E: Well, now we know why they don’t normally ask for 4 routines a week. Or even in the finale. Because the results are going to be wildly uneven. We got some absolutely smashing contemporary and jazz routines, and some pretty decent hip hop. And I can’t say I’m sorry the All Stars are there, because those were by and large the best routines. Every time the dancers strayed out of their comfort zones, however? Not so good. All the choreographers are trying to be tricky, putting out “finale worthy” routines. You know how when you’re in high school and you have February vacation and all your teachers say “well, since you’re going to be on vacation you can read this 800 page book for me/do a 10 page report on the cotton gin/read Les Mis in the original French and then write a report on it” and you’re all “OMG, I have other classes too! You can’t all expect this much work! There’s not that much time in the day!” And you have so much to do that some of what you do ends up great, and the rest is an epic fail?
Yeah. It’s totally like that.
To usher in the grand event, Cat’s wearing a champagne strapless mini-dress with this great embroidery and beading on the bodice; there are organic shapes like leaves and flowers, but also lines, so it ends up looking a bit like hieroglyphics from a distance. Very cool. The top four are so damn tired they don’t even dance onto the stage during their usual introduction. They just walk. They don’t have an ounce more to give, not even for a “rather special” panel that includes Kenny Ortega (the man with the utterly barbarous idea of remaking Dirty Dancing) and slender, elegant Stepford wife Katie Holmes. Well, at least you sucked up to Cat nicely, Katie, by congratulating her for her long overdue Emmy nod. But then she ruins my good will by saying she’s got a movie coming out “this August.” Oh, honey. It is August.
Cat introduces the first disco routine of the season. YES! The return of Doriana Sanchez! Love her work, just love it. Is it weird to say I’ve been missing the disco routines? They’re just a lot of fun, with lots of awesome tricks, and bouncy music, and good times. Oh. Huhn. I’m sort of surprised they didn’t make more of reunion of ubercouple Melanie and Marko! When Katee and Joshua danced together in their finale, you’d have thought the sun was shining just for them. But perhaps that’s because the producers knew what was coming, what with watching rehearsals of it all day. Perhaps that’s also why M&M’ve gone first – so we’ll forget what they did.
Yeah. That’s right. I’m saying it. Marko and Melanie are – kind of not good. This reminds me of their tango, the first week that the contestants had to do two routines a show; I remember watching them, dumbfounded, thinking well, I guess they can’t do everything after all. It’s not that the tango was bad; it just wasn’t superb, which is what we’d come to expect from Marko and Melanie. And the disco? It’s genuinely not cool. They’re slow. The transitions are awful. They look lost. And the lifts – ugh. They just don’t have that disco height. Melanie has beautiful position in the air, and Marko has great verve (and I love his white vest over the pink shirt) but all in all, it’s just not polished or, frankly, performance ready. The song doesn’t help, and it’s Donna Summers, so you think it would, but “I Feel Love” is just not that fun, not in the 12″ version, anyway. Kenny Ortega and Katie Holmes begin their time as judges by not judging this particular performance, instead being generally complimentary to Marko and Melanie. Mary Murphy will not mince words, blessedly. That was not good. You slipped in and out of the style, and you missed a bunch of hand grabs. Nigel gets his Simon Cowell on too. He expected better. Doriana’s awesome, but you guys were clearly uncomfortable with the style. He does praise Marko for saving a lift which seemed, in the middle, as if it was going to be a total failure. So at least there’s that.
You attacked that full force, Cat cheerleads. Marko and Melanie don’t look as distressed as you might expect; I’m sure they knew how it was. You can do learn that many new styles in a week (honestly how well can you learn one in a week?) and not have some of them suffer.
Next up – be still my heart! – Sasha dancing with All Star Mark! I’m even more thrilled to find that it’s a Sonya Tayeh jazz routine. Of course it is! The piece is her ode to Sasha (aw!) and the way Sasha overcomes the obstacles in her life (again with these mysterious obstacles! anyone else curious?) with grace and strength and integrity. Mark represents the obstacles. Sasha tears up in rehearsal talking about it.
