to dance it well and it wasn’t a complete trainwreck.

Teddy and Emily – Contemporary (choreographed by Tyce Diorio), “Ne Me Quitte Pas” by Nina Simone 

Whitney: Switch the dancers in both Tyce routines tonight and I think everyone does a lot better. Stanley was built to dance a contemporary routine to Nina Simone, and Teddy and Emily would have had a blast getting to go on a magic carpet ride. As it is, both pairs were stunning but the entire time I was watching these two I wanted it to be Stanley up there catching Emily in midair. That isn’t to say this was a bad routine in any way, it was actually one of my favorites of the night, and I think it’s safe to say Emily and Teddy saved themselves from elimination with this showing. Emily’s lines continue to be some of the best out of the entire cast and her inability to be undaunted by anything thrown at her bodes well for her (hopeful) future on the show. Other dancers on this show could learn from the chemistry between these two and how to really let the music encapsulate your movements. Nina Simone was an inspired choice and, as Nigel noted, the lyrics in English work very well with the story of this routine as well.

Elena: More Tyce Diorio, but now with contemporary. Since Teddy reminds me so much of season two’s Ivan Koumaev, I’m strangely not surprised that he did so well in contemporary. Perhaps it was that the duo were in the bottom two tonight, but there was a rawness to their performance that was missing in last week’s hip-hop. The angst and hurt of “Ne Me Quitte Pas” was articulated through their bodies; I totally agree with Misty who said that Emily’s body just sang the words of the song. I loved all the moments with flexed feet instead of pointed toes, that stopped the lifts or the extensions in interesting ways. I’ll give this one to Tyce, I really enjoyed the movements combined with the music. (I also have been watching a ton of the French drama “Les Revenants,” so I might be biased towards being in love with French things right now)

Casey and Brooklyn – Jazz (choreographed by Bonnie Story), “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Michael Buble

Whitney: This was sort of painful. What’s worse than how I felt about the performance is the fact that I’m not really sure why I feel that way. It was an entirely serviceable ballroom routine, yet somehow stilted on Brooklyn’s side of things and strained on Casey’s end. You could practically see him straining under the pressure to make things looks smooth and normal to no avail. It looked like a high school production of Grease where the two leads were cast only because they had a few years of dance lessons when they were kids. Brooklyn not only looked uncomfortable in the dress but with most of what was asked of her as well. It surely does not help that if you put Casey and Brooklyn in a lineup with 10 other random dancers I might not be able to pick them out accurately. Even though I don’t out and out hate Michael Buble in any way I felt like the music was a big misstep as well. All in all, a misfire for me and hopefully America votes more intelligently heading into next week.

Elena: A Bonnie Story high school prom jazz routine (from the choreographer of High School Musical)! The great thing about jazz that’s different than contemporary is it’s a lot more staccato: it’s a lot about hits and holds, whereas contemporary is more about fluidity of movement. The routine itself was sweet and simple, not entirely memorable but not half-bad, either. Casey had two really cool turns: one where he did a one-legged spin with his foot bent up on his thigh, and another where he did fouettés that turned into slow spins with bent knees towards the ground. He was given a lot more things to do that showed off his technique than Brooklyn, who didn’t really stand out to me.

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Ricky and Valerie – Viennese Waltz (choreographed by Lacey Schwimmer), “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz

Whitney: …And we go straight from a high school production of  Grease to a Taylor Swift music video. All I want at this point is for Ricky to be with any other partner besides Valerie. He does all of the work on stage (which I’m almost fine with because it lets him show off his myriad of skills) but other than hitting her spots and doing serviceably well on the footwork I didn’t see any facet of her performance here that further endeared me to her presence on the show. It is definitely a bad thing for Valerie that I’m already thinking “why is she still here?” after only one elimination has taken place. I honestly don’t understand her appeal to the audience of the judging panel, even if she did look like “Cinderella at the ball”. On the other hand Ricky was consistently amazing yet again, handling every lift and swing with ease and every footwork combination with precision. Ricky for president. Ricky for emperor. I honestly don’t care. Lacey also dipped back into the well of Jason Mraz’s catalogue that the show has found success in time after time over the years. You really can’t go wrong attempting to choreograph any type of love story to Mraz’s emotional lyrics, and it was great to have Lacey back on the show the week after her brother returned to choreograph as well.

