Man Down! SYTYCD Season 12, Week 2 Hollywood


Photo credit: Dick Clark Productions and FOX

It’s the second week of dancing for our Top 20, but this week the stakes are high as two of the dancers–one from each team–will be going home tonight. Emmy announcements abound (I guess considering this show practically gave Travis his career, an Emmy nod will never get old for him) and the introduction of the save tweet a la The Voice. Gonna make my delayed viewing problematic.

Top 20 group – Hip-Hop
Choreographers Phoenix and Pharcyde. (Song: Baila Como Yo, District 78)

Opening hip-hop number with a Day of the Dead theme. I love the fusion and reminds me of Ramalama (from Season 2) in look and the salsa/hip-hop mashup (done in Season 5) in vibe.

There’s a little change-up this year….the groupings are not necessarily pairs. In fact, there are only two couples tonight; the rest is a collection of trios and quartets.

Darion, Yorelis and Hailee – Salsa
Choreographers: Jonathan Platero and Oksana Dmytrenko
(Song:  Blucutu, Saamara)

A salsa trio–the cha-cha was done well as a trio in Season 6 (and decently enough in Season 9) but those were all trained ballroom dancers. Season 5 alum Jonathan and his partner Oksana teach the three this combination of intricate steps and insane tricks.

The girls are rocking cutouts and fringe, and Darion is in a hoodie. Really, wardrobe? Love Hailee’s pompadour, though. Darien looks just as uncomfortable doing the tricks on stage as he did in the rehearsal video. All three did a pretty good job of the side by side salsa steps, and the girls did their best to keep up with the fast paced music.

Jason thought the novel was missing spice, heat, and sexiness, and dubbed it a little less than OK. Nigel for the two girls did bring the heat, but agreed about Darion’s lack of fire.  Paula also praised the two girls, and advised Darion to stop thinking so hard and be more present.

I forgot about this results part of the show, where they tell the kids they’re standing right after the dance. At least it’s not at the top of the show this time. The girls are both safe, but Darion is in danger of going home.

Derek and Ariana – Jazz
Choreographer Ray Leeper
(Song: Cry Me A River, Michael Bublé)

A semi-dark piece from Ray about two people coming together to share the loss of a loved one.

Both dancers were on an even keel as far as skill and energy. Considering only one of them is the stage trained dancer, that’s pretty impressive. As far as emotional performance goes, I think Ariana nailed it a little more than Derek did. His anguish looked forced, while hers looks more organic. And while I didn’t quite understand it, I did appreciate the choreography.

(Did Cat just really just call that man Mickey Bubbles? SMH)

Paula praised the pair on the execution, but cautions both of them about facial performance. Jason is equally impressed by both and surprised by Ariana but agrees with Paula. Nigel rounds out the concurrence, as he expresses his shock that Ariana did so well outside of her style. Somehow the pair are both in danger, joining Darien in the bottom 6. Ariana is the first Street dancer announced in the bottom as of now.

Alexia, Virgil and Megz – Contemporary
Choreographer Dee Caspary
(Song: Until We Go Down, Ruelle)

This ought to be good. Alexia is Team Stage and Virgil definitely has stage training as evidenced from previous seasons, but let’s see what kind of contemporary prowess Megz has in her. Dee casts Virgil as a battered around man in a toxic relationship with two strong women.

Another Dee Caspary piece I didn’t quite fully grasp, but I actually liked the energy of this one. Reminded me of Sonya Tayeh’s work. It was well executed by all three dancers. The judges are completely wowed by the trio, and especially Megz and Virgil. Nigel makes a special point to praise Alexia for her skill, technique, and performance energy. Jason goes so far as to name Virgil as a top contender. Thankfully, after that stellar performance all three dancers are safe until next week.

WHYYYYYYY do I have to look at Seacrest right now? You have a show–get off of mine!

Lily, Burim, Gaby and Edson – Bollywood
Choreographer Nakul Dev Mahajan
(Song: Dhol Baaje, Ek Pahelli Leela soundtrack)

Four Bollywood virgins. Edson, at least, was a cheerleader at one time. So the  high energy and bounciness needed for this number should come easily to him.

Unless America does something completely asinine with their voting, I can pretty much guarantee Gaby will be going on tour. She nailed the energy from the first note of the music, and hung on to the choreography very well. The others were impressive, but Gaby was the magnetic draw.

Jason was impressed by the energy of the group, Nigel praise the girls but told the guys he didn’t get as much energy from them as he expected, and Paula loved the foursome as well.  with the audience vote from last week, Lily is in the bottom 6. Burim, Edson, and Gaby are all safe.

Neptune, Kate and Asaf – Broadway
Choreographer Spencer Liff
(Song: All About That Bass, Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox featuring Kate Davis)

Spencer casts the threesome  as a jazz trio of musicians, and their instruments will be interpreted through their movement. Kate is progressing well, and Neptune is going for it and giving it his all. Asaf again is resisting the learning process and subverting the choreography–to the point where tWitch has to have another “come to Jesus” meeting with him about working for the greater good.

A jazzy cover of the Meghan Trainor hit, and quite appropriate for the number. Very hip in jazzy, and the guys carry the mood well. Whatever magnetism Kate was missing last week is here in spades this week. That last note pose could have been a little stronger, but I enjoyed it. (Looking again I wonder if Kate’s strength is amplified by her partners’ inexperience, because I see it there but it’s simmered under surface level….it wants to pop but it’s not quite there yet.)

