E: How did we get down to so few contestants already? How can that be? Three dances per contestant tonight. Unexpected All Stars, unexpected dance styles, and a surprisingly good guest judge in the celebrity fan chair. A dark, serious and weirdly particular strain runs through tonight’s dances, tense and wild. It’s some of the best dancing of the season.
And hey, tell me. Am I alone in wishing we could do away with gender parity for the finale? I mean, the girls deserve it more, right? And was it just me, or did Cat actually intimate that the choice is finally, finally, out of the judges’ hands? That’s a good long overdue. So why should that make me nervous?
Cat’s wearing what I think is pale pink – short dress, long sleeves with slight ruffles at the hem and cuffs. The dress is plain but the fabric is intricately patterned with raised diamonds and dots, and her hair is loose and wild. Somehow, the six contestants as she introduce them – it looks like such a tiny group, so very much smaller than 8. Heck, the panel is more than half their size! Tonight it includes Lil’C and – really? – Christina Applegate. Okay, I know she was on Broadway in a Fosse musical, but really? Also, holy decolletage, Mary Murphy! Cat shows us a few videos of National Dance Day, one with the pyramids of Giza in the background, and another at – is she saying it’s the super collider in Switzerland? The one which has that infinitesimal change of destroying the universe? Good to know that you’re all working hard, squints. (Actually, these people look young and fit enough to work with Bones at the Jeffersonian. Anyway.)
The slot of doom tonight goes to Melanie and Twitch. Well, that’s probably a safe spot to put them in, right? Nappy Tabs has a Little Red in the Hood routine for them – even thought The Hood turns out to be a forrest. No question why they went first, not with all this scenery! Anyway, the point is, this Red fights back. It’s girl power Red. Okay.
Twitch, the wolf, hides among the trees, howling to Niki Minaj’s “Roman’s Revenge,” wearing a shredded vest and lots of eye make up. Red’s got a sort of weird hood hanging off of her tight red top – it sort of looks like a worm or a roman shade, hinged. He tries to scare her, but she won’t be intimidated. She tears and howls back. There’s a lift where she’s got her legs around his neck and tries to tear him with her hands, her cute little pixie face contorted in rage. They battle to Minaj’s strong beat, hitting each move on the downbeat, stomping out their aggression. They’re definitely sitting low into it. Somehow – hmmm. It’s good, and she’s good, but I don’t love it. I like the idea – cute little pixie is really dangerous – but it doesn’t come together for me. When it ends, she forces him down, and walks him over to Cat on his hands and knees like a dog. Cat suggests the audience howl for him, and they do.
The judges are ready to howl too. Was it buck or not buck, Cat asks Lil’ C. Largely buck is the answer, but for him it took a while to get there; she doesn’t live the authentic swagger of the ghetto, that automatic response to aggression and oppression. Christina Applegate starts with a paean to the dancer, and it’s pretty; you dance as if dancing is the only thing that will mend your broken heart, she says, and whether or not Melanie’s heart is actually broken, it’s surprisingly eloquent coming from Kelly Bundy. She thought this particular dance was nicely down and dirty. Mary Murphy got a phone call from her brother asking about Melanie, the first time he’s ever done that, in all the seasons of the show. He thinks Melanie is the new Shirley Temple. Mary doesn’t think Melanie knows who that is, but of course she does. This showed a new side, and there’s nothing you can’t do. Nigel’s happy to see Melanie’s teeth and claws, and calls this the answer to doubters who say that the show hasn’t pushes Melanie far enough out of her comfort zone. But they pick the routines out of the hat, Cat insists (really? she sounds like she believes it). What a big talent you’ve got, my dear, he finishes.
I confess, I was totally surprised to see Kent in the pool of All Stars. I’d forgotten him, somehow. I’m glad Tyce didn’t, though, because his routine for Kent and Sasha this week was a marvel. the idea, he says, is about a couple who’s hit a wall in their relationship. This one isn’t about the steps, says Kent, but about the emotional truth. Well, he had to learn that one the hard way last summer, didn’t he? He pins Sasha to the studio wall, and she slides down; he is so close that their noses touch, the tip of hers popping up as she moves down. Sasha cries as she speaks about telling the truth of herself on stage, of the pain she’s felt in her life.
