Thursday, July 31, 2014

So You Think You Can Dance S11E10

There's a simple problem with reviewing this episode: I went to find a version of it to download and I can't find one anywhere. Everything up until last week's episode is ready to go, but this episode is no where to be found on the interwebs, it seems. As such, I'm stuck with just my notes from last night to go off of, some of which are a little sparse as I was counting on being able to watch the performances again to get a stronger idea of how I felt about them. Living without digital cable and a DVR is really starting to take its toll. But oh well, we'll soldier onward and I'll keep an eye out for a digital copy of the episode in the days to come. If I do find one, and rewatch the episode, I'll come back and make edits to this post as needed. I'll keep those edits to the strays, so feel free to come back periodically and see if I had anything new to say. Or if anyone has a link to the episode they'd like to share with me, I'd be forever grateful. With that being said, let's get down to business.

The night opens with a brilliant and breath taking group number by Stacey Tookey. It seems to be about Greek or Roman gods or something. In the end, I don't care what it's about, it's beautiful and that's all that matters. It also features a lot of same-sex lifts which I'm partial towards. I make no apologies about this fact; I'm a gay man and I can't help but to appreciate the aesthetic of two men dancing together (same-sex female dances also have a unique feel to them that we don't get often enough on this show, but more on that a bit later), but beyond the aesthetic, I love the power found in these pairings. Whenever we have the guys dancing together on this show, it tends to showcase a lot more lifts. They toss each other into the air with a power and a reckless abandon we don't get otherwise, and it's always fun to watch. I also really liked the end of Stacey's number which featured Ricky standing in the middle of the circle of collapsed dancers wiping their golden blood from his hands onto his clean white tunic. There was a kind of metaphor or foreshadowing to it: Ricky, the sole dancer to emerge victorious after just slaying the competition at every turn. As a fan of his, it appealed to me, but it didn't escape my notice that this is yet another moment when he's singled out from the other dancers and I don't think it's fair. I understand everyone loves him, and he's clearly the best dancer in the competition thus far, but maybe we can make the group dances a bit more equal and fun for the other contestants too? Either way, spot lighting the best dancer in the competition thus far is only one small mark against an otherwise phenomenal number.

Serge, Teddy, Casey, Jessica, Carly, and Emily are revealed as being in the bottom 6, and we're told that only tow of them are going to move on from this cut in order to form the top 10. The only person I'm honestly surprised to see in the bottom is Carly who I thought had a strong night last week, but I'm guessing she was hampered by her pairing with Serge. To my credit (I do love patting myself on the back) the bottom three boys are exactly what I expected, and the top 5 boys are also in keeping with my predictions last week, so there's that. All of the bottom 6 get solos as well as their couple numbers and an extra group performance to help the judges make their last decision of the season. I'll run through the solos towards the end of the review because I really want to talk about what turned out to be a rather great night of dance for the show.

Bridget and Emilio kick things off with a stellar Jazz number about two agents of Satan coming up to earth to find souls to steal. The number is unique in concept but also in execution. I thought the easy way out would have been to make one of them the demon and the other the person who's going to lose their soul, but instead their both working on the same side towards a common goal, and I respected that. I also hadn't realized just how upset I'll be to see these two split up going forward. They developed an easy kind of chemistry during their time together and I had really started looking forward to seeing them. Now they'll have to go their separate ways and it makes me a little sad.

Tanisha and Rudy tackle a Mandy Moore contemporary routine that's meant to be sexy and seductive. The judges love it (guest judge Christina Applegate goes so far as to give it a standing ovation), I'm a bit more undecided. I think it was danced well, and that one handed lift Rudy pulls off is really amazing, but I didn't buy the performance. I thought the two of them were a lot sexier last week and there was an element of being able to see them dancing instead of just performing this week. There are a couple of shots of Tanisha's face here where she seems so locked in concentration on what has to come next that it's impossible to believe she's actively being seduced by Rudy. Couple that with a few missed connections and the whole things just looked a bit off.

Conversely, I thought Jacque and Zack's Paso Doble was very seductive. I've mentioned before, I think, that the Paso is one of my favorite styles seen on the show, and a big part of that tends to be what the choreographers do with. Instead of always sticking with the traditional Bullfighter element of the dance, they tend to branch out a bit more. This Paso sees the story of Zack as a vampire and the woman he's turned and is awakening. This is perfect for this duo. I've been saying since the beginning that Zack and Jacque might be the two best performers in the competition (Ricky's the better dancer, but what they do performance wise is bar none), so giving them interesting and fun characters to portray is always the way to go. Applegate says Zack’s performance is masculine, and that’s not the word I would use. I think he was a lot more masculine last week, but I think the androgyny actually works to their advantage. I’ve always thought there was a gender and sexual fluidity to vampires, or at least to the best vampires, and so that performance choice was a good call on Zack’s part. This is one of the performances where I feel like my lack of fundamental dance knowledge really hurts me. I know I loved every bit of this routine, but I only wish I could engage with it on more of a technical dance level. There was a moment when the two of them were turning around with Jacque pivoting on one foot while Zack stepped over her and it was smooth and beautiful and made my jaw drop. There’s got to be a name for that move, but I don’t know it and I feel bad because I freakin loved it! Either way, this is the couple I'm most sad to see broken up in the weeks to come. I could watch these two dance together forever and be perfectly happy.

Our first couple from the bottom 6 (interesting that everyone in the bottom 6 this week were a couple) to dance was Emily and Teddy. They were given a Broadway routine that should have been fun and lighthearted, and yet ended up being neither. I have no clue what they were doing with this. On a night when they needed to really just be perfect in order to have even a chance of sticking around, both of them drop the ball big time. The fact that Casey's solo is right after this performance and he really does do a great job with it felt like the nail in Teddy's coffin. Nigel pointed out that both Teddy and Emily needed to kill it in their upcoming solos, but when this performance was over, I couldn't help but to think that Teddy didn't have a chance in hell of going forward no matter what he did in his solo.

By the time Jessica and Casey took the stage to dance a Travis Wall Contemporary number, it was pretty clear that the producers had placed all of the couples in danger of going home in the middle of the episode. This was either a stroke of genius or a big mistake. I'm not sure which, but what I am sure about is the sheer perfection of Jessica and Casey's performance. For a first time couple, the pair of them have an easy and believable chemistry. This is great since the dance was about a young couple in love and featured a passionate kiss as its centerpiece. The best thing I can say about the performance is that I bought every second of it hook line and sinker! Casey punched his ticket to the top 10 with this performance, and Jessica finally found a piece she could dance up to the level set in that first week. On the one hand, I feel the need to criticize her for it being another Contemporary number that sees her elevated to such heights, but on the other hand, I also think it's the first time she's had a partner that she could find true chemistry with. It's sad to me that we couldn't spend more time with them as I would like to know what they couldn't have gotten into with a couple more weeks to develop that chemistry properly. I have more to say on Jessica, but I think I'll keep it for the strays.

The last of the bottom three couples is Carly and Serge dancing a dreaded Quick Step. I really don’t have anything to say about this. I thought it was cute, danced well, and fun, but it was a Quick Step. The Quick Step is generally a kiss of death because it’s technically difficult but brings very little to the table in terms of performance appeal / story. So I think voters, who tend to vote more on story and emotional resonance anyway, have a hard time casting votes for the number. If most of the audience doesn't know much about dance, then they won't understand just how difficult it is to perform a Quick Step when it's not something you're formally trained in. Personally, I’m just left shrugging this one off a little bit. I enjoyed it, but in a night when these two needed to be dancing for their lives, I just don’t think it was the performance they wanted to pull.

Valerie and Ricky close out couples numbers with the best performance of the night. It's a Pharside and Phoenix Hip Hop number about a voodoo guy and the doll he's brought to life, and they totally nail it. Valerie dances within the style with an ease that is a little bit scary. The body wave thing she does while in a split is just too perfect and breath taking for words. And Ricky is loose and low in a manner that we haven't seen from any of the other contestants dancing Hip Hop this season. This is the second routine we've seen from Pharside and Phoenix this season. They are either a couple or just close friends based on the shots of them in the audience, but it seems like they might be replacing Nappy Tabs as the resident Hip Hop duo on the show. If this piece and their group piece from a couple weeks ago are any indication of what they can do, however, then I must say I'm perfectly fine with that.