When the piece begins – set to Deadmus’s “Raise Your Weapons” – Mark’s pushing down on Sasha’s head. And wow, the creepy evil look on his face! He makes me think somehow of a Chinese lion, or a Balinesian mask – he’s got this wide eyed demonic thing going on. Also, he is huge. He is so much bigger than he was when he was on the show, and we get to see every rippling inch of his chest and arms. He’s got these crazy dark pants on with odd gray flaps sewn to them, and Sasha’s in hot pants and bikini top with some silver mesh from her neck to her ribs which looks a bit like chain mail. And if that’s the intention, I love it. Because Sasha, she is glorious in the struggle. Mark pulls, she pushes. She throws a spectacular leaping punch that’s just magically athletic. He picks her up, and she does this scissoring move to swings around, crossing her legs around his neck, then sliding down so her hands are on the ground. Then he drives her like a wheelbarrow across the stage, and every movement of her fingers against the floor just knocks me over. In the end, she knocks Mark over. It’s wicked.
Cat of course brings up the warrior princess epithet before kissing evil Mark on the cheek. Katie Holmes praises Sasha’s strength in being a strong woman. No, I’m not kidding. Mary tells her she couldn’t look better, and that she’s a champion and a star. Word. Nigel loves her for fighting to the end, and say she’s thrown down the gauntlet and slapped
Melanie her competition with it. He also refers to Mark as Lady Gaga’s principal dancer, which I adore because it makes it all sound like Gaga’s ballet company. Kenny praises Sonya for being so considerate of her dancers, for setting them up to look so good. (Which, okay, I guess in terms of what we’re going to see tonight that’s clearly not always the case, so I guess I take his point.) Sonya tears up. Sasha’s a victor – even with an injury. Good Lord, she’s injured? Seriously, that woman is made of steel.
Looks like Lil’C did get to bring a krump routine to the finale – but for Joshua and Tadd, not for Sasha. What can you do? They’ve got to do something to make the finalists look good, and this is set up to do just that. The song is “Hustle Hard” by Ace Hood, and both guys are shirtless, wearing puffy vests and dark pants and red sneakers. There’s a ton of unison work, which is not brilliantly precise but is definitely fun. I can’t help watching the two – who are stylistically very different – and trying to figure out who’s hitting harder or bringing more swag to it. The lead shifts. The best part is when they’re both down on the floor, practically on their bellies but still popping up and down in unison. Very cool, that, but I don’t know that it’s exciting or particularly memorable.
Mary calls them two sweetpies. Nigel – trying to out-C Lil’C – says “Lil’C delivered Terpsichorean magic of magnificent magnitude.” Is it cute or silly? I dunno. Yay for SAT words! But are they really big enough, that’s the true question. Anyway. He thought the piece got down and dirty when the dancers were on their knees (my point exactly) but he thinks Tadd is too sweet to pull it off. It’s not as strong as he’d have liked. Kenny Ortega wants the red sneakers, which Cat calls “Dorothy in the Hood.” Nice. He blathers about great All Star pairings and someone named Ashley (presumably Allison) and calls Tadd and Joshua a perfect pair. Katie Holmes wants the shoes. Shoes, no shoes, swag, no swag – Tadd’s just happy to be here.
After the break, Melanie gets Robert as her All Star, and Stacey Tookey to show her off to best advantage. Stacey’s conceit; Melanie’s in love with Robert, who is indifferent to her, and she has to finally give up on her unrequited love in order to save herself. That’s very Stacey. Sounds good!
