E: Now that was some dreamy good stuff, people.
The show opens with the twelve All Stars in a staged garden, standing on a roll of turf in front of a formal hedge with urns and flowers. David Bowie’s “Fame” plays. They drink tea. Seriously, they dance with tea cups, the saucers balanced in the crook of their arms. I could faint! It was amazing. The men – and we begin with our focus on Mark Nakamura – are in shirts and bow ties, some with vests and suspenders, as if they’re at a very relaxed garden party from a hundred years ago or so. The women? I dunno. Are they supposed to be Edwardian? Victorian? Flappers? I don’t care. The effect is awesome. The Top Eleven slink in, then flap like swans. There’s a croquet game. They dance together with precision. It’s stunning.
And of course, it’s been choreographed by Wade and Amanda Robson, who appear to be sitting at the judges table. Some things you can just tell, you know? Although it did remind me, in a way, of Mia’s genius “Higher Ground” from season 5, because it took a song I knew well and found rhythms and themes rolling beneath it I had never seen.
Cat welcomes us in wearing a pastel rainbow fringe dress. Tonight we’ll be seeing the Top Eleven dance, allegedly in their own “styles and genres” (which, huh?) – but, perhaps to introduce them to new viewers, we’ll also see the All Stars, though the judges won’t talk about them. Odd. I did not expect to see the All Stars dance, even though it makes a certain kind of sense that they would. This episode’s a freebie – not a contest, but a celebration of dance and of these dancers. (And, we’ll find out, an unusual chance for the choreographers to speak as well. Is this a new trend? Intriguing. I thought Nigel hated 4 judge panels. Withholding judgment on this.) We meet our permanent judges (withholding an opinion on that, too) : executive producer Nigel Lithgow, director Adam Shankman, and choreographer Mia Michaels. We also find out that the show has new staff, who are all women. Neat. Maybe they will do better filming – I’ve always thought the camera work was their weakest link. We also will get 11 seconds of each dancer talking about themselves. I’m not so much going to go into all of that (some made better use of their time than others, but no one really said anything you couldn’t find in the first sentence of their official Fox bio) in part because it’s more about impressions of personality than it is about what they actually said. Well, except that Kent Boyd is single.
First up we see Kent Boyd and Lauren Froderman doing a Travis Wall piece set to St. Vincents’s “Paris is Burning”; they intertwine with Kathryn and Mark, two of my favorite All Stars. Fantastic song (Travis and I seem to have a musical kinship) and they’re in these great costumes. The girls kind of look like freaky Mary Poppins, or Eliza Doolittles. There are black parasols. As C pointed out when I dragged her in to see the first two numbers, there’s something slightly steampunk about it all – or maybe it’s just that it’s punk Victorian? It’s dark and gorgeous and thrusty and fey and they all work really really well together. After, Travis explains that they’re out at night in 1920 Paris celebrating the end of the Empire. What the heck Empire would that be, and why are they dressed as Victorians if that’s the case? Odd notion, but okay, I still liked it. It was strong and twisty and really super cool. The costuming was so forceful it actually made it harder to see the dancers, but still, I liked it. In fact, I saw it a second time and liked it even more. The judges fell all over themselves to praise adorkable Kent and confident, perky Lauren. Fascinating that these two are the same age, don’t you think?
Next we have a pretty Broadway piece (choreographed by Tyce to a song from Sweet Charity) where Alexie Agdeppa and Melinda Sullivan stomp around delightfully in floaty, slightly Grecian looking dresses, as if they were wood nymphs or something. They’re joined by All Stars Allison (from Season 2, back when I didn’t consistently watch the show) and Lauren. This one bothered me – not because it wasn’t gorgeous, but because this was tapper Melinda’s one chance to dance in her own style and they didn’t let her! Bah! That’s so wrong. I mean, honestly, there is a section in the song where there’s supposed to be tap – there is tapping on the soundtrack – and poor Melinda has to mime it with bare feet. I guess they had only one tapper and had to get 23 dancers into one hour, but still, I feel bad for her. The judges weirdly tell the contestants that they need to show that they’re stars. As far as I’m concerned, Alexie glows on that stage. She’s got a massive, contagious smile, and you like her immediately.
Tabitha and Napoleon Dumo have created a piece in which Comfort, Twitch and Dominic initiate Jose Ruiz into the SYTYCD family. There’s a bit of slow mo fighting, lots of b boying, and some hard hitting group work. The theme is particularly evident when Jose loses his black hoodie to reveal the brightly colored shirt beneath, which of course matches the others, and is – Jamacian (black, red, yellow and green)? What ever. It’s awesome. They actually got that hoodie off in this cool complicated way, with the hood on Dominic’s feet during a series of two person somersaults, and then presto, off it comes! I love it. There’s an interesting Ninja/kungfu master thing going on at the start, and some excellent parallel breaking. And it’s just awesome to see Twitch again. I think I’d forgotten how magnetic he is.