Elena: Lacey Schwimmer’s back, and with the Viennese Waltz, which is always dreamily romantic on the show. Valerie and Ricky seemed to lose their steam when doing the normal steps around the floor, but quickly found their energy again when they launched into a series of lifts. The lift where Ricky spun her around by the arms and then let her slide across the floor was gorgeous with Valerie’s big princess dress. Ricky’s strong partnering showed throughout the dance, and both dancers had big, genuine smiles on their faces throughout the whole routine. I’m still waiting for something as amazing as Ricky’s last Los Angeles callback solo from him, but this was a great continuation of their partnership.

Serge and Carly – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Luther Brown), “Senile” by Tyga and Nicki Minaj

Whitney: It is time to end the hip-hoppers in skeleton suits trend. Done, squashed, out of here please. There is no longer anything creative about this costuming idea, especially since I remember my friends in high school wearing homemade outfits like this for a Halloween party dance crew performance we had junior year. Carly was by far the better partner in this routine, seemingly having an out of body experience (sorry for the coincidental phrasing there, I still hate the outfits) during many of the loose sequences. Serge, after such a stellar performance last week, slipped back into boring dancing instead of continuing his upward momentum. It’s possible my disillusionment with this routine stems from my general lukewarm feelings about Luther Brown’s work and Tyga’s music, but when it comes down to the wire it is the dancers job to entertain and pull the audience in to their orbit. That didn’t happen here.

Elena: Serge and Carly had my favorite routine of last week, so I was hopeful that they would hit Luther Brown’s hip-hop hard and precise, but unfortunately they didn’t pull it off for me, and the odd skeleton make-up that obscured their faces didn’t help. Carly got down and really moved her body in a way that matched the music and the choreography, but Serge didn’t involve his hips and back enough. His torso and hips stayed really stiff during the movements that should have hit harder by using the power and force of his torso. I’m bummed my favorite couple last week had an off-week, but hopeful they’ll find their groove again.

Tanisha and Rudy – Broadway (choreographed by Warren Carlyle), “Sing Sing Sing” by Fosse (Original Broadway Cast) 

Whitney: For most of the first part of this routine I wasn’t getting much energy out of Tanisha in comparison to Rudy, and then just before the halfway point she exploded into the smiling, exciting, dancer we first got a glimpse of way back in her first audition. Rudy was truly in his element the entire time, and it should really prove a point that he stole the show when he was dancing next to a beautiful blonde in a sparkling flapper dress and I still could not tear my eyes off him. Taking into account the difficulty of dancing with props in addition to the fast footwork and synchronicity on display, this may very well be one of the best routines of the night. I’m also not sure I’ve seen anything more adorable than the budding romance between Jacque and Rudy that’s happening in front of our eyes. They’re obviously playing it up a little bit for the show but there hasn’t been a behind the scenes partnership to ship since Melanie and Marco, and that was all wishful thinking as they both had significant others at the time. Rudy and Jacque forever! (Or until one of them gets the boot).

Elena: Now that the prize for the season winner includes a role on Broadway, the broadway style of dance seems even more essential, as does having a strong stage presence. Warren Carlyle gave the pair a tricky old school broadway number with a bit of soft shoe and some fun cane tricks. Rudy seemed totally at home hamming it up on stage doing and doing slides into knee lifts, and the two reminded me of Bérénice Bejo and Jean Dujardin at the end of The Artist. They each had their own energy: Tanisha’s was cool and sophisticated while Rudy’s was explosive and bombastic, but they seemed to balance each other out in the ways the best partnerships on the show have.