The routine starts with Sasha pinned to the wall (a gray prop wall) beneath Kent’s hands. She’s wearing a sheer white man’s shirt over a black bra and panties; he has on a black tank, and somehow is menacing, just from the tension in his back and shoulders. He’s blocking her from view as Me’shell Ndegeocello’s “Fool of Me” begins, until she slides down, hugs him, and then throws herself to the side. As the words come, we learn that he’s cheated, and she feels humiliated. He grabs her and tosses her up against the wall in an upside down spread eagle, and it’s easily one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen on the show. She slides down his back, and then tips into a split to land on one leg. They break apart. He follows her, picks her up, and when she fights, throws her to the ground, brutally. She tears off her shirt and runs. He gives chase. They do this incredible parcour thing where they run across the wall and leap off, one after the other. He kisses her forehead, trying to hold her. She breaks away, and he throws her upside down against the wall again (legs together this time, knees bent) for the shocking closing pose.
In the audience, Tyce has tears in his eyes.
Tabitha seems to be laughing at him as she claps.
Why is it, Christina Applegate asks, that other dancers can have such beautiful technique and execute such amazing moves (sounds like she’s talking about Jordan) and I feel nothing, and yet you put a finger against a wall, and it breaks my heart. (I didn’t think you belonged here, Christina, but you’re hella articulate and you have my approval now. Thank you.) She sniffles. Thank you for taking what’s hurt you and putting it into your body as a gift for us. In the audience, Tyce snaps at Sasha. Mary found it intoxicating. I can tell you as someone who’s been there, the abuse survivor says, that when he throws you down, what matters is how you get up. Oh, Mary. I want to hug her and cheer at the same time. Nigel tells Sasha she’s his favorite again, and that this is Tyce at his best. He hopes she’s never been hurt as badly in real life as what she’s shared with us here.
Lil’C (Who, I notice, is looking quite handsome in a tight fitting gray cardigan) has to fight off tears several times. He would have given anything to have worked with her this season (hello, the finale! krump! Make it happen!). Life is unfair, he says, and I felt that you were speaking to me and my experience in everything you did; we’re victorious in the struggle.
Next up in the surprise list of All Stars of Awesome – Janette, doing a paso doble with Marko! Excellent. That’s just killer. I. Love. Janette. Former contestant/DWTS pro Dmitry Chaplin’s crafted a routine about a matador and an animal activist. Janette’s going to try and stop Marko from killing the bull. Er, okay. We don’t see a shred of this in the costumes, which look like traditional Spanish clothes (though upon closer examination, Marko’s matador’s jacket seems to be made of myriad crazy patterns, like leopard). The dance has to come from your crotch, Dmitry says. Um, thanks, Dmitry. Now guess where the audience will be looking?
The music is pretty traditional sounding, too – “Zorongo,” it’s called, and its all guitar and castanets, which is super cool. Marko stands bare chested, and Janette brings him his jacket. I love the way she swirls her voluminous black skirts with her hands, bringing them and their fiery red ruffles alive in the dance, and I love the macho poses Marko strikes, the unexpected way he inhabits them. I’m maybe less sold on the parts where he’s moving, but his poses? Awesome. Very manly. I don’t see any of the activist bit to me – could that even have been a joke? The best part is when he lifts her over his back and twirls her, twice, as if twirling a cape. It’s kick butt.
Ole, Mary cries. She and her silver epaulets are dying to just up and dance with Marko. She loved the arrogance and the Spanish flavor of it; even if Marko did wobble a bit in the opening, that crazy cape lift made up for it. Nigel loved that bit, too, but generally found it insufficiently passionate. Lil’C thought it was a pleasure to watch, and praises Marko’s commitment and connection to the dance. While Christina feels she can’t really comment on the genre, she loves him and his bravado. She thinks he was a few inches north of the crotch, though. Ha! “Can I say that?” she giggles. Yes, Christina. Yes you can.