With the couples done, we go into two more group numbers. This week, the contestants have been split along gender lines with the girls dancing a Mandy Moore number and the boys dancing another Travis Wall number. Mandy, as I think we all easily could have predicted, goes with a general kind of "girl power" theme and sets the dance to "My Immortal"by Evanescence. I love this song, and I love Girl Power in general, but my constant complaints about a lack of originality in this season is exacerbated by this number. That's to take nothing away from the girls who deliver a wonderful performance. I know it sounds stereotypical, but just like male-male performances tend to have a power and an elevation that I love, girl-girl performances on this show tend to have a flow and a softness and a general beauty to them that is just unsurpassable. Nigel says that Misty was wrong when she pointed out last week that the boys are better than the girls this season. I want the number of Nigel's dealer because whatever he's on has got to be amazing. The performance was great, there's no doubt about that, but in no way did it elevate the girls ahead of the boys.

This fact was proven when the guys take the stage for Travis Wall's underwater themed pieced. I love watching the guys dance together on this show, but I love it even more when they're choreographed by Travis who just seems to really understand how to get the best out of the fellas and how to use them to their greatest effect. The moment when Emilio is launched into the other guys' arms is just amazing to behold. There a flow and a synchronicity to this number that's breathtaking. The entire performance is just charged with something indescribable and it's a great pleasure to watch. Nigel takes back what he said previously about the girls being better and all is right with the world again.

When the time comes for the judges to announce their decision, Nigel points out that they're unanimous and it's not hard to see why. Serge's solo was that of a typical Latin Ballroom dancer dancing alone. It was nice, but it never really stands up against the kinds of dancers used to dancing on their own. Ballroom relies too heavily on partnering to ever look great in solo. Carly's solo felt like a wasted opportunity as she just spent most of her time striding across the stage. There wasn't really anything to it, and it was easy to walk away from. Teddy dances Lyrical Hip Hop in his solo and I'm reminded of why I don't think he's a Hip Hop dancer. I know it's generally a different kind of Hip Hop than we usually see from contestants dancing under that label, but he just never looks as good, comfortable, and clean within it as some of our previous contestants did. Put him on stage dancing a solo against Fik-Shun or Twitch and he'd be so out of his depth that you'd question how he made it onto the show in the first place. I thought Emily's solo was danced well and interestingly understated. There was something smooth and internal about it, which I liked, but it didn't scream "Look at me! Look at what I bring to the table! I deserve to be here!"

This leaves us with the two people the judges agree have to be saved, and there really isn't another choice for them to make that would have made sense. Casey killed it with his solo (bonus points from me for dancing to Ed Sheeran's "Kiss Me," of course). He was fast and smooth and left it all out there on the stage. He was the only dancer on the night that I thought showed us something about who he is as a dancer, and he's the only one of the guys that showed us why he really deserved to stick around into the top 10. Jessica's solo was skilled, sexy, and sensual. This of course from the girl who only made it to the competition after dancing for her life in the first place. So it's not surprising that she does this well, but it's the one of the girl's solos that does demand attention. Couple that with their stellar Travis Wall routine and you've got the winning formula. If there's one thing I'll say about this first leg of the competition it's that everyone who has made it to the top 10 seriously feels like they deserve to be there. Well everyone except Rudy, but that's another story all together.

Stray Observations:

--I say that everyone moving on deserves it, but the truth is I have mixed feelings about Jessica. In a season where the girls simply aren't standing out at all (I actually had a conversation with a friend today where both of us kept referring to Emily as "Teddy's partner" because we couldn't even remember her name), it feels like Jessica has kind of stood out for all the wrong reasons. Given her performance tonight and in the first week, I don't want to put all of this on her. I said she was having a black widow effect on her partners, but that's not actually fair when you look at how the competition has gone thus far. First she's paired with Nick who is already in the bottom after his Ballroom performance the previous week (which she had nothing to do with), and he goes home. Then she's paired with Stanley who is in the bottom because of his nonsensical phone cord routine from the previous week, and the two of them are locked in that stupid magic carpet routine. She escapes being placed in danger only to be paired with Marquet who is again in danger because of something that has nothing to do with her. I've been thinking for the last few weeks that she simply hasn't been dancing as well as she should have been (and in all fairness, I think that's also still true), but it also could be said that she's something of a victim here too. She's never given the chance to connect with a partner because everyone she's saddled with had already screwed up in the week prior and didn't have a shot of sticking around. But there's also something to be said about the fact that she doesn't seem to dance exceptionally well unless she's in her style and dancing with a solid partner. This will be interesting to watch in the weeks to come when she's dancing with all stars. Does she continue to dance up to her partner's level, or is she just not all that great outside of her style? All things considered, I think there's a case to be made for her going home this week in spite of this being her first time in the bottom, but after seeing what she and Casey do, especially in comparison to what the other bottom contestants do, her moving forward is a no brainer.

--Also in the not so deserving pile is Rudy. I don't think he's good enough to be at this stage in the competition, but I also can't deny how good he was last week. I don't think he danced up to that level this week, but I do feel the need to give him mad props for that one handed lift. So while I don't think he deserves to be in the top 10 based on talent level, I do think he's done what he needed to do these last couple weeks to warrant his being there. There's also the judges constant slurping of him, but whatever I guess.

--Christina Applegate is my favorite guest judge after Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and I would love to see more of her.

--One thing I forgot to do is list out our top 10: Jessica, Jacque, Tanisha, Valerie, and Bridget for the girls; Ricky, Emilio, Rudy, Casey, and Zack for the boys.

--What this ultimately means is that Tanisha is the only Ballroom dancer left after a season that seemed to be heavy with them. I wasn't happy with the way the top 20 was formed; the need to keep even numbers of dancers from each style led to some possibly more deserving dancers being cut at the green mile. Likewise, I thought the producers wanted to pack this season with Ballroom talent in order to make up for the lack of it last year, but as we've seen before, Ballroom dancers don't usually do as well on this show. So now we're stuck with a slightly substandard group of girls, and only one ballroom dancer in the mix and I can't help but to wonder if the overall talent level wouldn't be higher if they'd added a little more diversity?

--Speaking of diversity, there's a remarkable lack of racial diversity in this season. I noticed it earlier on and kept forgetting to mention it in the write ups. But it's really noticeable now that we've pretty much got an all white top 10. That's sad because I don't think it's really been a problem that SYTYCD has had in the past. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

So You Think You Can Dance S11E9

What if instead of opening the ninth episode of SYTYCD with that Mandy Moore group number at the top of the hour, they opened it with Sonya Tayeh's mini group number from the end of the show? Could you imagine the impact it would have had? If all we open up on is Cat welcoming us to So You Think You Can Dance, cutting to the opening sequence, and then jumping right into the rehearsal package for Sonya's number? And then the last performance of the night could have been Travis' group number and Mandy's contribution could have been forgotten all together. I understand the appeal of opening the show with all 16 dancers on stage together, but by god was that performance boring. The most interesting element of it had to be the scarves, and they were ditched almost as soon as possible. I'll admit that some part of my overall disappointment with the entire thing came from the fact that my original assumption based on the silhouette opening that the piece would be about super heroes. The scarves fluttering in shadow looked like capes to me and I got excited, and then they weren't and I wasn't. It wasn't choreographed particularly poorly, except for the six second (literally, I timed it) stretch where the girls were laying on the stage while the guys danced around them, and it wasn't poorly danced either, although there did seem to be some timing and sync issues at times, it just wasn't much of anything at all.

Now compare that to Sonya and Travis' numbers from later on in the night and you have a tale of opposites. I don't know which of the final two group numbers I liked more. Sonya's "Village of Broken People" hits me right where I live. I realized a couple of months ago that my favorite characters in any given story tend to be the ones that are broken in some interesting way (I actually created a post on my personal Tumblr about it). So in a lot of ways, I was sold on this performance from the moment Sonya started talking about it. But then we get to the dancers, and their makeup is great (if a little obvious and heavy handed), they're all affecting this deadpan, cold kind of facial expression, and they move and dance beautifully. The lift sequences with Emilio and Tanisha were just breath taking and powerful. But there was a deeper element to the performance that resonated with me: Misty points out that the group was a unit, a cohesive team working together, and she takes the words right out of my mouth. I felt like there was so much love, team work, and a strong lack of judgement within the group. They moved, and lifted each other, and because of the dead pan stares they all wear, it looks like they just accept one another for exactly who they are. It's possible I read too much into this, but if felt like they were all in character the entire time and there was a deep message about accepting peoples brokenness at face value. It touched me on a deeply personal level.

