Generation NEXT: SYTYCD Season 13

So-You-Think-You-Can-Dance-Results-July-25-2016

 

So You Think You Can Dance has returned to the small screen for a 13th season, and this year the kids get their turn in the spotlight.

The show has revamped its entire look and contestant base, auditioning dancers between the ages of 8 to 13 and mirroring every popular social network platform with its graphics, peppy music and bright colors. They’ve even extended the youth appeal by adding a new judge to join Nigel Lythgoe, Paula Abdul and Jason DeRulo–15 year old dancer Maddie Ziegler, made famous by her appearances on Dance Moms and countless Sia videos and performances.  Limiting their audition cities to Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, the core trio of judges mines through the hundreds of pint-sized hopefuls to select a few hundred to attend The Academy, the kids’ version of the Vegas intensive. The selection has a twist, though–only ten young dancers are selected for the stage shows, and not by the three judges.  Ten All-Stars–former contestants from the previous 12 seasons–are judging at The Academy to select one dancer each to take to the Hollywood stage that they feel they best connect with and has the skills to win.

Los Angeles had a good number of surprising talents: hip-hop dancers Merrick and Kida, ballerina Avery, contemporary dancers Jordan, Sage, Ava (tallest in the auditions at 5’9″ at only 11 years old) and Sophia, tap dancer Ava (complete with embarrassing tap dad), and ballroom dancers Lev, Ivan and Camilla. One particular standout audition involved dancers Stella and Geramy, who initially got a pass from the judges before Stella pleaded their case and asked to show something different. The two did a more dramatic paso doble and Stella was passed through, though Geramy was still rejected.  However, Nigel–presumably impressed by both his performance demeanor and the 25 pound weight loss he accomplished in practicing for the auditions–convinced his fellow judges to give him the opportunity to go through to The Academy to get a feel for the amount of hard work it would take to pursue the show.  Chicago brought us the ubercuteness that was 10 year old J.T. Church, and the extremely excited Tahani, whose happiness bubbled right out of her….and onto Paula Abdul’s jacket.  Poor baby–I have never seen anyone throw up after getting a positive nod, and particularly not all over a judge.  But she and Paula took it in stride.  Other Chicago standouts included lightning-fast tapper Emma, ballerina Tia (who got to dance in front of Fabrice Chamels of the Joffrey Ballet), hip-hop dancer Alex, contemporary dancers Diana, Quinn and Enoch, jazz dancer Ainslee (who though completely adorable and energetic with her pocket-sized 8 year old self was turned down), and ballroom dancers Leana and Daniela.  11 year old Daniela had a bit of an ace up her sleeve: her mom, who teaches her, is a Latin ballroom champion.  She even got to show Nigel and Jason a few moves.  New York seemed to host the largest and most diversely interesting auditioners on the tour, from Latin dance junior champion Ruby to Kinky Boots swing Dougie, amazingly mature contemporary dancers Tate and Olivia, mini “Magic Mike” hip-hoppers R.J and Jake (who reminded me so much of Nick and Rudy from Season 11), 12 year old breaker Kai who’s so badass he rocks with an ADULT crew, ballroom dancers Valeriya, Alex, Liza and Joshua (all but Liza moved on, but I thought her personality would at least get her in the door), and 13 year old tapper Lucas, who caused a bit of discussion with the judges but was eventually sent ahead to the next round.

After arriving at The Academy, the young dancers performed their solos for the All-Star judges who would evaluate them.  The All-Stars roster for Season 13 is a pretty fair balance of all of the available genres: ballroom is represented by Paul Kamiryan, Jonathan Platero and Jenna Johnson; hip-hop is covered by Comfort Fedoke and champions Joshua Allen and DuShant “Fik-Shun” Steagel; contemporary is represented by Robert Roldan, and first runners-up Kathryn McCormick and Sasha Mallory; and rounding out the numbers is reigning champion, Season 12’s tap mistress Gaby Diaz.  Each dancer gets to pick their five favorite dancers from the Academy soloists, with at least three that are not necessarily of their specific genre.  Things get interesting a few times as some of the dancers are selected by more than one All-Star, which gives the dancer the option of which team he or she wants to be on.  By the end of the rounds the five dancers are cut to two, with those two being in contention to go to the live shows.

Contemporary dancer Tate gave such a technically and emotionally compelling performance she literally propelled half of the judges from their seats, even though they were supposed to restrain their reactions. She wound up being sought after by both Kathryn and Sasha, and after hearing their say, she chose Kathryn’s team. Two other dancers, Kida and Ruby, would also be doubly selected, with Kida choosing Fik-Shun over Joshua and Ruby selecting Paul in favor of Jonathan, respectively. All of the dancers gave their absolute best, but with the choices limited to 5 dancers per team, the selected pool of about 100 hopefuls was immediately cut down to 50.  After that, three rounds of choreography–Broadway with Warren Carlyle, Hip-Hop with Nappytabs, and Contemporary with Travis Wall–honed each team of five down to two dancers, of which the given All-Star had to select one to take with them to the live shows.  The final choices came down to gut decisions, as each of the kids displayed varying degrees of technique, personality, determination and heart throughout the whole process. The 10 dancers selected are:

  • Tate McRae – Team Kathryn
  • Leon “Kida” Burns – Team Fik-Shun
  • Ruby Castro – Team Paul
  • J. T. Church – Team Robert
  • Jordan Wandick – Team Sasha
  • Jake Monreal – Team Jenna
  • Daniela Avanzini – Team Jonathan
  • Sheaden Gabriel – Team Joshua
  • Emma Hellenkamp – Team Gaby
  • Tahani Anderson – Team Comfort

Overall, I like the concept, as today’s young dancers are doing feats I couldn’t master TODAY, never mind when I was their age.  I’m trying very hard not to let my disdain for Dance Moms and my intense dislike for Abby Lee Miller to color my judgment on Maddie Ziegler’s role in the proceedings; I feel she’s overhyped and overexposed but it’s a very shrewd move to include her as the kids will definitely know HER pedigree as opposed to the adult pioneers…not to mention they’ll have the benefit of her expertise in competing in the public eye and professionalism as a child in the entertainment business.  The one outstanding fact is that these kids are phenomenally talented and have larger than life personalities–and this, above all of the other gimmicks and enticements, will make this season shine.

On the GRAMMYS and Inclusion: So Close and Yet So Far

On the GRAMMYS and Inclusion: So Close and Yet So Far

So, I really wasn’t planning to watch the Grammys this year.

I forget what award or performance snub pissed me off but I stopped watching the Grammys years ago, Googling only the categories I’m interested in to see who won. Categories, by the way, that never got a millisecond of airtime anyway, so my personal boycott was never difficult.

And then, this greeted me early on a Wednesday morning.

On the GRAMMYS and Inclusion: So Close and Yet So Far

Aw crap.

Anyone who knows me or has read this blog for any significant amount of time knows that I will move heaven, earth and maybe some smuggled body parts to watch him, as the old folks used to say, “spit across the line.” So that basically meant my Grammy boycott didn’t stand a chance. And I actually watched it live all the way through the Hamilton performance and win, and was pleased with a great deal of what I saw. I expected no less than complete awesomeness from HAMILTON, and they did not disappoint in either the performance or Lin-Manuel Miranda’s traditionally expected acceptance rap. But I was treated to some very pleasant and well-performed moments, such as the new artist duets, the Kendrick Lamar performance, and the artist tributes. I love that Lionel Richie not only received an all-star musical tribute in connection with his AmeriCares Humanitarian Award, but got to participate in it. And of the memorial performances, my absolute favorite was the collaboration of Stevie Wonder and Pentatonix saluting Maurice White; however I did appreciate the fact that Jackson Browne and The Eagles, Lady Gaga and Bonnie Raitt devoted their stage time to Glenn Frye, David Bowie and B.B. King, respectively.

But even with all of that, there’s still a lot that Grammy should have done WAY better. The sound issues, rushed thank yous, and usual snubs of certain categories in the broadcast have needed attention for years, and are probably among the reasons I stopped watching. But one in particular has folks up in arms–the paltry mention of the late Natalie Cole.

And this Mic article didn’t help the conversation progress:

 On the GRAMMYS and Inclusion: So Close and Yet So Far

Being in broadcasting and having some experience on what it takes to navigate getting a live show on and off the air in a timely manner, I can understand the choices behind some of the argued points; for example, the fact that Natalie Cole got an extended moment during the In Memoriam segment but not a musical tribute seems to be more at the discretion of the performing artists and not the Grammys executives. And as there are a lot of categories that don’t even get an on-air mention, I can understand not having a separate performance scheduled for her.

However, the protests are not entirely wrong….

Something I did not know before I clicked on the Mic article was that Natalie was the first Black artist to win the Best New Artist award. Given that place in Grammy history AND her legacy as the daughter of Nat King Cole–another musical groundbreaker–you would think that would automatically get her at least a couple of lines in the awards presentation. I’m sure Sam Smith wouldn’t have minded saying a thing or two about her in presenting the Best New Artist award, an award he himself received the previous year.

But the larger issue is that I saw VERY FEW female artist categories, more male performers spotlighted than females, and a seeming disregard for providing them any airtime at all–did you see Ed Sheeran’s female co-writer get completely cut off before being allowed to speak? Time crunch or not, that was completely unacceptable.

And this is probably why the Natalie Cole “slight” is such a big deal. People spoke up about the men who passed on. Most of the male presenters and performers got their full say. And while three of the biggest female names in current popular music got solo spots, the rest of the ladies were lumped into duets and groups–good performances, mind you, but it gives the appearance that female solo artists are undervalued. There needs to be a better balance between the big name draws and the up and comers, the male and female artists, the popular and less exposed genres, what’s expressive and what sells. Naturally, there’s no way to make everybody happy every time…but what we see is not lining up with what you’re saying. You cannot tell us you celebrate all kinds of music and feature the same artists and categories every single year. You cannot keep parading a musical sausagefest and then say how proud you are of women’s contributions to the field. That’s why people feel that Natalie Cole deserved more than she got…not only for the sake of her legacy, but for the women who stand on her shoulders.

Fatal Four-way: SYTYCD Season 12 Performance Finale

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This is it! The final new dances of the season from four ferociously fierce performers! The kids have five dances apiece tonight, so it’s definitely going to be nonstop action tonight.

(I know there was one year that time was short and they didn’t air a Top 4 group dance, but this has to be the first year I’ve seen them just not do one at all….hmmm…..)

Hailee and JaJa – Hip-Hop
Choreographers Misha Gabriel and Nick Bass (Song: Put It In The Bag, Kalenna featuring B. Simm)

A Hail-Ja reunion, with the girls as two outlaws running from the crime scene…and apparently Hailee has kicked her hip-hop game into another gear and JaJa is playing catch-up.

“My Homies Still” for 2015. JaJa was a little too in the pocket for me, but then again Hailee was trying too hard. They were both good, but I wasn’t wowed. Didn’t make me say Hail-Ja tonight.

Nigel didn’t think they were authentic robbers, but did say that they’d stolen his heart….. *groan* He did think it was a great fun routine and looked like they had fun working together. Paula thought the girls were equally matched and also noticed the complementary swagger and fun they brought to the dance. Jason was impressed and thought it was a strong performance, with Hailee playing the different personality levels and JaJa holding tight to her hard street facade–and both coming across beautifully.

Virgil and Gaby – Lyrical Hip-Hop
Choreographer Phillip Chbeeb (Song: Slip, Elliott Moss)

Before I even talk about the dance and the dancers, can I just say how much it thrills me to type the words “Choreographer Phillip Chbeeb?” I ♡ him SO much….

Gaby is embodying all of Virgil’s most beautiful memories that he has to let go of in order to move forward. Phillip is insane….don’t get me wrong, I adore his insanity, but the complexity of movement in this piece is definitely challenging.

Like most Phillip Chbeeb fans, I recognized this piece from the first move, and I purposely did not seek out his YouTube rendition until after watching the show. There’s a magic Phillip has that no one else can really capture. But I think Virgil and Gaby did a fine job of translating his vision and conveying the emotions of the piece. As expected, some of the transitions were a little bumpy, but you could get past a lot of that just by watching the pair’s connection with each other.

Phillip is pretty overcome though, so it’s safe to say that the choreographer thought they nailed it…..

Paula loved the complexity and texture Phillip brought to the piece, and thought Virgil and Gaby danced it brilliantly. Yummy, fun and interesting are her choice adjectives of the day. Jason appreciated the originality of the choreography and thought the two beautifully danced a great combination of the stage and street styles. Nigel was also duly impressed with the dancers and the choreographer and congratulated all on a job well done.

JaJa and Gaby – Jazz
Choreographers RJ Durell and Nick Flores (Song: Woman (Oh Mama), Joy Williams)

An expression of the duality within us all, JaJa and Gaby have flamenco-like skirts, twists, tangles and lifts to contend with in this number. (Nobody said Top 4 was gonna be easy….you gotta EARN this.) But Team Strage (really, Travis?) is coming with that power….

Loving these costumes right off the bat…they could easily bring that Top 20 Dia de Los Muertos piece on tour and segue into this one. But let me at least watch it to see if that should even be a possibility….yep. It would be an interesting musical segue, but that strong, forceful piece of music combined with these two ladies channeling their inner Frida Kahlo works very much for me. Gabi REALLY called on the ancients in her Latina blood to give the grand presence she gave in this performance, allotting the slightest of edges over JaJa. And I mean VERY slight, as JaJa was giving it her all and a couple of other people’s all in this dance as well.

Jason thought it was a strong number and said he enjoyed it “like two mojitos on a hot Labor Day.” Nigel thought the ladies matched the passion of the song and the choreography, and thought JaJa needed to relax her shoulders and be less tense in her power. But he also projected either of them to win, so…. Paula pretty much summed her critiques in this quote: “It takes an athlete to dance, but it takes an artist to be a dancer.” Great testament to how well these two strong women blend their skills and styles and create magic.

JaJa and Virgil – Contemporary
Choreographer Stacey Tookey (Song: I Love You (Acoustic), Woodkid)

A relationship that’s lost its spark, with Virgil being the one to remind JaJa of where their love began. (A little close to home right now, Stacey…..) And again, Stacey is not playing anything down…these two Team Street dancers are going to have to dig in and find some technical ease and still get the emotional punch across.