Before Ricky’s solo – and all the solos to follow – a family member or two will send a message of love and support to the contestant. Ricky’s, of course, comes from his mother, who remembers watching previous seasons with her son and is still astounded she can watch him on it now. He’s picked Justin Nozuka’s “After Tonight” (not cheer music, woot!) and as I watch him float across the floor in his green t-shirt, light as thistle down, I’m struck by the soaring height of his leaps and the soundless way he lands. He’s a sweet guy, and those long skinny limbs are really pretty magical. He blows kisses to his mom as Cat calls out his numbers.
When Cat says Tadd has been paired in the next dance with All Star Ellenore, I know immediately that they must have Sonya Tayeh. I’m excited; I adore Ellenore, I adore Sonya, and Tadd is totally great at jazz. I get more excited when I hear the description of the piece: costume drama gone wild, one simple touch of flesh to flesh causing two buttoned up ancients to explode with lust. Fun, right? I swoon to watch Ellenore in rehearsal do a half back bend , her torso parallel to the floor as Tadd leans over to almost kiss her neck. Damn, that’s sexy. Sonya wants Tadd to get down and dirty. Yes please.
Somehow, though, the piece isn’t quite what I think it’s going to be. Ellenore’s seated on a chair in a gold dress, bustled and beruffled and corseted, as Tadd swaggers in from off stage in a jazz/Regency fusion outfit with touches of Chinese red and gold. There’s an ornate chandelier in the middle of the room. I can’t at all tell if it’s jazz or contemporary, for one thing, though I guess that’s not unusual. Beirut’s “The Golag Orkestar” provides an interesting backdrop. But the amazing armless backbend actually takes place on the chair now, rendering it not at all amazing, and instead of grazing her skin intensely, Tadd’s passion is somehow lacking. There also isn’t a defined moment where they go nuts, either. There’s lots of sexy posing on the chair, but – in rehearsal they showed him kissing her shoulder. They must have slowed that film, because here it’s perfunctory, a non-moment, blink it and miss.
What there is, however, is a lot of swinging from the chandelier. Seriously. And it’s kind of awesome. At one point, at the end, Tadd spins around the stage like he’s on a tire swing that his friends have wound up and up until he just goes for ages. Cat bounces around, longing for a chance to use it herself. (Hey, girl, that’s what Emmys are made of! Or total humiliations and serious injuries. So, who knows how it could have gone?)
At first at a loss for words, Nigel finally wishes there was more dancing. Lil-C commends Sonya for her risk-taking. He questions whether Tadd is living in the moment when he dances, though. I think our criticisms amount to the same thing. Christina tells them to get a room, but likes the dirty side. She echoes Mary’s habitual astonishment at untrained Tadd’s facility for picking up new styles. Mary thinks the routine was the most daring of the season, because it was so potentially dangerous, and that they “pulled it off.”
We learn from her mother that Caitlynn was 8 the first time she saw So You Think You Can Dance. How is that possible? The show hasn’t been on for ten years! That can’t be right, can it? This is season 8, and one year there were two seasons! Caitlynn’s adorable father video conferences his love from the Black Sea. His baby girl dances to Katie Thompson’s cover of “What’s Love Got To Do With It” in a gorgeous black knee length dress. She throws everything but the kitchen sink into the routine, but the most interesting shape in it is her dress.
Dee Caspary – master of interesting shapes – creates the next routine for Ricky and Jaimie. Neat. That’s the point of a choreographer, right – they give a shape to things, they tell a larger story. The solos often lack that intention because the dancers don’t always know how to get there on their own. In this picture, Ricky’s trying to prevent Jaimie from leaving him, and to that end, Dee’s given him sticks, as from a conductor, to control her movement. Ricky notes how difficult it is to do the routine when he can’t use his hands to lift Jaimie, as they’re full. Wow. That is a handicap. He’s forced to use his forearms to toss her around.