But then there's Travis' number about a group of outlaws trying to escape the city by any means necessary. I'm going to commend Travis for pulling a story that I felt was far more unique and interesting than the Contemporary stories have been thus far, but I don't think that the brilliance of this number lies in the story so much as in its execution. The number is clearly intended to be a showcase for Ricky. The camera started with him in closeup  and I don't think there was ever a moment where he wasn't in the center or at the front of the action. Carly might have gotten the big lift towards the middle of the performance, but everything else seemed to be designed for Ricky. There was even a great moment when he was tossed into the air by Marquet and Rudy (I think), but it was undercut by an odd element of directing where the camera was focused elsewhere. I know I've talked about not liking it when one dancer is singled out of a group number, but in my defense that was more about group routines with more people than these two had. Or maybe I'm just a hypocrite, either way, I thought these two pieces were phenomenal, and blew Mandy Moore's opener out of the water.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's get down to business. Bridget finds herself in danger of going home for the second week in a row, Serge and Brooklyn are in the bottom again for the second time in the competition (they were also there back in episode 7), but they're joined by the new faces of Tanisha, Marquet, and Zack. At this point in the competition, I think we're starting to really see the gulf between the talent levels opening up. The boys are clearly stronger than the girls, but even from the guy's side of things, it's clear that Serge, Marquet, and Rudy aren't up to snuff. Rudy's being pimped out by the judges like its nobody's business, so he won't find himself in danger anytime soon, and Teddy and Casey (who may not be quite as good as Ricky, Emilio and Zack) are just too cute to be in danger this early in the competition (their respective spots in bottom in the first couple weeks can probably be chalked up to a fluke as voters started figuring out how to divide up their votes properly), so that leaves Zack with the short straw. I think Zack might be the best performing male left even if he isn't the best technical dancer, so he doesn't deserve his spot in the bottom three this week, but someone had to be there. The girls in the bottom is something I'm slightly more confused about, but some part of that is because I find the girls to be slightly interchangeable at the moment, so I'll get into this a little bit more in the strays.

Either way, with Bridget finding herself in danger for the second week in a row, it seemed like the writing was on the wall for which girl would be sent packing this week. We'll address that again when we get to the end of the episode. First things first: Valerie and Ricky kick off the night with the season's first Bollywood number. I think it also might have been the show's first Bollywood number that didn't feature a lengthy explanation of how certain hand motions, when done wrong, can offend an entire nation. Happy to see the choreographers and dancers have finally learned that we viewers do actually pay attention over the years. The routine is fast and fun and the two of them do good work within it. Valerie makes it a point to say that she has to be sexy during the number, and both of them talk about their more sibling based relationship; I think this conversation almost tanks the routine. I kept waiting to see sexy and romantic chemistry, but it never came. If I hadn't been told to expect it, I think I would have enjoyed the performance on the basic level of cute, playful fun. But knowing that it was supposed to be sexy and then seeing it be not sexy made for an odd sensation. It left me wondering what it’ll be like when/if this couple gets an Argentine Tango or a Paso Doble that has to be passionate and sexy in order to work. Do they have the kind of chemistry needed to pull that off? The jury's still out on that possibility, but I'm guessing they did enough to be safe next week.

Emilio and Bridget follow up with a Travis Wall Contemporary piece that blew me away. I've already praised Travis once in this review about bringing the originality back to Contemporary this year, but now I have to do it again. His story about removing the past from your memory so you can move forward is something I don't think we've ever seen before. And on top of that, it was danced brilliantly. Emilio solidified himself as one of the top guys this week. All of the praise the judges have been lavishing on Teddy for being a Hip Hop dancer performing well in other styles really should have been saved for Emilio. He outfitted himself well last week with that Jive, but blew everyone out of the water with week in Contemporary. Not to be overlooked, however, is Bridget's clingy performance. She was creepy, and powerful, and really just all around brilliant. She embodied her character flawlessly and I didn't think it would be easy for the judges to send her home later. I'll be surprised if we don't see this one again in the finale.

Tanisha and Rudy were given a Dave Scott Hip Hop number that I was more than prepared to hate. But I loved it in spite of myself. The easy way out here is to point out that the majority of the performance is sold by Tanisha's easy, subtle sex appeal, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't impressed by Rudy here too. The two of them brought out a kind of chemistry I wasn't sure they had until this moment. And there was a maturity to Rudy's movement and his demeanor that I was sure he didn't have until I saw it. This routine was sexy and sultry and smooth in a way that I couldn't have predicted, and it made me seriously happy to watch it. I hate to say it, but I think Rudy might have just punched his ticket to the top 10 with that performance.

I wondered last week if Marquet would have more chemistry with Jessica than he did with Jourdan, and the answer is a resounding no. Mary points out that Marquet is more of a Latin Ballroom dancer and as such some of the technical aspect required in American dances just weren't there. And the judges bring up his partnering and the technical short comings of some of his lifts again, but in the end it all just spells doom for him. There wasn't really any passion or connection between the two of them, and while that's to be expected in their first dance together, it's still something that can't go without being mentioned after the notes the judges gave Marquet after last week. To her credit, Jessica is complimented by Mary, and Nigel points out that she hasn't danced up to the bar set during her top 20 performance with Ricky, but he was captivated by her this week. But the truth is, as Nigel puts it, there's something about the performance that just feels a bit uncomfortable.

Carly and Serge dance a Mandy Moore contemporary piece about a man abusing his power over a woman who is attracted to him but to whom he isn't attracted in return. It's an interesting concept and a bit more adult than I think we've seen thus far this season. But there's not much that's truly remarkable about the way it's danced. Carly is clearly the stronger dancer of this pair and once again I found my eyes drawn to her instead of Serge. In fact, it wouldn't be crazy to consider this Carly's night in a lot of ways. Between that great move at the end of this piece where she slowly lowered herself to the ground without any assistance from Serge, and her great stand out moment in Travis' mini group number, she certainly got a lot more spotlight than the other girls I think. Conversely, I don't expect Serge to make it to the top 10. There's just nothing really special about him at this point, and I'm starting to think he's holding Carly back a little bit. Or at the very least, I expect her to truly shine once she starts dancing with an all star.

Emily and Teddy dance a Salsa that the judges liked way more than I did. It was shaky from the very beginning with Teddy missing a connection on move that should have sent him sliding through Emily's legs. The whole thing just looked labored and clunky as a result. To the couple's credit, they seemed to loosen up a bit and get more into the swing of things as the routine went on, and they totally nailed the major lift that we see them failing again and again in the rehearsal package, but a couple missed connections and what I thought was an odd and stiff posture from Teddy, and an extreme lack sex appeal made this one feel flat to me. This also isn't the first time I've noticed that this couple seems to have a slow build up to their routines. In their Hip Hop number from a couple weeks ago, I also noted that Teddy didn't seem to really get into the flow of things until about the midway point of the routine. I don't know if it's nerves or what, but this tendency to take his time getting started is keeping him from being in top ranks of guys talent-wise this year. But he's got a fun personality and he's cute, so that seems to be going a long way for him. Whether he'll be able to ride that into the top 10 remains to be seen.

The unique, and adult, themed numbers continue with Sonya's Jazz routine for Jacque and Zack. It's about a couple who had a fling once and then bump into each other randomly and feel an instant attraction to one another. And attraction is the only word that works in regards to this performance. This was seamy in away I don't think numbers on this show have a tendency to be. It's not the first time the show has featured a routine about sex in some way or another, but it is the first time that I can remember the routine making me feel hot and bothered. I think the show has had routines deal with sex before, but this might be the first routine that dealt with fucking. And the chemistry and the desire was palpable. Zack was strong, mature, and almost forceful in a way that I found surprising. And Jacque could easily give Tanisha a run for her money in the quest for being the sexiest girl on the night. These were two characters that knew what the liked and knew what the wanted and made no qualms about it. And this was enhanced by the couple's ability to so perfectly pick up on Sonya's unique quality of movement. There was a one lift that I don't think went off as planned and Zack kind of dropped Jacque as a result of it. It made me cringe because otherwise it would have been a nearly perfect performance. But the judges didn't mention it, and I certainly think the two of them played it off well, so maybe it doesn't matter so much. Either way, this was a great job by the two of them, and this was a number I would certainly like to see again someday.

Brooklyn and Casey close out the couple's performances with a Hip Hop number. I would talk about the dance but the truth is I was distracted the entire time by how scrawny Casey's arms looked in that horrible outfit. Which I guess is one way of saying the dancing wasn't all that great at all since it couldn't distract me from his little chicken wings. Nigel points out that they needed to get low, get loose, stop thinking about dance so much and just feel the music and the performance, and he's exactly right. Granted, I think these are words that could have been offered to just about all of the couples in Hip Hop so far this season, but I digress.