A Great Big World performs “Say Something” live, which makes absolutely no sense to me at all. They already know this show’s audience is familiar with the song because a couple danced to it on the show last season. It’s also already a worldwide hit and could not possibly get any bigger at this point, when in reality it is waning in radio plays and chart position. Wouldn’t it be the smart choice as an artist to promote another single or new music in front of an audience this large? Especially since I’m pretty sure they don’t have another duet with Christina Aguilera stashed away somewhere.

Elena: I agree with Stanley and Jourdan going home, but really I thought Marcquet should have been right there in the Bottom 6 with them. I’m hoping the Khaleesi of Dance can bring some of his personality back next week in their new partnership, because if not I have a feeling he’ll be in the bottom soon.

Whitney: I’m right with you as far as Stanley and Jourdan going home out of the dancers there were to choose from. If Jourdan had some more time to focus on her stage presence she may have improved past the technically beautifully but emotionally flat performances she gave the past few weeks. Unfortunately, the nature of the show is such that time is not a luxury and unless you prove your worth early on you don’t get many second chances from America. Stanley was the right choice out of the men available, but I wish we got one more contemporary piece out of him before he left the show. I absolutely agree with you Elena that Marcquet should have been voted into the bottom and gone home in Stanley’s place, but neither of them were on the winning track so it probably doesn’t matter much in the long run.

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So You Think You Can Dance: Top 20, 2 Eliminated

Last week, we got our first look at the Top 20 dancers performing live on stage. This week, two of those dancers will find themselves in the unenviable position of heading home first leaving only 18 left in the competition. The dancers will also find themselves out of their comfort zones in regards to styles of dance assigned to each pairing after having the opportunity to show off their preferred styles last week. The show maintains the same elimination format that it adopted last season, with the bottom six being announced by Cat at the top of the show but still getting to dance their planned routines before the judges make a final decision The guest judge beside Mary and Nigel this week is Misty Copeland, former principal soloist of the American Ballet Theater and one of my favorite judges from the audition rounds returning for her live show debut. I had no idea she first began ballet at the age of 13 and not four or five which is when most professional ballerinas in the world began their training (as informal as early ballet classes are). It makes me love her that much more.

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Top 20 Group Dance – Broadway (choreographed by Josh Bergasse), “New York, New York” by the Original Broadway Cast of On the Town 

One of my favorite movie musicals of all time ( and one I still own on DVD), any song from “On the Town” would have been a nice choice for a routine here but this one worked wonderfully. It’s a perfect staging for a large group of people while that is still a possibility, and most importantly it looks like everyone is having fun on stage instead of focusing too hard on where their next step will fall. This piece was also a realistic way to represent and interweave many styles together whereas last week it looked overwrought and out of place if a jazz sequence transitioned into a  contemporary sequence. My one complaint here is that the girls did not have much to do, which is understandable seeing as the story centers around three male sailors enjoying the city, but disappointing nonetheless.

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So. FOX really loves their corporate shilling, huh? At first I wondered why the entire panel was wearing baseball uniforms, but I should have known it was a deal Nigel made with the network to save his ass in the future.  Anything they can do to keep this show on the air is fine by me, but this particular instance of promotional tactics stung due to its blatancy. More on this later on.

Tanisha & Rudy – Jazz (choreographed by Sonya Tayeh), “You Need” by Bengsons

Tanisha does not do abrupt movements well, which is more of a letdown than an outright surprise. The routine as a whole underwhelmed me in its timidness; Sonya said it was about aggression and I’m not entirely convinced I saw much passion or aggression for more than a quarter of their time on stage. The urgency of the music should have dictated the sharpness of their movements more, yet it looked like a first or second dress rehearsal instead of a performance in front of a live and excited audience. Although I liked the bit with the chairs scooting inwards at the end, the movements that transitioned into that fun moment were lacking in energy too. I disagreed with literally everything the judges felt about this dance (this turns into a running theme tonight) and I hope at least Tanisha is in the bottom three next week. Maybe I’m being too harsh for this early in the live shows, as the dancers always improve markedly after the first few Top 20 performances as they get used to the format and rehearsal schedule, but I don’t think so.