There’s a decent bit of tossing, too, though it’s not on the brutal level of Tyce’s piece for Sasha. Ricky conducts and directs Jaimie to Trent Dabbs “Inside These Lines,” a song that Mr. E likes so much he’s bought it before the telecast is an hour off the air. The costumes are the usual floaty white contemporary looks – loose pants for Ricky and a flowy short dress for Jaimie – but the use of the conducting wands is a really nice touch. Or not touch, I should say – he points, and her body moves. This is easier for him than the nightmare piece, more in his wheelhouse, if not quite as memorable. You know, it’s interesting, but all the routines have been about control in one way or another – men controlling women, women fighting back against attack and dominating men, lovers losing self-control. It’s hard to avoid. At the end of this piece, Jaimie leaps onto Ricky’s back, rips the wands from his hands, and sends them skittering across the stage. Then she flies back and walks away.
Lil’C immediately gives Ricky props for dealing with his props – props aren’t easy to work with, but when they interfere with your normal process? Big challenge. So, kudoes! Ricky’s a magnificently magical puppeteer. Christina notes that his body language isn’t always clear, though she thinks he’s marvelous. Mary loved the free flowing movement – and it’s rue, it was seamless – and says he’s like bouncing piano keys. I think you’ve saved yourself again, she says. Hmmmm. Well, everyone’s assuming Marko’s locked up one of the boy’s spots in the finale, but this one really is up for grabs. I thought Tadd had the edge, but maybe not -especially if the Little Monsters are still under orders. Nigel blathers on about Dee’s concept and how Ricky being overbearing is what caused Jaimie to leave. Okay. Ricky’s lines are gorgeous, but he wants him to (say it with me) dance from lower down. Sigh.
Tadd bounces into a solo, or will after his Dad tells that all the Philippines are proud of him. And they should be. He really is pretty impressive. I back his dreams all the way, Dad says. Aw! And now Tadd can bounce on his hands and knees and do air flares to “We Speak No Americano” by Yolanda B. Cool and DCup, which is as fun and summery as his Barbie pink t-shirt. He makes a “call me” gesture at the end. Hee.
Instead of the next choreographed routine, Sasha’s got her solo next. Lovely to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Mallory! Mom calls her Peter Pan, bubbly and full of joy; her Dad says he cries when he watches her. She’s picked Lady Gaga’s “Teeth,” a bold gospel infused bit of thunder which I have never heard before but totally love; she’s got on long black pants, a black bra and a fitted jacket, and she starts walking toward the audience with her elbows out and her hands on her ribcage in this weird, wonderful high fashion stride. There’s an amazing aerial walk over, and it’s all fierce and got this great shape to it, and I just adore it. Love this girl. Love the song, long the fierce look, love it all.
Dmitry Chaplin’s got a saucy samba for Caitlynn and Pasha. Okay. She’s going to lose the cheesy grin, she says, and indeed, when the music’s on, she’s in full on sexy face, dancing to District 78’s remix of Kat De Luna’s “Drop it Low.” You may remember that Caitlynn and Mitchell did a largely praised samba early in the competition which landed them in the bottom two. Ah, but what a difference Pasha makes! He’s in black, shirt completely open (probably buttonless) and she’s got on a serious ballroom outfit with bejeweled boobs and pink-purple ruffled drapery not quite covering most of her torso, her hair down but pulled back from her face. She slinks and snaps as Pasha whips her around the floor. She’s shimmery, a confident flurry of movement. The floor sweeping lift seems to stutter, but the samba rolls seem pretty faultless to my untrained eyes.
You did really well, Christina tells them, and those knee things (bochegattas?) were amazing. My God, that was better, Mary sighs. You liked her samba a lot the first time, Mary! She’s so impressed that Dmitry had them do natural rolls (?) and praises the way their bodies melted together. The knee things were great for her too. Nigel thinks she worked too hard at being sexy when she really does need to. Trust that you are actually sexy, Lil’C agrees; be a swan dive, not a cannonball. I’m a bellyflop, Cat says. Hee.