Are you serious right now? I mean, are you SERIOUS? A quick glance at the screen without the backstory would raise the question, “When did Amy Yakima go redhead?” We just watched Virgil–last week with Melanie and just a few moments ago with Gaby–so there’s not as much shock there…though I WILL say that manly presence shot up a hundredfold. But JaJa just transformed into a contemporary dancer right before our eyes. Any technical bobbles were infinitesimal because I couldn’t see them. These judges are going to have to reach to find a flaw here.

Nigel makes a small note about the lack of technique showing, but overall is so impressed by their high levels of commitment and performance he basically just gushes about their excellence. Paula is proud of their technical development and the amount of attention they’ve devoted to it, saying they’ve come leaps and bounds from where they started. Jason agrees wholeheartedly, saying many of the same things and equally expressing his pride in the two of them.

Virgil and Hailee – Broadway
Choreographer Josh Bergasse (Song: Billy-A-Dick, Bette Midler)

Quiet girl living in the city confronts noisy drumming upstairs neighbor, and mayhem ensues. Lots of character and new acrobatic moves that test the laws of physics and trust.

Now this is believable Broadway from Hailee. I still think the other genres suit her better, but she combined the moves and the character and really sold it tonight. The music wasn’t too far off from what was in After Midnight, so Virgil just landed himself in a very familiar pond and took off swimming.

Paula said they nailed the timing and the fun, and was really lighthearted. She also gave Virgil props for taking the note about getting more lift in his jumps. Jason concurs, but also comments that while Virgil nailed his character, Hailee was hit-or-miss in places, and also said while he enjoyed the number, he felt the pair had already performed better in previous numbers that evening. Nigel sees Jason’s point but did think their personalities really came out. And OH MY GOD DID HE JUST OUT THAT WOMAN’S PREGNANCY ON LIVE TV?!? Cat, I never would have guessed because that dress is amazing! Another DANCE baby!

Hailee and Gaby – Contemporary
Choreographer Travis Wall (Song: Do Not Hang Your Head, Elizabeth and the Catapult)

Well, if you’re gonna send Team Stage out on a high note, might as well put Coach Travis in the game. He’s having the girls portray the fear of not being accepted….”love has no boundaries, and we should feel the power of that.”

Right now I feel like Nigel right after Katee and Joshua did “No Air” for the first time in Season 4……that was really, really good. I noticed one slightly off moment in the synchronization but it wasn’t enough to pull my focus from the connection these ladies had. Very nice.

Jason said the girls brought life to Travis’s amazing vision. I get exactly where he’s coming from when he says “I’d pay money to see that” after a particularly effective performance–art is free but some art is just that worth it that you’re willing to give it that high a value. And I think this qualifies. Nigel acknowledged that the feelings they produced onstage were the most important thing, and thought it was beautiful to see. Paula was truly moved by the simple dignity and honesty of the routine and deemed it special…which prompted Nigel to muse about how it seems that guys are unable to achieve that same depth of comfortable connection with a number like that. Cat jumps in….and take note, Nigel–THIS is how you name check SYTYCD routines….and mentions Travis’s creation for Kent and Neil back in Season 7. Leave it to Paula, though, to bring this tangent train back to the station by expressing how nice it is to be able to manifest such concepts through dance.

A brief time-out between All-Star duets and contestant solos for the coaches to muse about their last two contestants standing….

Gaby – Magalenna, Sergio Mendes
This is NOT the song to tackle with a technical and intricately syncopated tap number. That is, unless your name is Gaby Diaz. From the moment she auditioned, got cut and determined she was hitting EVERY CITY until she walked away with a ticket to Vegas, you could see this girl was bound to do great things. There’s not one number of hers this season that has tanked–a few got some small critiques here and there but her skill has never been faulted. And of all of the contestants, she’s been the most versatile because (and I type this before her All-Star duet comes up) she is the only one who has not once danced in her own style outside of her solos and a couple of 8 counts in a Team Stage collaboration. This is her edge to win it.

Virgil (with All-Star Joshua Allen) – Hip-Hop
Choreographers Phoenix and Pharcyde (Song: Let’s Go, Trick Daddy featuring Twista and Lil Jon)

Oh shit–the dudes’ version of Run The World! This is already awesome. (Virgil, you cute and all, but step on my boo thang one mo’ gin….)

That was almost “Hello, Good Morning” worthy right there….the first solid bit of macho aggression I’ve seen out of Virgil yet. Neptune had better get with Joshua and start practicing….

Nigel has been possessed by the spirits of Mary Murphy and Ozzy Osbourne simultaneously, and is standing and yelling and clapping and throwing up old man gang signs. I’m not sure, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say he liked it. I mean, he has hollered himself hoarse, y’all. Paula is calling this her favorite of all of Phoenix and Pharcyde’s pieces this season, and acknowledges the heroic, powerful tour de force that is Virgil Gadson. Jason just jumps up and gets juiced like his British homie to the left, so judging from that AND the standing ovation, I’mma say the love is unanimous for this piece.

Virgil – A Beautiful Mine, RJD2
You know, it’s such a shame this boy doesn’t have the charisma or the tenacity to survive and thrive in this business…..I’m telling you, if this boy doesn’t blow up in a major way 2 months after this tour, the casting agents just really don’t know what the hell they’re doing. Virgil’s life is going to be spent in entertainment one way or another, and we’re all going to love it.

Hailee (with All-Star Marko Germar) – Jazz
Choreographer Ray Leeper (Song: All Night (Don’t Stop), Janet Jackson)

Total jazz spotlight for Hailee….with her all up on my man again. You and Gaby are gonna make me sneak y’all…..

A couple of rough transitions, and I’d have liked to have seen her do this in those boots Gaby wore. But we all know Marko is about to teach Derek and Jim this routine for the tour.

Paula said Hailee dances with ferocity and intensity, and that’s what makes her stand out….though she thought, as difficult as the choreography was, that Hailee wasn’t as challenged in this one. Jason said she brought the power required for the dance and the music, but would have preferred more fire and grit. However, he does commend the level of excellence produced by her in the five routines performed this week. Nigel said she brought the fire and gave her 100%.

Hailee – Cold Hearted, Paula Abdul
The biggest bang you can go out with is to use a judge’s song and start your routine at the bridge of said song, throwing all that talent at America’s face like, “Let’s do this, Brutus!” Best solo I’ve seen from her yet.

JaJa (with All-Star Cyrus Spencer) – Animation
Choreographer Christopher Scott (Song: Kaolo, Yellow Claw)

The minute they said animation I dared not hope I’d see Mr. Spencer back on the stage….but he and Christopher Scott were the only logical choices for this….which makes Chris’s decision to continue the story from Cyrus’s finale duet with tWitch that much more serendipitous. Animation 3.0 coming at you…..

Cyrus is really little….he’s lost weight. That’s about all I got here because there’s no use in vomiting words over words about how JaJa MURDERED that dance and outshined Cyrus AND tWitch in the process. Nigel’s right….this fight is coming down to Gaby and JaJa, and it’s going to be a close one because JaJa is throwing haymakers.

Jason is standing, so it’s safe to assume this one wowed him. That and the stuttering. Nigel was not as wowed with the sequel as he wanted to be, saying JaJa is so proficient in her style that the inherent promise of “bigger and better” implied by the word sequel did not deliver. (I can actually see his point there–as intricate as the lab smash automation section was, it didn’t carry that same impact as that opening glass shatter of the original routine….which in turn, showed as status quo for JaJa instead of groundbreaking.) He didn’t deny, however, that JaJa was impeccable in her movement and brilliant in the routine. Paula acknowledges that the choreography plays to JaJa’s strengths, but does see Nigel’s point as well.

JaJa – Street Side, 20 Killz
JAJA. IS. BRINGING. THE. BIG. GUNS. She is not playing, y’all. She has mastered street dance and is invading the stage disciplines with all the heart that little body can muster. And while Russell Ferguson still stands as the only fully untrained dancer to win, there has yet to be a female in this rare air….until now.

Gaby (with All-Star Zach Everhart) – Tap
Choreographer Anthony Morigerato (Song: Dibidy Dop (Swing Mix), Club Des Belugas featuring Brenda Boykin)

I KNEW they weren’t going to let me down! Gaby gets a tap routine, and of course, no one else could have done it but Anthony Morigerato. And now that I see the concept, there was no other choice than Zach Everhart….he’s already tackled stairs with Valerie Rockey, so what’s a few boxes 2 feet off the ground? This is the showstopper here, and whether it was practically or strategically placed last, these next two minutes may well seal this contest for Gaby.

J. Lo, have you met Gaby? You will.

Game, set and goddamned match.

Nigel is tickled pink and bowled over by Gaby’s talent and tenacity. Paula (and I keep forgetting we have at least two tappers on the judges’ panel) throws out adjectives like relentless, magnificent and awe-inspiring. Jason (and that’s why I said at LEAST two tappers) kept it short and simple and told Gaby that he’s in love with everything she does, and proceeds to give her another standing ovation….from atop the judges’ table. High praise indeed, with absolutely no pun intended.

That’s a wrap to the night and the season, folks! Just a short wait to see who lands in the champion’s circle this year….four very worthy opponents have thrown their gauntlets and shattered every TV screen in America from the inside. Let’s see who’s standing at the top.

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SYTYCD 11 Finale–Victor Victorious: The Ricky Redemption

Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

It’s the finale of Season 11 and the results are in!

As has been standard over the past few seasons, several dances from the season are revisited based on judges’ choices, finalists’ faves and a fan pick based on social media vote…with all of the choices being likely fodder for the upcoming concert tour.

Tonight’s judging panel, along with stalwarts Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy, include early judges Tara Lipinski and Jenna Dewan-Tatum, and in their first panel appearances this season, legends Adam Shankman and Debbie Allen.

Mary Murphy is up first and picks Casey and Jessica’s Week 5 breakout contemporary, Travis Wall’s “Like Real People Do.” It lost some of the first time organics but it’s still a good piece, and they naturally nailed it technically, as usual.  They’ll get it hammered out for the Tour….Debbie Allen makes her first appearance this season and picks Valerie and Ricky’s hip-hop duo courtesy of Pharside and Phoenix.  The minute I heard “Turn Down For What” start I knew this was destined for heavy repetition.  Considering it actually made me like the song, that’s a pretty good thing.  Nigel’s choice was a nice little brag session, picking Rudy’s duet with FORMER All-Star Allison Holker–now a cast member and the latest SYTYCD alum on Dancing With The Stars–in the Ray Leeper “Dirty Diana” jazz from Michael Jackson Week. Nice cross plugs, Nigel…but how you mentioned everybody BUT Chelsie Hightower in that list is unfathomable.  For shame!  Jenna loves her some Rudy as well, as her selection is the Sonya Tayeh jazz piece “What You Need” performed with Tanisha in Top 20 week 2.  That was a good piece and an excellent showcase for Tanisha’s abilities. Adam Shankman, also in the studio for the first time this season, gives the best intro EVER: “I want to let those two kings know that THIS queen is a fan!”  Naturally, he’s referring to the fresh from last week Pharside and Phoenix hip-hop number “The Antidote,” given to Zack and Ricky, and I have to say those boys were just as filthy (Adam’s words) this week as they were last week.  Tara brings back the Nappytabs hip-hop “Get Low,” performed by my boo Emilio Dosal and All-Star and Degree pitchwoman Jasmine Harper, which is lucky for them as you’ll see a few paragraphs down.

Blessedly, there was no official ranking this year, but we were still treated to memorable moments from the auditions.  Most were expected–Courtney “How you doing?” Barnes, Jerrod “Hey Ms. Mary!” Swain and the 18 1/2 year old J4–but also included, and greatly appreciated, was Dani Platz, a young lady re-entering the dance world after a stint in recovery for an eating disorder.  Her emotive expression of her experience through her dancing, and judge Christina Applegate’s recognition of her voice in that piece, was touching and inspiring, and I applaud the producers for including it.

The top four kids also get to pick their favorites:

Zack goes with his breakthrough contemporary, Sonya Tayeh’s “Europe After the Rain” with All-Star Amy Yakima; Valerie sticks to her roots and picks the “Sing” tap Anthony Morigerato created for her and fellow finalist Zach Everhart; Jessica reprised the “When I Go” contemporary from the previous week, choreographed by Stacey Tookey and performed with All-Star Robert Roldan; and Ricky went all the way back to the first performance show and pulled his “Vow” contemporary from Sonya Tayeh, that he performed with fellow finalist Jessica Richens.

The evening would not be complete with an over-the-top foray from Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who not only “attempts” some Travis Wall choreography onstage but whips out his own ticket to Vegas for next season…who’s gonna tell him they’re back in Pasadena now?

Since we’re back to a single champion, we get that dramatic drawn-out results reveal, and the 4th place contestant is announced–Zack Everhart.  (Objectively, I have to finish this piece, but know that I call complete and total bullshit on America’s vote.  At the very least I think he should have been Top 2 for the astronomical growth he’s had this year.)

The audience got to select from three hip-hop numbers in the course of the season: the snake piece from Emilio and All-Star Jasmine Harper (#SYTYCDgetlow), the skeleton piece from Serge and Carly (#SYTYCDskeleton), and the piece from Week 4 with Casey and Brooklyn (#SYTYCDhustle). In a move that once again proves I TOTALLY cannot read the America audience, the popular vote went to #SYTYCDskeleton, the piece “Senile” with Carly and Serge.  Whaddayaknow, the audience can appreciate subtle skill after all. (However, I was partially correct in my surety that we’d be seeing “Get Low,” since as mentioned above it wound up being Tara Lipinski’s choice for an encore.)

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Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Also on tap were the clear and overwhelming winners of the Crew contest–The Wanted Ashiqz.  All four crews were great and had their own something special, but there was that extra edge from Wanted Ashiqz that gave me the feeling that they would wind up on the finale….and they did not disappoint.  The hip-hop/Bollywood fusion group has an incredibly high production value with moves and precision to match.

Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Alright, it needs to be said–Sonya Tayeh and Christopher Scott, just get married already and have a SYTYCD baby!  The Top 10 + 10 get blessed by the Miracle Duo’s latest concept piece, which is basically just  people helping people and being kind whenever you can.  I sure hope they can make this work with 13 people, because this not being on the Tour would be criminal.

Even Cat gets in a pick, and as it happens, it’s a duet from what is determined as the top two finalists–Ricky and Valerie reprising their very first partnership, the contemporary “Oh Darling” from Travis Wall.  Which, of course, means that Jessica falls short of the title in 3rd place…and, like Zack before her, is eliminated immediately after her last performance of the night.  Something tells me more people knew the results beforehand than have let on….

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Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

So it’s down to another couple, and America’s vote goes exactly where I thought it would (despite my hopes for a surprise win from a tap dancer): Ricky Ubeda.  Honestly, I really have nothing against the kid other than it’s yet another contemporary dancer taking the title.  But that’s not really fair to let my hang-ups and wishes color his victory.  In truth, any of the four finalists possess a level of technique and passion that was worthy of a win.  But you could definitely see something extra special in Ricky.  On top of that absolutely insane level of technique embedded in his muscle memory, the high degree of passion displayed every time he stepped onto the stage essentially cemented America’s choice.  Nigel called him a magician of dance very early on, and I have to admit that he’s right.  The combination of skill and joy is entrancing, and what makes the experience even more profound is watching Ricky AFTER performing.  The boy was literally spent and either near or in tears after every single performance–I honestly believe we as an audience felt a mere fraction of everything he put into his routines, which were often superhuman but looked as natural as breathing.

So Ricky is the latest So You Think dance ambassador, and he definitely earned it.  As a former teacher myself–and as a big fan of Ricky’s teacher, Season 6 contestant Victor Smalley–there’s a certain feeling of pride and joy when you see one of your students excel at pursuing their dreams…and when those dreams just happen to be ones you yourself reached for and just missed, that extra vicarious thrill of victory has got to feel incredible.  I imagine both of these Miami boys are over the moon right now, with no signs of coming down anytime soon.

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Miami boys represent!

UPDATE: I am ashamed to say that in my haste to publish on time I missed a few things. Enrique’s performance was lovely (and why is he doing the one name thing? SMH), but I was focused on the dancing. And I have to go watch again and fully appreciate the Les Twins performance. But it is absolutely shameful that I did not even mention Michael Demecki, winner of So You Think You Can Dance Australia….where do I even begin? That boy has moves Blake McGrath can only dream of….and I LOVE me some Blake McGrath. AND he danced to Cole and Lindsay’s paso song? Let’s just say it’s a good thing Ricky wasn’t competing there. Bravo, young man.

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Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

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SYTYCD 11, Top 4–Gimme the 4-11

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This is it–the last competitive performance show of the season! The top 4 dance in as many incarnations as can be thought of…group, duets, All-Stars and solos.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson makes his first appearance of the season on the judges’ panel, thus a guarantee that hilarity will ensue over the course of this evening….

Top 4 group
Contemporary–Travis Wall

A piece essentially about equality, the four dance to “Wind Beneath My Wings” in a physical personification of their dance journeys to this point. I’m not sure what’s with this trend of the all white color scheme on the final four group number…probably just coincidence, but you know I notice stuff like that….

Along with pairing configurations, we also have every conceivable dance style in existence represented this evening…observe:

Valerie/Ricky
African Jazz–Sean Cheesman

“Survival of the Fittest”–the kids are racing to get to the finish.

They got the mechanics but not the organics; the athleticism was high level, though.

Nigel was breathless watching and thought stamina was high; Mary marveled about their athleticism and energy and called the number animalistic and uninhibited; Jesse was just thrilled to see them and thought they were already at at high level coming into the competition.

Jessica/Zack
Broadway–Spencer Liff

Two lovers at their secret rendezvous, complete with 1940s noir feel and a staircase as a prop.

Jessica had some Cyd Charisse vamp happening (Jessica Rabbit had to have SOME inspiration), and Zack is very engaging and personable with flashes of technical brilliance. I can’t quite figure out who he reminds me of–perhaps a bit of a Tommy Tune vibe because of his build, but there’s an extra something I can’t yet place.

Mary said it was sexy, sensational and stunning stair work, and gave kudos to Zack’s legs, too, stating they were just as noticeable and impressive as Jessica’s; Jesse thinks Zack and Jessica could hit the Broadway stage tomorrow with no problem; Nigel commended both of their growth, calling Zack gifted and Jessica a standout.

Viewers’ choice this year is between three average hip-hop numbers: the snake piece from Emilio and All-Star Jasmine Harper (#SYTYCDgetlow), the skeleton piece from Serge and Carly (#SYTYCDskeleton), and the piece from Week 4 with Casey and Brooklyn (#SYTYCDhustle). The Casey/Brooklyn piece is off my radar mainly because of that unfortunate costume choice, and that skeleton piece was underappreciated, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jazzy and my boo take the stage tonight.

Valerie/Zack
Contemporary–Tyce Diorio

Yes darlings, you read that right–the two tappers left standing are paired in a contemporary piece. This will be the defining, game-changing number of the evening, having them dance against type and dig deep into their emotional wellsprings. Tyce has them portraying lovers overcoming an obstacle…the obstacle being the woman’s blindness and physical limitations.

The choreography itself is nothing above ordinary; what transforms it is the characterization these two moving actors bring to it.

And Cat says the same….

Jesse: commended Valerie on her characterization and ability to connect with Zack while keeping her “handicap” in place; Nigel called it a remarkable blend of artistry and tough subject matter; Mary proclaimed that it’s no longer a surprise why they’re top 4, and found the honesty of their portrayals moving.

Jessica/Ricky
Jazz–Ray Leeper

No concept, just a push for excellence. The best they have to offer.

Great work from them. Technically solid.

Nigel: Loves the two as a couple since the first Top 20 show, perfect fit; Mary: clean, concise, full of power; Jesse: adorable little sprockets and topped even his own fanboy levels to take a selfie with the kids from his seat.

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Jason Mraz music break….I’m not NOT a fan, but I wanna see the kids dance.

Valerie/Jessica
Bollywood–Nakul Dev Mahajan

“Bollywood Divas”…Feminine/classical mix–could this be the girls’ take on Robert and Billy’s routine from Season 7?

No…not as much palpable energy from the girls. But it was fun, clean and well executed.

Mary hailed them as stunning Bollywood divas and thought they did an amazing job; Jesse was impressed with the expressive joy and athleticism; Nigel stated that Bollywood was a fusion of all dancing and it makes him smile….so I’m going to assume he liked it. 😉

Zack/Ricky
Hip-Hop–Christopher Jennings and Krystal Meraz

Season 3 had the two princes; Season 11 brings you the two kings in this piece called “Crowd Favorite.” (Or is that Crown? Either works for me.) The King of Diamonds and the King of Clubs duke it out.

Of the two Zack has a slight swag edge. However, Ricky ain’t no punk…..

Jesse jokingly dubbed them the personification of Nigel and Mary’s relationship, but called the pair spectacular; Nigel stated they were the “two least likely urban, swagtastic dancing dudes ever on the show”; Mary said they were amazing with a side of scream, and that it was totally unexpected.

And now that the kids have been properly shuffled amongst each other, time for their All-Star pieces in their own style (more or less) and their final defining solos.

Valerie (with All-Star Aaron Turner)
Tap–Anthony Morigerato

Absolutely no reason not to take advantage of the show’s highest ranking tapper when there are two in the final four this year, right? Aaron returns and in his pairing with Valerie gets involved in yet another tumultuous relationship. The choreography is precise and exacting (Anthony’s words) so the two have to be clean and stylish.

This was some insane syncopation accompanying Sammy Davis Jr.’s vocals, particularly in the scat section. Heels would have been nice for the look since we kind of had that 1940s glam happening, but I know those are more difficult shoes to navigate with this kind of fast footwork. And Valerie’s trademark red shoes were really cute, so I’ll take it. Marvelous job.

Nigel thought the piece was so full of love; Mary dubbed them “perfect partners”; Jesse likened Valerie to being the “Michael Jordan” of the show, a nod to her excellence in outside style but being total magic in her own most comfortable one. I got it, Jesse…it only seemed like you were rambling aimlessly.

Ricky’s first up for retrospective and solo duty…his passion was on display for sure, but the technique is so embedded in this boy’s muscle memory that the two are indistinguishable at this point. Dance is the reason that Ricky Ubeda exists.

He has a quick change over the commercial break to go right into his All-Star duet.

Ricky (with All-Star Kathryn McCormick)
Contemporary–Stacey Tookey

Ricky is at rock bottom, with Kathryn acting as his angel on Earth–the force to lift him from his troubles and worries into a lighter, happier being.

So much joy expressed in movement….and Ricky’s sobbing again. I mean really–you hear people use the phrase “dance is in my DNA” but you can only have an abstract grasp on that concept until you watch Ricky. He is a literal personification of that.

Mary thought it was spectacular and breathtaking; Jesse had no other commentary outside calling it a brilliant performance and delivering a blushworthy takeoff on Toni Basil’s “Mickey” (or Weird Al’s “Ricky,” since the name fit); Nigel said Ricky is the perfect ambassador for the show.

Valerie is next, and it’s very telling that the song used for her retrospective package is titled “Unbreakable”….well dammit, if you’re gonna go out with a bang and there’s an upbeat, tappable song out there with your name literally on it, you might as well go for it, right? Using your music and your feet to remind the people what your name is–go ‘head, girl!

Zack (with All-Star Aaron Turner)
Tap–Anthony Morigerato

Boys’ duet, with Aaron as the bartender and Zack as the weary patron coming in to tip a glass and spill all his troubles. I did not notice that Zack and Aaron had crossed paths before back in Season 9’s auditions. Both were cut back then…and look at them now. Awesome.

Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” is the tune of choice for this piece, and a more appropriate song you cannot find.

OK, I’m not even gonna review this. I’m just gonna post the screenshot of the Facebook message I left on Anthony’s wall immediately after I watched them.

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Cat actually used the words spiritual and divine, and the judges gave a well-deserved standing ovation.

Jesse sat marveling at Zack’s growth, brilliance and malleability; Nigel attempted to pull a Christina Applegate and told Anthony, SHUT UP! (It’s actually “Shut your face!” Nigel but don’t worry, I said it for you); Mary saw passion from the guys from the beginning, and simply loved it.

Jessica’s solo turn brings it back to the beginning–a revisit to the audition piece that got her the ticket in the first place. It might be a man’s world in the song, but Jessica is putting y’all on notice with the rest of that lyric: “….wouldn’t be nothing without a woman or a girl.”

Jessica also has a quick change moment to prep for her duo.

Jessica (with All-Star Robert Roldan)
Contemporary–Travis Wall

I guess they said jazz and contemporary were close enough (unless Jessica pulled a Jasmine Harper and actually REQUESTED contemporary)….

According to Travis, the piece essentially asks this one question: “Will he miss me if I leave?” Jessica is trying as best she can to stop playing it safe with her dancing and just let loose and get involved in the character of the piece.

Jessica has gotten stronger as a moving actor; her technique was always good but she’s letting that take more of a backseat to her emotional projection.

Nigel was just as impressed with her acting improvement as well as dance ability, and dubbed her his favorite girl this season (“I love you to bits”); Mary got choked up, but used spontaneous combustion and electrifying to describe her experience of the piece; Jesse named it his favorite of the night, and hailed Travis Wall as an “unending well of creativity.”

Zack closes out the night with the evening’s final solo. This dude is too cool for school….smooth style, ridiculous rhythms and an out-of-the-box song choice. I’m rooting for you, kiddo….

And that puts a wrap on Season 11–it’s all over but the voting results. It’s clearly no secret that of the remaining four, I’m putting all my chips on Zack. Which is not to say that any of the other three finalists are any less talented, because each one of them is stellar in their technique and specialty styles as well as being able to adapt brilliantly to all of the other styles. But after 11 seasons and 211 contestants, there have only been 8 classified tap dancers on the show, and only 3 of those have gotten to the final four. All of the other dance styles are represented somehow, and it would be nice to see either Zack or Valerie take the title. But I’m thinking of the total packages–both the prize package and what each contestant brings to the table–and with a show like On The Town, Zack has the most comprehensive skill set combined with the biggest exponential growth to flourish in that featured role. Plus, I like an underdog.

We’ll get the skinny soon enough…..

SYTYCD 11, Top 6–Boogie Nights and Technicolor Dreams

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Last show before the final choice is made!

Christina Applegate is back for another week of judging

Top 6 group–Hip-Hop

Blacklights, makeup and props…choreo looks Dave Scott but concept looks Pharside and Phoenix.  But no, it’s Nick DeMoura…the Biebs’s choreographer, “co-host” for the Crew Challenge, and purveyor of a new instructional dance video.

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All-Star pairs, contestant pairs (which by chance or choice happen to be original pairings) and solos for the crew tonight….and we start by reuniting Valerie and Ricky

Valerie/Ricky
Broadway—Spencer Liff

Spencer is choreographing a Technicolor dream….

Valerie’s in this aqua frothy dress and the kids get to play with a swing.  Spencer’s combined a little Fosse with a little Gene Kelly/Cyd Charisse (or Leslie Caron, if you prefer)—Valerie actually reminds me of Singin’ in the Rain era Debbie Reynolds…and Ricky has the physique of Bob Fosse with the technique of James Mitchell or Jacques d’Amboise.  I was quite impressed with that jump through the swing.

No they DID NOT embarrass that poor girl with rehearsal footage of her slip getting caught on the swing!

Nigel loved the feel and thought that either of them would make a welcome addition to the On The Town cast should they win, and upon him bringing up and instant replaying Ricky’s jump I’m even more impressed that it was a jeté; Christina thinks they both have That Thing to take home the win; Mary that their chemistry was honest and thought it was breezy and sweet.

Jessica and Casey are teased up to their disco finest going into the break….wonder what they’re doing….

Jessica/Casey
Disco—Doriana Sanchez

Didn’t see that one coming…. -_-

A “sexy, fun and technical” disco…do you teach any other kind, Doriana?