And, of course, it’s lovely and lyrical. She’s in a gray halter dress with a sheer skirt, he’s in dark pants and a white open shirt (though a regular oxford, not a gauzy poet shirt). She spends a lot of lifts wrapped around him, which is striking. I adore the unison leaps they do, side by side, and I love hearing Sinead O’Connor’s take on the Elton John classic “Sacrifice.” Really, I thought this was gorgeous. The song helps a lot, actually – it made you really think about the words that you might not even hear anymore because the Elton John original is so familiar – but the movement is truly lovely. It’s earned. And yet I can’t give full marks, because I didn’t see what I was promised. I see a break up. I don’t see unrequited love. It’s entirely possible that this is Stacy’s fault rather than the dancers’, but I saw no turning away on Robert’s part. I didn’t see him being uninterested. Sure, he did a few twirls on his own, but that just didn’t cut it. He sought her, cradled her body to him, gently running his hands up her back. Didn’t seem indifferent to me, and that can’t be so very hard to show, can it? I saw Melanie’s hurt, but I don’t know that I felt her heart being broken.
The judges, however, go wild. Nigel loves Stacey’s beautiful work and talks up her Emmy nod. You just slapped Sasha back with that gauntlet. (“Pistols at dawn,” Cat chimes in. Awesome.) Kenny goes on again about the All Stars (singling out Kent in “Fool of Me” from last week) and wants to leapfrog to the front of the line of folks eager to hire Melanie. Well, you did just announce that [vile and misbegotten] Dirty Dancing remake, Cat notes. Might there be a part for this elfin beauty in it? I was hoping you’d ask for a part for yourself, Cat, Kenny smiles. “Nobody puts me in a corner,” Cat shoots him down, and damn it, can you even imagine what her Emmy reel would look like? She’s the bomb. Anyway. Kenny says there’s absolutely room for Melanie in his movie, which sends both Melanie and her “agent” Cat over the moon. Katie Holmes cannot compete and doesn’t really try. Mary competes by bringing the crazy instead of a possible paycheck; you must have looked like Yogi Bear when he found the pickanick basket when you found out you had Stacey, she goofs. Um, okay. Melanie giggles and scrunches up her cute little nose and cries. The people and the opportunity and chance to learn have been overwhelming.
Speaking of learning opportunities, the powers that be seem to have realized that we haven’t seen a lot of Broadway from Sasha or Marko. So that’s what the formerly fabulous and now inconsistent Spencer Liff is going to give them! Marko’s a waiter, and Sasha’s the sophisticated lady who thinks he’s a tasty treat. She’s an elegant vamp in a long, sparkly purple dress, and he’s goofy and adorable with glasses and Justin Bieberized hair. The dancing’s fun – they leap over tables, do flips, slink on top of chairs, and tear the heck up of the stage. And they do it all to Ella Fitzgerald’s version of “Whatever Lola Wants” which of course is the classic from Damn Yankees. (Liff loves to do this, recontextualize untouchable songs – remember the fight Nigel and Adam got into about his use of “Stay Cool” with Kathryn and Robert, and whether the music was too sacred to co-opt?) The thing is, they have less than no chemistry, which dampens my pleasure in their ably performed steps.
Kenny Ortega unleashes my favorite of his critiques: Sasha throws her entirety into what she does, and never leaves change. Outstanding. Also, Marko? Totally unrecognizable. So true. Katie compares Sasha to Cyd Charisse and says she liked when Marko jumped up. (He jumped up onto Sasha with his legs out, and then slipped down to land on his butt, one of the questionable comedy moments.) Mary loved the warrior turned vamp; somehow, while she’s talking, Marko makes these completely hilarious faces which transform him again. Now that, says Nigel, is what I wanted but didn’t get. There wasn’t enough character here. Someone howls like an ogre in the audience, perhaps ready to roast Nigel on a spit.
