Tuesday, August 25, 2015

So You Think You Can Dance S12E12 & 13

We're mere weeks away from the blessed end of this much derided, and probably final, season of So You Think You Can Dance, and I find myself increasingly happy about that. Since that amazing tenth episode, things continued their downward trend for the show; so much so that I honestly had nothing at all to say after last week's episode. It's wasn't overly surprising, and I don't think I'm even capable of being disappointed any longer, it was all just so bland. This week isn't too different, truth be told, so I'm not sure how to go about talking about these last few episodes. If there's one thing I'm kind of surprised over it's just how much the gender dynamics have evened out on this season. There were two guys and two girls on each team this week before Neptune and Derek went home leaving Virgil and Jim as the sole guys in the top six. But that's about all of the surprise I'm capable of mustering. So I think I'm going to do something a little different and talk about the last six contestants left in preparation for what's to come.

Hailee is my favorite dancer left on team Stage. I think she's really pretty, wonderfully talented, with a great personality and a fun spirit. She hasn't really faltered much this season at all, but she also hasn't been challenged much. This is due to the easier choreography and the abundance of Hip Hop and Contemporary (or Jazz) numbers we've seen. I don't think we've really seen Hailee do anything outside of those genres so far in the competition. To her credit, she's done them all well, and I doubt she'd have much trouble with something like Latin Ballroom if she were to ever have to do it, but we also can't know for sure because of how paired down this season has been. Originally, I thought this was due to the Stage vs Street conceit, and I still think that that has a lot to do with it, but after hearing multiple sources saying it was between changing the show or getting cancelled last season, I'm starting to wonder if the elevation of the viewers' favorite styles isn't in an attempt to pull in more eyeballs. Either way, it's to the detriment of the show and the performers.

I was surprised to find her in the bottom this week, but not too much so. We're getting to the point where the people in the bottom and going home might not be about anything they didn't do or don't have in their arsenal but just about the fact that someone has to go. Her dance with FikShun at least was great and worth keeping her around hopefully for another week. She's more than proved what she's capable of doing in Hip Hop over the past few weeks, and watching her keep up with a previous winner was great fun. Much like Virgil, FikShun brings a fun personality and more than enough energy for Hailee to play off of. It's easy to see why she'd deliver such great performances with both of them.

Jaja is my favorite dancer left on team Street, and every week I'm left with the same feeling: She was more than good enough to make it far last season, and while I'm happy to see what all she can do this year, I would have loved to watch her work against the stronger contestants and with the stronger choreography of last season. Her solos are never anything short of strong, hard hitting, and intricate. She's got a control over her body that makes her fun to watch, and she's always so good at choreographing something to each little tick and bass drop in the music.

She's also one of the more versatile dancers on the show, or at least one of the ones who's been put
through her paces a bit more, with Broadway and Bollywood routines thrown at her in just the last two weeks alone. Both of those performances were stellar, and she, like Hailee, was given the task of keeping up with a former winner (last year's Ricky) and she more than holds her own. My default setting is to stare at Ricky when he's on stage, it's an old habit from last year as he just pulls attention so effortlessly, but I couldn't stop my gaze from drifting back to Jaja in this number because she's just so good. I think her personality is every bit as big and impressive as Hailee's, but she's more understated in some ways. She's more than capable of letting her dancing speak for itself and I can't help but to think that no matter what these next few weeks hold for her, she won't have trouble finding work in the years to come.

Megz rounds out my own personal top three at this point. I think she's got a style and a bearing all her own, and there's something refreshing about her uniqueness. I think we've seen a lot of different female contestants over the years, but for the most part they tend to fall closer to the feminine end of the spectrum; at least the ones who make it this far usually do. Megz has a way of flouting that while not having to come across as purely masculine. She's really just herself and that's appealing. I think it has a lot to do with how far she's made it thus far.