Casey just might give Brandon Bryant some relief as a future disco All-Star—the kid was just the right amount of clean and kitschy.  Jessica did well though some moments of hesitation were visible, particularly in landing that end pose, but she definitely threw her whole self into the experience.

Christina “ages” herself by bringing up Denny Terrio and Charo to compare the kids—she kinda has a point, which dates me too, but whatever—but she thought it was fabulous, but noticed a shade of fear in Jessica’s expression on a few moves (in a most indelicate fashion….snot, Christina? Really?); Mary was thrilled dizzy by the kids’ performance; Nigel proclaimed it tremendous and agreed that the kids did very well.

(Coming up, cooling off Nigel’s hot head and making the kids cry with family videos tonight….starting with Ricky.)

Ricky—Solo

Dude, please…shut your face.  Just shut it.  You might not be my vote but you definitely have skills and passion.

Jacque/Zack
Foxtrot—Jean-Marc Genereux

“Zack Astaire and Jacque Rogers”—seriously, J-M?  Them’s big shoes to fill.

A little rocky in spots, and Jacque REALLY has to break out of that “smiley” face and present something more genuine, but it was a very nice number.

Mary called it, too—though she called it “snazzy and jazzy” she also said it was rough around the edges, showing signs of promise in areas but clunky footwork in closed hold and tension in other areas; Nigel agrees and actually used the words “herky-jerky”—Sir Lythgoe was not impressed; Christina thought the faces were a bit disingenuous and forced, and didn’t feel the chemistry as much from them…”dance from your souls, first….”

Jessica—Solo

This solo was basically a turnfest, but it was one of the most honest performances I’ve seen from her.  I’m guessing she actually saw that package with her family before she danced….

Musical interlude IN THE MIDDLE of the show…a-ha.  I have actually heard this song by Rixton before, but I wouldn’t be able to pick these children out of a lineup if they were wearing nametags.

Valerie (with All-Star Stephen “tWitch” Boss)
Hip-Hop—Will “Willdabeast” Adams

Newlywed couple’s first dance at the reception….a) does Allison know about this? and b) that is possibly the stuffiest wedding dress I have ever seen…this is not Green Gables, folks….

Thank GOD that skirt disappeared….Valerie still has some funk to her, and plenty enough to hang with tWitch.

Nigel enjoying the fun and entertainment brought to the piece—and rightly shouting out Nappytabs’s Emmy win this past weekend—and acknowledging the entertainer’s spirit in Valerie; Christina called Valerie amazing…and I’m not sure exactly where the Diet Coke came in with the crotch roll and side of rice in this hip-hop wedding joke, but I’ll let her have her “away from the kid” fun; Mary thought it was a wedding routine to remember and dubbed Valerie “swaggerocious.”

Casey—Solo

A little more quirk with the spins tonight, and lots of emotion.

Valerie—Solo

High octane like last week, but not quite as cohesive.  It was definitely fun, though.

Jacque (with All-Star Will Wingfield)
Jazz—Sean Cheesman

The innocence of young love….with a Pilates ball.  You choreographers and your crazy, abstract concepts…. “I wish I could say we had a ball, but….” Really, Jacque? *groan*

Awwww…..that was really sweet.  Jacque got to pull from her innate innocence and make this organic.  And without seeing that rehearsal footage, you’d think that ball sequence was a breeze for the two of them….awesome work.

Christina praised Sean first for the choreography and then Jacque for rising to the occasion and bringing forth character organically; Mary described Jacque with the words “class, grace, elegance and control,” and acknowledged the difficulty of working with the ball; Nigel called it brilliant and said it wiped that foxtrot from his memory.

Zack—Solo

First of all, he’s in black, dancing against a brightly colored backdrop, to a song called “Butterfly.”  Whycome them feet are moving like a hummingbird’s wings?  He is determined to leave a fabulous impression on the audience’s minds.

Jessica (with All-Star Ade Obayomi)
Jazz—Ray Leeper

The most fabulous couple in the Tokyo club…and I see they recycled Zack and Jacque’s getups from Top 20 Week 1…..

If those costumes weren’t so godawful ugly, I’d have enjoyed the dance MUCH more.  But I managed to tune them out aurally and visually to focus on the execution of the choreography—which was well in sync and quite sassy.   Jessica really held her own with Ade.  And while my knowledge of clubs is probably just as expansive as Jessica’s, I think the pair carried the vibe pretty well.

Christina makes a bad lost cat joke (no self-respecting cat would sacrifice itself for those UG-A-LEE boots) but loved Jessica’s performance and the ponytail strut; Mary thought it was fun and crazy and envisions Cat and Nigel doing that at the club (thanks Mary—it’s gonna take me the rest of the season to unsee THAT), and manages to praise Jessica for her razor-sharp focus; Nigel wasn’t thrilled—it was just OK and didn’t connect with him, and he also takes the moment to tell Jessica not to rely on turns and beef up her solos.  I’m not the biggest Jessica fan, but that there was unfair—I don’t recall him saying that to Casey last week….

Jacque—Solo

Well, if you’re gonna do an eye-catching, Final Four worthy solo, you might as well pull out a flowing skirt and WAC hat and do a pointe solo to “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”.  That was the nicest blend of classical and contemporary, reminding me of something the Joffrey might stage—much like the suite they did to Prince’s music.

Ricky (with All-Star Anya Garis)
Cha-Cha—Jean-Marc Genereux

Cha-Cha—Cuban in origin.  Ricky Ubeda—Cuban in origin.  He gets to go from cutesy to sexy in this piece, and if anybody can pull it out of him, it’s the original Hot Tamale.

Eh—lukewarm.  I can’t help but wish it was Rudy doing this one.  Still, Ricky’s technique looked really sharp….just needed way more sexy.

Nigel thought he looked like he’d been doing it for years, at least in stature and bravado; Christina bought it wholesale and said he actually drew her attention with Anya on the stage (is that SEN-sational or SIN-sational, Christina?); Mary thinks Ricky brought it, was solid on his feet and in his lead, and she totally bought it.

Casey (with All-Star Makenzie Dustman)
Contemporary—Stacey Tookey

Didn’t Makenzie already do the “little time to live” thing in her season?  We’ll see what Stacey’s take is on finding out you may have only one day left with the one you love…..though technical, Stacey hopes Casey focuses on the feeling and tells the story with his movement.

Y’all really didn’t need to put the boy in an asymmetrical mini-dress to get a nice fluid effect—his dancing was plenty.  I saw only glimpses of his expression but his movement, connection and flow were airtight.  That counterbalance move was wicked.

Christina took the Iyanla route and asked Casey how the dance made him feel—upon his not being able to describe it, she said that he’d done his job and it was wonderful; Mary really felt it and thought everything blended and smoldered and proclaimed it his best of the season; Nigel thought the piece made sense from beginning to end and dubbed it remarkable.

DAMMIT—NIGEL STOLE MY IDEA!  Or at least my prop, if someone has the unmitigated gall to challenge me….

Zack (with All-Star DuShant “Fik-Shun” Steagal)
Hip-Hop—Phillip “Pacman” Chbeeb

My boo Phillip’s choreographic debut, and he’s inspired by a Rorschach blot….well, the boy WAS studying engineering, so I’m not surprised where he can take his mind….

Fascinating bit of work….reminiscent of what he and IaMmE Crew did with their finale piece on America’s Best Dance Crew, and some of the armwork he did with Jeanine in “Mad”.  I love me some him….and them.  Though I did see some subtle differences in head movements in two different sections, I thought the boys shaped that well.

Even Cat’s impressed…..

Mary screams fabulous and loved every second of it; Nigel is impressed at tonight’s performance as well as every other dance and characterization Zack has been asked to perform over the season….then gives this backhanded wish for success and luck getting into the finale :-/ (he saved himself by amended that to being “shocked and thrilled” to see him in the finale….hmph….); Christina is proud of Zack’s ability to not only hang with Fik-Shun but to transcend any dance boxes he might have put himself into.

Now to the last elimination for the Big One:

Jessica (no surprise)
Ricky (also no surprise)
Valerie (HELL YEAH!)
Zach (F’IN RIGHT!)

Did I actually just channel Drake? Lord help me…..

Hard call if you look at tonight, but I tell you, Valerie and Zach have been proving their versatility since the ballroom round of callbacks.  I’m amazed with all of the bottom placements that Jacque got as far as she did, and there can only be one pretty boy, so poor Casey didn’t really stand that much of a chance.

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(Why does the final four lineup look like a scene out of Boogie Nights?  Some of the most unfortunate costumes to get good news in….)

Next week’s All-Stars: Kathryn (presumably for Ricky), Robert (apparently doing double duty with both Valerie and Jessica) and Aaron (with Zack, natch).  Plus, if the format holds, everybody dances duets with each other in addition to their solos….let’s make sure we don’t cut the Final Four group number this year…..

And as I really don’t remember seeing them, we should get a performance from Wanted Ashiqz before the grand finale….no mention of them but a performance from Jason Mraz?  Hmmm…..

Gonna be a packed show!

SYTYCD 11, Top 8–Dancing Machine

We’re closing in on the end of Season 11!

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Tonight’s guest judge is Jenna Dewan-Tatum, star of the original Step Up movie and former background dancer to the likes of Pink, Missy Elliot and Janet Jackson. This is her second stint on the competition panel, and her second appearance this year (she sat in on the Atlanta auditions).

Top 8 group
Well if anybody was going to choreograph a group number for Michael Jackson night, might as well get the man’s own choreographer Travis Payne. Very futuristic looking and probably could have jumped out of the Cirque de Soleil Xscape show.

Tonight the kids get to do their solos in addition to the All-Star duets slated.

Tanisha kicks off the solos—she throws every possible skill known to man in, with the ballroom prowess seeming almost secondary. I really wish I liked her personal solos more…I can appreciate the skill and technique but Mary has ruined me for wanting more ballroom content from ballroom contestants.

(This week gives us words from the teachers, relatives and fellow performers that most inspired and influenced the kids in their development as dancers.)

Ricky (with All-Star Jaimie Goodwin)
Contemporary—Travis Wall

Whoa—Season 11’s Ricky has Season 6’s Victor Smalley (of Dance Moms: Miami fame as well) to thank for his early dance education; Victor gave the kid a scholarship. Nice redemption for Victor, because I maintain that he got hosed during his season.

Ricky is the positive light, the best friend that can always raise your spirits. Travis is pushing Ricky beyond his technical limits to try and help him put a lock on the win.

Dancing to Michael’s cover of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” this routine’s Melanie/Marko “I Got You” in feeling layered on top of Robert/Allison “Fix You” in technique. And while it looks terribly simplistic, the lines and pictures the dancers produce are exquisite.

Jenna’s word of the night is “incredible”—from the technique to the partner connection and everything in between, she’s completely enamored with both this routine and with Ricky. Mary marvels at the effortlessness and high echelon of technical prowess that Ricky has continued to display week upon week. Nigel feels that Ricky has grown to the point of transcending his already incredible skill and technique and becoming the dance.

(I see they’re going to continue this “results as they go” BS….of course Ricky is safe….you expected less?)

AND as they’re announced safe, they’re immediately paired with their next All-Star…so Ricky will be doing some sort of ballroom routine with Anya “Hot Tamale Train” Garis

Zack gets to dance in his specialty tonight, and dude throws in enough slides and fast footwork–not to mention the attire–to be the tap reincarnation of Michael Jackson. Even Sandman Sims would have looked at that bit and said, “DAMN!”

Valerie (with All-Star Ryan Dilello)
Samba—Jean-Marc Genereux

Dance break with Jean-Marc first….oh, THAT’S how you spell “batucada!” Phonetics only take you so far in another language…..

(Valerie’s dance inspiration is Kathy Simpson, her teacher since she was 3 years old. Now if SHE had a show instead of Abby Lee, I’d watch that…she looks like she’s professional AND nice.)

Valerie “Wanna Be Starting Something” battling with Ryan, the Samba King.

She was working her fanny off to nail that technique and I give her props for that—AND she got a smidgen of sexy out in her performance demeanor. However, she still needed some more oomph in her execution. I’d love to just say that she did an admirable job as a non-ballroom dancer, but considering we’re at Top 8 and shooting for a Top 6 berth it’s too late for that…it’s go big or go home time, and I fear this may hasten the latter.

Mary said, in her delightful Mary fashion, that the samba was well done and Valerie attacked every move with the exception of some hesitation on the samba runs (which I saw as well as the area of most discomfort in her); Nigel calls Valerie vivacious and says this bit of brilliance cancels out any complaints he had about the previous week, although he did express worry that if she were to depart tonight that would be why…and it would be a shame on the heels of tonight’s success. Jenna tells Valerie that her dancing gives her joy but there was an added sexiness and attitude (that’s basically the translation for “face” people) in her performance.

(Valerie, amazingly, is safe this week. And apparently Mr. Boss really needed to get out of the house this summer because after tonight he belongs to Valerie. Having already proven she can “turn up,” this should be a thrilling pair.)

Casey leaps and spins and dives his way through his solo…..we know, we know—you’re a maestro with all of it. But hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Rudy’s up next with a variation of Casey’s magical spinfest layered on top of the beastly style he brought to the auditions, and you can see a lot of technical improvement in him. He’s a little too happy for that now (or maybe the flash of cutie-pie I saw was just a result of him quickly dropping character at the end of the solo….Jacque might me making you a little too mellow, boo….IJS)

Casey (with All-Star Comfort Fedoke)
Hip-Hop—Christopher Jennings and Krystal Meraz

(Miss Terri [Schulke] and Miss Mandy [Rogers], his two dance teachers who have trained him for the past 4 years, are Casey’s inspirations…and both ladies are deeply moved by the nomination.)

OK, if Academy of Villains doesn’t get that finale berth it doesn’t really matter because Pharside and Phoenix are solidly IN as choreographers. So in honor of MJ Week they’ve created a theatrical, over-the-top routine called “8 Legged Love.” Um….yeah. Good thing I already know they do some killer work because there isn’t a side eye strong enough to give them for THAT description. Black Widow meets Fatal Attraction, or Kiss of the Hip-Hop Spider Woman, if you will. Casey has to bring out strong characterization again this week….the last effort at hip-hop landed him in the bottom. Hopefully the costume’s better this go-around.