Paula calls the number inventive, and is impressed with Neptune’s progress; lauds Kate but tells her she can go even further with her performance level; and dubs Asaf most improved, praising his progress thus far and telling him to embrace the discomfort he is having adapting to choreography. Jason agrees on all fronts, and Nigel is unanimous. While I appreciate them helping foster a positive mindset in the dancers, I’m a little over the Asaf therapy sessions now. You’re on the show–put your big boy pants on and deal with it. The votes put Neptune in danger but Kate and Asaf are safe.

JaJa and Jim – Hip-Hop
Choreographer Christopher Scott
(Song: No Woman, No Cry (Live Version), Bob Marley and the Wailers)

Christopher Scott gives us a piece that depicts a man having compassion for women and their struggles. Right away Coach Travis is on Jim to loosen up and lose the awkwardness and balletic carriage, while Coach tWitch focuses on JaJa’s ability to connect emotionally. The inevitable high expectations abound (the last Asian ballet dancer to do hip-hop created the most popular and iconic moment in the show’s history). However, Chris think Jim has the potential to be a good animator…so lightning just may strike twice. (JaJa has a point about those subtitles…there have been WAY thicker accents on this show.)

Way more laid back than I expected–the vibe is similar to the piece Jess and Clarice did in Season 8–and beautifully in sync. I needed a little more power from Jim’s energy or a little more vulnerability from JaJa, because it didn’t quite pull at the heartstrings as much as it should have. But the execution was flawless.

The judges are standing, so that’s a good sign….damn, Nigel actually got emotional and blew the pair a kiss. I knew you were an old softie. Paula is proud of the two of them, and Jason calls it an unbelievable routine. They are definitely safe this week.

Marissa, Moises and JJ – Jazz
Choreographer Ray Leeper
(Song: I’m So Sorry, Imagine Dragons)

Ray Leeper puts poor Moises in a love triangle as a philandering man confronted by the two women he’s wronged.

Either Moises manned up to eleven or Marissa and JJ really dialed it back, because he held focus for the whole dance. He’s still a small dude but he danced big and projected a lot of force. The girls stayed in sync well, but in reining in the sexy vibe I think they suppressed the aggression. The steps were well performed.

Jason praises Moises’s strength, and critiques both girls on their expressions; Marissa on the misplaced smiles and JJ on the one-dimensionality of her scowl.  Nigel agrees on both points, but Paula has a different perspective on the ladies, suggesting that their expressions were not mere smiles but relish at teaming up against the scoundrel. She also applauded Moises for taking the notes and applying them to his performance. The voting results save both the ladies but put Moises in danger.

So Moises, Derek and Darion for Team Stage and Ariana, Neptune and Lily for Team Street are in the bottom 6. The Twitter save allows two votes per person per team, and has a five minute window.

Team Street group dance
Choreographers Christopher Scott and Phillip Chbeeb
(Song: Time, Nathan Lanier)
….big surprise

Balance is involved, figuratively and literally. These two have brought out the seesaws. (Neptune let his Southern slip and called them teeter-totters. Cutest thing ever.) And have I yet mentioned the big cheese-eating grin on my face that two of my very favorite people are choreographing this piece? I LOOOOOOOVE me some Phillip and some Christopher MF’ing Scott….

A combination between The Nightmare Before Christmas and Matilda the Musical. A lot depended on the balance and the timing of this piece, and the dance is executed it very well with no mishaps. There was a lot going on  to try to focus on one thing. I can’t see them taking this on tour though, so y’all better enjoy this on TV.

Team Stage group dance
Choreographer Travis Wall
(Song: Stabat Mater, Woodkid)

Choreographer and Coach Travis casts Team Stage as gods at war. A very violent and aggressive piece, and an attempt at return fire for last week’s explosive routine from Team Street.

Powerful and fierce. Hailee’s energy was so strong I could see it when she was in the back row. I don’t know how they flipped Darion over and held him in the air AND he did an extension…dude is bigger than everybody holding him up. Oh never mind….that was Jim. Way to project that manliness there!

Now for the eliminations…. the Twitter votes saved Neptune and Moises. So it’s now between Darion and Derek for Team Stage, and Ariana and Lily for Team Street. The judges choose to save Derek and Ariana, which I’m happy about but not at the expense of Darion and Lily. Although all of the dancers are excellent in their own ways, so the vote really does come down to popularity. It’s how the show works. Doesn’t mean I have to like it, but that’s how it works.


The Top 18!

Battle Lines Drawn! SYTYCD Season 12, Week 1


Season 12's Top 20!

We’ve got our teams–let’s head to Hollywood! The live shows begins on the “brand new” stage….I’m not exactly sure what’s new about it except that it looks like the original stage got plopped down onto the newer stage. A little more flexibility with the lighting, which I like–now to get the Steadicam operators to nail their blocking better….

We open with a well-edited side-by-side montage of the teams training and rehearsing, their unique styles seemingly blending in unity, which leads to opening “stage battle.”

Team Stage/Team Street (Song: Revolt, Nathan Lanier)
Whenever you hear Nathan Lanier you can almost guarantee Christopher Scott is in the building. His usual partner in crime Sonya Tayeh is busy in New York with a hundred projects, so first-timer Jessica Lee Keller is up to bat for the stage choreo. It is nothing short than its usual brilliant fusion.

(Cat, you forgot to take the bib off the front of your dress before you walked onstage, love…..)

Locker Alain “Hurrikane” Latour is the first casualty of the season, sustaining an injury before the live shows and dropping out of the competition. That leaves an open spot on Team Street, and it was given to…..Asaf Goren?!? Yes, the Hebrew breaker is in the Top 20 in the available space. This should prove interesting, as he had that spectacularly terrible display of how he didn’t play well with others….ie channeling that individuality into a group work setting.

The couples next week will be one from each team, but this week everyone is on home turf.

Team Street – Megz, Neptune and JJ
(Song: The Illest, Far East Movement featuring Riff Raff)

Choreographer Dave Scott casts the three as superheroes saving the street.

