So You Think You Can Dance: Meet the Top Twenty

E:  Aw.  There’s something so warming about seeing the set and the audience!  Doesn’t it feel more like summer already?  And what a celebration for these dancers.  They might go home next week – two of them will – but on this night, they’re Top Twenty.  They worked so hard, and they’ve done it.  It’s all celebration now, dance for the joy of it.

Cat Deeley sashays onto the stage.  Tonight’s mini-dress; short and white with a boatneck and floral appliques.  It’s like someone’s old wedding dress, cut down.  It’s very fun and very Cat.  The crowd loves her.  She introduces tonight’s panel, and tonight’s unusual format: Robin Antin, Tyce DiOrio, Lil’C, Mary Murphy and Executive Producer Mr. Nigel Lithgoe Sir! are here to help introduce the Top Twenty.  The dancers have been chosen from the 31 dancers left after Vegas week; the Vegas week panel (which also included Adam Shankman and Debbie Allen) gave them the news last week.   We’ll see a video package of people getting the news, and then those dancers will do group numbers in clumps based on their specialty. Alrighty, cool.  Possibly more fun for us to watch than the studio audience that way, but alright.  Nigel starts us off by explaining this year’s new system: pairs until we reach the top ten, and then he’ll inject the All Stars back in the mix.  Nigel, I think I love you.  That is the best of both worlds.  Genius.

When they switch to the tape of the 31 dancers waiting, I’m just so impressed by their camaraderie and real cheer for each other.  Dance is a social medium, far more than singing.  There’s just a level of good will that surpasses anything we normally see on reality TV.  Dancers, you rock.  I’m also astounded again at the number of them that I don’t know.  And I’ve been taking notes and names.

Speaking of people I don’t know, we meet contemporary dancer Ricky Jaime.  We also get to see his mother leap up and lock her legs around his waist when he makes it to Vegas, which leaves me, um,  impressed with her flexibility.  (I was certain I’d never seen him or heard his name, but he was mentioned briefly in Vegas week.)  Ricky is the first member of the Top Twenty.

The second member of the Top Twenty is a curly haired contemporary dancer named Melanie Maleski.  It’s possible she was the curly haired girl Tyce praised in one of the montages?  Number 3 is – duh – joyful pixie Melanie Moore.  The editors must have known we all knew she’d make it, because they spend less time usher her in than it’s taken me to write these two sentences.  Seriously, I don’t think they even devoted one entire sentence to her – but considering the amount of air time she’s gotten already, that’s okay.

Rounding out the first group of contemporary dancers are the Mallory sisters, who get to go in together.  Oh, judges.  You are so cruel and yet so predictable.  Only one can survive, the judges tell us, and to the surprise of absolutely no one, tiny Sasha is chosen over her more vivacious – but less easily liftable – sister.  Oh, Natalia, how we will miss you.  Sasha Mallory, hopefully we will like you as much alone as we do when you’re bickering with your younger sis.  Your little quip that, when Cat squeezed between you and Natalia, you made an oreo cookie?  That bodes well.

Stacy Tookey’s choreographed Ricky, Miranda, Melanie and Sasha a piece to The Irrepressibles “In This Shirt.”  There’s fog, and flowy white and cream and pink clothing with lots of little pleats and appliques  – it looks a bit like short Victorian undergarments.  I love the orchestral bits, where all four dancers move together.  “I am lost,” the singer complains, but Stacy Tookey beams at the dancers from the audience, certain they’ve found what she wanted them to.  Natalia, too, grins and waves from the audience. It’s “a little piece of heaven on stage.”  The dancers clothing kind of matches Cat’s wedding dress; the girls bounce up and down, giddy with joy.  No one goes home tonight!  It’s just about the gorgeous dancing!

The next segment is devoted to street dancers.   Breaker Chris Koehl tells us that it’s his second time “walking the green mile.”  Hee.  Also, I suppose this is why we haven’t seen him this season?  Are they assuming we all remember him from last year?  Because sadly, I don’t.  Mary meanders on about how doors (and opportunities) close and open, before finally telling the poor guy that he’s making it through the door.  Okay, that’s the third person of five who’s a virtual stranger to the audience.