“Xscape,” the song that titles the Cirque de Soleil show, is the tune for this piece. Casey had moments of looking tortured and seduced—good things for this particular number—and he was really working to hit those shapes and positions. Plus I imagine jumping on and off of a spiderweb-shaped cargo net dangling had to be taxing as well. Not quite the Nico benchmark from last season’s Spider Woman interpretation, but a reasonably good effort. (On another note, wardrobe let Comfort borrow Tanisha’s catsuit and seriously vamped her up with the makeup—she’s come a long way from the thunderstruck girl in a bra and beads…..

Nigel acknowledges Casey’s further growth as a performer while advising him to get more into the style, however foreign to him. Jenna admires his stage presence and his ability to perform “in the moment” and in step with Comfort. Mary admired the strength and commitment, and also recognized the increased sharpness and precision as the number built.

(Casey is in the bottom of the votes this week—not unexpected with fan favorites Ricky and Rudy as his competition. Zack, who I fully expect to be down there with him, is the sleeper contestant of this pair and may edge him out for Top 6.)

Jacque’s up with her solo and it’s very light and effortless and danced with so much joy she’s practically levitating. Whether this will aid her chances of staying remains to be seen.

Tanisha (with All-Star Nick Lazarrini)
Contemporary—Stacey Tookey

(Kelly Messerly, Tanisha’s teacher and mentor, is her dance inspiration.)

Nick’s a crooner reliving the memory of the One That Got Away (embodied by Tanisha). So I probably should have expected “She’s Out Of My Life” to be the song of choice.

I know I’m supposed to focus on the contestants, but I really have to pause and acknowledge Nick’s growth as a dancer over the years. He was neither my choice nor my expectation for SYTYCD’s first champion and I’ve watched him dance before wondering how and why that was. I’m liking what I’m seeing now. *exhale* Now, back to the task at hand: Tanisha really should consider shifting to the cabaret division if she means to stay in the ballroom world—whatever Latin training she has is nowhere near as good as the contemporary skills she’s exhibited since she’s been on the show. Very nice work from her again this evening.

Jenna is astounding by her strength and the couple’s fluidity, and called for a bit more angst to her emotional expression to enhance the feeling of the number; Mary hailed Tanisha for keeping pace with Nick and is amazed by her consistency and quality of movement; Nigel is equally impressed by her physical strength but admonishes her to tap into and release more of her vulnerable side as a counterbalance.

(Tanisha is the first girl in the bottom two this week; considering Valerie skated through this week I imagined that would be a probability as Jessica’s fan base seems incredibly strong and loyal.)

Jessica takes the “massive tricks and levels to a Celine Dion power ballad” route in her solo tonight…way too much to visually process but again….these fans are lo-yalllllllll……..

Rudy (with All-Star Allison Holker)
Contemporary—Ray Leeper

(Kevin “Tokyo” Inouye—you KNOW I’m Googling to find out if he’s any relation to the late Hawaiian senator….dude’s honest, I gotta give it to him. Not many teachers would admit on national television that their student, despite their heart and passion, was just not good at it. Of course, not many would take them under their wing anyway and try to mold something out of them, either. I think I rather like you, sir….. *side note: Google results inconclusive, particularly since there’s a professor and martial arts coach in the biz with the same name–hence, this Kevin going by “Tokyo.” If any of you readers find out, holla.)

A tale of obsession—Allison is focused on getting Rudy, but he’s taken and trying to push her away….despite the small part of him deep inside that kinda does want her. Unhealthy dysfunction at its best. Ray’s concerned about Rudy tapping into his vulnerability and letting go of some of the aggression inherent in his personal style.

I was thinking “Leave Me Alone,” but “Dirty Diana” makes much more logical sense considering the darkness of tone and the storyline itself (I don’t know HOW I forgot about that song). Rudy is fighting for his spot. I mean really, seriously, both dukes up, all guns blazing FIGHTING to get to the end—and the top—of this competition. He is determined to be standing under that confetti, and powerwise he could do it. I saw more tortured anger than vulnerability in him, but that may have been moments of “seeing him thinking.” I will say that for him to evenly match Allison Holker in a number so powerful is an impressive accomplishment, and that may just be the thing that America eats up with a spoon.

People are standing and hollering—more importantly, THESE people are standing and hollering: Ray, Mary, Nigel and Jenna. This bodes well….that and the fact that Rudy is doubled over, gasping for breath and doing that high-pitched Dino from The Flintstones babble-scream he does when he’s overexcited.

Mary is just as flushed as Rudy is, but manages to find words and breath to agree with me about the pair going in whole hog and matching each other toe to toe, dubbing them spectacular. Nigel’s only complaint was a brief lapse in character to focus on technique (during a pirouette section) that broke from the story, but otherwise commended Rudy for morphing into a completely different person. Jenna calls Rudy phenomenal and also commends him for rising to and matching Allison’s level.

(Rudy is in the bottom this week, saving Zack this time. If I know anything—and history is to be believed, Rudy’s larger than life personality will probably elevate him over Casey’s insane technique. We’ll see at the end of the show….)

Valerie taps her way out in her magic ruby slippers and has vastly improved with projecting energy from her upper body and face as her feet are going a mile a minute. She’s the better of the two tap solos this evening.

Zack (with All-Star Makenzie Dustman)
Broadway—Spencer Liff

(Mark Goodman, tap legend I’m not familiar with but I guess I’d better research….he’s danced with some legends himself: Gregory Hines, Sandman Sims, Savion Glover–very impressive.)

Naïve girl fresh off the train in the big city meets slick smooth talker Zach, who tries everything he can to tell this girl “The Way You Make Me Feel”….the boy looks like Howdy Doody meets Opie; I just can’t see him being a Lothario. Still, he and Rudy have a similar drive to prove themselves, so I know he’s gonna knock himself out trying.

Makenzie looks thick in that dress. Marilyn Monroe thick. Not a bad thing at all—in fact it transforms her character—but it just threw me off for a second to see her serving Ava Gardner realness and I know she’s barely hit adulthood yet. Zach looked more smitten than smarmy half the time but that character focus was razor sharp. He knew just when to switch his gaze from the audience to his potential conquest while executing all of his moves perfectly and in sync. The end was clunky, but that wasn’t the dancers’ fault: it was the music mix, adding an additional unnecessary beat to the end.

(Since Zack knows he’s safe, Cat reveals his partner….and just as I was saying that we were about due for a boy pairing, who does nuFik-Shun get but the original himself? I am extremely intrigued to see how that plays out.)

Nigel would have liked to see a little more groundedness from Zack, but was overall pleased….and is especially tickled like the rest of us about next week’s matchup. Jenna mused about the incredible amount of control and showmanship needed—and employed by Zack—to successfully pull off a Broadway routine; she thought he was believable and was completely sold by his performance. Mary also notes Zack’s growth, spirit and wholehearted embracing of everything he’s been given to date.

Ricky closes out the solos, and….hold up, pause. WTF was that, dude?!? You just did a nosebleed induced leap, landed on cotton and slid into one of the sickest, most tightly controlled straddles like you were made of melting butter….the old, fat creaky dancer in me hates you and is sobbing in the corner. And continues to do so after you laid in a straddle ON YOUR BACK and then just stepped up into a layout. Boy go sit down somewhere before I start throwing stuff at my TV……

How am I JUST noticing the Moonwalk logo on the backdrop and in the wipes tonight?

Jacque (with All-Star Stephen “tWitch” Boss)
Hip-Hop—Dave Scott

(Older cousin Christianne Jordan is Jacque’s inspiration….way to go, Pookie!)

Ionkno if ballerina Jacque is gonna let street Jacque out to play—she’d better do something to hang with the Boss since Jessica’s efforts were so well received last week….

“Slave To The Rhythm” is the song of choice, and we have some post-apocalyptic, Terminator futuristic type scenery happening here, and these two look like they survived the war and are hooking back up to kick it. Jacque got looser than I gave her credit for, though she looked like her biggest struggle was controlling her face. I think I saw one smiley moment before she masked it with the hardcore, serious badass look she was supposed to be serving. Both Melissa and Eliana proved that ballerinas can get down and dirty, and Jacque’s climbing into that class. Hopefully, it’s not too little, too late….

Jenna thought Jacque did extremely well and really got into the groove of the style; Mary also felt that Jacque conquered the groove and was impressed by her growth and synchronicity; Nigel was duly impressed by her embodiment of the style and thought she and tWitch complemented each other well, even daring to use the word “swag.”

(As expected, Jacque is the second girl in the bottom two. Not positive how the decision is going to shake down between her and Tanisha….)

Jessica (with All-Star Will Wingfield)
Contemporary—Mandy Moore

(Talia Favia, Jessica’s teacher, sounds a lot like my own—always picking and pushing. In love, of course….)

Earth and mankind….Jessica is being asked to be uncomfortable in this piece, portraying someone being callous and careless with the planet.

Jessica is really trying to embrace her artistry and incorporate it with her technical abilities—there are moments when she looks like she’s mimicking Will as a young dance pupil tries to mirror their teacher. That’s a good thing, as she matches him move for move, height for height, and all other nuances in between. The lighting was inspired, and told the story as much as the two dancers illuminated by it. Characterization is hard to read on her, so I can’t be sure if she embodied everything Mandy asked of her. But it was a very good performance from her.

Standing Os from the panel, so I’m expecting a good bit….

(Jessica’s All-Star is Ade…going from one big-league dancer to another. You gotta work, honey….)

Mary feels that the stars have aligned with the perfect music, choreography and dancers, and is pleased and proud of Jessica’s growth and passion displayed; Nigel ticks off a litany of favorites in all aspects of the piece—which include the stellar presence of William Wingfield (that man is a blessing to dance in general, and I will wax poetic about him whenever I can. Deal with it.)—and is moved by her magnificence; Jenna is also duly impressed with Jessica’s incredible growth and also throws around the words “favorite” and “magnificent.”

Three weeks from the finale, and we’re presented with the third of our crews up for an encore performance on that night. Tonight it’s Control Freakz turn….and it’s worth noting that the spoken word intro sounds a lot like the voice that introduced us to Will Wingfield in Los Angeles back in Season 4….just after he’s left the stage tonight. Serendipity, perhaps?

Damn…..what? I dare anyone to ever again set their lips to say that popping and hip-hop are any lesser forms of the art of dance. Every bit of that looked almost balletic—and that smoothness and grace is hard to accomplish coming out of a back flip. I am duly impressed. And I do have to say—though in this day and age I shouldn’t have to—how beautiful it is to see some many different looks and shades of my people given the opportunity to express their artistic selves on a national stage. It might be more commonplace in this day and age, but as a young girl with aspirations of dance those images were extremely scarce…and it makes my heart smile.

(I did have to actually spoil results to go vote, but I’m still going to give my assessment as if I hadn’t.) So it’s down to Rudy, Casey, Jacque and Tanisha. If I go by past opinions and votes, Jacque has been in the bottom the most out of the four, and I don’t recall ever seeing Rudy there (though I could be wrong). Young fans might be reluctant to break up the reported lovebirds, but have also repeatedly been reluctant to send Tanisha home, as well. I’d venture based on all of that, Jacque has run out of chances…and with Rudy being the less polished of the guys, he may be leaving with her.

Of course, America seldom behaves as I’d expect—while I don’t deny Tanisha has some great ability I thought she would have gone home long before now…and tonight she’s going out with her original partner. Rudy leaving just breaks my heart…and that was BEFORE he started crying. I really saw a Benji-esque victory as a possibility with that one, but apparently the contemporary seduction continues. Zack is the last odd man standing, and as I had hoped Aaron would be the first tapper to take the crown last year, I feel compelled to throw my remaining support behind him. The girls’ diversity is still intact, just minus a ballroom specialist. So of the jazz dancer, tapper and ballerina remaining, I feel like the larger push is going to go to Jessica. However, with Jacque’s miracle save and Valerie’s sleeper performances, anything could happen there. With us back to a single winner I dare not even venture who has the best shot at that right now….but it’s gonna be a rollercoaster ride.

(The survivors get their All-Star pairings: Casey gets Makenzie and Jacque gets Will. *moment of silent praise that I get blessed with him a second week in a row*)

SYTYCD 11, Top 10–Counting (All) Stars

The Top 10 are in and rolling with the All-Stars for the first time this week–and the judges’ influence no longer applies. The decisions are all on America now.

Olympic gold medalist, figure skater and actress Tara Lipinski is on the performance show panel for the first time. I love Tara but I’m not overly sure about this; while I realize figure skaters do have to have some dance training to smooth out their routines and now a thing or two about intense competition, being able to critique dance technique is an entirely different scenario.

Image courtesy of  19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Top 10 group–Hip-Hop

Last Chance Saloon—good LORD that’s a loud number. And that’s just the costumes and scenery. The song of the night should have been “Sunglasses at Night.” At least that’s how I had to watch it to see the choreography. I’m surprised that I’m not more familiar with Jamal Sims–I certainly recognize a lot of his work outside of this first SYTYCD appearance.

Bridget (with All-Star Brandon Bryant)
Bollywood Disco(?!?)—Nakul Dev Mahajan

Good Lord! Two of the fastest, most intricate dance styles meshed into one? And poor Brandon might as well have just trained in disco because it seems like he’s the only All-Star that’s called back to do either of them.

This was fast and furious and Bridget was here for all of it—she had the sass Valerie needed a few weeks ago and then some. Brandon did a great job recovering from the underrotation of that aerial cartwheel…good thing he isn’t being judged.

Tara loved the performance—how interactive and rhythmic it was and thought it was a moving puzzle; Mary threw out the five Ss: strength, stamina, speed, skill and spirit…and of course she added a sixth S–SCREAM ; Nigel thought it was inspirational and that Bridget did well keeping up with the insanely fast and physical routine. Though I wish he’d left the corny jokes where he found them.

(And to announce right after that performance that she’s in the bottom of the votes SUCKS.)