Cat’s done little sit down interviews with the finalists, and we get to see Melanie’s first. Standard questions follow. Melanie knows immediately what her favorite moment on the show was – constantly leaping into Neil’s arms in “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” And you fancied him, Cat, asks. Oh, of course she did. Um, is Melanie still with her long term boyfriend? Because that would be hard to explain, seriously. Panting over the hotness of another guy on national tv? Not that it isn’t adorable. I’m just saying, if they’re still together – well. Anyway. She was closest to Ricky, and so admired the way he hung on despite constant criticism from the judges, but he’s gone and so doesn’t count, so it’d be Marko. She doesn’t seem super enthusiastic about that, somehow. BUT. We do get to find out that the kiss was open mouthed (no tongue). Cat nearly collapses in giggly horror at the massive dose of TMI. She rebounds by making Melanie cry, bringing up her dead Dad and asking if she thinks he’d be proud of her now. “Of course, who wouldn’t be?”
Mel’s solo is to Peter Bradley Adams’ graceful instrumental “Song for Viola.” She dances in a shredded cream top and white boy shorts. I can’t help thinking about her Dad as she reaches to the heavens, aching. She does this fantastic slithery backbend which rolls over into a slow split. It’s all over too soon.
The second victim in the Cat bird seat (so to speak) is Marko. He can’t believe that, after years of watching the show online, he gets to be on it. It took him a while to trust himself, to find his voice without being intimidated by past contestants. His favorite routine was “Turn to Stone,” the first duet he ever performed on stage. Good choice, Marko! Cat talks about how honest he is with his emotions, how he speaks with his body. Maybe this is why he survived the robbery and gunshot wound – to show people watching that they can be survivors, too. To help them remember their reasons to live. He’s not going to waste any chances.
For his final solo, Marko’s picked Joshua Radin’s “Fear That You Won’t Fall,” one of my favorite songs. His graceful twisting is so light, so musical. His Dad has attended for the first time (possibly losing his job to do so). Aw!
Sasha and Tadd pick the next disastrously out of their comfort zone routine – the Chacha, choreographed by the adorable Mark Ballas of Dancing With the Stars. Hmmm. Has he been here before? He wants the routine to be sassy and hardhitting. That’s all.
And – er. Not good. I’m not a huge fan of Basement Jaxx’s “Raindrops,” and I’m not sure about those skinny pants on Tadd, but Sasha’s tight, sheer little leotard with the ruffle and fringed butt? The long sleeves? Crazy fierce. I’m not describing it well, but seriously, she looked awesome. And it was a good thing, too, because she needs to now. It’s hard to say whether it was worse than Melanie and Marko’s disco, but they just don’t have the style or the speed. It’s so wrong. The beginning wasn’t so bad – Tadd spanking Sasha was kind of funny – but there were serious transition issues.
Paula Abdul Katie Holmes thinks they look terrific. And that’s when you know there’s nothing good to say. Mary highlights their missed hand connections. Sasha did better, but Tadd was really struggling. Nigel agrees that Sasha was marginally better, but makes sure she knows it didn’t reflect well on her either. It was an unfortunate style to pull at the end, and uncomfortable to watch. “It’s really frickin’ tough,” Sasha tells Cat. Kenny Ortega – and I like him for this – dwells on how hard it is to do 4 routines and a solo with one week of practice and suggests that the routine was “too ambitious for tonight.” Then he gives them smart advice; forget everything we just said, head off to your next dances, and blow us away.
I’m fairly certain the only time we’ve seen choreographer Tessandra Chavez before is from a group routine – possible from last season – and this is quite a time to invited to the ball! She’s prepared a contemporary routine for Marko and All Star Lauren Froderman about a couple passionately in love who just can’t make it work. Perfect! The woman knows her tools. Marko gets to be anguished, which puts him right in his sweet spot. (Hey, I’m not making this up. He comes alive when he’s upset. Think the Moth routine, the devastated bridegroom one, Sonya’s piece about seeing your sings. It’s totally weird but totally true.) Lauren is crying even before the routine starts – which, actually, I guess is totally appropriate. She’s in maroon lingerie, and he’s wearing pirate pants. No, honest. I don’t get it either. Chavez serves up another dose of Me’shell Ndegeocello for us; this time it’s “Shirk” which works just as well as “Fool of Me” did for last week’s most pained routine. When it ends, the dancers are wrecked, and the choreographer weeps in the audience. The dancers flail a lot, but in a really good way, one that show how they’re flailing emotionally, looking for the way to stay together and just not finding it. There’s a breath-taking lift; Marko picks Lauren up, spins her in a circle holding her out from his body, lets her touch down, spins her up again, touch down, spin again. It’s extraordinary. At the end, the dancers just barely lose hold of each others hands.