We get to see film of Marko’s highly emotive mother weeping and touching her tv screen back in Guam. I love Mama Germar. She’s a hoot. Be humble, do your best and God will do the rest, she tells her boy. He rolls out onto the floor to start his solo, full of fresh energy, wearing tan shorts and a long sleeved black t-shirt. Oh, and I like the music – an acoustic version of James Morrison’s “Wonderful World.” He’s fluid and adorable and gives this delightful shimmy at the end. And look at him beaming – the boy just loves his Mum.
Marko’s former partner Melanie’s up next for her solo. Her crinkly nosed Mom tells us Melanie never walked, she danced. Aw. This is the first step to her dreams. (I wonder, though, if your dreams for her included her finishing college? Cause who knows whether that’s going to happen now. I mean, let’s be real about this.) Melanie’s music is “Cracks”, the Full Pavilion Remix, by Freestylers featuring Belle Humble (awesome!) and she’s wearing a one shouldered gray ruffled dress or romper. The piece is very Melanie – her energy is so fiesty, she sizzles – and it feels very composed. There’s so much slow intention in her moves, before she retracts, anyway. Slow quick, slow quick – it’s super cool. The crowd loved it. She and Sasha are just slaying it tonight! Cat pops over, laughing, because she just saw Melanie listening to her headphones and blocking the dance out backstage 5 minutes before going on. Damn.
Only three dances remain, and these are all routines for two contestants. First up, Sasha and Ricky with a waacking routine. For reals? Wow. Looks like Princess Lockeroo actually made a difference this season even without making it past the first few days of the Vegas round. The street dance is being shown to us by choreographer Kumari Suraj, who explains that the style began in 70s LA. Alright. It’s about skill, precision and control, and both dancers acknowledge that it’s really hard.
The music is Beyonce’s “Schoolin’ Life.” Ricky’s wearing a hat and bright yellow sweater over an oxford shirt, but under suspenders and tucked into his pants. Sasha’s got on a sheer top and skirt, the shapes very full and exaggerated. They’re sort of church clothes-y, minus the sheer part. There’s nice unison, and it’s really fun. It’s slower than what I remember, but then again, my only knowledge of waacking is from Princess Lockeroo and she’s extraordinary, so that’s probably not a fair comparison. It’s fun. It’s not knock you over, but it’s really dance-y, it has a great vibe to it, and you kind of want to get up and try it yourself. There’s a great move where they squat and sweep their legs out, perfectly in sync. Good stuff. They’re attacking the waacking, Cat cheers.
Because Princess Lockeroo had the same effect on Mary Murphy, she feels the choreography here was lacking, even though she loved all the different rhythms. No, it’s a different sub-style, Nigel insists, and Lockeroo does her own unique thing. Ricky was overthinking it, and Sasha outdanced him. If he learned to trust himself he’d do better. Caitlynn should learn how to just be from Sasha, because Sasha’s sexy in whatever she does. Lil’ C wants to offer some constructive critiques; he loves the glamorous, sassy, funky style, but he felt they were too focused on the steps (particularly Ricky) to get down into the funky grove. And for sure, there were moments that looked awkward because we’re not used to people standing next to each other twirling their arms, but still, we can get past that, right? Christina found it flirtatious and smiling but she will say – even if it might sound wrong – that they could have waacked it harder. Hee. Don’t hold back when you waack, Cat cautions all contestants.
Melanie’s paired with Tadd for a Spencer Liff Broadway routine – nice. Of course, Spencer and Tadd were a total bomb before, but he’s generally so awesome that I’m still excited. Melanie’s a dancer, and Tadd, the demanding choreographer who uses her crush on him to seduce out a better performance. Ouch. Seriously, what is it with this week and controlling men and bad relationships? When the dance behind, he’s got a mean wife beater tank on, a towel around his neck, a chair, and she stands in front of a mirror. Shirley Bassey’s “(Where do I Begin)Love Story” (Away Team Mix) oozes over us, and if I don’t love this routine, well, there’s going to be a damn good reason for it. It begins with an enormous leap over the chair. Liff pulls something much dirtier out of Tadd than Sonya did, I’ll say that. He slides up behind Melanie, pulling her leg up with his towel. He returns to the chair with his back to us, and mirrors her movement, another puppetmaster. She stands on his chair, her leg over her head, and leans down to kiss him. But when the routine is over, he lets her fall.