Neptune has Twitch’s skill, but not personality. Megz has Twitch’s personality but not skill. JJ has her own personality, and possibly some stage dance skills. Promising start for the three, especially if they work on those weaker areas…and as of the three, only Neptune has no formal whatsoever, it should be a reasonably smooth transistion. (Who knew Megz had a ballroom background?) Nigel gives them notes on personality, Paula on maintaining character, Jason said the number lacked breadth and clarity.

Mentors Travis and tWitch have double duty as both coach and color commentator, asking their performers about their numbers right after they dance.

Team Stage – Moises, Derek and Gaby
(Song: Luminous, Max Richter)

Choreographer Stacey Tookey guides the dancers in a contemporary piece about finding your inner light and standing in it…reaching for something and not stopping until you get it.

Excellent piece from this trio. There’s an entire section of this dance where three people move like one, with no hiccups. The depth of expression is there as well, and I am quite impressed with all three, and particularly Gaby, who continues to prove the versatility of tap dancers in this competition. There is general gushing from all three judges, and in particular about Gaby, the only performer not dancing in her own style.

Team Street – Lily, JaJa, Burim and Asaf
(Song: Easy (Switch Screens), Son Lux featuring Lorde)

Choreographer Christopher Scott showcases the different street styles on the four dancers.

The girls are tight and in sync with each other, the guys, not so much, but their skills are about on the same level. Still, it’s an eye-catching routine.

“Beasty” is Jason’s word of the night…clearly impressed by the quartet. Nigel is just as impressed with this street routine as with Stacy Tookey’s prior stage number and singles our Lily. Paula was nervous watching but is extremely excited by the energy, skill and unison she just witnessed.

Team Stage – Hailee, Marissa, and Alexia
(New Dorp, New York, S8TRKT featuring Ezra Koenig)

Choreographer Brian Friedman is back after a very long absence; jazz is an homage to the film noir era and involves chairs, trenchcoats, stilettos and lingerie. However, it’s meant to display the strength and dominance of women. TOTALLY worth it to see Brian slaying it in stilettos right along with these girls. I’m with Alexia, though….those joints HAD to have been custom made.

H-A-W-T. And I want every single outfit. Those girls are beasts….and they mastered those heels. I could barely walk in those, so the kip-up and sh-blam blew my mind as well.


The kip-up and sh-blam, for the uninitiated.

Nigel compared Hailee to Madonna (I’m getting more Gaga than Madge, but I guess it’s a similar energy), and cautions all of them to grasp the subtleties in an in-your-face performance–something both Paula and Jason agree with.

Team Stage – Darion and Jim
(Song: Blood And Stone, Audiomachine)

New choreographer Bendit Swan Pouffer crafts this contemporary ballet piece for the pair. This is the second season with two ballet guys and the inevitable comparisons to Danny Tidwell and Alex Wong are lingering. But for now, we will concentrate on these two individuals performing a “friendly ballet battle.”

For all the power he had in his audition, Jim next to Darion looks so tiny. However, that little Asian boy has some power in his moves, and the two mesh well. That last lighting effect took away from the power of the end pose, although It may just have been the camera angle. That and the Steadicam moves also need work.

No, Paula, Season 9 had two ballet boys in Chehon and Daniel. Although, they did do a trio with Eliana, so I guess we can say this is the first duet. Jason was floored by the performance and thought it would be memorable. Nigel gives a Danny Tidwell comparison I didn’t expect–the Two Princes duet he performed with Neil Haskell. Praised Jim for his feet and asked Darion to bring more light to his eyes when performing but gave him props for his ability and grace with his body type. If only he’d look at black female Stage dancers that way….. (sorry, still a little salty.)

Team Street – Virgil, Ariana and Yorelis
(Song: Locked Out Of Heaven, Bruno Mars)

Choreographers Pharcyde and Phoenix; Virgil decides between good and evil at the gates of heaven.

They held together well, considering how high energy a routine that was and how intricate the arm movements were. Still need a little more personality from both the girls, but Virgil is in his element here. The judges specifically praised Ariana for raising her personality, and as she is the only one of the three with no formal training in anything else, that’s pretty high praise. Paula does caution them to keep projecting energy even in the breathing moments of a number.

Team Stage – Edson and Kate
(Song: Shaped Like A Gun, Tailor)

Coach Travis Wall is stepping in as choreographer for his team, with the theme being love that hurts people. I’m sorry, Kate does not look 27 years old. And I’m not sure how old Edson is, but I could have sworn he was below his twenties as well. (He’s 22…not too far removed.) Kate, that was a cute Team Stage/Team Street joke you snuck in there….I saw it coming, but still funny.

Both are very powerful dancers, both physically and emotionally, and they carry this piece very well. Nigel is about to piss off the public, though….he didn’t understand what the piece was about, couldn’t grasp the emotions being portrayed. Paula also told them to get out of their heads. Jason said live it and be more aggressive. On a second look after listening to the judges’ comments, I can see where Kate seems more smiley in places where she should have been more tortured, but everyone expresses angst differently, so that comes down to personal perception. Coach Travis was impressed with his duo, however, so all is good as far as he is concerned.

We take a brief break for a short interview with First Lady Michelle Obama and a Jason Derulo performance, complete with pointe dancing All-Stars I can’t recognize. OK, the pointe dancing girls might be Jason’s personal backup dancers, but the additional six dancers that came out afterwards are the All-Stars, including my boo Fik-Shun. ♡ Don’t understand the storyline…I guess Phantom of the Opera meets Twilight? Maybe if I watch the video…..