Wadi Jones, a favorite from Vegas week, and Tadd Gadduang (stellar in his audition but missing from the edited version of Vegas week) both make the show.  Wow!  Three b boys!  Outstanding.  But – yikes.  Robert “Woo-man” Taylor, Jr. and Bryce “Professor Lock” Johnson are left.  We get a fun clip show of Lock saying – and then getting other people to say – indubitably.  I just love him; he’s big and strong and smart and graceful and charming.  What is not to love? We’re left to understand that one will make it through, and on his last year of eligibility, and I think his fourth time trying out, Robert Woo-man Taylor becomes the 8th member of the Top Twenty.  Professor Lock, you better try out next year.   Would he and Natalia be a power couple or what?

Swizz Beatz – with a vocal assist from Eve – give the beat for the four b boys, and inspiration to Dave Scott, who has them dancing to “Everyday (Coolin’).”  They’re all dressed in black and white with red accents – red sneakers, a cap, a tie, a pocket square, a vest.  They each get to solo, but their ability to move in unison is what impresses me most.  Cat squishes them into a “chorus line of buckness” and the judges are impressed with how light they can seem while being hard hitting.  It’s a good observation – they slam into a precise move, then float away.

The next taped segment shows us how there are only two ballroom dancers in the pool of 31, some guy named Lenny we’ve never seen, and Iveta Lukosiute.  Despite his confidence, Lenny is summarily dismissed, but Iveta, on her third and final try, in her last year of eligibility, makes it through.  She cries.  Mary Murphy cries, and explains to us all that Iveta is a World 10 Champion, which is to say, she’s World Champion in ten different dances, a truly astounding and unusual feat.  Surely only Iveta herself thought she would fail; the woman has trained for two years to be good enough in the other styles in order to conquer this show.  Damn!

Jason Gilkerson has composed a paso doble for Iveta and, since you can’t do ballroom alone, Pasha.  They dip and twist and fight to J. Lo’s “Ven a Bailar,”  the Spanish version of “On the Floor.”  “Pasha said it would be hot,” Cat tells as when the routine is over and the judges are on their feet, “and I think you’ll find that it was.”  This time it’s choreographer Jason who’s bouncing with joy.

The next grouping is comprised of jazz dancers – and we know this in advance because Cat invokes the name of Sonya Tayeh, So You Think You Can Dance‘s queen of grubby, grungy gorgeousness.  For slot number 10, the judges favor curly haired Clarice Ordaz over pal Bridget Krause.    Number 11 turns out to be Marko Germar – yay!  When we didn’t see him Vegas, I worried him, but the wounded clerk (remember, the guy with the bullet in his shoulder from a robbery attempt) won my heart in his audition, and I’m thrilled to see him make the top.   Number 12 is one of the few complete no brainers – sexy good girl Jordan Cassanova, who explains that her mission is to make the audience feel uncomfortable.  Well, Sonya’s gonna love you!  Last up, Missy Morelli. No, you’ve never heard the name before – but the editors have shown us the judges drooling when she shook her backside.  So, great.  She’s afraid that, with Jordan through, the show won’t have room for two sexy girls.  Strangely enough, it does.

The costumes are vaguely steampunky, with bits of leather.  Marko’s got on harem pants, and, when I consider the song (Vanguardia’s “Steed Lord”) I have to wonder if Sonya’s been watching Game of Thrones.  It’s all very Dothraki. You can see the Marko/Khal Drogho connection, though it’s the girls who’re wearing the face paint.  The three women dip in a fantastic back bend to open the routine, and Marko runs in and leaps over them, finishing in a somersault.  Outstanding!  It’s all very Sonya – hunched, grounded, dirty, aggressive.  Tyce stands for them alone, and for once, he strikes me as cute rather than annoying.

I don’t know about you, at this point I’m starting to worry that my audition round favorite Ashley Rich might not make one of the open girl slots – there are only 3 left, and we haven’t seen Ryan Ramirez yet, who is clearly getting on the show.

But before we get to the girls, we have two specialist to see – Broadway dancer Jess LeProtto.  Nigel helpfully lets us know he’s arrogant and a little irritating before putting him through.  Way to start the kid on the road to success, Nigel!  Excellent!  Next up,  tap dancer Nick Young. The taped segment explains he does emotional tap, something we’ve never seen, and that he’s blown the judges away with his enormous personality.  In a confounding move, he tells us that Vegas was one of the best weeks of his life.  Well, damn.  That’s one we’ve never heard. (Though now I wonder if he knows Alexis Mason.)  Seriously, I had no idea there was a tapper in the running, but I’m pleased to see him make the top twenty.  The two have a routine created by “the rather wonderful” Christopher Scott, Cat tells us, and dance to Nina Simone’s “Funkier than a Mosquitoes Tweeter.”  Jess mimes in an old timey tuxedo, and leather jacket clad Nick enters with a basket.  It’s street versus Broadway!  They both tap, but oh my gosh, I am completely knocked over and wowed by Nick Young.  He is awesome. I feel like an inarticulate thirteen year old girl, gibbering, because he is just completely, pull me up off the floor awesome.