Sadly, last night's Paso Doble was the first real test she's had thus far and it came on a night that already saw her in the bottom four. The truth is that she didn't dance it all that well and there aren't really any excuses for that. However, I watched the performance and was left wondering if she'd been able to do a ballroom number or two prior to this point, or had been asked to do it in Vegas maybe, would she have been better prepared for this number? She looked far more out of her depth dancing outside her element this week than contestants tend to look in the top eight performance episode, and I can't help but to wonder if that doesn't have something to do with how coddled she and the rest of the contestants have been with these simple routines all in the same two genres. Sadly, I don't see her making it through next week, but that's got as much to do with the strength of Virgil as it does the weakness of her performance this week.

Virgil's status as the heir apparent to FikShun should be pretty obvious by now. They're both small Hip Hop dancers with big personalities who work their tails off to bring it each week they dance outside their styles. Virgil admits to his stint on (or was it off) Broadway, so we know he's got experience beyond the Street level. It explains a lot of why he's been so solid in the Broadway and Contemporary routines he's been given thus far. He's another contestant who hasn't danced any Ballroom or anything more extreme like Bollywood or Disco. This week's African Jazz was the closest he's really come to being pushed all that hard, and he actually managed to dance that well if not bring the top notch performance we're used to.

In fact, if there's a question still to be answered about Virgil it's whether or not he can convincibly
perform against type. He's so cute and fun and energetic and bubbly that when he's given a character that's more sinister and stoic, like he was this week, he has to try a lot harder to convey those things. He didn't do as good a job with this one as I think he could have, but he danced it well. So whereas Hailee and Jaja have proven themselves capable of tackling anything that's thrown at them, Virgil seems able to dance whatever they give him, but only tends to be given these same kinds of characters week after week with us unable to tell if he's got a wider range than that. If it's a complaint or a criticism, it's a small one, and one I'd feel better leveling at the choreographers than at Virgil himself. These kinds should have been tested a lot harder than this so far and that failing isn't their own. With that being said, Virgil hasn't found himself in danger once this entire competition, and while I'm not sure if he's got what it takes to win like FikShun did, I do think he's a shoe in for the finale.

Gaby has gone from a contestant I never remembered being on the show until I was watching her dance to someone that I think is another shoe in for the finale. In fact, I think Gaby might have what it takes to win the whole thing. She's crazy talented, and while her personality doesn't stick out as much as Hailee and Jaja's does, she's had a really strong dark horse quality about her these last few weeks which have seen her really vault to the top of the competition. The weakest part of her performances in the last two weeks have been her solos. They haven't been bad, but they've been stock Tap fare that we've seen a lot of in the last couple years. There were two Tappers on the show last year, so I think the bar has been raised on what we expect from a Tap solo, and I don't think Gaby's done anything to make me impressed on that level. She's got a strong rhythm and musicality that you expect from a Tapper, but there's yet to be that wow factor that I think we're used to.

Instead, she seems to save that aspect for her paired dances which have been great. The Hip Hop
number she did with Joshua last week was really strong and at the time I thought it might have been good enough to see it again on the finale, but then I watched her performance with Robert this week and I think that that's actually the number we'll be seeing again in a couple weeks. It wasn't only the best performance of the night, it's one of the better performances of the season. I think the first line of credit goes to Mandy Moore who returns after a too long absence and brings a level of creativity that has been sorely lacking this year. It's another of those dancers embodying abstract ideas kind of numbers that I love so much. And watching Gaby as a person struggling with strong social anxiety was just brilliant. It's also a number where I think Mandy's explanation of what the number was about enhanced the performance and clearly found itself embodied in the movement and both performances. On top of that, it's the sort of number that Robert's been excelling at since his time on the show, so it was great to see him as the all star for it. The judges have been a bit liberal with the standing ovations lately, but this was one performance where it was more than deserved. If Gaby does go on to win, I think we'll be looking back at this night as the one where she put it away.