The judges again decide to just go with the two dancers to receive the lowest votes this week which leads to Marquet and Brooklyn going home. So in spite of being in the bottom three for two weeks running, Bridget is saved and will have the opportunity to make it to the top 10 depending on how next week pans out. I can't say that I disagree with the decision since I loved Bridget's performance this week, and Brooklyn didn't really do herself any favors with her Hip Hop number, but I still found the decision interesting. If Bridget finds herself in the bottom again next week, then I think the writing has to be on the wall about what the judges have to do with her.

Stray Observations:

--So I pretty much find the girls to be interchangeable at the moment and as such, I can't feel one way or another about the decision to send Brooklyn home this week. I think Bridget performed exceptionally well, but even so I wouldn't be able to pick her out in a crowd. I'm constantly having to refer to my previous write ups of the episodes to remember which girl is paired with which boy in order to make sure I'm getting names right, and with the exception of Jacque and Tanisha, I don't think I've seen anything from any of them that suggests they're standout top 10 material.

--Interestingly enough, however, Jessica is the girl the judges keep pointing out as not living up to the standards she set with Ricky in that first week, but she hasn't been in the bottom three yet. And I can't figure out why that is. She's had a different partner every week as the guy she's dancing with is always immediately sent home (she's becoming something of a black widow in that regard), and she honestly hasn't done anything remarkable since that first dance with Ricky. Whereas Ricky set a bar for himself and has continued to reach it week after week, she's just been struggling to keep her head above water it seems. And yet, she's getting votes. Good for her, I guess.

--Did anyone else see flashes of Mia's Addiction piece in Travis' number for Emilio and Bridget this week? I don't think it was as breath taking as that one, but a lot of the same themes were there, along with the general unwillingness to let the subject go.

--While we're on the subject of that great Travis wall number, I can't help but to have been fascinated by the empty bed frame the routine took place in and around. It brought up so many different connotation for me. s a number about a man trying to leave behind a checkered past and his guilt, the bed frame can stand for so much. Was he a sex addict who's just now trying to get clean? Was he maybe involved in a less than healthy relationship and is leaving behind the memory of this person he'll no longer be sleeping with (literally and figuratively)? Or maybe he's just been suffering from depression and he spent a lot of time in bed, and so him walking away from it is him leaving that dark place behind. I think the possibilities are somewhat endless, and the fact that Travis never assigns a meaning to the bed frame means that we're left to fill it in on our own. What did you guys think it meant?

--I swear I don't want to only talk about Travis Wall in these observations (ok that's a lie, I could talk about Travis Wall forever), but has anyone else noticed a slight change in the quality of his movement this year? He seems to be doing a lot more with putting his dancers in odd contortions and in implementing some really great and gravity defying lifts. His lifts this year seem to be a lot slower, they're held for a bit longer, and they progress is a manner that's really smooth. It makes the dancers look like they're floating, and I love it.

--Nigel mentions that 4 dancers are going home next week, which is sad because I was honestly ready to commend the show for working out its schedule in a fashion that got rid of the double eliminations that plagued last season. Either way, it looks like we'll have our top 10 set by the end of the episode.

--As such, my guess is that Ricky, Rudy, Zack, Emilio, and probably Casey will be the boys that move on. Clearly this depends on who finds themselves in danger to begin with (my guess is that Serge, Casey, and Teddy will be in the bottom), but either way, I think that Rudy, Zack, and Emilio earned their safety tonight, and Ricky clearly isn't going anywhere even if fans forgot about his Bollywood routine by the time they started voting. As for the girls, I have no idea. I'm guessing Jacque, and Tanisha will be ok after their sexy numbers this week, but I didn't expect to see Tanisha in the bottom this week, so I think all bets are off in a lot of ways there.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

So You Think You Can Dance S11E8

Forgive me if I gush for a bit over the opening number of the latest SYTYCD episode, but that was absolutely amazing! The hair, makeup, and costumes were superb; the stage was well used and interestingly decorated, and it had one of my favorite elements of group performances on this show: it didn't showcase or highlight any one specific dancer. We've seen a lot of group numbers on SYTYCD over the years, and I've found that my favorites tend to be big, theatrical, and put the emphasis on the group rather than the individuals. I complained last week about the way the opening number was a bit too individualistic for my taste; in a lot of ways, that stems from an ability to look at the stage and be able to call out who's who. I prefer it when the opening group numbers are lacking in that. I think the best group numbers the show has seen have been about a celebration of dance itself and not a celebration of these specific dancers. This can, and probably should, change by the time we're in top 6 territory, or the final performance competition episode of the season, but at this point when it's just about 18 people showing what dance is capable of, I'd rather not be sidetracked by noticing any one specific face in the crowd. Even if we ignore that specific quirk of mine, I think this opening number stands up. It's clear and fun, the idea behind it is obvious without being too simple or overdone (something that's been a bit of a problem this season), and as expected it's danced wonderfully. Nigel mentions that the choreographers of the routine (I believe their names were Pharcyde and Phoenix, but I'm not certain as my eyes were on my computer and my gushing notes at the time) are part of a dance crew. It left me wondering whether or not the element that pushed their number over the edge was the fact that dancing with a group of people is their specialty? Maybe the other choreographers on the show are more at home creating routines for pairs or smaller numbers? Whatever the reasoning behind it, the result is the best opening number the season has seen thus far!

Now that we've got that out of the way, welcome to the 8th episode of So You Think You Can Dance; 18 contestants enter, only 16 shall leave. Misty Copeland is back to be her perfect and helpful self, the judges are sitting in the wrong order for some reason (I wonder if Misty complained about Mary's yelling?), and we've got a lot of fresh blood in the choreographer pool. So let's get right down to it.

Jourdan is the only person in danger for the second time in a row, which doesn't bode well for her, and Stanley was doomed after that horrible Spencer Liff routine, but the rest of the bottom keeps to couples. Apparently, fans didn't connect with the Hip Hop routines from last week, and Bridget and her partner Emilio find themselves in trouble with Emily and her partner Teddy.

Once that news sinks in, Jacque and Zack are ushered out to perform a Hip Hop routine from Keone and Mari. A lot of importance and attention is paid to the intricate hand articulations worked into the routine, and surprisingly enough that was the weakest element to the number for me. After two weeks, I feel like the dancers seem to be most out of their element within the Hip Hop genre. The small things like articulations and animations are lost on them and look out of place, but by no means does it diminish a great performance. Specifically because if there's one thing these two are good at, it's performing. Nigel praises Zach for his ability to throw himself fully into anything he's been given, and I think it shows in the best way possible. This might not have felt like a Hip Hop routine (indeed, I wonder if you were to show it to someone without context and asked them to define the genre, would they guess Hip Hop before something like Jazz?), but you can see the way Zack gives it his all and has fun with it, and that makes it an enjoyable routine even if it isn't textbook Hip Hop. Likewise, Jourdan also brings her extreme skill for performing to the table and wows everyone. The judges say they don't think she looks like a Ballet dancer here, and I can't say that I agree with that. Personally, I thought there was still a small amount of "Ballet dancer doing a Hip Hop number" in her quality of movement, but it didn't matter. Whatever the two of them might have lacked in textbook Hip Hop technique, they more than made up for in personality and performance, and I actually think that that's a better compliment than them being told they didn't look like the kind of dancers they are.

If Jacque and Zack are the couple with more personality than technical ability within their assigned genre this week, Jourdan and Marquet are the couple with all technicality and no personality. I thought this week's moving Dee Caspery Contemporary number would be the vehicle with which Jourdan might save herself. After being outshone in her Pas De Deux with Jacque in the first week, and then making the wrong choice performance wise last week, I thought there was no way she could go wrong with a routine that seemed designed to grab votes. And then I was proven wrong. The Judges point out that both Jourdan and Marquet are having connection and possibly even chemistry issues. Nigel tells Marquet that after 2 weeks he still doesn't even know who Marquet is as a dancer, and Misty points out that Jourdan's face isn't matching the intensity with which she dances. They also mention that there are technical problems with Marquet's partnering, which explains why his lifts all look so shaky and labored. To the couple's credit, I enjoyed their dancing this week and thought they approached the piece from a very technically sound place. But I have to agree that they're lacking a certain "it" factor, and that has to be found in the performance aspect. I originally thought that the judges' remarks were more about setting the stage for Jourdan to go home later on, but after watching the routine a second time, I think the criticism is warranted.