Team Stage – Broadway
(Song: Body Language, Queen)

Choreographer Warren Carlyle gives us a Fosse-esque number with a touch of contemporary and dynamic. Lots of prop work involved, with hats, chairs and canes.

Gaby and Moises killed that tap section, the choreography look more comfortable on some dances than others (Jim looked particularly balletic, which is a bit too stiff for Fosse-esque), the arabesques in the lift section were not all on the same level, and considering all the things Warren had those children doing with the canes, I’m amazed only Hailee dropped it and only dropped it once.

Team Street – Hip-Hop
(Song: Ready Or Not Here I Come, District 78 featuring Cheesa)

Choreographers Napoleon and Tabitha Dumo hold boot camp for a squad of soldiers battling it out. Fast, intricate, and lots of energy.

All I have to say is Team Stage, Team Street is coming for your throats. Be ready. I mean, they pretty much straight up said it–ready or not, here I come….

On to next week with the teams split into combined pairs, and our first official elimination of the season. There’s a lot of strong talent here so it’s going to come down to the personalities and how much social interaction the dancers engage in with the viewers.

(Technical note: I’m loving the Team Stage/Team Street wipe effects)

Leaving Las Vegas: SYTYCD Season 12 Callbacks Part 2 and Top 20 Revealed


Vegas Week continues this week and we move from the choreographers into the group round. Both Team Stage and Team Street have been divided into groups among themselves and are presented with their music selections by their mentors. What in the actual hell? From what I’ve heard of the music, at least two groups on both sides are getting “O Fortuna” from Carl Orff’s opera Carmina Burana. I can see that happening on Team Stage, but I’m at a complete loss to see what Team Street does with that piece of music.  We see the usual drama of the teams trying to work together through the night, and then day three begins. Jessica and Virgil are in this first group for Team Street, and dubbed themselves Party of Five.  They do a comical dance version of a James Brown “concert”, complete with popping and locking and the traditional James Brown shuffle. The other guy, Tyrus, got thrown off for a couple of beats, but overall the concept was very will executed and the number was pretty good.  They all get through to the next round, though, along with a host of other favorites seen in montage clips.  The next spotlighted group is from Team Stage, and includes Edson and Marissa. Calling themselves Date Night, they’re having a little bit of drama, from ballroom dancer Ekaterina rehearsing all night apart from the group, to contemporary dancer Thomas being missing in action the morning of and sleeping in. Performing to Michael Buble’s cover of “Fever”, there are a few miscounts, but they manage to pull the number together some. Judging from the groan Nigel just let out, they are about to catch hell.  I wasn’t far off–after Travis expressed some disappointment with the execution of the number, Nigel agreed fully and tagged them the worst group so far. A bit harsh sounding, but considering the large number of groups shown with positive results, that’s probably accurate for the time.  That didn’t stop him or the other judges from keeping the five dancers in the competition.

The next group up from Team Street is making a statement–or not, perhaps, judging from the tape over their mouths. This group, Blackout, includes B-Dash, Angyil, and Ladia. One of the street numbers to Carmina Burana, the concept looks brilliant. The execution however, seemed a little juvenile to me. The judges were not particularly wowed, either, expressing that the very concept in its brilliance is what spotlighted the dancers’ and the routine’s flaws. The judges discuss the performance, and ultimately Angyil is let go. Not the right decision, if you ask me, but at least she and Cookie can come back next year and crush the stage together. B-Dash, Lil Boy, and Brittany are all saved, but Ladia has to dance for her life. We have another round of groups who failed in their executions, but it appears the judges decided to let them all through.

The last group from Team Stage is up, and it includes tapper Gaby, jazz dancer Hailee, ballroom dancer Denys, contemporary dancer Natalie, and ballet dancer Jim. Self-dubbed Bloodline, this is the Team Stage group that pulled O Fortuna…..and they had much better luck with it. Denys looked like a contemporary of Jim’s rather than the ballroom dancer that he is, and all three of the girls looked unified, as well. The judges are amazed and dub them the best group of the day, though Jason does caution them on keeping their energy level constant throughout the piece. I happened to notice that right at the end crescendo of the music, so I applaud him for taking note.

Ladia is the last to dance, having been chastised in her group and singled out to dance for her life. Her solo is magnetic, but as Nigel said, lacked substance. That magnetism however, is enough to let her continue.

As Team Street gets a much deserved break, Team Stage begins their final choreography round with Sonya Tayeh. Getting only a half hour to learn this jazz routine, the dancers are sent to the ballroom to rehearse, with some sage advice from Coach Travis. The first Group up includes Darien, Moises, Edson and Denys, who we now learn won So You Think You Can Dance Canada. This accolade, however, does not take away from the unease he is having with Sonya’s choreography.  For all the unease though, he’s holding his own amongst trained ballet and contemporary dancers. He and the rest of his group go through, but other ballroom favorites such as Brandon Armstrong, Ekaterina, and Kevin Morales, fall out of the running and are sent home. Antonina Skobina, Denys’s partner, is in the next group of dancers, and she looks to be having a harder time grasping the choreography than her partner. The judges make the difficult decision to cut her from the competition.

The last group of dancers consists of jazz dancers Christine and Hailee, contemporary dancers Kate and Natalie, and tapper Gaby. Each has varying levels of success and failure in their performances but perform well enough to survive cuts.