Valerie & Ricky – Contemporary (choreographed by Travis Wall), Oh Darling” by Gossling

My first thought when they announced he was choreography these two dancers was please stop wasting Travis Wall on people that don’t deserve him. And by ‘people’ I mean ‘tappers’. Valerie ended up acquitting herself respectably with the routine, but at most points it looked like Ricky was carrying her through this performance both literally and figuratively. There’s a difference between being simply thrown around by your partner and having some agency as a dancer while being lifted and thrown. Even while acknowledging the aesthetic of the routine was meant to have a rag doll quality to it, the emotional punch was lacking because of Valerie’s performance opposite Ricky. The one part that made me sit up and pay proper attention was the slow dip to the floor while Valerie was standing on Ricky’s knees need the end. Ricky maintains the frontrunner status he cemented in the first week, and at this point I almost hope the judges acknowledge that and just toss him Travis Wall/Sonya Tayeh routines every week. [Sidenote: I never want Cat to stop saying dance partayyy]

Bridget & Emilio – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Luther Brown), “Work” by Iggy Azalea

An issue that most ballerinas find themselves confronting when transitioning into other styles, Bridget very much needs to stop smiling when she is trying to paint a sexy, aggressive, or sad picture with through dance. Emilio brought everything he had here and made Bridget look better as a result, although Bridget did just fine on her own. Both overcame the early slip up of Bridget’s necklace falling to the stage, which shows that they are both comfortably performing live and can handle on-stage difficulties. Iggy fits this routine well, as the story isn’t so serious as to necessitate a more intense rap and most of the action matches up with the focus of her lyrics. In a routine about a hot girl strutting her stuff in front of a guy, what better than a song that plays in clubs where hot girls strut their stuff in front of guys? Hoping neither goes home any time soon, as I feel like Emilio could teach Bridget how to look more intense on stage which will for sure help her as a soloist down the road, and Bridge brings out a great energy in Emilio’s dancing.

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Jessica & Nick – West Coast Swing (choreographed by Benji Schwimmer), Respect” by Aretha Franklin (Live ca. 1971)

As much as I was excited to see Benji come back for the first of his standard couple appearances every year, this was a huge disappointment. The only way Jessica’s injury could have impacted this dance is with her confidence levels early in the routine, yet I wish it was slightly more severe so I would have something on which to blame this performance. Neither dancer was committing fully to the lifts and swings that were required, Nick got completely lost at multiple points as well. He’s clearly not a strong enough dancer for this type of routine, and his showing here all but locked in his elimination tonight. I did love Jessica’s shuffle across the stage as it was one of the few moments that had really energy and fun. Jessica’s pantsuit is great for this type of routine, allowing lifts to be performed more easily and placing her solidly in the 70’s era while dancing to the Aretha classic. I would argue one of the main reasons Benji got so carried away with the difficulty of this routine is partially due to his choice of music. As the song picked up the pace, so too did the steps which is how it should be. However, these two dancers were not expert enough to keep up with that pace and were overwhelmed as a consequence. The entire thing could have benefited greatly from a steadier 70’s jam.

Carly & Serge – Contemporary (choreographed by Sonya Tayeh), Latch” by Sam Smith

All of my Sam Smith dreams are coming true y’all. It was only a matter of time before a song off his debut album tracked a routine, and I am so happy it was a Sonya Tayeh routine. Not only did she choreograph a beautiful piece that worked well with Smith’s acoustic version of one of his strongest songs off the album, but Carly and Serge both made up hugely for their performances last week. All of their lifts were executed effortlessly and lovingly, giving Serge an opportunity to prove that the partnering skills he had during callbacks didn’t disappear. I hope these dancers don’t get broken up for a while because they both work so well together and look comfortable on the stage for the first time this season. The emotion just pouring out of this routine was breathtaking to watch and went a long way towards making me love one or both of these dancers and their talents when neither have been a personal favorite throughout the process that got them to the Top 20.

