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
--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.