I honestly don't know what to say besides that was everything I ever could have hoped for from this performance finale episode. A friend of mine gave up on this season a couple of weeks back feeling as though he didn't have anyone to root for. And while I can understand that in a number of ways, I also feel like missing out on this episode was a serious disservice. I don't even know where to start really, my entire body is just still buzzing from what a night of dance that was. So let's start at the beginning.
Travis Wall is and has long been my favorite person on the face of the earth, and the group number to kick off this episode proves why beyond a shadow of a doubt. I've complained in the past about this show not really embracing its LGBT community as much as it could. I've felt as though the show tampered down performances that were clearly LGBT themed in favor of presenting a more family friendly face; Nigel has made comments in the past that cast disparagement on same sex dancing; contestants have (seemed to) downplayed their own sexual orientations in favor of pushing forth a hetero-normative storyline. And it's all drawn my ire at one point or another. But then Travis Wall choreographed a group number that was all about equality and same sex marriage and it was perfect and wonderful. Admittedly, because it's the opening group number we don't hear him say that that's what the piece is about, but Nigel hints at it a bit later in the show, and the constant pairing of Zack with Ricky and Jessica with Valerie coupled with everyone's all white costuming makes the point pretty clear. The other thing that these pairings do is give us the opportunity to see Zack and Ricky dancing together in a manner that accentuates their strengths perfectly. If it wasn't clear that Zack and Ricky are the best performers in the competition before now, I think this group number did a lot of work to put any lingering doubts to rest. I don't want to take anything away from what Valerie and Jessica were doing because they were also great, but my eyes never left Ricky and Zack, and every time they weren't on screen was a waste to me. It was a beautiful piece with a beautiful message and it was the first of many on the night.
I'll skip over Zack and Valerie's African Jazz number which I thought was OK at best, and move on to another deeply moving piece of the night: Zack and Valerie's Contemporary number from Tyce. I enjoyed this number a lot, but I think I would have loved it if it had come from a different choreographer. Tyce has never been my favorite, and his video packages this season have been exceptionally sad as if someone shot his puppy. I like a tear-jerker performance as much as the next guy, but there was something about this routine that felt oddly exploitative. I don't know if this is a story or subject matter (a blind woman and a seeing man in love with one another and trying to overcome the obstacle of her disability) Tyce has any history with, but it didn't feel as genuine as his breast cancer piece. But that's not to take anything away from the way Valerie and Zack danced it, which I thought was beautiful. Jesse Tyler Ferguson makes the point that Valerie has to sell the connection without ever really making eye contact with Zack and she nails it and I couldn't agree more.
Comparatively, I thought that Jessica and Ricky's Jazz number on the night was equally great but for different reasons: Remember when I said that I thought Zack might have the edge over Ricky in performance but Ricky’s got the edge in pure dance? This is the perfect example of that. Zack gets the bigger story number with Valerie and he knocks it out; Ricky gets this number that doesn’t have much of a story but is just a pure celebration of dance and of the genre and he performs it flawlessly. These early two numbers from these guys perfectly highlighted what they each did well.
And then the two of them came together in a Hip Hop routine and blew the roof off of the building. Did you see how hard Ricky hit through that whole thing? He’s danced Hip Hop before, but I don’t think he’s ever hit that hard before. And Zack was right there with him for the entire thing. I can’t even pick a winner in this one. They were both low, they both flowed, they both felt the music, they both looked so perfectly within their element that it’s just scary. The fact that they can't both win this season is just a travesty because they're perfect.
I know I've spent most of this time talking about the boys (and rightfully so), but if there was ever a moment when I thought I understood why Valerie had made it to this point in the competition, it was in her dance with Aaron. This was the first time that I can remember thinking that she wasn't overshadowed by her all star at all. I don't know if that's a compliment to her or an insult to Aaron (I'm guessing the latter), but it's true never the less. When she gets to dance in her style while also performing a story, it's really a beautiful thing to behold.
And if anyone thought the night was going to slow down at any given moment after that Zack and Ricky Hip Hop piece, they were dead wrong. Keeping his foot on the accelerator, Ricky gets his own tear-jerker story routine with Kathryn and boy oh boy does he bring it! There were so many moments that literally took my breath away, and this routine left me in tears. There's something specific about this routine in comparison to Zack and Valerie's routine from earlier that I'd like to point out: In this one, Kathryn gets to be the strong one and Ricky needs her whereas in Zack’s number it was the reverse. It’s not a judgement call on either performance, I just really really love that we get to tell both of those stories. I also think it works so well here because of how amazing and strong Kathryn is. I don't want to take anything away from what Zack and Valerie did, but if we place these two performances up against one another, this one wins for me.
But just in case we were starting to think Ricky had run away with the competition, here comes Zack dancing Tap with Aaron to remind us that he deserves the win too. I can't help myself on this one, I have to say it: I think Zack was better in this number. I think Aaron is amazing, and he was a favorite of mine last year, but I think Zack has really risen the bar for Tap on this show. Aaron showed what a Tapper needs to make it to the finale, but I think that Zack has been showing what a Tapper needs to win the competition outright, and the truth is if he does indeed win, I won't be surprised at all. My jaw was on the floor for much of this performance, and I was grinning like an idiot, and I just loved every single bit of it right to pieces.
Jessica also comes to life in her all star performance tonight. Dancing Contemporary with Robert, she shows again what I've been saying about her all along: she's constantly either elevated or diminished by her partner. Luckily this is the kind of routine she couldn't help but to flourish in. I also loved the very original concept from Travis Wall. Struggling with the possibility that someone won't want or need you anymore is something that I think is universal, and I certainly felt every minute of Jessica's journey from being hurt that he wouldn't need her to realizing that she, in fact, didn't need him either. It was powerful and uplifting, and it was danced beautifully. I don't know that I think Jessica was the best girl in the entire competition (I love Jacque and Tanisha too much to say that), but I certainly think that she's the best of the two girls left, and this routine made me realize just how much she deserved to be here.
Here's the deal, I fully expected to be able to walk out of this episode declaring a clear cut winner between Zack and Ricky, but I simply can't. I think the night proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this competition is between those two hands down, but I think tonight only served to show just how evenly matched they are. If I have to give the edge to anyone, it might go to Zack because I think he and Jessica's Broadway number slightly outshone Ricky and Valerie's African Jazz. But the reason I hesitate to say that is because I think both of those routines had more to do with the choreography than the dancing itself. In every other routine they did tonight (including their solos), I think they were evenly matched. But I can't let these things get me down because for the first time in years I can honestly say that I'll be equally happy for either of them to win this thing. They've both worked remarkably hard, and they've both earned it. Part of me wishes the season could just end here and now.
--Zack's "looking back" video package told us the story of his audition and the judges not liking his solo but putting him through after choreography. Did we see this during the audition episodes and I just forgot? If they didn't show us his audition at all, then I must say that that's sad as this was a great story they missed the opportunity to showcase early on.
--Nigel's comments about suicide after Ricky and Kathryn's piece really rubbed me the wrong way. As much as I recognize that we should urge people battling depression and other issues that might cause them to be suicidal to get help, I don't think any good is done by calling the decision to end one's life "stupid." There's nothing to be served by blaming the victim ever and this case isn't any different.
--I also loved the rhetoric employed in the video package for the Hip Hop number. I don't think anyone involved with this show was trying to kid themselves that this week was going to be all about these two boys duking it out to see who would come out on top.
--With that being said, I can't wait to watch some of these performances again and when I do, I have every intention of grabbing some screenshots and posting them within this review, so feel free to check back over the weekend.