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Emily & Teddy – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Dave Scott), Don’t” by Ed Sheeran

Of all things, I definitely wouldn’t have expected back to back episodes with songs by Ed Sheeran, yet here we are. I also would not have expected anything from Sheeran’s catalogue to work so well with a hip-hop routine but once again, proven wrong. Teddy and Emily wouldn’t have been two dancers that I would have matched up right off the bat if given the option but the chemistry they bring to the stage works like gangbusters. Emily has the same problem Bridget did in that she smiles far too much at the audience instead of focusing on her routine and the mood that she should be representing.  Note to producers: put Teddy in suspenders more often. A cute, fun, energetic routine, that was well executed by both parties (especially after learning Emily’s back went in to spasms during rehearsals) that should be just enough to land them in the middle of the pack next week even if I’ll probably forget it ever happened three weeks from now.

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Malene & Stanley – Broadway (choreographed by Spencer Liff), I’ve Got Your Number” by Nancy Wilson

Even if I agreed with her ending up there, I was shocked to see Malene in the bottom 6 this week as I thought voter love would be on her side, but after this routine I’m OK with it. The largest issue here was a huge overuse of the phones as props, resulting in Malene and Stanley not being able to interact for more than 2 seconds at a time. They weren’t in synch during the parts they were supposed to be, and didn’t look like they were even supposed to be playing off each other for the rest of the time. Malene looked uncomfortable and stiff on the stage. Nancy Wilson’s music would have been a nice choice for a Broadway routine that had more entertainment in it but here I was focusing more on the depressing misuse of “I’ve Got Your Number” for this choreography. The failings of the dance were mostly Spencer’s fault as a choreographer as this would have been nice as a solo routine for a 40’s era movie musical, but not for a competition of this sort. All of the judges agreed they didn’t have any sort of chemistry as dancers, and I’m on board with the panel wholeheartedly. Hopefully this routine didn’t shake Stanley’s confidence or hurt his chances at a deep run in the competition.

Jordan & Marcquet – Jazz (choreographed by Sean Cheeseman), Work Bitch” by Britney Spears

This routine was…hmm…how to phrases this…so. freaking. hot. Jordan redeemed herself in her jumps and lifts off the table as well as in the way she connected with Marcquet in order to sell the opposition of the dance. Both of them worked great together as dancers, the only nitpick really being that it seemed like they ran out of energy during the last 30 seconds of the routine. Jordan was the first girl all night that transitioned to a different style confidently and successfully, but fell into the same trap as the others by smiling when it was entirely unnecessary. I would have been happier with the use of “Work Bitch” if the routine didn’t have such a clear story, which the song didn’t really work well with entirely. A more loosely plotted dance that took place on the street or in another more casual setting may have been more believable for Britney to be singing in the background (an Olivia Newton John inspired work out themed dance, anyone?).

Brooklyn & Casey – Argentine Tango (choreographed by Miriam and Leonardo), Gallo Ciego” by Luis Bravo’s Forever Tango

First off and most importantly, I have to point out just how beautiful and impressive the strings in “Gallo Ciego” were. This routine required half a rewind because I caught myself getting more lost in the music than watching the dancers on stage. Early on, it looked as if they were focusing too hard on the intense movements of the dance and not feeling the music and emotion of the piece, but that changed after the first minute and transitioned into one of the best routines of the night. Both dancers showed off their impressive lines and Brooklyn was on point with her flicks and extensions throughout the piece. I didn’t feel what Mary was saying about the two of them melting together at all, but I also didn’t need that from this routine at all. An Argentine Tango is more about each dancer executing every movement perfectly and maintaining the proper spacing and positioning than the partners coming off as fluid.

