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.

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