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.


  1. Quick thoughts before the episode airs

    1. Is Jacque at risk? A sexy number is fine, but as you pointed out, it was more about fucking than loving. For some (including Nigel, who rarely is negative about a performance featuring a sexy girl) that means emotional disengagement. Now, given that the differences between the girls are really small (Tanisha, Carly and Jacque seemed to be pulling away, but Tanisha was just in the bottom despite a showstopper and Carly is distinguishing herself via talent and versatility, not narrative/personality - the anti-Rudi.) I could see her in the bottom three.

    b) But I can see anyone in the bottom three, truthfully, especially for the girls.

    c) That Zack was in the bottom three worries me, actually. After Ricky, I thought he was a comfortable second. He was sensational in his tap routine and a standout for his versatility and he's been challenged more than the other guys (tap, African Jazz, lyrical hip-hop, jazz) and largely successful. That his hip-hop - an easy to understand, well performed number - was what knocked him to the bottom three worries me. Especially since I also think that the guys have a little more obvious a ranking.

    d) My bottom three?

    Based on the performances
    Guys: Teddy, Serge, Casey
    Girls: Jessica, Valerie, Emily

    Based on my overall preference
    Guys: Rudy, Serge, Casey
    Girls: Bridget, Valerie, Emily

    Guys: Casey, Teddy, Serge (Serge, as the last ballroom guy, gets saved)
    Girls: Bridget, Emily, Jessica (Whomever performs the best gets saved)

    1. Sadly, I didn't see this until after I watched the episode, but with that being said, I think you make great points. I think it's interesting to judge them against the results of the episode. I think our predictions on which boys would be in the bottom being spot on gives credence to the fact that the boys are clearly better. We'd be able to get a better handle on the girls if they'd just start to finally distinguish themselves a little more. When they start dancing with the All Stars, maybe we'll start to see that happen a little more.