Jessica and Stanley are the only new couple of the night and they're seemingly punished with a nonsensical Tyce Diorio Jazz routine. For some reason, Tyce thought it would be a good idea to create a routine about a couple on a magic carpet. No story, no play on quality of movement, just two people dancing around on a carpet. I've always found Tyce's numbers to be hit or miss, and this one is certainly a miss. Stanley jumps around and does what he does best, showing off his wonderful elevation, but other than that there's nothing remarkable about the routine at all. Misty again takes the time to talk to the contests about what their faces are doing during the numbers, this time to tell them both to take it down a notch, and Nigel points out that Jessica hasn't been dancing up to the level set in her performance with Ricky a couple weeks ago. It's starting to look like a lot of what we see about Jessica will be a roller coaster of highs and lows until she finally goes home. I'm just wondering if that will be sooner or later.

Bridget and Emilio find themselves with a Jive choreographed by Pasha and Anya and set to Pharrell Williams' Happy. True to song's title, I couldn't stop giggling the entire time. These two looked like they were having the time of their lives out there. My favorite moments of the routine come when Emilio tosses Bridget into the air and then catches her "in second" (as Nigel puts it), and towards the end when Emilio is allowed a few moments to toss a few of his great Hip Hop tricks into the piece as well. I'm not sure if the two of them found out they were in the bottom three and then decided to come out and dance like their lives depended on it, or if they decided to just come out and have as much fun as they could before possibly going home, but whatever the thought process was, it worked. Mary points out that the technique could have been a little cleaner, and Emilio's retractions a little faster, but I didn't notice it. While watching, I was actually complimenting them both on how well they danced those elements, so that goes to show how much I know. Either way, they seem to secure their place in the competition for next week with this one.

Tyce Diorio's second number of the night falls to the other couple in the bottom: Emily and Teddy. As I said earlier, Tyce routines are either hit or miss for me, and I think this one is much more of a hit. It's yet another Contemporary concept we've seen before with the couple desperate to remain together. As much as I might want a little originality and innovation from the Contemporary choreographers, I also recognize the merits of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." My immediate notes on the performance read thus: "The judges are all praise for these two, but the comment I agree with the most is Nigel’s statement that the two of them came close to touching the viewer’s spirit in their movement. Because for me this was a close but no cigar kind of performance." I bring this to your attention specifically to point out the fact that I just watched it for the second time and it brought tears to my eyes. I was wrong in thinking that this was a middle of the road kind of performance which relied more on the implied emotion of Tyce's choreography. In fact, this was everything the judges claimed it to be: deeply moving, wonderfully choreographed, and danced with an unparalleled passion. All of which is heightened by the use of Nina Simone's haunting Ne Me Quitte Pas for the music. Cat points out that there seems to have been an elevation in the performance level from the two between rehearsals and now and points out that the two of them finding themselves in the bottom must have pushed them to work harder. I don't know what I didn't see in the performance on my first watch through, but I hope that the voters did see it and that this couple is rewarded by being safe next week because they certainly deserve it. 

Brooklyn and Casey find themselves with a Bonnie Story Jazz number about two kids at prom. I have one odd problem with this routine: if the story is about a kid who's enamored with a girl and really wants to ask her to dance, why does the couple start out already holding each other for the dance? I felt like Bonnie missed the opportunity to present some of the play up to that moment in the choreography. But with that being said, I couldn't take my eyes off of Casey the entire dance. This is proving to be a very evenly matched couple in a lot of ways. Last week it was Brooklyn I couldn't take my eyes off of as she showcased a maturity and sexiness in their Argentine Tango, but this week she fades into the background while Casey's star ascends. They also have a nice chemistry with one another. Casey's smile also goes on for days and those beautiful teeth work overtime, so he's should be a shoe in to pick up the swooning teen girl vote which tends to dominate the show. I expect these two to be around for quite some time.

I'm not sure what I want to say about Valerie and Ricky's Viennese Waltz besides WOW. In the interest of fairness, the Viennese Waltz is my favorite of the Ballroom numbers we tend to see on this show. The smoothness of the movement, the grace of it, the oddness of the posture, and the fact that they're almost always coupled with excellent wardrobe choices combine to take my breath away every time. And this week was no different. If there's one thing I took away from the number, it's that this is the first time that Ricky's been slightly outshined by his partner. Valerie was the star of the number and I couldn't take my eyes off of her. There was an element of wish fulfillment to the entire thing: The girl who gets to dress up like royalty and dance the most beautiful, captivating dance with the cute boy. I don't know if that's a fantasy she's ever had, but I felt like her performance captured that idea in a beautiful way. With that being said, I think a lot of that is made possible by Ricky's excellent partnering. Valerie dances beautifully, and Ricky's there to stand by her and present her to the audience in the best way possible. And if the final moments when the two of them are on their knees and he pulls her up to his chest doesn''t make your heart just melt, then you're made of stone.

I think Luther Brown's Hip Hop number for Carly and Serge proves that the originality and innovation we used to get from Contemporary numbers has found its home in Hip Hop. The two of them play skeletons in an interest, I assume, to play with body movement. They bounce and tick around stage like loose bones missing the muscle and flesh that hold it all together. I think the two of them do a good job performance wise, both affecting a kind of dead, expressionless look, but the dancing edge goes to Carly. Serge is far more upright and straight backed during the whole thing while Carly gets lower and a lot looser. Of the two of them, she's the one that really brings out the skeleton quality in her movement.

Tanisha and Rudy close out the night with a Warren Carlyle Broadway number. In case it hasn't been made clear before now, let me say that I really don't like Rudy. I find him goofy in a manner that I don’t find to be at all endearing. He's easily the least talented of the guys this year, and considering the fact that the guys are quickly distancing themselves from the girls as the more talented group, his lack of formal talent feels like even more of a blight to the show than it would in previous seasons. And I feel like the producers are constantly trying to force a story on him so that his abundance of personality can be highlighted and his lack of dancing ability can be overlooked (more on this in the strays). With that being said, this was the perfect number for him. It was something that allowed his energy and his personality to shine through without requiring a high level of technique. Tanisha proves again that if it’s technique you want from this pair, you’ll have to get it from her. She’s wonderful within it, but I felt like her superb technical ability held her back while Rudy's reckless abandon suited the number more.

In the end, Jourdan and Stanley go home. Nigel says they stuck to the voting this time around so as not to take the blame make a difficult decision. But I think it was just a perfect storm sort of situation where the voters made the same decision that the judges would have made anyway. Jourdan was in the bottom two weeks in a row and didn't exactly wow anyone this week, and Stanley was hampered by two weeks of bad choreography. I feel bad for Stanley because I think any of the guys (with the possible exception of Ricky) would have found themselves in his shoes had they been given these two routines in back to back weeks, but I also don't think the show is losing someone it can't manage to be without.

Stray Observations:

--Sorry for the delay in getting this posted. I usually try to have something up and ready to go (at least a rough draft of something) Wednesday night. But after doing that two weeks in a row, I've seen that it keeps me up a little later than I would like. So in the future, I'm going to make my notes during the episode, go to bed, and then watch the episode again the next day while I write up the review. This will give me the chance to reevaluate performances (hopefully resulting in a better idea of what to say like it did for the Emily/Teddy number this week. I can't believe how much I would have put my foot in my mouth had I went with my original notes) and also tackle it with a little more of a rested mind. The trade off is that I can't write up the episodes until after I get off work Thursday evening.

--It's always tough making predictions on who'll be in trouble next week. I didn't do it last week because I found most of the performances to be equally lack luster. This week, the best I can figure is Serge, Marquet, and Jessica might be in danger. Jessica might suffer for Tyce's bad magic carpet routine, just like Stanley suffered this week for Spencer's bad routine last week. Serge just wasn't good or memorable enough for me, and I think Marquet might suffer for not connecting with the audience enough. But I have no idea who might be joining them and I wouldn't be surprised if I was totally wrong.

--Speaking of Marquet, I'm very curious to see if him and Jessica have more chemistry than he and Jourdan did. I can imagine that both of them will be dancing with something to prove next week after the critiques they got this week. And if they both find themselves in the bottom, then it'll be all the more reason for them to bring it.

--Did anyone else get a glimpse of Eliana in Jacque's performance this week? Not in talent level per se, as I think Eliana was a bit better, but with the feeling that Jacque could start to emerge as the best girl in the competition at just the right time and then coast on through to the final. I think she's well paired with Zack, but she's starting to strike me as the kind of contestant who might shine even brighter when she's paired with an all star.