Now that Team Stage is finished with their last choreography round and can take a dip in the pool, Team Street gears up for their last round of choreography with Tabitha and Napoleon Dumo. Tabitha demonstrates the routine for the kids and….hold up. Did Tabitha just grab her crotch? I’m so done. And Nigel actually covered his eyes…….yes indeed. The first group of is a trio of girls that includes Mary Poppins. Each of them loses timing in different spots of the routine, but they all managed to recover quickly and stay in the groove. (Tabitha set a REALLY high standard.) They apparently did well enough to survive and go to the next round. Next up is a familiar round of faces–Asaf the Hebrew breaker, B-Dash, B1, and street tapper Justin Ballasy. These gentlemen, however, are having a harder time than the ladies at grasping the routine, and it will probably take whatever energy and/or tricks they’ve thrown in at the last minute to keep them safe. B-Dash skates through on the strength of his grasp of the choreography, but Justin is deemed not strong enough and is let go. B1 and Asaf surprised the judges on opposite ends of the spectrum–Asaf having performed better than expected and B1 not doing quite as well–so both have to dance for their lives now in order to stay. The next group of dancers includes Bobby Anime, Alain Latour, and Mission from the Detroit auditions.  Anime and Alain struggle through the routine but add their own flair to certain moments, and Mission does a fair job. The one who surprised me was animator Bobby Volozanin, who struggled with most of the choreography as well, but added moments of swag I hadn’t expected to see from him. Bobby V. and Alain go through, but it’s the end of the line for Anime and Mission.

Meanwhile, back in the theater, B1 and Asaf go up for their solos. B1 pulls every trick imaginable and gives each a new (pardon the pun) spin, and gets a pass from the judges. Asaf comes out with a much stronger routine than his original audition and, in Paula’s exact words, “left it all on the floor and killed himself” to remain in the competition. Jason and Paula are immediate yeses, but before Nigel can give his decision he says something about the show not being “So You Think You Can Entertain”….and Asaf goes off. A-W-F. AWF. He starts this tirade about B1’s tricks and headspins being old hat and not as original as, say, his routine. Jason, Paula, and tWitch all try to diffuse things, but Nigel seems content to hand Asaf the rope to hang himself in a different manner. Somehow, the situation and manages to get to a calm enough point that Asaf realizes he has made it to the next round. This blow up, however, may cost him a spot in Team Street’s Top 10.

With that, we close out Vegas Week and have finally reached Green Mile, with 47 hopefuls–24 Stage and 23 Street dancers–wait to find out if they have done enough to make the show. Stage dancer Marissa Milele goes in first, after three auditions, to find out if she has finally done enough. And she has…she marks the first member of Travis’s Top 10. For Team Street, Asaf gets sent in first, and is ultimately cut more for his inability to quickly grasp choreography than his outburst at the last round. Ladia and B-Dash are also let go from the Street side. Edson goes in next for Team Stage, and we learn that his gift for dance wasn’t developed until very late due to heteronormative views about dance and machismo in his background. Happily, the panel gives him a chance to prove his naysayers wrong with a spot on the show. Joining Edson on Team Stage are Moises Parra, Kate Harpootlian and Hailee Payne.

Team Street gains its first member in Alain “Hurrikane” Latour (who I honestly thought was a no-go because of his hit-or-miss moments with the choreography), who gets to represent his Haitian homeland with pride. Street dancer Jessica “JJ” Rabone goes in next, hoping to make her own name and blazing star shine through the television waves. She’ll get her chance….as will Yorelis Apolinario, locker Lily Frias, and Ariana Crowder.

Denys Drozdyuk, who seriously contemplated dropping out of the competition after partner and girlfriend Antonina was eliminated, goes in with a clearer head to hear his verdict….or so I thought. This dude just told the judges–judges who were heaping effusive praise on him, I might add–that he might have to drop out. WHAT?!? Nigel wastes no time putting up with this wishy-washiness and shows him the door.

Virgil Gadson goes back down Green Mile, with much more delightful results this year. He’s in, along with freestylers Eddie “Neptune” Eskridge and Megan “Megz” Alfonso. Queen Kenya is up next, and even though she’s the last of the top age dancers released, the judges give her mad respect for even getting to the end as brilliantly as she did. For Team Stage, Jim Nowakowsi goes in, and I am all set to prepare for the Second Coming if the judges are stupid enough NOT to put him through. Fortunately, they have much better sense than that, and he sails through, along with contemporary dancer Alexia Meyer and ballet dancer Derek Piquette.

Only two spots left on each team, and Burim “B1” Jusufi claims one of Team Street’s spots. At 29, he’s the last elder statesman standing and the only one to make the show. Darion Flores, the first Black ballet dancer I’ve seen since Danny Tidwell, next claims a place on Team Stage. That leaves four girls–two on each side–vying for the last two spaces. Gaby Diaz and Christine Shepard for Team Stage, and Mary Poppins and JaJa. Gaby gets the last Stage spot and JaJa closes out Team Street.  (IaMmE, Part 3, y’all!)

To say I’m disappointed that Black female Stage dancers were shut out of the Top 20 yet again is an understatement, particularly when I saw so many talented young ladies make it to Vegas. But once again, there’s a swerve going into the live shows, and it’s injury related. Aaron Turner was the most recent beneficiary of this twist in Season 10, when Emilio Dosal’s broken nose made it possible to be in that season’s Top 4. Which contestant is getting a miracle opportunity, and which team?

Season 12's Top 20--Team Stage and Team Street!

Season 12’s Top 20–Team Stage and Team Street!

Love Letter To The PUBLIC: HAMILTON Tells Its Story

This was going to be a review. Really it was. Had the intro written out and everything:

“How do you write like you’re running out of time?”

A six-year voyage finally comes to port–beginning at the White House poetry event and evolving bit by bit from the mind of Lin-Manuel Miranda and the active public chronicling in the realm of Twitterico (aka Lin’s Twitter world), the life and times of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton is now a living, breathing, 2 1/2 hour event being presented at the Public Theater. With previews having begun in January and performances running through May 3 (after THREE date extensions) the show that began as a 4-minute mini-biography sparked by the Ron Chernow tome comes to the performance stage with song, dance and spoken word.