Jacque & Zack – African Jazz (choreographed by Sean Cheeseman), Dibiza – Kick Ass Mix” by Danny Tenaglia

The good news is that were was at least some energy present, but the bad news is that it was not quite enough to make this kind of routine work. They looked out of shape and tired by the end, not even getting their kicks up past their knees during the last few bars. A fun piece from Sean (and a welcome respite from the more traditional African Jazz routines we have seen on the show before) but even with all the splashes of color and floofs all over the place it didn’t leave much of an impression. Both need to work on their placement in relation to each other and the stage, as Zack almost flew right off the edge at one point near the middle. Zack looked good to me but in a way that was more “looked good for a tapper” than looking good outright as a dancer. Even while appreciating the vision and inspiration that Sean had here I disagreed with the judges’ opinions once again, making me being on the opposite side of the fence from the panel an official theme of the night.

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I would almost never object to a group of talented people dancing to Beyonce, but the dance crew routine went on way too long and lost whatever originality it had when the ladies kept the exact same pacing and movements going throughout the piece. This whole thing is a complete waste of time, and I would rather have Misty Copeland performing or another talented professionally than this farce of a side-competition. Or better yet, give us more than 10 seconds to get to know the 20 dancers you still have in the real competition.

As far as the closing eliminations, I’m not super sad to see Malene go as I think most of her maturation as a dancer was done after callbacks. Yes, she got let down by Spencer’s choreography this week but she also didn’t bring much of her own touch to it besides looking good dressed as a 60’s pin-up girl. Nick was the obvious choice to be sent home and I’m happy the judges chose properly there. I did get sad watching Ricky cry in the corral of dancers as his friend got eliminated though. Looking at the overall trends this episode, the girls need to stop grinning from ear to ear throughout every routine and most of the boys need to work on becoming stronger partners.

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It’s a little sad to see all of the corporate shilling that Nigel and Co. are forced into at this point. National Dance Day and a few musical acts here and there are one thing, but forcing them into MLB team jerseys to promote the upcoming All Star Game is too much. How much of a crossover does FOX even think there is for those audiences? Myself, and maybe 4 others? Not only is it an ineffective marketing strategy for an event that already has enough promotion, but it risks turning off even a small percentage of the remaining So You Think You Can Dance audience. It is an obvious and embarrassing promotional tactic by the network and I can only hope we see less of it in the future.

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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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SYTYCD: Week 3 Auditions

After a week off due to my (amazing, fun, tiring) trip to Austin for The ATX Television Festival, the live blog is back for tonight’s round of auditions. The first week of auditions were very solid overall, and from what I heard about last week’s first LA installment it delivered the same crop of talented and promising dancers. This week, the show finishes up in LA (welcome back Christina Applegate!) and then goes to Philadelphia to see what talent awaits our judges. As with the first week, I will be skipping over the intentionally awful auditions as well as anyone who has no chance from the start. Hopefully as with the first week, the show minimizes the amount of these auditions that are included in the final cut. Here we go!

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Alla Kocherga and Serge Olnik: This routine, performed by one of the last cuts before the Season 10 Top 20 was finalized and his smoking hot “it’s complicated” partner, screams of something that we’ve seen before until halfway through the routine when Alla shows off just for how many days her legs actually go with a split that made my jaw drop. The routine is technically accurate, sexy, and entertaining but most of these qualities are found in any duo that has been extensively trained in ballroom, the chemistry between them is what brings it to then next level. The latin music they chose (“Mmm Yeah” by Austin Mahone ft. Pitbull which in any other setting would make me cringe) was standard fare yet appropriate, but where the anticipation truly lies is seeing what these two can do in other styles or individually.