--About Rudy's continued fishing for a storyline: This week, everyone decides to make a big deal out of some level of flirtation that's been taking place between him and Jacque. Either the two have started dating or it's just some cute harmless infatuation for the moment, but either way in both of their respective segments it gets brought up and Cat can't help but to titter and play match maker. I'm already bored with this story.

--The judges mention Teddy's a  Hip Hop dancer again while praising him for his excellent Contemporary performance. Give it a rest, guys. He does better here than he did in his two previous Hip Hop numbers; Hip Hop is clearly not his primary style. Or if it is, he's not nearly as good at it as he is other things. With that being said, his performance tonight might be the first we've seen this season that's destined to be redone in the season finale.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

So You Think You Can Dance S11E7

Sometimes I watch this show and I worry that I've become somewhat jaded with it. It's not very often that this happens, but on an episode like this where I felt seriously underwhelmed by the majority of the routines, I can't help but wonder if that's not why. Or if my ignorance about dance (even after watching this show for 11 seasons) is the culprit. But either way, I was not impressed.

At the top of the show, it's revealed that Brooklyn, Jourdan, Malene, Serge, Nick, and Casey, are the contestants in danger of going home. Which at least means I was right in calling Serge, Jourdan and Brooklyn for the bottom last week, so yey me. I think it also means that this won't be the season of the Ballroom dancers no matter how much the producers and judges wanted it to be. It's also possible that given the sheer amount of Ballroom contestants on the show, it was inevitable that a lot of them would end up on the chopping block early, but I can't help but to think that it's meaningful that four out of the six dancers in the bottom are all Ballroom trained, and they find themselves in danger after a week where they all danced their own styles. But maybe that's just me.

The night started with a group Broadway number from Josh Bergasse which I liked enough, but found to be tonally odd for this point in the season. There wasn't much in the way of group work to it, and I thought moments of it were oddly individualistic (the section with Emilio and his bat and even the extended opening sequence with the three boys in their sailor outfits come to mind), and the rest seemed to feature a lot of people walking around on the stage. I understand the intention to capture some of the business that is New York, but I would have liked something a little less chaotic, or at least something that felt like a more controlled chaos.

It's closely followed by Tanisha and Rudy's Jazz routine from Sonya, and I wasn't impressed with that either. Wardrobe's choice for Rudy was just odd. And that would be fine if I could have been distracted from it by his dancing, but once again I felt as though he was perfectly outshone by his partner. Where Tanisha was clean, vivacious, and mature in her movement, Rudy seemed to be labored (especially in a lot of those lifts, which will become something of a theme tonight) and very young. The judging kept along those lines with Mary commenting on how Rudy needs to work on his physical strength, Misty Copeland (who is absolutely amazing of course) commenting on his need to work on his partnering a bit, and Nigel complimenting him on being better than he actually thought he would be, but everything seems to point towards Rudy not being strong enough to have made it to this point in the competition. The judges seem to have put him through on strength of personality more than skill and they're banking on that getting him pretty far. It's a winning bet thus far as he escaped being in the bottom three this week and I'm assuming will be safe next week as well, but in a season where the boys seem to be a lot stronger than the girls, I'm wondering how long he'll be able to coast by on a winning personality and lack of talent.

There was a conversation on the AV Club comments for the review of last week's episode that Contemporary seems to have hit something of a wall on this show. With Mia Michaels and Wade Robson lost from the collection of choreographers, some viewers feel like the genre has been lacking in originality. Personally, I agree for a number of reasons, and chief among those reasons is Travis Wall's routine for Valerie and Ricky tonight. It's not that the routine isn't good because I don't think that Travis Wall is capable of turning out a bad routine, it's just that I feel like it's something we've seen a million times already. If I have to watch one more routine that ends with one of the dancers trying to hold onto their partner while s/he walks away from them, I'm going to scream. But that's to take nothing away from Ricky and Valerie's dancing of the piece, which I thought was excellent. Ricky continues to show the poise and strength that marks him as the clear cut favorite at this early point in the competition, and Valerie holds her own. She's out of her element as a Tapper, but that only shows in certain performance elements to the dance and not in her technique. These two could become a power couple in the weeks to come, but if they're going to do that, I think Valerie will have to pick up her game just a little bit more. We'll see how well they work together when they're both tossed out of their comfort zone with a Ballroom or Hip Hop number.

Ricky was in his element for a second week in a row with that Contemporary number, but he wasn't the only one. Emilio found himself dancing Hip Hop once again, this time with his more permanent partner Bridget. It's interesting that his partner from last week's number, Teddy, also finds himself dancing Hip Hop again this week (with his new partner Emily). I don't know if the producers were trying their best to keep as many of the contestants within a comfort zone as they could to ease them into the competition or if it was just the luck of the draw, but people dancing in the same style for a second week in a row was noticeable. Emilio held his own despite another bad wardrobe choice on the night. Nigel says the outfit makes him look like a dancing hobbit, and I have to agree. Bridget, on the other hand, does her best but her weakness within the genre shows. She needs to get lower and loosen up and add a little bit more attitude to her movement if she wants to sell the Hip Hop. It's a lot of the same problem that Emily has with her performance later on in the night. The difference between these two Hip Hop numbers ultimately being the guys. Where Emilio is totally within his element tonight, Teddy struggles until the song (Don't by Ed Sheeran which marks the second song from him this season, and I couldn't be happier as I'm totally in love with him and his new album) reaches the chorus. I couldn't tell if he just needed time to find the groove, if he was dancing down to his partner, or if he just needed to shake off some nerves, but the beginning of the performance left me feeling like he's not nearly as much of a Hip Hop dancer as the producers are claiming. He's more comfortable within the style than a lot of dancers we've seen in the past, but he lacks the ease and comfort with the material that we're seeing from Emilio this year. Both performances are good, but neither is great.

The first thing I took away from Jessica and Nick's West Coast Swing was that Jessica's shoulder popped out of its socket and back in during rehearsals. To which I say, Fuck that shit! She wraps her shoulder with an ice pack and keeps learning the steps. I go home from work if I'm unlucky enough to get a paper cut, and this chick kept learning choreography after she momentarily dislocated her shoulder. I'm ashamed of myself and impressed by her; that's dedication. Sadly, all of that dedication didn't translate into a good performance for either contestant. The two of them have little to no chemistry, the lifts look labored, and the routine is totally lacking the level of fun that Benji tried to infuse into his choreography. Nigel says Benji's routine was too tough for the dancers, but I'm not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, yes it seems like a difficult routine and I'm not sure who could have excelled at it. But on the other hand, I didn't realize the point was to take it easy on these guys. Nigel's statements put me back in mind of the possibility that so many people finding themselves in their own styles again this week wasn't an accident, but who knows for sure. Either way, the outcome is the worst danced performance of the night, which doesn't bode well for Nick since he's one of the guys in the bottom.

As stated earlier, Nick is joined in the bottom by Serge who partners with Carly in a Contemporary routine (Sonya's second routine of the night). This is a routine that I thought was danced wonderfully well by both contestants, but I didn't feel anything over the performance aspect of it all. Sonya spends a lot of time explaining how emotional she wants it to be, and so I watched it waiting for the moments when my heart would skip a beat or I'd get goosebumps as always happens on the best routines of the show, and I felt none of that. Clearly, I might be in the minority on this point since the routine moves Mary to tears and gains high praise from Misty, but I didn't connect with it on that level at all. But I don't want to take anything away from the technique Carly and Serge brought to the table because I thought that that element of it was very strong indeed. It's possible that the shock of finding himself in the bottom got to Nick and effected his performance for the worse. Conversely, Serge being told he was in danger seems to have elevated him to new heights. Or maybe it was his much higher level of chemistry with his partner this week. But either way, he danced like someone interested in preserving his place in the competition.

While Nick and Jessica's might have been the worst danced performance of the night, Malene and Stanley's Broadway number from Spencer Liff is the worst choreographed. He gives each dancer a phone with a long cord leading off stage (which is the first mistake: when was the last time anyone saw a phone with a cord? There are people watching this show too young to even remember there was a time when phones had cords) and asks them both to move around, mostly independently of one another, with them. There's a lot of twisting themselves in the cord and then untwisting, and odd moments of going over and under the cords for whatever reason. Misty points out that there are a number of times in the routine when they seem to be dancing totally different numbers from each other and she couldn't be more right. The entire thing holds both of them back, and doesn't showcase either of them particularly well. This is especially a problem for Malene who is in the bottom this week and really needed to shine.