Tanisha (with All-Star Ryan Dilello)
Argentine Tango—Miriam Larici and Leonardo Barrionuevo

Miriam and Leonardo take the fact that they have two stellar ballroom dancers and run with it, throwing in every complicated move and lift they can imagine.

WTH? As if that lingering star lift wasn’t enough, Ryan basically tossed Tanisha in the air, spun her around his neck and dropped her into a mermaid pose in 4.7 seconds….technically it was brilliant but the passion seems a bit forced and over the top for me. Tanisha by herself though was ON FIRE.

Mary’s excited—about both technique and stage presence; Nigel thinks she hasn’t put a foot wrong since she’s been on the show; Tara was impressed by the smoldering sexiness of the solo opening. (Tanisha’s safe going in.)

Emilio (with All-Star Jasmine Harper)
Hip-Hop—Napoleon and Tabitha Dumo

Cue the Degree dancer montage….. *eye roll* Guess they had to put it somewhere….

It’s a Nappytabs sighting! King Emilio and his pet snake who’s trying to take over the throne. Ooooookay…..

Choreography was dope, and the right dancer got it. I’m thinking Jasmine would have been better suited in that silver snakeskin number she wore with Aaron last season, but she is definitely exuding some serious sexy here…and once again proving that she can hang with hip-hop.

Nigel praises Emilio’s improvement; Tara’s mind is blown; Mary thought it was sensational.
(Emilio is the first in the bottom for the guys…have I mentioned how much this BLOWS?)

Valerie (with All-Star Ade Obayomi)
Jazz—Tyce Diorio

Tyce Diorio is challenging Valerie to go into her meaner, more aggressive side.

It’s difficult to believe that Valerie is a tap specialist when she pulls out these amazing performances in contemporary and contemporary-looking dance styles. Although I think choreographically, Ade did most of the heavy lifting (both figurative and literal), Valerie did come across well and complemented his movement. On a side note, that boy is getting thicker and I’m not sure how I feel about it…maybe it’s because the shirt is ON….

Tara called it interesting—didn’t see the connection with the character’s anger throughout the piece but thought her physicality in the lifts was very strong; Mary agrees to a point but thinks she’s progressed another step in her development; Nigel rounds it out, loving the works but thought Valerie came across as tight and self-conscious. (Valerie is safe.)

Rudy (with All-Star Jenna Johnson)
Cha-Cha—Louis van Amstel

Louis van Amstel has them “dancing out their attraction to each other.”

And Rudy is doing quite well at pulling that off. I know from the first performance videos he’s got at least a little bit of ballroom training in him, but with the skills he’s displaying coupled with his magnetic stage presence, you’d think it would have been him instead of his buddy Nick that would have auditioned under the ballroom genre. I saw what looked like a mishap on that last move and end pose, but if it was, he made it look intentional. He and Jenna were evenly matched in this routine.
Mary thought they were hot, and that Rudy was full of chemistry and power….so naturally Rudy gets a ticket on the train; Nigel apologizes to Rudy for thinking his being full of life was him being full of himself, though he did caution Rudy not to go over the top with the winks and asides since his personality was plenty; Tara thought that Jenna set the bar high, and Rudy matched it brilliantly. (Rudy is safe.)

Images courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Images courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Jacque (with All-Star Chehon Wespi-Tchopp)
Contemporary Ballet—Travis Wall

Of all of the choreographers I would have figured to be on tap for this—Dwight Rhoden, Desmond Richardson, etc.—I would not have even put Travis Wall on my radar. I know he’s a contemporary dance genius, but I have no knowledge of his expertise with ballet. Still, his expansive creativity gives him credence in my book. Another piece that’s all about the connection between the dancers rather than portraying a story.

Choreography was executed perfectly—the worst part about the number is that it ended. There was simply not enough dance there…it could have gone on much longer despite the fact that there were more contestants to perform and it’s only a two-hour show. (And I had to watch it several times before I could apply my television professional eye to that Steadicam one-shot–that really was an excellent choice to showcase this particular piece.)

Nigel was wowed and thought Jacque elevated her technique and performance energy elevated to a higher level; Tara thought it was flawless overall; Mary agrees and called the performance—as well as Jacque—exquisite.

(Jacque is the other girl in the bottom….had I watched before I spoiled the results to go vote, the writing would have already been on the wall here.)

Ricky (with All-Star Lauren Frodeman)
Jazz—Mandy Moore

Mandy Moore does a nod toward rockabilly and wants the dance to have a fun party feel in spite of all of the difficulty and complexity she’s throwing into it.

Mandy Moore is psycho. Who throws that much into one dance? I have to say that Lauren really nailed down why she won—the first person this season to pull focus from Ricky. That’s not an easy thing to do, either. I will say he held his own with the choreography and did a good balancing act of letting loose and hitting his forms and marks with precision. And those last eight counts of Kama Sutra-esque, Twister-like leg wrapping was mind-blowing….

Nigel praised Ricky (as expected) for raising his dance level and for taking some complicated choreography and making it look simple; Tara was enjoying the number so much she was dancing in her seat; Mary buys the third ticket on the Love Train and says that there’s nothing he can’t do. (Ricky is safe—and I’m typing this before they even open the envelope.)

Casey (with All-Star Kathryn McCormick)
Broadway—Spencer Liff

Spencer Liff and the “he loves me, he loves me not” game. Casey’s acting skills are called upon this week, which seems to be a challenge to layer those on top of the impeccable technique.

He does OK emoting his movements but he’s right on the line of “over the top.” Not going to bother re-typing the same stuff I’ve been saying for weeks about his technique…y’all already know….

Mary thinks Casey is quickly becoming a star and thought he dug into the character work very well; Nigel thought the style really suits Casey coupled with his technique and amplified by the breakout performance with Jessica last week…and even ventures to class him as not only a contender but a threat in relation to Saint Ricky; Tara was equally enamored and thought his performance was wholly believable. (Casey is safe…which automatically puts Zach in the bottom with Emilio.)

Jessica (with All-Star Stephen “tWitch” Boss)
Hip-Hop—Napoleon and Tabitha Dumo

Another Nappytabs joint tonight…in this one Jessica’s a pin-up girl passing by this “old cat” at the bus stop (when one of the dancers you pretty much watched grow up in his career is not only referred to as an “old cat” but says himself that he’s “dancing like he’s 20 again,” it’s time to re-evaluate how close you are to that AARP notice in the mail). Jessica is beyond thrilled to have the triple dream trifecta of a Nappytabs duet with tWitch on SYTYCD just dropped in her lap. Let’s see if she really can hang….

I’m sorry….I’m supposed to be judging Jessica but all I can see is this pot belly and gray hair on tWitch and I can’t help but hear the words “Lemme holla at cha” looped in my head. Too damn funny. However, for the speed, precision and synchronization required for this number Jessica did very well. I’m a little unsure about her characterization, but some of her over the top was necessary in her case.

Tara called it unreal and thought Jessica exceeded every expectation; Mary said it was off the charts and memorable; Nigel notes that Jessica has again lived up to her potential…and that she’s classed as a jazz dancer, which I honestly didn’t remember. I had her in contemporary with the rest of the viewing public. (Since Jessica went in safe, she was more at ease with her performance.)

Zach (with All-Star Amy Yakima)
Contemporary—Sonya Tayeh

Sonya Tayeh offers an emotional tribute to a friend who’s passed all too soon. (Side note: I started typing my notes after hearing of Robin Williams’s untimely passing, so there’s a different tinge to my view than if I’d done this the night of like I usually do.)
Honestly, Zack is this season’s Fik-Shun. He’s more trained, but as his area of specialty is in something that one would not expect him to be able to branch out from, he’s been quite impressive week after week in styles not his own. Not to mention this is the second time he’s wowed Sonya. I’m ready to see what Fik-Shun’s partner will bring out of him.

Y’all can sleep on Zack if y’all want to—that boy is more well-rounded than we think. I believed him way back to that Keone and Mari hip-hop, and this is a WAY deeper level of emotion. Not to mention the exquisite and impressive form and technique—you really can’t just look at him and see the word “TAP” in flashing neon letters. Bravo, sweetie.

OK, with both Sonya and Amy near tears and the entire audience and panel on their feet, this critique session is gonna be stellar….Nigel is momentarily speechless, and in the midst of genuflecting at Sonya Tayeh’s well-deserving feet (and stunning everyone with the announcement of her new—and equally well deserved—assignment with the Martha Graham company), hailed Zack as stunning. Tara thought that Amy’s pronouncement of a “wow” moment was an understatement and is equally speechless, and Mary proclaimed it a masterpiece through tears and a lump in her throat.

(I am saddened that the choice came down to Emilio and Zack….no matter how this came down or when I saw it, I was destined to hate America for this. However, it just goes to further prove what I said about the high bar the guys have set this year.)

Christina Perri’s career was made on this show when Stacey Tookey heard her not even released yet song “Jar of Hearts”, choreographed a routine to it and put it on display for the SYTYCD audience. Christina returns to the stage that helped make her with an assist from Kathryn and Chehon. What a lovely trio.

By now I already know that Bridget and my beloved Emilio are leaving tonight, and while I realize it’s a difficult decision between the four in the bottom I am no less angry at America’s decision…almost to the point of not even wanting to finish out the season as a viewer and reviewer. All four of these dancers have given the performances of their lives on this evening’s stage, and sadly it’s of no consequence at this stage. Not even the comfort of them being solidly committed for the Tour is enough to pacify me. Te quiero mucho indeed, papi….

Anywho, I shall regroup and realign my allegiances….and continue to watch my creative lifeline. After all, it’s just too much talent to just ignore.

On tap for next week are the following All-Star pairings (I kind of like the heads-up, as it’s a different kind of anticipation to see where the kids take things):

Tanisha gets Season 1 champion Nick Lazzarini
Ryan Dilello’s back next week, and coming for Valerie this time
Mrs. Boss hits the stage next week—Allison Holker dances with Rudy
And of course, Mr. Boss tags along for a repeat….and the irony of tWitch pairing with Jacque is not lost on me
Jaimie Goodwin makes an appearance as an All-Star, and Ricky looks like his bucket list just got completed with one check
Casey earns this week’s head-tilting pairing, as he’s slated to dance with Comfort Fedoke
Jessica gets blessed by the heavenly presence that is Will Wingfield….I’m excited for her and pray she lives up to him (yeah, I’m biased dammit)
And last, but not least, another underrated dancer gets her due—last season’s Makenzie Dustman is coming back for Zack. I smell another emotional breakthrough coming.

AND it’s Michael Jackson week….Y’all just knew I couldn’t quit you, didn’t ya?

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(OK…the fact that both Bridget and Emilio just came barreling from the sidelines toward their friends with huge smiles and big hugs takes again some of my bitterness….what champs these kids are. Long live Bridgilio!)

Long Live Bridgilio!

Long Live Bridgilio!

SYTYCD 11, Top 14–Ten at 11

A quadruple elimination looms tonight (thanks SO much FOX executives for shrinking the show’s air time *raises sarcasm sign*)

Christina Applegate makes her first appearance this season, joining the usual suspects on the judges’ panel tonight.

Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Top 14 contemporary

A meeting of the gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus—it’s very smooth and non-quirky so on surface value Sonya Tayeh is not jumping out at me.  I’m not ruling her out, though…

It’s a Stacey Tookey joint, and apparently Ricky is the new soul being welcomed into heaven. Close enough.

The Top 14 dancers are called out to whittle down to 8—the top vote getters’ names are read this week instead of the Bottom 6, who will actually be dancing for their lives on top of their other performances.  Let’s see who America wanted to see on Tour……

Bridget, Emilio, Jacque, Ricky, Tanisha, Rudy, Valerie, and Zach.  Four couples immediately through, and not many surprises on my end.  That leaves Casey, Jessica, Emily, Teddy, Carly and Serge in the Bottom 6.  I’m kind of surprised about Carly and Serge—Serge has been in the bottom before and danced his way out to two judgment-free week; considering he had one of his better performances last week it’s a bit of a head scratcher.  I have NO CLUE why Carly’s down there.  Truthfully though, all six have had really great moments on the show and as two are staying instead of leaving this week this decision is going to be brutal.  Yeah sure, any or all of these cut tonight have strong possibilities to be chosen as Tour alternates, but still….

This week’s theme: the kids give kudos about their partners’ strengths

Emilio/Bridget (Miss Congeniality and the potty mouth…hey, if you gotta cuss, you gotta cuss.)

Jazz—Ray Leeper

“So you’re on a mission from Hell……”  Well that’s attention grabbing, Ray….kind of S3 Neil/Lauren G. but with both dancers hunting souls. Let’s see if they can lure us in.

OK, the theme of “Night of the Dancing Flame” but the feel of that Season 8 jazz Melanie and Marko did.  Definitely hip but not disturbing.

Nigel thought it was fun and thought Emilio was fabulous, though he cautioned him to work on lowering his shoulders; he thought Bridget was a little too cautious and upright and could have sunken more into the movement (I got that vibe too—she played it a little TOO cool).  Christina dug the routine and is impressed with Emilio’s transformation into a more all-around dancer, and gave both Emilio and Bridget advice about maintaining their intention in their heads to hold the “face” of the routine.  Mary agrees as well and thought the number suited them well.

Tanisha/Rudy (Hiccups? Quiet demeanor—Rudy?)

Contemporary—Mandy Moore

A story of seduction…not sure who’s seducing who but let’s take a look.

This is worthy of a ballroom cabaret competition—all those lifts and throws, and the actual on-the-ground choreography feels very rumba-like.  Tanisha pulled focus as usual, but Rudy’s got to be putting in great work in order for that to happen.  I don’t understand why she registered as a ballroom dance, as I have enjoyed all of her routines EXCEPT the ballroom number.

(And now Cat is starting mess with Rudy and Jacque’s two older brothers sitting in the audience…..SMH)

Christina stands clapping, entranced.  AND she can’t speak.  I can’t be positive, but I think she liked it. 😉  She did manage to string together a few syllables about how connected the partnership was, though.  First Mary screams of the evening, so I’m guessing she’s cool with it, too…strong, powerful and dynamic only a few of the words thrown around.  Nigel just told Rudy that he’s so loud he keeps thinking he’s Mary’s love child (they DO match each other holler for holler) but praised their lifts and called them tremendous.