When it’s over, Dominic and Cat go into this amusing patter about how he’s invading her personal space and crazy about her and she’s not quite squashing him like a bug but definitely thinking about it. I don’t remember – did he have a crush on her in his season? Wasn’t the joke with him that he had a crush on Sabra, or was it always Cat? Anyway, it’s really cute, mostly because you know Cat and you know she’s playing along, and that she’s really not offended and he’s really not panting after her like a puppy. (Speaking of which, I’m still kind of hoping someone starts a band called Cat’s Puppy. Make it happen, internet! Wouldn’t that be genius?)
Mia Michaels – who you may recall is fresh from losing her mom – uses Billy, Alex and her old favorite Ade to symbolize the stages of human life and the too soon passing of time. Billy is a twisty, rolly child playing with a fire truck (glorious! how did he bend his body like that, seriously?), Alex is man in his prime, and Ade shakes as old age. (This fascinated me – Ade is so powerful I expected him to be the man in his prime, but they’re all astounding at what they do. And in a way, the old man had the coolest choreography.) There’s a through line in the movement, which is really great, and they try to get all sophisticated with the camera work. It’s not exactly something that gets your blood pumping (partly because of the grim Dinah Washington tune, “Bitter Earth”), but it’s still very impressive. It’s interesting that they gave her the best known contestants, don’t you think? Is it because she’s Mia, or because her piece is the mildest and most technical showpiece, and they won’t be hurt by that? Mia feels honored by the performance. She calls Billy a freak of nature, and tells Alex he’s a stallion, a beast. Cat howls – it’s The Freak and The Beast! Cat lingers as if the words taste delicious. That could stick, and that’d be kind of awesome. You can tell Billy and Alex and Cat all love it.
Jason Gilkison choreographs a piece for salsa dancer Cristina and ballroom pros/All Stars Pasha and Anya. They dance to some sort of Kelly Rowland track with Indian influences. There’s a table and chair involved, dresses in blue and pink fringe, and a few amazing lifts. I’m not sure it was as stunning as the dance last season with Karen and the Delillos, but it was still pretty terrific. (I am trying to avoid thinking about Nigel blathering on about how it fulfilled all his fantasies – thanks for the over sharing, pervy old man!) And I love love love seeing Pasha and Anya back, even if I’m not enamored of Anya’s blond hair. Shirtless Pasha, however, more than makes up for it. If there’s an ounce of fat on his body, well, I challenge you to find it. And what a game that would be! Sorry, sorry. It occurred to me last night, though, that there’s no way these two can cover all the ballroom styles, and that it would have made more sense for the show to bring back more ballroom experts. I mean, think about it. There are always more than two ballroom routines a week, and so many different styles! They have be expecting the other All Stars (most of whom are contemporary dancers) to pick up the slack here, and if so, why not just have more ballroom experts? Aside from the fact that the most famous of the show’s ballroom alumni (Chelsea, Lacy and Dimitri) are all on Dancing With The Stars, we could still have had the Delillos or Max or Asuka.
Just for example, if you look at the fantastic charts they have on Wikipedia, you’ll see that on the first show of the fifth season, when they had ten couples dancing, there was a cha cha, a foxtrot and a samba. The following week there was a jive and a waltz, and the third week a rumba, Vienese Waltz and a tango. As you can see, that’s more than enough to keep those two All Stars overly busy. By contrast, each week there was a single contemporary routine, a single jazz piece, and two hip hop routines. They do more ballroom each week than anything else, so why are there more hip hop (3) and contemporary dancers (7) than ballroom experts? Now, sure, the All Stars have proven themselves adept at other styles (Pasha, for example, danced one of Nigel’s favorite hip hop routines) but isn’t the whole point supposed to be that they’re experts?
Just saying, if I were casting, things would have gone a little differently. Which is not to say that I don’t love the All Stars who’re there – it would just be a more practical thing. But perhaps the point is we’d rather see Kathryn or Lauren than Asuka, and I can’t argue with that. Ashleigh Delillo, on the other hand… oh, I give up. Nothing I can do about it. Rant over.
Finally, we have a Sonya Tayeh jazz number (set, of course, to Estelle’s “Freak”) with Adechike, Ashley and Robert and All Stars Courtney and Neil. (I’m vaguely surprised they didn’t give her Mark, but maybe they thought giving her both Mark and Courtney would be too reminiscent of “The Garden”? Maybe she had to fight Travis for him? I can’t see her losing, though.) Wow – they stick the two contestants we’ve barely seen in together! Ashley (in her 11 seconds, where she insists she’s a nerd, which is kind of like glamorous Nicole Scherzinger insisting she’s a nerd) kind of reminds me of Andrea from Danity Kane. Actually, she reminds me a lot of Andrea from Danity Kane. The bad thing here is that she’s the same height and coloring as Courtney, has the same length hair, and as bound up in straps as they are, I can’t tell them apart. Boo. Anyway, the number is fun, but not one of her best. I kind of wish we’d ended with something else. On the other hand, Sonya could not be happier with her crew. She goes nuts. I just love her. She’s got these huge flowers in her mohawk, but if you look closely, at the center of each flower is cartoon skull. She’s so fun.
And there we are, the top eleven and the twelve All Stars. I’m stoked for next week! I think maybe this All Star format will work for me after all. I know, I know, I can’t believe I’m saying it either. Fingers crossed!