They work the crowd like nobody’s business, jumping around like maniacs. Great use of the stage, of the props, all of it.  Christopher Scott stands up to cheer for them, and wow, he’s young and completely hot.  Someone gives Nick roses.  Tyce rightly comments that the routine had concept, theatricality and acting.  Good game!  Nigel delivers the completely fantastic news that 4 of the girls tap, so they’re going to put a “tap/samba” card into the mix, and if all the stars align, we’ll get tap routines!  Yes!  I am loving this season more and more.  Nick and Jess showboat off the stage.  They’re a hoot.

We’re left with only five slots to fill, the three remaining girls and two guy, who will all be contemporary dancers.  I don’t even think that we know two male contemporary dancers, do we?  The 16th dancer is Caitlynn Lawson.  Who?  Wait, I think Caitlynn Lawson was maybe in the group dance with Ricky Jaime, Wadi Jones and Bridget Krause?  There was a Caitlynn whose last name I didn’t catch there, anyway.   They were the first up, dancing to “Bird is the Word.”  Yes, okay, I checked, it was them, and Clarice Ordaz was in that group too.  They’ve done pretty well for themselves, huh?  Now that we’re being introduced to the third curly haired brunette to make the Top Twenty, we hear Nigel tell her – twice – that she’s his favorite.  (Wow, and she’s not even blond!)  How can she be the executive producer’s favorite and not even get one tiny second of air time?  I’m completely boggled.

YES!  The 17th dancer is my personal favorite (er, before meeting Nick Young, anyway) Ashley Rich.  Sigh.  Now I can be happy.  I couldn’t imagine how they were going to make a Top Twenty without her, I really couldn’t.  Next up, we meet Mitchell Kelly.  I’m reasonably certain we saw Adam compliment him, but we didn’t know his name.  Mitchell thinks he deserves to be in the Top Twenty.  Well.  That’s good to know.  I don’t think there’s any way to say that on TV and not sound like an asshat.  It doesn’t stop him from making the show, however.

Proving that there were not, in fact, 2 male contemporary dancers we’d heard of, confident Jeremiah (he of the contemporary round melt down) and anxious, boy band-looking Alexander compete for the last slot.  And proving that he’s got another solid wall to slam up against, the panel rejects Jeremiah Hughes for the completely unknown (but humble!) Alexander Fost.     Perhaps this is supposed to set up doubt that Ryan will take the last slot.  She’s up against another complete unknown, fellow bottle blond Alexa Anderson.  Although it does turn out we’ve seen Alexa before – she was the girl in pink and red who was never named in one of the L.A. montages, but you wouldn’t recognize her before the bottle, not without them explaining who she is.  The panel lets the girls in together, and makes them both cry before putting last year’s also ran Ryan Ramirez through.  They very nicely tell Alexa they want her to be next year’s Ryan, the inevitable auditioner who finally makes it through to the delight of fans.  Sounds good to me!  Alexa, we hardly knew ye (truth be told, we didn’t know you at all) but you look like you’re worth getting to know.

And you know, that really is one of the best things about this show.  Singers don’t tend to get that much better year to year; you can be a better performer, but your pipes are largely the same. Dance, on the other hand, is a marriage of talent and skill, and especially in this context (where the contestants are asked to dance outside their normal styles) they can and do improve from year to year.  And it’s great to see.  I really really hope to see a lot of familiar faces next summer!  Patty Anne, Hero, Alexis, Natalia, Professor Lock, Alexa, Jeremiah, Lil’O  I’m talking to you.

Travis Wall’s piece, set to “Moth’s Wings” by Passion Pit, finds Ryan Ramirez out in front, rolling in fall leaves that have been strewn about the floor.  She’s wearing a pretty black chemise; the others are in white and pink, so I find the color scheme a little distracting because all you see is Ryan.  Still, it’s lovely and joyful.  Everyone tosses the leaves as they bend and swoop, giving it a very organic,  gentle feeling.  Strong, fluid and soft, the judges say once they sit down.