First solo of the night and it’s Serge…that boy has some fast feet, and the fact that he’s hot doesn’t hurt one bit.  I think it’s safe to say that barring a colossal meltdown on his other numbers he’s going on tour as the last ballroom man standing—whether that’s a Top 10 position remains to be seen.

Jacque/Zack (Excellent customer service skills and rapping….okey-dokey)

Paso Doble—Jean Marc Genereux

“A bloodsucking paso doble” (Cat’s words), and the couple walks in to Jean Marc as a Moulin Rouge version of Lestat.  Silly as he is, I know he knows his ballroom, so this should be a power packed dance if they can master the choreography.

Had Zach been a vampire in Twilight, I might have paid attention.  That boy had command of the stage from the first note.  Have no idea where Mary’s gonna rip into his technique but he had that bravado down cold.  Jacque was a little too reserved for me—she was probably trying to keep to the technique but her sinister personality did not come through well enough for me.

WHYYYYYYYYYY are the three of these goofballs wearing fangs?!? *facepalm*  Mary said this different take on the Spanish paso was “love at first bite.”  Mary loved their shapes but thought the routine lost a little steam at the end (I noticed that as well, right after that jump Zach did).  Nigel agrees and was glad the concept didn’t overshadow the execution of the routine.  Christina makes three and hails Zach’s growth and his presence in the routine, as well as Jacque’s abilities.

Second of the solos—Carly.  She had a very good sampling of skill and technique, and that turn combination was insane; however, it was a bit slender in the connecting moves, which is something that has been criticized greatly on this show. This could possibly hurt her chances at Top 10.

Emily/Teddy (Ah, the business degree….and Teddy’s elasticity)

Broadway—Warren Carlyle

A game of cat and mouse, for sophisticated actors who dance.

Nice nod to Fosse and Kiss Me Kate in the opening bars—not quite as loose as Bob would have been but Teddy danced admirably.  Emily dialed back just enough to let Teddy shine alongside her without muscling over him with her personality.  Not sure what went on with that end pose…..

Nigel acknowledged the stamina and skill it takes to perform that style, but was disappointed with the end of the number, calling for more elevation and saying that it was not as strong as it needed to be particularly on such a difficult night.  Christina did note that they got a little wobbly but did praise Teddy’s growth (and his arms) and Emily’s technique—and also urged them to watch the inspiration number in KMK to absorb the nuances of the style.  Mary thought the routine went in and out but enjoyed it.

Time for Casey’s solo—he’s a turnmaster just like Carly but not enough wow in that solo.  Not solid on his chances, as there’s already a pretty boy in the Top 10 in Ricky.

A commercial break, costume change and regroup and then Emily’s right back out on the stage performing her solo…which is awesome.  Beautiful flow and technique and just the right amounts of power and reserve—so far the best of the solos. If she gets to the Top 10 this will be why.

And then Casey’s also gets a quick turnaround for his duet with Jessica….

Casey/Jessica (Awkwardness/turning ability)

Contemporary—Travis Wall

Finding the person that centers you and you can escape from the world with—complete with stage kiss.

Didn’t like the end pose.

That was it.  Everything else was flawless—beautifully in sync and fluid and perfect.  Jessica might have gone a little over with the movement amplification, but they danced well.

Screams and standing Os from audience and judges alike, leaving Jessica surprised and overwhelmed in tears….. “Travis Wall—shut your face!”  So I think Christina might have liked this a little. 😉  Totally enthralled with the performance, the intention, the technique—and not only reaffirmed her assertion that Jessica could win the title but that Casey could give her a solid run for the money…as well as threatening America within an inch of their lives if the two of them ever wound up in the bottom again.  Throwing out words like “life changing” means she ain’t coming over for tea.  Mary absolutely seconds those sentiments and adds breathtaking and amazing to the mix, praising their fast chemistry and performance.  Nigel muses about Casey’s nerves following the loss of both of Jessica’s partners—I swear this old man needs to pay attention…she lost THREE partners—but acknowledges the magic that exuded from the new partnership to make this dance so special.  (Cat, you can encourage free kissing in there all you want, but remember how out of hand the shenanigans got in Season 8 after Melanie and Marko did “I Got You”….)

Teddy’s the final guy solo of the night—and he does this hip-hop/contemporary/Broadway-ish hybrid of a number in a full tux with ankle wiper pants.  Kind of smooth and quirky and offbeat, and a little more understated than I thought he would go for in a winner-take-all situation like this.  Hard to call where the judges will go on this.

Carly/Serge (emotions, and the “bronytail”?  No sir—not even Pat Morita could pull that off in the Karate Kid movies.  Get a headband, I beg of you.)

Quickstep—Jean Marc Genereux

“Let me tell you about the quickstep: the upper body needs to take a chill pill, and the lower body needs to be on four espressos.”  (You have to layer on Jean Marc’s French accent for the full effect.)

Serge is smooth like Godiva chocolate—I don’t know how much traditional ballroom experience he has but he performed well (and I guarantee you Mary is not gonna be all up in his DNA about his technique like she was with Marcquet last week….). Carly was lovely to watch and it seemed to me like she held her upper body frame really upright.

Mary thought they coped well with adjusting to the framework—and true to form only criticized the lack of power through his legs but was otherwise pleased with him as well as with Carly.  Nigel liked the piece and liked that they enjoyed themselves and continue to grow every week.  Christina channels her inner Carrie Anne Inaba and takes a poke at DWTS, but called it sexy without being vulgar, flirty yet demure and fabulous.

Our final solo and quick turnaround from Jessica, who composed herself well enough to display her musicality and technique to Beyoncé’s version of Fever.

Valerie/Ricky (Tomboy energy and Cuban coffee. I have a feeling there’s gonna be an extra tour bus just to haul the coffee….)

Hip-Hop—Christopher Jennings and Krystal Meraz

And just before Academy of Villains hits the stage tonight, Pharside and Phoenix are back to do a funky/scary twisted hip-hop routine.  The witch doctor is struggling to bring the voodoo doll to life.

That was pretty tight hip-hop out of a pretty boy contemporary dancer and a cutie-patootie tapper.  Props to the choreographers, even though I know that’s going to be a problem for the Syncopated Ladies.  That leg lunge/weight transfer (or leg wave, as Nigel puts it) from a seated straddle that Valerie pulled off was DOPE—and difficult.  I kept thinking about Dmitry and Ashley from Season 2 with this, only more hip.  Turn down for what?  For Tour, that’s what.

Nigel thought they were outstanding and was just as wowed as I was about the leg wave, but also praised Ricky for transforming and adapting into an entirely different dance style with as much ease as weeks past, calling him outstanding.  Christina just fangirled over the pair, saying she’d been watching for weeks and looking forward to meeting the two, and not adding much more than “I could watch that all night.”  Mary’s best number of the night as well, and she was impressed with the musicality—so much so that she threw out every possible hip-hop descriptor imaginable (sick, frozen, buck, ridiculous, a crime scene and “murdered it”)

More small groups—girls and guys this week….

Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Girls—Contemporary, Mandy Moore

Mandy doesn’t want pretty, she wants powerful—strong women dancing together.

I already love “My Immortal” for so many reasons, and putting it on these ladies tonight was a great choice.  It had the same feel and strength of the fountain piece (“Young and Beautiful”) from last season.  The unison and sharpness and flow were phenomenal, and when you consider that there’s a ballerina, tapper and ballroom specialist among contemporary girls, that’s an amazing feat.  Although I’m gonna need to re-check Tanisha’s qualifications and experience….personally I think she took enough ballroom classes to look polished and is really a jazz and contemporary superstar.

A room full of applauding, standing people has GOT to be a good sign that it wasn’t just pretty, but also powerful, Mandy….Christina has again lost her breath and the power to speak coherently, but she spits out enough to hail Valerie and Jessica—as well as the other ladies, because they rocked as a unit—and said they were all at eleven.  (Spinal Tap reference might be a little out there for them but I think they can grasp a 1 to 10 scale analogy.  Try that next time.) Mary is choked up by the symbolic sisterhood of it all, and Nigel reaffirms Christina’s comment about the piece being a gift and extends to defy Misty Copeland’s pronouncement about the boys being at a higher level this season.  No Nigel, she was right—the girls just put on their big girl dance trunks and brought it up a level this week.  NOW we’ve got a battle coming.

Brief pause to allow the Academy of Villains their shot at the finale spot…and I already see blacklight ready material….LEGGO!  That was a lot to look at in low light but there was a little bit of everything in that—breaking, tutting, acrobatics, jazz/contemporary…you name it, they threw it in there.  The elaborate skeletal/animalistic face paint helped blend the dancers together as a unit instead of delineating gender, which might prove a smart move as it focused our attention to their strengths as dancers without qualification.  Good effort from the group.

Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Guys—Contemporary, Travis Wall

Before the break Cat announced that the boys are going to be up close and personal with the front row.  I’m sure all of those spectators are SOOOOO disappointed…..

From Sonya’s Broken People last week to Travis’s Lost Souls of the Sea this week….boy oh boy do y’all have some imaginations!  Travis decides Emilio needs to go flying in the air with a basket toss…you let that boy break his nose again and love or no love, I’m coming after you. *side eye*

Ladies and gentlemen, THIS is how you present boys in skirts.  The apron over straight but loose pants is perfect….and seven extremely yummy-looking chests don’t hurt things at all.  Since they’re a nice sea-colored blue-gray I’ll even forgive you for shoving the waistlines under their armpits again.  The boys did well keeping the movement liquid and synchronized, though there was one person in the center that was off by a fraction in the middle section (I think it was Casey), but I’m really splitting hairs here.  That ending visual with them just falling off the edge into the deep end….I mean, what?!?  Dude….I can’t even….and I’m well past the age where that phrase is appropriate.

I think Travis just broke Christina….Mary starts off with memorable, smart and important, and continues to gush from there. Nigel likened them to a coral reef in the deep sea with the ebb and flow of their movement and was equally appreciative of Travis’s “gift” to the audience.  “Maybe Misty was a little right (about the boys).” I done told you about doubting me, Nigel…. Christina said “Shut your face” and “I can’t stand you” to Travis this time—I actually expected her to say the second one once her jaw hit the floor and she grabbed her forehead—she’s so emotional.  “Do you know why I come here? Because I get to have THIS.” Yeah…pretty much the reason I still watch and write faithfully whether I agree with the choices and decisions or not—because we ALL get to have this.  LOVE that she lightened her own heavy mood by telling the guys that their boobs were showing….but shut up, mayn—I was enjoying that view!

Time to reveal the last two in the Top 10—and sadly, the next four dancers to leave the competition.  Best solos came out of Serge and Emily, best duet came from Casey and Jessica.  I’m still thinking Serge for the boys because he was most solid all around AND because he’s ballroom, and probably Jessica for that duet.  Carly and Emily are on pretty equal ground in the face of that, and Casey and Teddy’s solos were good and OK, respectively.  Still, who knows what criteria the judges will employ to make this tough choice?

That duet was the clincher—Casey and Jessica round out the Top 10.  Serge got about three more rounds than his original partner Brittany Cherry, and I claim validation for the both of them in that.  Plus, like I said, I’m betting all six of these kids are going to wind up on the Tour.

Now for the final bit of business—the freshly minted Top 10 get their All Stars!

Rudy gets Jenna Johnson (Season 10)

Jacque gets Chehon Wespi-Tchopp (Season 9)

Zach gets Amy Yakima (Season 10)

Bridget gets Brandon Bryant (Season 5)

Ricky gets LoFro (Lauren Frodeman, Season 7)

Tanisha gets Ryan Dilello (Season 6)

Emilio gets Jasmine Harper (Season 10 and new Degree spokesdancer)

Valerie gets Ade Obayomi (Season 4)

Casey gets Kathryn McCormick (Season 6)

Jessica gets….tWitch?!? (Stephen “tWitch” Boss, Season 4)
I don’t remember her hip-hop in callback week, but we’ll see what happens….

Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

PRE-SENT All-Stars–time to crank it up, Season 11!

SYTYCD 11, Top 16–Broken Outlaws

Another week closer to revealing the Top 10….

image

Third time’s the charm—Misty Copeland’s back for a judging hat trick.

Top 16 Contemporary
Mandy Moore (I called her or Tyce, and I suppose it helped to see her parking spot post on Instagram the night before); probably the most basic costumes I’ve seen on this show, and while that’s not a bad thing, I probably would have figured out a way to let the ladies keep those scarves…you know, since they were dancing to “Take Me To The River” and they were a good visual for water….

No messing about—straight to the Bottom 6 announcement: Bridget, Marcquet, Brooklyn, Serge, Tanisha, Zack.  Well at least Emilio’s safe but he didn’t do that jive alone…same with that hip-hop Serge did with Carly. Tanisha was a matter of time, Marcquet probably fell victim to the pairing with Jourdan going so-so last week (and being paired with Jessica this week makes me nervous) and I don’t know WHY Zack is on this list.  If anything, Jacque was the weaker of that pairing, though they both did great.  I guess the crush on Rudy has stars in the public’s eyes as well.  Seeing as we have all four of the remaining ballroom dancers here I imagine short of a jaw-dropping performance, two of the four of them will be headed home tonight.  Of the girls I could stand to lose Tanisha, though she’s proven incredibly strong and versatile in the other styles.  I have to lean more towards keeping Marcquet but any of these three leaving is gonna break my heart.

Oh boy…first dance performance week.  Cue the hilarious recital videos!

Valerie/Ricky
(Valerie was 4 years old with a bow on her butt doing a Daddy and Me tap; Ricky did a super-emo, kitchen sink contemporary that overdid EVERYTHING.)

Bollywood—Nakul Dev Mahajan

Ricky is laughing at the concept of Valerie being sexy in this number, but I don’t know…she’s looking a lot like LoFro does normally, and the sexy SHE pulled out I did NOT see coming.  She should have the stamina for it.

