Tuesday, August 4, 2015

So You Think You Can Dance S12E10

Last year around this time, SYTYCD was shaping its Top 10 in an episode that I had nothing but glowing praise for. This year, the show isn't as good, the talent isn't as strong, and we're still one week away from finalizing the Top 10, but this was just as strong of an hour of dance as that one was. I didn't think I'd find myself in a position to say it again but this is why I watch this show. This episode served as a reminder about all the good this series has to offer the world, and if they'd been bringing it at this level for the entire season, I think I'd be lamenting the show's probable cancellation a lot more than I have been. But on the other hand, if each episode had featured such a group of stunning performances by now, maybe the effect would have warn off and this episode would have paled in comparison. I don't want to recommend mediocrity as a course of action, but I do think that the fact of the matter is that this episode sores as high as it does in some small part because of just how bad and boring the episodes before it were. The routines were also original, challenging, and well thought out in a way that they haven't been this season, and they were danced with a fire and passion we haven't seen so far, but I still think the low bar set by the earlier episodes made it easier for this episode to be so rejoiced.

This, I think, rings truer for the first paired performance of the night, Jaja and Hailee in a jazz routine. I loved it when I watched it taking place. Hailee and Jaja are easily my two favorite performers on the show so far (with Megz rounding out my own personal top three), and I've been hoping for more same-sex dancing on this season as the gulf between the girls and guys gets wider and wider. The general "Girl Power" theme of the number is so played out on the show that I wanted to gouge my eyes out when I heard it, but Hailee and Jaja bring a fun and playfulness, but also a strength and fire to it that it made the routine worth my momentary cringe. So the point is that I enjoyed the number very much and I thought it was a great way to kick off the episode, and then as things went on I totally forgot it had even existed in the face of the better routines that followed it. This isn't meant to be a mark against these two, but I wonder if they won't find themselves in the bottom next week based simply on how forgettable the number was in the grand scheme of the rest of the episode. I wouldn't be surprised if their fanbase was strong enough to vote them through, but I also wouldn't be surprised if they found themselves in danger (though still pushed through to the top 10) next week.

Part of this is because the Alexia and Neptune number that follows them is just so much fun and so great to watch. I don't know that Alexia brought out the very best Hip Hop performance we've ever seen from a Contemporary girl (in fact I know she hasn't since this routine from Lauren and tWitch still exists), but I do know that there was something phenomenal about this number. First off, Neptune brings yet another high level of chemistry to a "romantic" performance. Last week he was vibeing with Kate on a level I didn't think possible for a mismatched pair who hadn't ever danced together, and this week it's Alexia. Both performances were real and believable, but this one was also fun and intriguing. I think we've seen all kinds of relationships on this show over the years, but this has to be the first time we've seen one between two mental patients. It was genius, and cute, and so much fun, and wonderfully danced, and everything you hope a performance on this show will be. Alexia's face went through a range of expressions and emotions throughout it that I think really sold the character, and both of them just preformed it wonderfully.

After two stellar performances and news of Derek's injury, I was expecting a less than impressive Ballroom number from JJ, and then I was wrong. It would be easy to attribute the skill and effectiveness of this number on the presence of the choreographer dancing with JJ. If anyone's going to know how to dance the number, it's the person that created it. But the fact of the matter is that JJ was honestly the star in this pairing; I couldn't take my eyes off of her. I don't want to down play the amount of that which is due to his partnering in the first place. One of the things I find fascinating about a lot of ballroom numbers is the fact that the male partner is often there to simply present and be there for the female partner. He often has more to do than just lift and pose, but in a lot of these kinds of numbers the guy is meant to be an afterthought really. And that's what happened here. Who knows if the number would have been as remarkable had Derek been well enough to perform it with her. Given that his injury came while practicing the lifts, it seems like he's lacking the upper body and core strength needed to pull this routine off. But whatever the case could have been had he been in there, we know what it was without him, and it was great. If I have one complaint, it's that the sexiness of the routine seemed to come from the costuming and the choreography more so than from any actual connection between the two dancers, but that's to be expected in some ways.

Everything up until this point in the night was good, but the number of the evening was Jim and Ariana's Contemporary piece about a man's struggle with depression. I'll admit my bias here; I love the performances on this show that have a dancer embodying more of an abstract concept than an actual person. Mia Michaels' Addiction piece will forever be a standout for doing just that. So as soon as Cheeseman said the word depression I was hooked. But then Jim (towards whom I'm decidedly indifferent) and Ariana (whom I actually like but haven't committed to memory until now) danced it and it was even more brilliant than I originally expected. Nigel mentioned that Hailee and Virgil's performance from last week would be remembered from here on out, but I think this will be the number that comes out of this season and lives on in SYTYCD history as maybe one of the top three or five best things to ever come out of the show. There was a strange indifference and detachment to Ariana's performance that I loved. While Kupono's stint as Addiction was more malevolent, Ariana's Depression just kind of was. There was a matter of fact quality to it that I thought worked wonders because depression isn't malevolent, it isn't malicious, it just kind of is. And Jim's struggle to get out of it was believable. I thought at the time that he could have shown a bit more sadness in his face, but now I think it's possible that his character was maybe past any sadness and had moved on to just a sheer force of will to break out. And if that's the case, I think it worked. Either way, I loved this from start to finish and I'll be shocked if either of them find themselves in the bottom next week.