That’s as far as I got. Because still, months later, I’m still tongue-tied and gobsmacked. It’s already hard enough to explain to my non-theater obsessed friends what level of magical genius Lin-Manuel Miranda is on…try explaining why a musical about a long-dead U.S. Treasury Secretary only famous to most for being on the $10 bill is not only riveting theater but a life-changing experience.

I’ve been waiting for three years to write this, ever since my initial live exposure at the Allen Room delivered a gorgeous preview with nothing but the music and black attire. I thought I was ready–I got my tickets early, plotted my trip for months and re-read my own blogs to know what to expect. I felt confident that having already dipped my toe in the wading pond I could sit semi-smugly in the audience with my unsuspecting companions as they witnessed the same brilliance I’d already seen.

And then the lights went down. And my elbows went to my knees and my hands went under my chin. And I stayed there until the lights came up for intermission. I couldn’t process it all–the best I could do was look at my equally shocked, previously skeptical friends and say, “you’re welcome.” I mean, what else CAN you say? That is, if you even have the ability to form intelligible words.

This show is a masterpiece that runs at breakneck speed, forcing you to either keep up with the rapid-fire pace or get joyfully dragged along. It’s history told in modern-day cadence with a melting pot of faces and insane levels of talent. Even the choreography counts as a cast member unto itself–an insane mix of hip-hop, modern, krump, swing and contemporary (for which choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler deserves immediate and constant genuflection on sight). More than just the historical details, though, HAMILTON humanizes the larger-than-life behemoths that are the nation’s Founding Fathers, showing all the highs and lows, triumphs and defeats, scandals, joy and heartbreaks that spotlight their extraordinary ordinariness. Yes, they were brilliant thinkers, brave fighters, audacious revolutionaries…but they were men and women seeking love, validation and a strong foothold in this world.

As with In The Heights, we are again aurally blessed with the musical marriage that is Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alex Lacaimore. Since that beginning four-minute experiment at the White House (and if you HAVEN’T yet seen the performance that birthed this entire revolution, please watch before you proceed any further), I can’t produce any greater superlatives for the marvelous blend and complexity of musical styles and rhythms than I did in my Allen Room concert review. These two are unstoppable: the melodic and verbal gymnastics born of this love affair between hip-hop and musical theater is so palpable it creates a scenery of its own–what you hear is what’s seen in the mind’s eye. That’s not to dismiss the more obvious visual talents of scenic designer David Korins and costume designer Paul Tazewell, however; the pair accent this lush material with contrasting backdrops. Tazewell’s opulent and elaborate finery meticulously depicts each passing era and character station. Juxtaposed against Korins’s stark, simplistic backdrop, the visual combination allows the characters and scenes to travel through as if in a live action flipbook of history…a life-sized game board of Risk, if you will, that lays out each intricate move of our nation’s inception on the proscenium’s arena.

I would be completely remiss if I didn’t at least mention the stellar efforts put forth by this exceptional cast. I’m breaking form a little by beginning with the ensemble–true, my devotion to So You Think You Can Dance and my admiration for Hwang’s Kung Fu and Miranda’s debut work In The Heights already had me in the door for Ariana DeBose, Thayne Jasperson, Jon Rua and Seth Stewart respectively, but every single dancer was vital to the movement of the story, and performed seamlessly. Special shout out to Andy Blankenbuehler for his vision, and to Ariana, Thayne, Seth, Jon and their colleagues Carleigh Bettiol, Andrew Chapelle, Alysha Deslorieux, Sydney James Harcourt, Sasha Hutchings, Betsy Struxness, Ephraim Sykes, Voltaire Wade-Green, Stephanie Klemons and Javier Muñoz for their flawless execution. (I would love to see Javier Muñoz in as Hamilton at least once.)

The principal cast is full of stars–even if you may not have heard of any of them yet. Christopher Jackson’s turn as Washington was stately and strong–exactly as I’d expected from the prior concert and more. Though I’d planned to see him in Holla If Ya Hear Me, I can’t be too disappointed he got to reprise his Allen Room role in grander fashion. Renee Elise Goldsberry, who I’ve had a fangirl crush on since One Life To Live and who I’d forgotten could sing so well, blew the roof off the Public as Angelica Schuyler. Between her fantastic vocal range and her ability to ride those fast rap-sung sections like Hawaiian waves while adding strength and sass to them, phenomenal is too paltry a word to describe her performance but I’ll settle on it until we can invent a better one. Anthony Ramos was so flippin’ cute in Lin’s This American Life offering of “21 Chump Street,” and I expected him to be able to hold his own here. He didn’t disappoint, either in his brief appearance as John Laurents or his heart-rending turn as Phillip Hamilton. The earnest eagerness he displayed in Phillip’s efforts to walk in his father’s footsteps and hopefully gain some of his affection causes our hearts to ache for the young, ill-fated Hamilton sire. Okeriete Onaodowon is the ultimate chameleon in his dual turn as Hercules Mulligan and James Madison. It’s almost Jekyll and Hyde-like how he goes from the brash, in-your-face badassery of Mulligan into the quiet, hanger-on, almost milquetoast persona of Madison. Jasmine Cephas Jones makes the most of her Michelle Williams-like turn as Peggy Schuyler, while delicately balancing vamp and victim in her Maria Reynolds.

And then there’s the pimptastic Daveed Diggs…I mean, how else would you describe the man who played the two smoothest players in the story? His refined Marquis de Lafayette and his impudent Thomas Jefferson play interchangeably against each other, and as the male player with the largest volume of supersonic lyrics to deliver, he spits them as effortlessly as breathing clean, country air. Brian D’Arcy-James was absolutely hilarious in his turn as King George II. Though he only had two prominent vocal offerings, his stoic, snooty demeanor had the house in stitches. How he or anyone else on that stage never broke character and dissolved into fits of giggles is truly astonishing.

