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SYTYCD: Season Finale

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whitney’s Top 3 of the Season: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elena’s Top 3 of the Season: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whitney: 

Michael Dameski

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

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

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

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

Elena: 

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

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

Whitney: 

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

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

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

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SYTYCD: Callbacks Week

They’ve taken to calling it “Callback Week” but I’m going to stick with what seems accurate and call it “Hell Week”.  SYTYCD is one of the few reality programs that can say it “pushes it’s contestants to the breaking point” and truly, sincerely mean every word. Hell Week is a week full of injuries, tears, disappointments from both the dancers and judges, and ultimately 20 dancers rising from the ashes to come out the other side on The Green Mile. This episode is one of my favorite points in the season annually, as it is the first time during the season that everyone cuts the bullshit and shows what they have to offer. Yes, there will be rude people who get cut because of their attitude towards the judges, but overall the emotion that dancers put forth is genuine and heartfelt and only makes watching people get cut all the worse. During my years as a dancer, I went through a yearly camp that involved 32 hours of dance over just 3 and a half days (my quads and abs hurt just thinking about it). So no matter how critical I may seem to any specific dancer, trust in the fact that I understand what they go through on some level. This week’s post will be a mix of a live blog and an overall amalgam of thoughts about each round as the week progresses. Without further ado…

The introduction of the expanded judging panel includes some legitimate pleasant surprises, which isn’t always the case. In addition to the usuals (Mary, Nigel, Adam Shankman) we also have Tara Lipinski (sadly the Ying to her Yang Johnny Weir is nowhere to be found), Twitch (always welcome) and the [updated] former principal dancer of The American Ballet Theatre Irina Dvorovenko.

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The show has put a real effort in to including a ballerina in more of their judging panels both this year and last and with only two facets of the competition completed there have already been two, which gets a big cheer from me. Starting the montage of everyone’s solos with Tanisha Belnap dancing to “Work Bitch” is almost too easy, but it’s an appropriate kick-off to the next few days of aggressive choreography. No one we really need to care about is cut during the solo dances (a little over 30 out of a total of ~150 dancers end up getting sent home), which isn’t a shock seeing as they have some time to prepare a great solo between auditions and their arrival in Hollywood, but the same is not the case during the Hip Hop round.

Somehow, I feel as if the music for the hip hop round being “Turn Down For What” is a twisted sort of coincidence after I enjoyed One Direction so much during the audition choreography rounds. One song is a guilty pleasure, the other is a torture chamber. Thankfully the section of TDFW chosen for the actual dance doesn’t include the title phrase, so is at least manageable as far as ear worm status goes. Putting hip hop first is a strategic move, as they know the largest percentage of the contestants aren’t strong in this style and as such will make their job that much easier and pare down the group in a big chunk right off the bat. Most of the dancers they spotlight are abjectly awful, which lowers the entertainment value of this portion of the show but goes a long way towards proving just how difficult this actually is. Strangely, some of the dancers they spotlight that eventually get sent home aren’t even the early favorites that are left to the same fate. We lose Meghan Marcano (sobs) to a throwaway comment from Cat, and other solid dancers aren’t even afforded that courtesy as their exit is marked by only a shot of their exits from the theater.

The jazz round proves to be more in depth, and having Amy from Season 10 and Travis (TRAVIS WALL ALERT) show up to show the contestants how it’s done is one of the most intimidating things imaginable. “Hi everyone here’s one of our best jazz dancers ever and one of our best dancers ever period do what they do and you won’t go home OK cool?”. The judges make some smart decisions, and even make up for a few previous dumb ones by sending people home who they forced through from the previous round (so happy I’ll never have to hear the name “Marie Poppins” again). Even understanding that they don’t show each and every person that the judges ask to dance for their life, I’m still consistently impressed with the amount of positive outcomes there are when they single out competitors to do so. Here, it was Jaja the popper who managed to blow everyone away after dropping the ball with her partner during the routine. Most “dance for your lifers” the show chooses to highlight eventually make it to the Top 20 or close to it and there’s something in the way the emotions come through so strongly in her entire body that tells me that trend will continue with her as the prime example. The jazz portion gets a short shrift as it is one of the only rounds that does not last through an entire night, but it is the first major representation of who is strong enough in multiple styles to be remembered and who is hanging by a thread.

Ballroom is the trickiest round to judge based on the talent left, as it is usually the style that has the least amount of professionals left at this point but it is also the easiest to transition to from other styles as it has the least amount of lifts/tosses/strength facets to a routine. Without taking anything away from ballroom as a genre, it is the most “fake it ’til you make it” of the four choreographed sections of Hell Week. Even with that in mind, JaJa shows off her dancer’s physique and surprising talent in ballroom during this round, and many other specialized dancers step up to the plate and really prove their worth as a multi-talented dancer. Johnny Wacks in particular is a special surprise as far as someone who is still around. Personally, I’m not sure how the judges keep their focus with Ke$ha on repeat but they do and cut it down to more manageable number of dancers heading into the contemporary round.