Lovely.

And you might think that would be all.  You would be wrong.  They have three dances up: Top Ten boys, Top Ten girls, Top Twenty dancers.  Fun!  The boys have a hip hop contemporary fusion piece by the versatile Mr. Christopher Scott who, it turns out, not only choreographed last season’s Top Twenty routine in the finale (which I flat out loved), but is a part of the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers.  Excellent!  We see them in rehearsal, where we find out that Ricky should never try to say the word “explosive.”  When the dance begins, the men are in dark suits with red ties, their hair slicked back, and they pop in and out of large red doors.  The music is Nathan Lanier’s “Velocity” which sounds so much like what they danced too in last year’s finale that I keep expecting Twitch to leap out of one of the doors.  Possibly this is because Nathan Lanier wrote that music, too, but perhaps because Twitch can jump out of doors at me any time.  Anyway, I love it.  I love the dramatic stopping around, I love the unison bits, I just love it.  It’s super LXD.  I have no idea what tutting is, but I think I like it.  Nigel’s positively crowing about having Dave Scott and Christopher Scott on board this season (the Scott brothers, they laugh), but he reminds the boys that unlike American Idol, viewers on this show reward female dancers as well as male ones.  Well, three times out of seven, but twice in the last three seasons, which makes it a serious contrast to AI.  And the girls, he warns, are beasts.

And who better to help them with their inner beastliness but Sonya Tayeh?  Her idea is a creepy, twisted and exciting take on Geisha girls.  The girls are dressed in short kimonos, and have crazy make up on, which means we basically can’t recognize any of them except by race and hair color.  The guys costumes had that problem too, actually.    Anyway, a remorseless Sonya works the girls to exhaustion. “Feel like you’re going to puke? Welcome to So You Think You Can Dance.”  Chonique Sneed and Lisette Bustamante provide the soundtrack (“Pop Drop and Roll”) and there’s lots of deep knee bends, and the judges are on their feet declaring that they’re unworthy of these girls.

Last up, Tyce has created a piece around Annie Lennox’s “Little Bird.”  His little birds wear black fringe and straps.  There’s a round platform at the back of the stage, and people leap off of it, and Nick and Marko do amazing gymnastic runs and flips (woot!  love those two!).  The number, and evening, ends with Melanie jumping into a basketweave hold.  Good times!  Yay, Top Twenty!

I must say, I’m really pleased with what I know of this group.  I’m sorry that Professor Lock didn’t make the cut, but really, the rest of the people I emotionally invested in had already been cut.  Well, there’s Natalia, but I had absolutely zero hope she was going to make it.  What I don’t get, however, is why I don’t know so many of these dancers.  I mean, like I said, I took notes.  I did go back and find that one group which included brief mentions of Ricky and Caitlynn.  So if that’s the case, that means there’s 6 (rather than the 8 I originally thought) out of the top twenty who we’ve never seen named before tonight.

Oh, we’ve seen a couple of that six, barely .  There was Mitchell standing in Vegas week, and also ran Alexa Anderson’s audition, and we definitely saw Missy wiggle her ass.  But I’m sorry, there’s no excuse for that.  None at all.  Shouldn’t she be more than an ass to us?  Not to have even named a third of the dancers in the audition rounds?  Ridiculous.

I’m happy to spend audition time with awesome dancers like Jeffrey McCann, Hero McRae and Patty Anne Miller, even if we never get to see them again.  They’re worth it, and I love that about the show.  And I know they have to throw false leads in to mess with our emotions, like Arielle Coker and Professor Lock, or to prep us for next year like Alexis Mason and Alexa Alexander.  I get it.  I get why we see stunning auditions from Ashley Rich, Marko Gemar and Tadd Gadduang, yet don’t see them at all until they make the Top Twenty.  But I don’t see why we couldn’t see Nick Young’s audition over, say, weepy Danielle Ihle and Brandon Jones.  Nick looks like he had a pretty glorious Vegas week.  I wish I’d known about it!  Surely there was a way to get Chris Koehl and Alexander Fost in there?  Or Missy and Miranda? Or is this the producers way of stacking the deck so favorites like Ryan, Woo-man and Sasha have a clearer road to the title?

Oh well.  Hopefully the newbies will impress us next week and stick around…

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