The story’s three heaviest hitters–Aaron Burr, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton and Alexander Hamilton–were movingly and expertly played. Leslie Odom, Jr. surprised me in the subtle ease and amiability with which he portrays Burr. Considering the dark, villainous hue history has shaded Burr’s legacy, Odom’s portrayal as easygoing, friendly and reserved goes against any expected or stereotypical offering of an antagonist. He really allows the audience to see Burr’s humanity and heart along with the ambition. Phillipa Soo’s performance as Eliza may well be the reason why the show’s title is HAMILTON and not ALEXANDER HAMILTON–she is just as vital a character and watching her development as a person is simply riveting, with dulcet, soul-stirring vocals to go with it. If there is a person who has seen (or will see) this show that has heard her sing “Burn” and left the theater with dry eyes or lumpless throats, I demand to see receipts as proof that your hearts exist. And of course, Lin-Manuel Miranda. As the obvious fan I am, I could leave that sentence there as a testament to my feelings on his performance, but there’s so much more to say. Anyone who actively follows Lin in the press and on social media is well aware how large a labor of love writing this show has been for him, and can also see how much of himself he has poured into every word and note that comes from the stage. It’s difficult for me to separate actor from character because I can see the moments Lin pulls his own passions and feelings into portraying this lesser-known, highly intelligent and wildly complicated Founding Father. He portrays every bit of brashness, impetuousness, intellect, anguish, bravado and resilience that his namesake had to have possessed to live the tale we see displayed on the stage.

I can’t wait to take this ride again once this ship docks on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theater. Alexander and Eliza are incredibly fortunate it was Lin-Manuel Miranda who wrote himself into the narrative to tell their story…as are we all.

(Oh, and an extra special thanks to Tommy Kail, for spurring Lin on so that it was only a SIX year wait….. 😀 )

Lin-Manuel Miranda – Alexander Hamilton
Leslie Odom, Jr. – Aaron Burr
Christopher Jackson – George Washington
Brian d’Arcy James (later Jonathan Groff*) – King George II
Phillipa Soo – Eliza Schuyler Hamilton
Renee Elise Goldsberry – Angelica Schuyler
Jasmine Cephas Jones – Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds
Anthony Ramos – John Laurens/Phillip Hamilton
Okeriete Onaodowon – Hercules Mulligan/James Madison
Daveed Diggs – Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson
Javier Munoz – Alexander Hamilton (Standby)

Carleigh Bettiol, Andrew Chappelle, Ariana Debose, Alysha Deslorieux, Sydney James Harcourt, Neil Haskell*, Sasha Hutchings, Thayne Jasperson, Stephanie Klemons, Morgan Marcell, Emmy Raver-Lampman*, Jon Rua, Austin Smith*, Seth Stewart, Betsy Struxness, Ephraim Sykes and Voltaire Wade-Greene

*Jonathan Groff will originate the role of King George II in the Broadway run. Neil Haskell, Emmy Raver-Lampman and Austin Smith are new additions to the Company for the Broadway run.

HAMILTON opens at the Richard Rodgers Theater for previews TODAY, July 13.


"New home. Same revolution." David Korins

Tightening Up the Teams: SYTYCD Season 12 Callbacks, Part 1


Thinning the ranks--who will survive?

We’re on to the Vegas callbacks to see how our hopefuls shape up!

Marissa Milele, 20, Nashville, TN, Team Stage
First up for Vegas solos is Marissa, who came from the Memphis auditions as a contemporary dancer. Going for hard-hitting, hard-hitting, powerful, and sexy with her solo, she has lots of flexibility moves, but little skill. Her transitions were good, though, and good enough for the judges to keep.

A montage of dancers begins next, with a few highlighted auditioners:

Darion Flores, 19, Hartford, CT, Team Stage
This is where my television transmission breaks up, so I’m unable to tell exactly what audition city these dancers came from. Darion is a ballet dancer and has great form.

Gaby Diaz, 18, Miami, FL, Team Stage
Gabby auditioned in two different cities a week apart, getting her Vegas ticket at the second one. Tapper with great feet and good rhythms.

Derek Piquette, 18, Chicopee, MA, Team Stage
A contemporary dancer with belly like line and good acrobatic ability. His turn sensor look off, but he may get by in spite of that.

Early favorite Jim Nowakowsi is among the dancers in this montage and, along with the others mentioned above, makes it to the next round.

The last ten Stage dancers are up, and this group includes Kelly McCoy, the dancer from the Detroit auditions who came with her fiancé Tyrell Noll, who auditioned for Team Street. We take a brief pause from the auditions to see them take full advantage of being in Las Vegas and actually tie the knot. So it is Kelly McCoy Noll auditioning for the judges today–and alone, since Tyrell is in the Street division. Kelly makes it through the first round to choreography. But there are other dancers who don’t make it through, among them Paula’s favorite fan from the New York auditions, Darius Drooh.

The dancers on Team Stage that survived the cut move to the first day of of choreography, with the Team captain himself, Travis Wall. (It is interesting to note that I have seen at least three female Stage dancers of color among those remaining….a virtual wealth compared to previous seasons.)