The Sam Smith era on So You Think You Can Dance continues! And may it’s reign be long and never-ending. “Lay Me Down” makes a third appearance already this season which only makes me more confident that his music will be used by a choreographer or three during the live shows (they also use “Stay With Me” at a later point to send home REDACTED just in case the fact that the producers aren’t in love with that album was obvious enough). Basically what I’m trying to say is why has a full ballet not been put together using that entire album already? Get on that, America and/or Earth. The contemporary round doesn’t do much beyond giving the show more time to highlight certain dancers or ones they might have missed previously, and set up some advance story lines for the group round based on who is on thin ice or looks like a favorite.

The group round this season is given a decidedly quick edit, assumedly due to the many strong dancers that deserved to be featured in previous sections and the lack of outright drama during this year’s group practices. There were two groups who stood out and got an expanded feature; one for the better and one for the worse. The first group, including an eventual member of the Top 20 and dancing to a cover of Adele’s/Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” , fell into the all too frequent and easy to find trap of putting most of the choreography on one dancer’s back and then following them blindly through a routine. It takes away the group aspect of the project and forces a decidedly disjointed quality on the performance. The judges rightly called them out on this, but instead of sending them all packing forced them into a situation that comes around rarely on this show – figure out amongst themselves who to send home and then report back. Resulting in the most drama of the entire round for obvious reasons, tears ensued throughout their discussion and continued once they were back on stage. In a moment some may call merciful but I saw as cruel Nigel decides they all will make it through to the final round of solos after each of the dancers agrees that they wouldn’t throw another competitor under the bus for a mistake in which they all took part. Maybe he really felt that way, but from where I sit it seemed more like a ploy to ramp up the stress and tension and needlessly putting this group through the wringer when the judges probably could have picked out the stronger competitors to have stay.

The second group that stood out was more or less a group of Hell Week All Stars dancing to “All of Me” by John Legend (also a favorite to appear as a song in the live shows for those of you counting at home). For a group that includes Malene The Hottest One Left on the Show, Johnny Wacks and Zack The Tapper, they do not disappoint with either the choreography they put together in one night or the execution of it. Leaning heavily on contemporary movements while including small moments of whacking and hip hop was smart, as the mixture didn’t overwhelm them in the end result. Mixing unique elements into a seamless performance is one of the skills that separates the wheat from the chaff during this round every year and although I would have liked to see a lot more of the group performances and practices the sampling they gave us worked well enough with the amount of time they had to work with. Fox has been cramping the show into smaller and smaller time allowances over the past few seasons, and unfortunately this was the first year of auditions/callbacks that it was truly noticeable in a negative way. Next week when we have to vote two people off without even being properly introduced to the Top 20 it will be even more apparent how the “quick hits” editing style of this week’s episode served to undercut the audience connection with the dancers.

I don’t have much to say about the final solos from the remaining 44 dancers, as the time crunch once again allowed for only a few to be shown in full. But I will comment on Ricky’s solo because it was downright incredible and maintained the high level of adorableness and entertainment he originally showed us in Atlanta. My only notes about his performance were “FUCK YEAH RICKY” and mixed with the emotions that “Skin and Bones” by David J Roch gives me every single time it pops up on this show in a routine (a pox upon anyone who ever forgets the Melanie and Marco performance below), I think it’s safe to say Ricky has maintained his status as an early favorite.

Overall, not the best showing tonight from a production stand point this episode. What is usually one of the best and most fruitful installments of the season got turned into a jumbled mess of editing and highlighting all of the wrong dancers. I’m not sure whether this is due to a change in management behind the scenes or whether half the production and editing staff were just sick the day this episode got put together but it was very not good as far as giving us a look at what we can expect from these dancers next week and beyond. At least we can be comforted by the fact that the live shows make it very difficult to cut too much important content, and actually benefit from a harsh cut when all is said and done. The full Top 20 list can be found below – I tried my hardest to find snapshots of them outside of the SYTYCD world to get more of a sense of who they are as people – and I will most likely have a full post about the strengths and weaknesses of these dancers as well as some thoughts on who the early favorites/early exits are shaping up to be up sometime before the first live show next week (hopefully with a special guest writing with me).

(Cat Deeley voice) TUP TWINTY DANCERS:

Ricky Ubeda (LOVE)

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Jacque LeWarne

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Jessica Richens

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Teddy Coffey (this is filled with teenage angst and I love it)

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Stanley Glover (gorgeous, just gorgeous)

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Bridget Whitman

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Carly Blaney (well we know she can pull off gymnastics elements for sure at least)

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Emilio Dosal

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Valerie Rockey

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Zack Everhart (this is supposedly his senior picture which is adoooorable)

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Jourdan Epstein

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Casey Askew

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Emily James

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Nick Garcia and Rudy Abreu

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Tanisha Belnap

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Serge Onik

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Malene Ostergaard (also THIS PICTURE OH MY DAMN GURRRRL)

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Brooklyn Fullmer and Marcquet Hill

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