Jim rounds out the top six and he's got the unenviable position of a dancer with all the technical ability in the world and not nearly enough performance ability or personality. Where Gaby fades into the background in her solos, Jim shines and effortlessly justifies his continued presence on the show. But then the partnered numbers come around and you're left feeling flat. I assumed this would be a problem from him way back when he had to share an interesting fact about himself and the best he could come up with was that he likes baths. Now we see him lacking in any kind of passion or connection to his partners and it's just sad. The All Stars usually serve to elevate the show and the performers to new heights, bringing something out of them that their fellow contestants often can't seem to reach, but in the case of Jim the opposite is true: he was better off dancing with his contemporaries because at least then his technical abilities were able to outshine the competition and justify keeping him around.

In the last two weeks we've seen him dance with Jessica and Comfort, both of whom are just as technically strong in what they do, and it leaves him being overshadowed either in technique (as is the case with Comfort in the Hip Hop number this week) or in performance (as with Jessica last week). Given the results, I'm guessing America saw something in his number with Jessica worth picking up the phone for. I fully expected him to be in the bottom this week with Derek going home, but for some reason he was safe and Hailee was in danger. To his credit, he danced the number as well as he could, but I still think he just looked like a Ballet boy playing at Hip Hop, and gone is all the undeserved praise Nigel heaped on him after his Hip Hop number with Jaja earlier this season.

The voting this week left me feeling unsure about what's coming next week. Either Megz and Hailee's fanbase isn't strong enough to rally and keep them in the competition, or it was just a momentary lapse and Hailee, at least, finds herself beating out Jim for a spot in the finale. I don't think Megz is strong enough to beat out Jaja and Virgil for a spot at the top of team Street, so I have to assume she's going home next week. But if Hailee goes with her, then we'll end up with a Jim, Gaby, Jaja, and Virgil top four which will see the early gender imbalance of the season rectified and give us an even split. I'd be lying if I said I was excited or curious about what was to come, but the fact of the matter is that this season has been so weak that the most interesting storyline to follow thus far has been the shifts in the numbers along gender lines. It's a sign of just how far SYTYCD has fallen that as we gear up for the finale I'm more interested in talking about how many boys and girls there are on the show than I am about the actual dancing.

Random Thoughts:

--One of the good things the show is doing is the video packages at the end as we say good bye to the contestants. The other contestants offering their thoughts and what they'll miss about their fallen friends is very touching, though I have to wonder how they went about getting the segments. Were they specifically asked "Hey, what are you going to miss about Derek when he leaves this week?" or is it something more misleading? If they're being told before hand who's going and who's staying, then I'm not sure what to think anymore.

--On the other hand, the judges comments this week made it so obvious who'd be in trouble and who was safe that they should be ashamed. They need to do a better job of that and tone down the "Your career going forward will be so bright if you just..." talk.

--I enjoyed the idea of the dancers doing their solos to songs from Empire last week. It was a nice piece of cross promotion, though it was obvious who was more comfortable picking a song and who wasn't. Derek's audio-only Drip Drop told me he wasn't sold on it at all. They all picked their own music this week and he went with a about two men in love. I'm happy Derek's been able to wear his sexuality on his sleeve this entire time, so many other performers in the past weren't able to. But I would have liked him to pick a better song last week. There are gay people on Empire too, Derek!

--Same-Sex Speculation Space: One of my very very favorite performances in the history of SYTYCD was done by Mia Michaels (surprise surprise) and it was danced by Billy Bell, Alex Wong, and Ade. Instead of suggesting my own story for a Same-Sex dance this week, I'm just going to refer back to this one and ask for more stuff like that. In fact, now that I think about it, it's odd just how good the show used to be at Same-Sex numbers even when they didn't have to have them like they did this year. Billy Bell and Ade also had another of my all time favorite numbers. And who could forget this Lacey and Sabra number? What the fuck happened, guys?

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