It’s so Black Swan, Cat coos, and gosh, she’s so right. The thing was, for me, even if Tadd succeeded more than in the last routine, the boy is just not dirty, not on stage. It was uneven; sometimes I believed it, but not enough of the time. I love the idea, I love Melanie the consummate actress, but it’s not as good as it could have been.
Nigel starts by praising Melanie’s solo as one of the best in the history of the show. She’s a brilliant actress as well as a brilliant dancer, and she’s back to being his favorite again. Sigh. You’re so Hollywood, Lythgoe. So fickle. Your breathing meant as much as the steps. Good point there, I’ll give you that. Tadd gets props for a cartwheel. Lil’C tells Melanie that if Tadd doesn’t want her, there are probably a million or so guys out here who do. The routine was extremely buck, and her solo was so beefy he can’t stand it. Tadd, again, gets the “wow, look at you, you can do any style” line, which is starting to sound pretty tepid. Well, no girl wants to be called a beefy beast, Cat notes, but we’ll try to take that in the spirit it was meant. Christina says the whole judging panel was banging on their table during her solo. America is in love with both of you, Mary declares, and I’m privileged to have witnessed this.
Um, okay. Not saying I didn’t like it, but it didn’t quite reach the level of privilege. For me.
Last for the night, Caitlynn and Marko with a Sonya jazz routine about – what a shock – a controlling man and his lover trying to break free. Of course it is. I mean, seriously! Was there a memo this week? I must say, though, this is nicely against type for both of them. Because it’s Sonya, Caitlynn’s got on a white patterned bra and black hot pants; Marko is shirtless. The music is “Heavy in Your Arms” by Florence and the Machine (yay! love it!) and the routine begins with – gulp – Marko wrapping his arm around Caitlynn’s neck. Youch. This even is on another level from from what was going on between Kent and Sasha, where she was ambivalent about him. Gentle Marko is terrifying. He’s got a low, nasty energy. She break away; he tackles her, and whips her around. She breaks away, and runs, literally runs flat out around the stage, and he barrels after. They’re grappling, and finally, she shoves him off. Well done, girlfriend!
Cat pops over, wondering where all the disco routines went. And hey, there haven’t been any this entire season. What’s up with that? She’s the first to point out (being that it’s her job) that the judges are on their feet.
Lil’C starts slathering around tweeting terms and calls the routine double hash tag buck. It was so reckless, so convicted, just murderous. It certainly was that. Christina calls Marko a beast and praised their beautiful aggression. This was your moment, she says, and in the audience Caitlynn’s mom cries. Mary Murphy calls it a breakthrough for Caitlynn, one of her best routines ever (totally accurate) and praises her for bringing true grit to it. Fearless Marko has always been her favorite. Nigel tells Sonya she’s world class, and tells Caitlynn that she came of age in this stunning routine. Marko was sensational. And very pretty, too, chirps Cat.
And there we are. Can that routine possible boost Caitlynn over Sasha or Melanie? Melanie, who’s never been in the bottom, might have to rely on her solo and her legion of fans to preserve her, because she had the weaker routines of the three. But really, what I want to see is Ricky and Tadd going home, and an unbalanced finale like last year. What would be wrong with that? I mean, come on. That would rule. And it would be right. Of the boys, I’d have said Tadd would be the favorite, but I think Ricky out performed him tonight. Will the waacking hurt Sasha and Ricky? God I hope not. God I hope not. About Sasha, obviously. I like Tadd and Ricky pretty much equally, and don’t care which of them makes it to the finale. I’m going to be deeply upset if I have to suffer through National Dance Day videos without Sasha, Melanie and Marko all making it to the final week!
Come on, you agree with me, right? You know you do! Sound off below!