Casey Askew: Another routine set to “Lay Me Down” by Sam Smith. Something tells me this trend will carry over to the live shows because this song is just so spot on for a lot of choreographers the show employs (Mia Michaels or Travis Wall please!). Casey is one of the youngest competitors we’ve seen sent through so far, which brings both good and bad qualities to his dancing. On one hand, he has all the youthful exuberance and bounce one would expect from someone his age. On the other hand, that cheerfulness prevented him from successfully bringing forth the emotion that his movements should have. This routine didn’t call for that high an energy and it came across as too upbeat when the choreography and music read as sorrowful. The beaming white smile he was wearing from first note to last didn’t help either. These problems are entirely fixable, and in past seasons we have seen missteps stemming from self-choreography rubbed out by the more experienced experts and partners during practice sessions. If Casey makes it to the Top 20 (not a lock but absolutely in play) he will be able to last a few rounds off that energy alone until he learns to channel his talent into a more targeted emotional place.

J-4: I can’t bear to skip him. One of these seasons small children attempting to try out and being really good and “shocking” everyone will get old, but it isn’t this one. He is adorable. And of course they had to bring Fikshun and Cyrus up to join him. Mamas stop letting your sons grow up to be Chris Brown fans though.

Jourdan Epstein: Darn you SYTYCD producers for making us think her brother was dead at the beginning of that package. Not cool, guys. Not that “former addict who spent time in jail and a string of half way houses” is an uplifting tale, but they definitely edited her story to make it seem like something a lot worse. The show has a history of amazing dancers with “J” names (Janine, Jasmine) and from her talent on display in this brief piece Jourdan is well on her way to being another one. Many ballerinas who audition forgo the pointe shoes and either lean hard into the interpretative dance elements of ballet or do a traditional routine barefoot in order to incorporate some more acrobatic moves, so when someone does decide to do a traditional pointe piece it is not only a welcome surprise but a competitive advantage over other ballerinas who decide to flatten their talents into an amalgam of multiple genres. Dancing to “Smother” by Daughter, Jourdan is like a skyscraper in the breeze; impeccably solid but for the moments she is supposed to wobble ever so slightly. Her thighs are insane, as is her talent, and I am now fantasy partnering Jourdan with Rudy Abreu from Week 1 in the live shows. Make it happen, “random” names out of a hat.

Johnny Wacks: This boy is wacking to a vocals-only version of “How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston and is it just me or is it kind of everything this crazy dance style should be? His sheer skirt paired with that faux-leather jacket is more knock off Solange Knowles than a dance outfit but I’m not going to nitpick because the ensemble goes pretty well with what he’s doing on stage. His wacking is more smooth than the first time he appeared on the show, and it feels more like a dance routine overall than the other forms of the style we have seen on the show. Nothing I saw on stage made me think he will go much farther than choreography but I’m willing to be surprised.

Marlene Ostergaard and Armen Way: More Avicii on the audition circuit, but unlike the first week of auditions this was the original recording not a cover. As a dance track “True” has never won me over completely but it is upbeat enough to have charted in multiple countries so who am I to judge. I was not at all hoping for more Armen after his behavior last season during the middle rounds but from the small package on him and his new partner it was easy to see the way his work with a partner has improved since a year ago. The clip reel was all about how his presence as a partner made Marlene love dance again, but I think she did just as much for his skills by being a more able partner who has the knowledge and experience to correct someone if they are making mistakes that affect the other side of the scale. Another pair of gorgeous ballroom dancers, another technically sharp routine. Blah blah blah come get your ticket.


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Misty Copeland is a goddess. Haters to the left.

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Bridget Whitman: With Bridget comes a triple whammy of audition packages: being inspired to put her all into dancing after watching an early season of the show, father passing away suddenly in an accident, incredibly freaking talented. Dancing to a light and airy cover of “Que Sera Sera” (this version sung beautifully by Jennifer Teran), she brings her all to the stage and adds more tears to the already brimming eyes of the judges and the audience. The thing I’m worried about with Bridget is if she has the ability to bring fierceness and edge to her dancing when the choreography calls for it in the future, but that is a bridge we will cross when the time comes and not before. For now, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the sweetness and purity she brings to her dance.