Came across more like the Amy Yakima “kid sister” vibe, but she held the energy for most of it…her arms started flagging at the very end so while she was hitting the positions, there was a lot less energy.  She’s also gonna need to stretch some more to try to match Ricky, because his extension was way higher and he probably wasn’t even trying.

Mary thought it was full of life, joy, love and high-octane energy and stamina; Nigel agreed and thinks this performance should keep them safe next week; Misty loved it in her usual manner, bringing the tough love with it—she though Valerie could have been sharper throughout so there was more clarity in her movements.  She LOOOOOVED her some Ricky, though, hailing him as the total package.

Bridget/Emilio
(Bridget did the Vaseline on the teeth pageant smile and tripped thinking about it; Emilio was a late bloomer at the ripe old age of 19)

Contemporary—Travis Wall
Emilio has a troubled past (Bridget) that he’s trying to shake off and move forward.  Sounds a lot like Wild Horses from Season 9…or even Fik-Shun and Amy’s tour de force opener from last year…choreographers are a troubled lot.

Bridget looked like that little girl from The Ring for a second there…she was DEEP in that character.  She seriously was dancing for her life.  Emilio looked like he did well with the foreign choreography, and I believe I saw pointed toes!  The martial arts background came in handy with all the jumps and balance moves he had to do.

Nigel saw Emilio’s toes as well (better give my boo his props!) and was enthralled by the theme and the execution of the piece, lauding Bridget for throwing every ounce of herself into it and looking magnificent; Misty marveled at how well the choreography highlighted them and praised Bridget for shining in her genre without overshadowing her less skilled partner, and gave equally glowing remarks to Emilio for his growth and grasp of technique; Mary said, “when you see special, you know it…and that was special.”  Indeed.

Tanisha/Rudy
(A 9 year old tumbling pom-pom girl and a really bad salsa dancing boy…now I see why you and Nick are friends, Rudy….

Hip-Hop—Dave Scott
A black and white comic book (graphic novel?) come to life, where Tanisha has the kiss of death and Rudy is deciding whether she’s worth the risk.  Is that why you’re punching the girl out in rehearsal, dude? SMH  Poor Tanisha has this vixen in the headlights look on her face watching Dave go through the moves.

OK, that catsuit is EV-ER-Y-THANG…..where can I get one, please?  The vamp role helped to distract from any weakness in skill—let’s face it, the girl can pull off some sexy moves.  Rudy had some classic 40s/modern swag going as well.  The ending three counts went a little fast for me—I’ve seen fast-acting poisons move slower.  But they got the point across…good effort from the two of them.

Misty was amazed by the subtle sexy from Tanisha and the Usher vibe Rudy was channeling (don’t get him started—he’ll never come out of the clouds!), and loved that they worked smoothly in sync without overpowering each other; Mary loved the all-business, take charge energy Tanisha exudes and the increasingly high performance level from Rudy; Nigel praised Rudy’s ability to contain his energy but still establish a strong presence and agreed with Cat’s Uma Thurman comparison on Tanisha, admiring the combination of sinewy and sharp she displayed in her movements and calling it her best performance thus far. They are determined to embarrass these poor children, aren’t they?  Poor Rudy….

Jessica/Marcquet
(Cat called the girl Honey Boo Boo-esque; OK, the costume was a little bit Toddlers and Tiaras/Shirley Temple but was that necessary?  Meanwhile, Marcquet’s early competition days show that he had the same energy…if a bit lacking in proper technique and execution.  I thought you were good, baby….)

Foxtrot—Dmitry Chaplin
Marcquet is the successful business, power executive type and Jessica is the…ahem, “interested party.” (Golddigger seems so harsh.)  With a contemporary girl and a Latin trained guy, we’ll see what happens.

This song again?!?  I love me some Nina Simone but really though…. I guess I should be happy it’s not the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins version.

Ummm….well damn.  Jessica plays vamp well.  And who would have thought she could carry ballroom so well in such a short time?  I do have to take a pause to note how INSANE her back is….holy cow! *stares across the room at the dumbbells*  Marcquet was very smooth and looks like he connected better with Jessica than he did with Jourdan, although Jessica did overpower him a hair.

Mary called that boy’s technique every name but a child of God—even after finding out he’d never had any standard ballroom training she still nitpicked every move in hold that he made, giving kudos only for the freer side-by-side sections.  She was, however, blown away by Jessica’s performance and grasp of the outside genre in such a short period of time.  Nigel pulled out the old fogey card and said he preferred the flow of movement epitomized by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and also expressed his discomfort with the routine (particularly Marcquet for some reason—my boy’s in trouble); Misty enjoyed the performance overall but still took the time to reissue notes on Jessica’s neck lines and Marcquet’s balance and grounding, respectively.

Carly/Serge
(2 year old Carly takes over her sister’s birthday party and Serge channels Tony Manero in his first ballroom competition.)

Contemporary—Mandy Moore
This routine centers around desire, specifically the girl wanting the guy and the guy being a jerk and playing with her emotions.  Serge is too much of a sweetie, but if he embodies this character that’s a clear sign that he’ll be safe.

(I really have to start TiVo-delayed as the show is airing, because I legit rewound this number about 12 times at 2 in the morning because I kept missing stuff.) Carly is slowly creeping her way into the Top 10 with these solid, impassioned performances.  Serge must have located his inner Chmerkovsky bad boy because he had some solid moments of douche in there…still too much of a cutie-pie to believe he’d be that much of a jerk, but he did well with both characterization and technique.

Nigel praised Carly for her efforts for both this week and last week, and acknowledged the pair’s growth in skill and partnership; Misty agreed, calling Carly a consistently full-bodied dancer and Serge a fluid, emotionally charged dancer and partner; Mary dubs Serge the most improved dancer this season and gives unanimous acclaim to Carly’s artistry and athleticism.

Emily/Teddy
(What I’m assuming is a Grease-inspired tap from Teddy—complete with pursed lips and raised eyebrow—and Emily’s wild child antics in toddler ballet got her put out.  Most of the students I had that were like Emily turned out to be the most dedicated as they matured…so have some patience with those little ones!)

Salsa—Jonathan Platero and Oksana Dmytrenko
I swear I don’t remember Jonathan being a salsa specialist on his season—but I AM really glad to see him getting work as a choreographer, because I did think he got pushed out WAY too early.  Anyway, this in-your-face routine has Emily gravitating towards the tricks and Teddy focusing on the steps.

There’s a lot of potentially career-ending moves in this thing, too….I’m almost afraid to watch. They survived and each stayed in their little salsa comfort zones: Emily went for broke with the tricks but was more reserved with the across the floor choreo, and Teddy looked and felt loose (despite a slight slouching issue in the neck) but seemed REALLY cautious doing those lifts.  This could hurt them for next week, because it wasn’t wow.

Misty commended Emily on holding the performance together despite her discomfort and instability with the execution of the routine and praised Teddy’s presence, ability and fierceness…though she did say she would have rather seen that from the pair as opposed to just him individually; Mary also took notice of Teddy’s strengths and commended the totally non-ballroom couple for fighting their way through that incredibly tough salsa; Nigel reveals that not just routine nerves were a factor—Emily dislocated her shoulder earlier that day—and noted that yes, the routine could have been stronger but considering the circumstances was pretty well executed.

Jacque/Zack
(Jacque as a baby Mame—looks like a Mommy and Me dance—and Zach’s early tap days.  Both look like they were watching the teacher for the next step…too adorable!)

Jazz—Sonya Tayeh
Past fling having a moment of nostalgia and longing.  Zach’s impressing Sonya beyond what she expected while Jacque’s dancing a little too prettily for her taste.  Still, she thinks the two working in tandem and taking responsibility for each other can produce awesomeness.

I don’t dislike Beyoncé—really I don’t—but I wish Andre 3000 had done that tune alone.  It sounded seamier when he was singing and it added to the slight forbidden air of the piece.  Jacque was still a bit pretty and Zach showed some fledgling signs of Jakob Kerr.

Cat just likened the piece to “The Garden” (it’s the fishnets, Cat—that’s all)…Mary marveled at the slinky transitions (and I have to watch again myself because I did NAUGHT see one single, solitary shoe) and applauded Zach’s tremendous growth; Nigel couldn’t emotionally connect to the number but did appreciate the couple’s dance efforts; Misty micromanages ballerina Jacque’s feet, calling for more refinement, but praises Zach’s growth.  (Nigel attempts to call her out on being harder on the girls, but not only does Misty deflect that but she verbalizing what I’ve been saying all along—that the guys this season are at another level.)

Brooklyn/Casey
(Hip-Hop Casey with frosted tips and Brooklyn tapping in a leather Dick Tracy style jacket and hat…and looking very serious.)

Hip-Hop—Will “Willdabeast” Adams
He’s making the kids live up to HIS name in his show debut, getting down and dirty and into Beast Mode.

Costumes were a HUGE no—Brooklyn looks OK in her lycra workout getup but those hideous shorts on Casey….y’all would have done better letting them wear the outfits from the opening number.  Both of them in the guys’ V-neck t-shirt and pants would have been infinitely less distracting.  They gave it a really good push but the last four 8 counts were the best danced part of the numbers…and even part of that was clunky.

Nigel echoed my sentiments about the shorts (stop trying to make excuses, ladies—those things were HORRIBLE) and thought they needed to latch on to the feel of the number and step out of their technical boxes—though he did give proper credit to Brooklyn’s efforts. (I’ve agreed with Nigel twice within 10 seconds…either he’s getting to be a bigger softie or I’m becoming a bigger hardass.  Neither prospect is comforting.) Misty thought this number was the most confident she’d seen Brooklyn and while she did love Casey’s work, this week belonged to Brooklyn.  Mary also noticed Brooklyn’s rise and split the middle, saying that the first half should have been lower and (her favorite term) in the pocket, but the second half picked up steam and grooved.

Mini groups tonight!

First up is Sonya Tayeh and the Village of Broken People—Brooklyn, Casey, Emily, Emilio, Tanisha, Serge, Valerie and Zach take on this dark contemporary that forces the dancers to unearth their vulnerabilities and lay them out for display.

Gorgeously ugly, in Cat’s words.  It was a fairly cohesive number, and the group did an excellent job of staying unified within the framework of all of that chaotic movement.  If I could call it anything it would be the photo negative of Season 2’s Hide and Seek.  Impressive, and it bears noting that of this group only 2 of the 8 claim contemporary as their signature style.

Misty recognized the cohesiveness of the theme and singled out Tanisha’s efforts.  I do have to admit that she really did hold strong with that featured section, doing a style so unconstructed and unfamiliar quite dazzlingly.  Mary thought that Sonya created a brilliant work and that the dancers were brilliant in it.  Nigel was so taken with the number and the performance that he wanted to be a part of it.  To enjoy something that generally would not appeal to you is pretty high praise.

Travis Wall takes on the second group–consisting of Bridget, Marcquet, Carly, Rudy, Jacque, Ricky, Jessica and Teddy–turning them into a group of outlaws trying to escape the city. (Maybe I should have gone to New York and watched The Warriors with Lin-Manuel Miranda…..)

I’m sorry—did Travis Wall just out-Sonya Tayeh Sonya Tayeh?  If these two pieces had been presented pre-package free I would totally have gotten the choreographers reversed.  I’m not used to seeing this kind of aggression in Travis’s work, and unless I blinked and missed it he’s never danced any of Sonya’s choreography—at least not on the show. Body parts were flying EVERYWHERE, just as promised.  Outside of Rudy, Teddy and one brunette girl I couldn’t pick out from under the ponytail and Alice Cooper eyeliner, I could have used a bit more mayhem…Marcquet disappeared in this and it’s not a good week for that to happen.

Nigel is tooting horns everywhere…as a quick personal aside, it has thrilled me to no end as a television professional to see Nikki Parsons’s name in the opening credits as director for several years, so I’m going to really have to study this piece again and leave my artistic eye at the door.  All around for direction, choreography and performance Nigel couldn’t use the word “outstanding” enough.  And yes, Nigel, if WE don’t win an Emmy this year, somebody got paid off. (I’ve been invested in this show since Day 1—it’s my damn Emmy too.)  Misty’s word was incredible, and once again while congratulating everyone she gives high praise to Ricky.  I love the dude but I think Teddy and Rudy carried most of the male weight in that one. (PAUSE. I swear ‘fore GAWD I’mma coming after kneecaps with a crowbar if y’all don’t 86 that damn “happy dance”! And….NOOOOOOOO! Not Misty too! I give up. UNPAUSE.) Mary’s excited because she’s yelling—not just yelling, but legit screaming.  Fabulous is Mary’s term of the night, and I’m going to chalk it up to her having much better seats than I do, because Marcquet certainly was NOT invisible to her.  Glad to see him finally getting some unqualified praise.

Seriously, how do y’all cut people after all of that?  I really hope y’all skip it this week and do a double elimination next week.  I know that’s more complicated for y’all but seriously, there are 16 asses lying on that stage that got danced off tonight.

Have NO clue who this Lucy Hale person is, but the people seem to like her…even though I know it had to be prerecorded.  I know some good grips, gaffers and scene movers, but there’s no way….

*sigh* If they insist on going through with this, then strictly based on the couples’ routines I fear that Marcquet and Brooklyn are dancing out of the competition the same way they came in—together.  Tanisha pulled herself out of the fire with the hip-hop and into the stratosphere with the group contemporary; Bridget’s duet with Emilio can’t possibly sent her home unless the entire panel is smoking crack; and Serge’s growth and passion is palpable and undeniable.  Zach leaving is a possibility but it’s a tough call.

Wait, what?  You’re already doing a quad elimination next week? Curses.  No, serious ear-blistering curses.  There go my hopes….and I’m really tired of being right.  The level of NOT HAPPY I am right now is UNBELIEVABLE.

Remaining weak links (based on the couples’ performances from tonight) include Valerie, Jacque, Zach, and Emily.  Bridget and Serge may still be in danger since America wasn’t feeling too “happy” about them in the votes, and as Jessica is now on her fifth partner in Casey, I’m not sure if it spells trouble for him because of past history or for her for yet another partner change…although that may be the very thing to secure her a place in the Top 10….

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