Jourdan and Marcquet are given a Jazz number from Sean Cheesman about an interrogation which looks like a much lesser version of this Sabra and Neil negotiation piece from season 3. The piece starts off a little rocky with Marcquet picking Jourdan up off the ground in yet another labored lift for the night, but once the two of them get into the middle portions of the dance, they have a synchronicity that I found to be impressive. The entire number is marred, for me, by an odd power dynamic. If the story is one of an interrogation, it stands to reason that one of them (in this case Jourdan) should have more power than the other, but the two of them performed in a manner that suggested they were equals. Nigel points out the way the Jourdan should have played the role in order to convey this point better. But Cheesman also mentioned that he wanted them both to throw themselves into the piece with something of an aggressive abandon, and they did that, but for this entire piece to work, I think they would have been better off making Jourdan more dominate and Marcquet more submissive.

I was worried when I saw that Brooklyn and Casey were a couple because they both were in the bottom this week. Granted, I'm not sure Casey really deserved to be in the bottom (a point Nigel also makes when talking to the boys at the end of the show), but there's the possibility that the voters simply didn't see enough for him to make them want to pick up the phone and vote for him. And in the past, the judges haven't been shy about sending couples home when the two of them find themselves in the bottom so as to avoid shaking the pairs up too much. With that being said, I was very pleasantly surprised by the couple's Argentine Tango tonight. I think there was a slight lack of comfort from Casey as he danced out of his style this week, but it was easily overlooked in the face of how brilliant, and seriously sexy, Brooklyn was. I think the pair of them had an interesting chemistry. Brooklyn was a little more mature in her movement than Casey was (she's actually complimented for her surprising maturity in the judging), but the two of them played off of one another exceptionally well. This could be a couple to watch going forward.

Jacque and Zack cap off the night with my personal favorite routine: an African Jazz number by Sean Cheesman. It's becoming clearer and clearer to me that Zack might be the only boy in the competition that could give Ricky a run for the title. He didn't get showcased much during callbacks, but when we did see him, it was with the judges praising his abilities in other styles. That continues in this leg of the competition. Neither he nor Jacque could be farther out of their element with African Jazz, but both of them compose themselves exceptionally well. With her being a Ballerina and him a Tapper, they'll be the couple that's dancing outside of their styles every single week, and if they continue to do so as well as they did this week, I imagine we'll never hear the end of it. It's something that ensures they'll continue getting glowing praise from the judges while also picking up votes.

In the end, Nick and Malene go home, and given the routines of the night, there's really no other choice for the judges to make. To an extent,  both contestants are done in by their choreography this week. But this is truer for Malene than it is for Nick. Nick's not a West Coast Swing dancer, and I don't want to make it seem like all styles of Ballroom are the same, but I think he had a much better shot at performing Benji's choreography well than Malene had with Spencer's. No one could have survived Spencer's routine, and if Stanley finds himself in the bottom next week, then we all have to admit that we know why.

Stray Observations:

--Nigel says that Malene's beauty carried her a lot of the way to this point in the competition. I honestly don't know what to say about that. This isn't a beauty pageant, so if dancers are in the top 20 just because they're pretty, that's no one's fault but your own, Nigel.

--In keeping with the Storylines to Watch idea, I'm very excited to watch Zack and Jacque and Randy and Valarie duke it out as favorite couple from now til the top 10. It's the two Tappers paired with the best Ballet dancer and the best Contemporary dancer in the competition so there's an interesting parallel there. Also it seems like the recipe for success for them will be Valarie bringing herself up to Randy's talent level and Zack being expected to make Jacque a little looser and more fun/relateable.

--As a followup to last week's projected Nick and Rudy storyline, I would like to point out that when it was announced that Nick was going home, the camera did cut to Rudy's excessive crying. So there's that. I still expected that to play out over a longer period of time though and I certainly didn't expect Nick to go home before Rudy did.

--Nigel mentions that this year they're going back to allowing the voters to decide who goes home after we hit the top 10, so thank God for that small favor. I've been bugged by the judges continuing to make final cuts all the way until the end for the last couple of seasons. At a certain point in time it has to be about finding America's favorite dancer, meaning they have to stop making these decisions for America earlier than the last couple weeks.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

So You Think You Can Dance S11E6

When the reality TV craze started, I was one of many who refused to be taken in by it. I swore I wouldn't be watching any of that crap in favor of sticking with my fun, wholesome, artistic scripted TV. I held out for awhile; a couple seasons passed before I watched a single episode of Survivor or So You Think You Can Dance, but the truth is I've been hooked ever sense. A lot of my reality TV love has died out, much as the genre has been slowly dying for awhile, but I still look forward to the summer every year for no reason other than watching another riveting season of SYTYCD. There are two things that draw me to SYTYCD, and oddly enough both things also factor into my deep seeded love of sports: 1) the extreme talent and athleticism on display week after week. I love seeing what the human body is capable of achieving when pressed to do so. 2) my love of narrative. I tend to be alone in that last one (none of my football friends are ever as interested in discussing the narrative implications of a team's journey over the course of any given season), but I can't deny that I love the way these kid's experiences week after week craft their own unique narrative. It's the latter that I'm most interested in engaging with here, but I'm sure we'll talk about the sheer skill and talent of the dancers as well. Simple disclaimer: I'm not, nor have I ever been, a dancer; if you're looking for someone capable of engaging with these performances from a technical standpoint, I'd highly suggest reading Oliver Sava's reviews over on The A.V. Club when they show up (which will be sporadically over the course of the season). I simply approach this show from a kind of "I may not know dance, but I know what I like, and I do know narrative," standpoint.

Along with knowing what I like, I also know what I don't like, and the opening number for the evening falls pretty firmly in that category. After last season kicked off with the fabulous Puttin' on the Ritz number from Nappy Tabs (shown here), I was ready for something bigger and better and more expansive this season. Instead, Sonya Tayeh delivers a routine about hats or something. All the contestants are grouped around the center of the stage exchanging hats like they're in the middle of Waiting for Godot. It's ultimately this early stagnation that ruins the number for me. Where last year's Puttin' on the Ritz made use of the entire SYTYCD studio, this year's number spends a lot of time seemingly standing in one place. Once the dancers start moving around a bit, it gets a little better, but ultimately I wasn't impressed, and I was surprised to hear it was Sonya who had created it. I tend to expect more from her.

We're introduced to the top 20 for Cat's first roll call, and I was kind of surprised by just how many of them I couldn't remember being introduced to before now. I've long thought that SYTYCD has done a great job of balancing it's storytelling (if that's what you want to call it, and it is what I want to call it) in those early audition and callback episodes between interesting contestants and the contestants sure to make it to the top 20. It's often impossible to tell if the person being spotlit early on is getting so much focus because they'll make it to the competition or just because they had an interesting couple days in Vegas Pasadena. But I feel like in past seasons it was about 50/50. This year it seemed like a lot of the people we were spending time with in callbacks were going home at various stages without making it to tonight's showcase episode, and that feeling was typified when I realized I didn't recognize almost anyone being announced by Cat.

This year, the typical Top 20 Showcase episode that kicks things off is serving both as a way to allow the voters to get to know the dancers and as the first step in the competition. So everyone is paired with a fellow dancer in their own style, given a routine that suits said style, and dances for votes. For the most part, I think this is the wrong decision for the show to make. I’ve loved the showcase episode since it was introduced a couple seasons ago, and I think it works best as a more laid back celebration of dance and introduction to these guys in their own style than it does as a part of the competition. But on the other hand, I understand that the show is still trying to navigate it’s one episode a week format, and I'm guessing things were streamlined here so they didn't feel like they were stuck with a week without meaningful performances. Or maybe the show was cut back from the 18 episode run time it had last year? Either way, everyone's still dancing in their own style, per usual for the Top 20 episode, but someone's still going home tomorrow.

And I can't help but wonder if the first couple of the night, Brooklyn and Serge, won't be two of the people in danger of that. The Ballroom couple get a Cha Cha routine from (fully clothed?) Dmitry, and couldn't quite nail the chemistry. Dmitry’s routines tend to rely on a heavy amount of chemistry and sex appeal. This is the guy, after all, who made a name for himself by almost never wearing a shirt during his performances in his season. So performers need to be sexy, sultry, and always connected, and I didn't buy it from Brooklyn and Serge. The two appeared a bit more nervous to be opening the night and dancing on this stage, and when they were pressed together at moments during the night, I didn't feel as though it was because they desperately wanted to be together. Couple that impression with the fact that they were the first performance of the night and you've got a recipe for the bottom three.