Amir Sanders: ALL OF THE BEYONCE PLEASE AND THANK YOU. Amir is far and away my favorite dancer of the night, if not the season so far. Everything about her personality and style rings as original and her performance backs up all of her “Funky Pointe” talk. In an exact mirroring of the trend I touched on before, instead of doing a traditional pointe routine sans shoes Amir opts for a mixture of classic pointe and hip hop uniqueness. Misty giving her some specific advice on her technique and improvements she could make made me love both of them even more, and with all the classically trained ballerinas in the mix this year also makes me wish Misty is considered as a guest choreographer some time during the season, schedule permitting. Amir’s spirit, skill and attitude makes me think she will be able to handle any style the judges throw at her throughout the season and be more than willing to take risks in her dancing. She ends up making it through in choreography (why she was even there is beyond me) and I may be letting my love of her quirks influence my predictions but between the way the audience will engage and her raw skill is it premature to put her into the Top 10 right now?

Landon Anderson: There was absolutely no way Landon’s audition wasn’t going to be overshadowed by Jenna’s presence. As good as a dancer he is, bringing a former Top 20 dancer as your partner to a tryout isn’t going to do you any favors, especially when she is one of the judges favorite dances from the past few seasons. Landon held his own next to her talent, bringing a masculine energy that I would not expect form his build and a snappiness that really brought the rest of the routine to life. The African-inspired song “Magalenha” by Sergio Mendes was also not something I expected out of this pairing and contributed to the upbeat energy of the proceedings. Not a shock that Landon made it through to the next round, and not remotely a shock that Nigel asked Jenna back to be an All Star but a sweet moment nonetheless.

Stop. Trying. To Make. Justin. Bieber. On This Show. Happen. Please.

Shafeek Westbrook: I always have trouble with dancers who have an attitude problem on this show, in that not seeing how huge of an opportunity SYTYCD is is just about the dumbest thing you can do. Shafeek is one of these dancers, but tonight he also shows that he falls into the even more rare category of a dancer that tries out a second time and performs worse than the first time around. With what he brings to the stage between his primary routine (danced to “Let’s Go” by DJ Say Sut, a safe choice by any standard) and choreography I place him being sent home around the same point as he was last year, so hopefully he can go out with class this season instead of a tantrum.

First Misty Copeland and now Billy Porter? On a dance basis alone, these two have to combine for the most talented pair ever to grace the judging table in one city, yes? This is now a bracket I want to set up in all the spare time I don’t have.

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Billy Porter serving face. For everyone’s benefit.

Stanley Glover: The juxtaposition of his self-proclaimed “creature-like” dancing with Olafur Arnalds’ “Brotsjor” makes Stanley one of the more creative dancers of the night. If that was a self-choreographed routine I am even more impressed. His jumps and spins showed off the beautiful lines he possesses, and his transitions into the gnarlier sections were natural and seamless. At this point in the night I’ve had one too many sob stories in the pre-dance packages and I’m plum out of tears to shed no matter how heartbreaking but I’ll admit a 4-year-old waking up next to a dead mom is almost more than I can handle. I don’t mind the show pulling at our heartstrings, but plunging a knife right in there is too far.

James “Banks” Davis: James was shot in the knee twice and almost lost his leg in the aftermath but came back dancing better than ever, which to me makes him the Paul Pierce of SYTYCD. If someone had told me someone “slow krumping” to “WTH” by Jhene Aiko & Ab-Soul would elicit any sort of positive reaction by the judging panel I would have said they had taken too much of Sonya’s drugs, but alas he holds his own. It pains me to see this city end with a performer who isn’t even strong enough to make it through to the next round, but anything is better than a montage of mediocre hip-hop routines.

So Week 3 draws to a close with only one more audition stop to go. The first phase of Season 11 wraps up next week with the Atlanta auditions, which never disappoint. Were there any dancers this week I gave too much credit? Not enough? Who are your biggest hopes to get into the Top 20 and the dancers you think will fall flat once the group stage arrives?

See you next week for the ATL rundown!

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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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