Thursday, July 31, 2014
So You Think You Can Dance S11E10
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.
--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.