Conversely, I thought the chemistry between Emily and Casey during their Travis Wall number was palpable. I thought both of them performed with a remarkable level of control and poise, and Wall's excellent choreography played to their strengths exceptionally well. They twisted and turned their bodies in very interesting and contortionistic ways and it was fascinating to watch. Nigel made a point about the way the music changed when John Legend's voice went more into falsetto and the moves and the choreography changed with it, and I couldn't agree with him more. These two might end up being a force to reckon with depending on who they're paired with next week.

Valerie and Zack follow up with a fun Tap routine, and I loved every minute of it. Personally, I have yet to watch a Tap routine on this show that didn’t leave me smiling from ear to ear, but I understand how Tap might not come across as well on a show like this one as it doesn’t tend to tell as much of a story as the other styles have a tendency to. But for me, Tap is never anything less than fun and fascinating to watch. I thought Zack was the stronger of this pair as he seemed to bring a more full bodied performance to the table. While Valerie spent a lot of her time delivering a Cheshire cat grin, I felt like Zack's face went through more of a range of emotions and expressions. This quality was something I thought was also showcased in the moments we spent with him in Pasadena last week. But both of them delivered well on the number, and I hope they stick around for awhile.

If there was one thing to take away from Bridget and Stanley's Contemporary number, it was the couple's crazy level of synchronicity. I've noticed over the years of watching this show that it can be very easy to spot when a couple meant to be moving together is off by even a fraction of a second. That wasn't the case here; Bridget and Stanley appeared to even be turning at the same rate during their pirouettes. This was the first couple of the night that I honestly felt sad over the fact that they'd be split up next week as I'd love to see them dancing in sync week after week.

The first all-out failure of the night (for me) came from Jacque and Jourdan's Pas De Deux. In case it wasn't clear to anyone last week why we had even numbers of dancers from each style making it to the top 20, it was obviously so that this week could take place in a fashion where everyone would have a partner in their own style and we could avoid some of the awkward triad ballroom type dances we've seen in previous seasons. Never is that fact made clearer than when the two Ballet girls take the stage in pointe shoes and twirl and leap to their hearts content. I enjoy Ballet as much as the next self-respecting gay man, but there was simply nothing to this choreography. The girls spun and spun and spun, and then stopped spinning just long enough to jump around a bit before spinning some more. There was no partnering, there was no story, there were no flashy and breath-taking tricks; in short, there were none of the things that make performances stand out on this show. It's not to take anything away from Jacque or Jourdan who performed well (Nigel and Mary both have some words of constructive criticism for the two of them, though so there's that), but the choreography did them no favors, and I was left wondering if Marat Daukeyev had any experience working with two women within this form (ie would the whole thing have been better if one of them had been male and taken on the traditional task of partnering)? Whatever the reason, I'd honestly be surprised if one or both of them weren't in the bottom next week.

Neither Malene and Marcquet's number nor Carly and Rudy's really stuck with me. I thought Malene and Marcquet's Brazilian Samba was fast and fun, but as much as Marcquet is an early favorite of mine, I can't say that it had me jumping out of my seat or yelling at the screen. Carly and Rudy's Contemporary number was more interesting to watch, but all I kept thinking during it was that Rudy isn't actually ready to be here just yet. He's out shined by Carly at almost every turn. She has a poise and polish that I just couldn't see in her partner. I found it interesting that during the judging Mary points out some of Rudy's flaws, and even Nigel acknowledges that he isn't the most technically astute dancer on the show (interesting that that distinction is held for a Contemporary dancer and not a Hip Hopper this year), but they do praise his heart, his drive, and his fun personality. If he does stick around, and the judges at least seem to think he's a shoe-in to be here past next week, then I'm guessing it'll be more because of those reasons than because of his dancing.

After this brief lull in the performances, things pick back up as Emilio and Teddy hit the stage in a fantastic Chris Scott Hip Hop number about a late night rendezvous between a security guard and a janitor who are clearly having an illicit affair that neither of their wives know about. Or maybe they're just two dudes who work in the same building and my active imagination made all the rest of it up? Either way, it was a lot of fun to watch. Teddy is one of the dancers I honestly couldn't remember being mentioned at all until tonight, but he kind of rockets onto the scene with force. He's got the dashing good looks and remarkable versatility that help Hip Hop dancers go far in this competition. He's also clearly not primarily a Hip Hop dancer, or if he is, then it's clear the other styles he dances (Nigel mentions that he Taps as well) are a lot stronger than some of the Hip Hoppers of the past could claim. I'm wondering if he'll be the guy the judges dote on for awhile because it's so amazing that a Hip Hop dancer can do Contemporary so well, but for some reason I doubt that that will be as much a part of his narrative as it was for, say, Fik-Shun last year. Emilio, on the other hand, is clearly the better dancer within this style. He hits harder, his pops and locks are cleaner, and his tricks are out of this world. The way he transitioned onto and off of the desk which was a prop for the performance was always smooth and fun to watch. I've always had a soft spot for the Hip Hop dancers on this show, mostly because the narrative surrounding them has always been one about how much of an underdog they have to be going up against such well trained dancers, but I can't wait to see what these two put together in the upcoming weeks.

But all of that is just the appetizer to the show with Jessica and Ricky's Contemporary piece from Sonya Tayeh serving as the main course. In a couple ways, this number serves as moments of redemption: Sonya redeems herself from that sad opening group number and Jessica redeems herself from some of her poor performance in the callbacks round. Mary makes it a point to mention that Jessica almost didn't make it this far, having to dance for her life last week just to keep her spot in LA, but she puts any lingering doubts about how much she deserves to be here to rest this week with the best performance of the night. Ricky needs no redemption as he's been a favorite since the moment he auditioned back in Atlanta(?). He's cute as a fuckin' button, sweet and humble, and very open about the fact that he's wanted to be on the show since he started watching it ten years ago when he was only 8. Anyone who didn't realize he'd be the odds on favorite male this year from those early highlights hasn't watched this show much. And amazingly, he has the talent to go along with everything else. Ricky's power and control and his excellent partnering all combine to make him the guy to beat this year. It was a deeply moving and introspective piece from Sonya, but there's no doubt in my mind at all that he'll be just as capable of pulling off outgoing and sassy in future performances. I could talk about this performance for the rest of the recap (I haven't even mentioned the haunting piece of music Sonya chose, or the excellent control both Jessica and Ricky showed over their bodies as they leaned into some of those gravity defying lifts) but that wouldn't be fair. Suffice it to say that this was the performance of the evening, and I, just like the judges, couldn't help but to stand and applaud when it was over.

Tanisha and Nick combined for the final performance of the night. It was yet another Ballroom number, a Cha Cha this time, as we see that this should be the season of the Ballroom dancers with 6 total contestants working within that style making it to the top 20. Tanisha and Nick's performance will be remembered, I'm guessing, for the kiss that took place in the middle of it, though I can't say for sure that I understand why. They didn't have any more chemistry than Brooklyn and Serge did at the top of the hour, and as such the kiss look forced, awkward, and like a ploy to titillate and rack in votes. But maybe it's just me. Nick's fast footwork, which Mary complimented on the green mile last week, is in fine form again tonight, but I wasn't all that impressed with the closing number. or maybe I just wasn't over how amazing the previous performance was. No one should have been asked to follow that.

There's no telling how the voting will play out at this early stage. With people voting for individuals instead of couples, any number of mix ups can happen, but without knowing the dancers as individuals just yet, and with only having seen them dancing within their comfort zones, it's tough for me to judge them as anything other than couples. But my early predictions for the bottom next week are Brooklyn, Jacque, and Jourdan for the girls, Rudy, Serge, and Stanley (not through any fault of his own, but simply because I'm not sure he stood out enough from the rest of the pack) for the boys. Of course the judges think Rudy's a shoe-in, and I can't say I disagree with them, but his dancing simply wasn't up to the level of the other guys so I'm not sure who to put in his place at this point.

Storylines to watch:
- The couples from this week will be split up next week as the competition starts to take the form it should have until we hit the top 10, so it's hard to say what storylines might be developing until we get a good idea of who's dancing with whom full time.

- We've already got the ball rolling on how great Ricky and Jessica were together, I expect us to hear about how they end up being apart next week. If either of them falter, it'll either be because they made each other better, or they were dragged down by their new partners.

- If the Tappers and Hip Hoppers last past next week, I expect a lot of talk about how great they are outside of their styles. It's an expectation that never seems to fall on the Contemporary and Ballroom dancers.

- I don't expect Rudy to make it as far as Nick does, but their friendship has been well established from early on and I'd be surprised if the show let that go anytime in the near future. They won't be paired together, but if one of them falls into the bottom any given week, I expect a lot of cuts to the other for significant reaction shots and such.