While the Stage dancers are getting ready to learn their contemporary routine, we shift to the Street dancers auditions. First up is Tyrell Noll, Kelly’s brand new husband, auditioning to stay in Vegas. Nigel was not impressed with him at the Detroit auditions, but he made it through on Paula and Jason’s votes. And, just as with Kelly’s audition, he has to perform without her in the audience and she has to wait for word on his results. (Thankfully, my full audio is back.) Unfortunately, of the first ten dancers, Tyrell is cut and has to go tell Kelly the bad news. So the newlyweds are separated on the first day, and Mike Manson and Courtney Barnes also join Tyrell on the trip home. However, locker Alain, house dancer Jessica, and hip-hopper Megs all get through.

Yorelis Apolinario, 19, Tampa, FL, Team Street
Yorelis auditioned in Season 11 as a contemporary dancer but got cut; she decided to spend her next year training exclusively in street dance, thus her placement on Team Street. She gets through, but we lose liturgical/mime dancer Michael, freestyle dancer Kareem Ali, and krumper Roydell Shannon in the process, along with two other dancers (Lamar and Brianna). However, Street tapper Justin Ballasy and Dragon House member Boris managed to make it to the next round.

The next montage of survivors include Eliazer from the Bronx, Ladia Yates, JaJa, Andre, Asaf the Hebrew breaker, and a few other highlighted auditioners. Last up is Kenya “Standing O” Sutton, who wowed the judges in Detroit. Shown in the middle of a panic attack, we are made to wonder if she will even get through her audition here. She winds up being the only one of her group of ten to move to the next round. So the newly culled Team Street move into choreography with Jamal Sims, choreographer for the Step Up movies.

As Team Street works on their choreography, Team Stage move back to the auditorium to perform their routine for the judges. First group includes Antonina Skobina, a ballroom dancer who auditioned in Los Angeles with her partner Denys, and tapper Kelsey Rose Young. Antonina impresses the judges, but Kelsey doesn’t go any further and is cut. Jazz dancer Mary Kate Levoir, tapper Gaby Diaz, Antonina’s partner Denys, Marissa and Kelly Noll all get through this round. Struggling were Brandon Armstrong, Kenya Welch and Avo Karapetyan, and though she tried her hardest, this round was the end of the line for Jacy Jordan, the miracle accident survivor.

Team Street takes the stage next with their first combo, and Eliazer Chapman, Virgil Gadson and James “B-Dash” Derrick are in the first group. Virgil and B-Dash make it through, but Eliazer falls through. He’s pumped though, and ready to work toward next season. Next up are jooker Montrell Britton and locker Lil B, and neither are getting a grasp of the actual choreography….though they are freestyling their asses off. Neither moves on, but Lil B tries to fight for a spot by asking to do it again solo. He throws all of his energy into it but does not change the judges’ minds. Megs and Jessica are featured in this all-ladies group….and all five ladies kill it, followed by Ladia, Mary Poppins and Queen Kenya. But the news is not so good for Andre Rucker (who at least didn’t walk out this year) and Korey Cleveland….though he did come into Vegas with his 90 day chip.

Samantha Reyes, the Bronx freestyler, is having an attack of nerves over learning the choreography, and Coach tWitch gives her a heart-to-heart to help boost her confidence. She, JaJa and Yorelis are in the next group, and while JaJa and Yorelis do enough to stick around, Samantha doesn’t get enough of a grasp and is let go. Hopefully she’ll refocus and return next season.

Day 2 begins for Team Stage and young Cody Carlson gets to sit in on the action today. On The Town choreographer Josh Bergasse takes the dancers through a Broadway routine, and Allen Genkin, our West Coast swinger, aggravates an old injury in rehearsal and has to leave for the hospital. Alyssa Guerrerri, Ryan Rafflouer and Kelly Noll perform in the first group, and while she had a great rehearsal, Kelly falls several counts behind and rings out here, joining her new husband on the trip home. Alyssa and Ryan move forward, though, along with Gaby Diaz. Edson from the Dallas auditions and ballrom dancer Denys are in the next group. Denys sails through the routine but Edson struggles, ending with an injury. He gets through on the strength of his rehearsal but is cautioned to be honest about the condition of his leg going forward. Contemporary dancers Moises Parra (18, Garden Grove, CA) and Guillermo Morales are among the following group, along with Brandon Armstrong and a contemporary girl, Kate Harpoolian. The girls are hanging tough but the guys in this group are having a lot of trouble. Kate and Brandon are impressive enough to move forward but Guillermo’s dream ends here. Moises earns the opportunity to dance for his life, with only the three judges making the decision whether he stays or goes. He pulls all of his strength, jumps and freakish flexibility into his solo, but the judges call him on maintaining the high level of power and connection as he performs. Still, it’s enough to get him through.

Allen returns diagnosed with a small tear in his foot–an injury he’s dealt with before–but on crutches, and unable to perform. So he’s out of the running this year.

Team Street is back up after yesterday’s bloodbath, and it’s Dave Scott up next to teach this round. After only an hour the first group is up, which includes B-Dash, Jessica and Alain. The whole group of five slays and moves forward, followed by a host of favorites including Queen Kenya, Boris and Yorelis. The B-boy brothers Burim (B1) and Illijaz, are up next and having somewhat of a hard time but are determined. B1 dances in the first group but doesn’t impress enough, and is asked to dance for his life. Older brother Illijaz is in the next group, along with Steven Ban, my New Orleans geek street animator. Having been at this for the last eight years with not one family member to support him or see him perform, he’s got a little extra to prove. He performs and is asked to dance for his life due to his beginning not hitting strongly. Illijaz is not as fortunate, and is cut from the competition. He stays on to watch his brother B1 try to save his spot on Team Street…and he delivers. Steven’s turn is next, and it’s a split vote between Jason and Paula. With Nigel as the deciding factor, he sends Steven home. (I certainly hope I can find him here and encourage him to continue.)

Next week completes the Vegas experience and reveals the Top 10 for each team. We’re almost to Hollywood, and I can’t wait!