I could go number by number like this, but the fact is that the rest of the episode ran apace of what came before. Virgil and Gaby had a really fun and cute broadway number that had me grinning and laughing out loud for a lot of it. And Marissa and Yorelis' hip hop number was good, though not great. The lowest point of the night came from Asaf and Kate's number, but that was no surprise. To his credit, Asaf was better than he was in that horrendous waste of time last week, but he still showed why he shouldn't have been kept around. The best moment was during the video package when Kate confirmed what I said last week: his being her partner made her fearful of her own safety. It's an eye opening moment of honesty. She cries because on the one hand she wants to help him get better and carry him through the performance, but on the other hand she can't really relax into any of the lifts because she's constantly scared he'll drop her. These contestants put their bodies, careers, and lives in one another's hands each week, and to keep someone around who isn't up to the task of taking care of his partner is negligent. And the judges' thin and pathetic justifications for keeping him felt like a slap in the face of everything this show has stood for over the last 12 seasons. This wasn't a case of America simply failing to see the greatness within a dancer (like Billy Bell for example) and constantly letting him fall into the bottom for the judges to save him and try to impress upon everyone how great he really is. It was simply about them pushing their own agenda in hopes of getting the best story. But it's over now, America put him in the bottom again and the judges did what they should have done last week and sent him home.

But instead of ending on that sour note, I think it's worth mentioning the other standout performance of the night. I was hard on the judges for keeping Edson instead of Moises last week, but given his performance with Megz this week, I think it's clear that they made the right choice. I don't think Moises had the strength to pull of that number as well as Edson did, so this was a situation of a more optimal pairing. Plus this new choreographer, Talia, is really quite wonderful. It's another number where a dancer embodies something abstract instead of a character, this time with Edson performing as Temptation and Megz as the tempted party, and it's just brilliant. The stuff with the shirts, and the hiding, and the lifts, and the eventual acceptance at the end, it was all wonderful. A great end to the best string of performances the season has seen.

The group numbers were fun too, but I'm starting to think they've run their course. Marissa goes home from team stage which will at least stop the bleeding of male contestants for awhile. During the team stage group number, I had a moment of shock when I thought Edson and Jim were the last two guys on the team altogether before I remembered that Derek was just hurt for the week. The girls are clearly better, I've said it a number of times by now, and I can't help but to wonder if we aren't in for an all female top six or five. After all, the street team is officially down to just Virgil and Neptune for the guys. But whatever the ultimate gender breakdown of the show when we reach the end, if they keep having episodes like this one, I can at least say it'll be worth the ride to find out.


--Same-Sex Speculation Space: given the continued shift towards an all girl group by the last few weeks of the show, and also given my continued urging for the show to embrace same-sex pairings for their dances, I've decided to create a space where I can posit stories for same-sex numbers in the future which have nothing to do with romance since I think the show tends to shy away from these pairings because they don't want the romantic implications. Let's start with the girls: imagine a number, maybe a Broadway or a Jazz number, about an older dancer who's time is running out and a young girl who reminds her a lot of herself at that age. The young girl is all sex appeal and easy talent which makes her not want to put in the hard work to be as great as she could be, and instead of being jealous and catty about it, the older woman tries to take the young girl under her wing and inspire her to be the great dancer she's meant to be. Nothing romantic about it, and not the typical "women fighting and being jealous" storyline we're used to seeing. But also not the general "girl power" rubber stamp the choreographers tend to roll out in these situations. You're welcome, SYTYCD, I'll let you have that one for free.

--My mention of Virgil and Gaby's performance was brief, but I really have to say that I was laughing for a couple minutes when they pulled out those glasses. Those two have personality for days and it's so worth it.

--I complained last week about how the lack of pairs stops us from having the "learn more about this dancer" segments that the show usually has, and then they rolled out the "one thing America doesn't know about me" segment this week. Kudoes to Kate (almost kidnapped? wtf?!), Virgil (awesome Jazz band), and Derek (cute adoption story) for actually picking interesting and worthwhile facts. Everyone else either bored me to tears or at least were pretty simple and straight forward as if they hadn't put any real thought into it.

--I think one part of why this episode's performances were so much better was that the choreographers finally took off the kid gloves and started putting the contestants through their paces with these routines. It looked like there were a few lifts in the video package for Asaf and Kate that were edited out of the final number, but that doesn't seem like it's for lack of trying on Cheeseman's part to get them in there in the first place.

--I really liked Nigel's Nigel’s point about Yorelis looking like she hasn’t been choreographed but just feels the music and lets it move through her. She's not my favorite, but she's certainly got that particular quality, and I never could have found the words for it without Nigel pointing it out.

--What're the chances Burim could have danced with Kate in that number better than Asaf did? I know it's not a strict one-to-one trade off since the pairs aren't set. If Burim had stayed, he could have just as easily been with Gaby instead of Kate this week. but since he was gotten rid of instead of Asaf, I just felt the need to compare the two, and I can't help but to think he would have turned out a better performance to show why he deserved to be kept around than Asaf did.

--Is it just me or is Derulo actually getting more helpful and more palatable as the show goes on?

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