What on earth, Mary Murphy! Marko has thrust greatness upon himself? Oh, I get the reference, but whatever. You lived every nuance of that routine, she tells him, and that I’ll agree with. The All Star routines really do seem to be going much better, don’t they? “I can feel you not wasting your chance,” she says. Aw! Now you’re in the fight, Nigel cheers. You can tell he’s pretty frustrated by the level of achievement thus far. The choreography was a gift, Kenny believes, and you and Lauren were made for each other. It is interesting, actually, how well Marko has worked with other people (Melanie, Allison, Caitlynn, Lauren). Katie loves the little picture he makes.
It’s time for Cat’s sit down with Tadd. He dreamt about being in the finale, but he’s a bit stunned to be there. His favorite routine was the Vulture dance; he was at his most uncomfortable on the “Meet the Top Twenty” show, fearing he couldn’t cut it. Cat brings up The Official “Keep Your Shirt Off, Tadd!” website. Get out of town! But no. It’s real. Well, his abs are really impressive. I guess people want to see me naked, he shrugs coyly, forcing Cat to squeak about the difference between shirtless and naked. Tadd brings the Aw-factor when he says winning would be a way to pay his parents back for working so hard and always supporting (and believing in) his dreams. Aw! His solo – which brings a greater variety of tricks than usual, but still features fearlessness, comedy, and fantastic use of the stage – is to Jessie J’s “Mamma Knows Best.” And it shows me that I don’t hate everything Jessie J does. There’s a really funny bit where he pushes himself around the stage on his back, but he ends by leaping onto the stage steps and nearly falling off. You knew exactly what you were doing, Cat admonishes him. “That whole front row of girls turned to goo!”
Ray Leeper’s got an age old story for Tadd and Melanie – boy cheats on girl, girl catches him, girl gives him the business. He wants it to be sexy, naughty and dysfunctional. Um, sounds dysfunctional already if it’s going to be sexy.
Melanie waits, hand on her hip, in tight black pants, a bikini top and a tight leopard patterned bolero jacket, all black, all fierce. Tadd climbs down the lighting tower, trying to be cool in his gray wife beater tank, and she takes the fight to him right away. She flings one high heel at him, and them stomps furiously across the stage, tromping around before throwing the left shoe, too. And that’s about when she rips off his shirt. Ah, anything to keep the fans happy! And they might be even happier – she pulls off his (breakaway) pants, too, leaving him standing in boxers with big red hearts on them. And, er, sock garters. Cute.
The judges rejoice. Nigel loved Melanie’s character from the first moment. And I’d agree – here she wasn’t playing an emotion, she was playing an outsized character, and it was like nothing we’ve seen from her, and really fun. He also thinks that Tadd redeemed himself from the chacha of doom. Kenny loved the theater Melanie brings to everything she does, and praises Ray for perfectly using his dancers. “If you move in with a tiger,” Kenny adds, “you better be careful about leaving the cage.” Katie thought it was fun and different (sigh), and Mary thinks Tadd brought sexy back. Redemption is the best medicine, she quips, and then tells him to put some clothes on.
The finale Cat-seat interview is, of course, with Sasha. We get some love for Natalia and their shared experience. Her favorite moment of the season was receiving Lady Gaga’s shoe, but she’s got a few favorite routines, not just one. Well, mine was “Misty Blue,” Cat says without hesitation. Yeah, mine too. Sasha loved working with Twitch. She also really loved “Fool of Me” because it perfectly encapsulated her journey (gulp) and because it made Mary cry, and she’d never moved anyone to tears with her work before. (Um, I think Mary cried over “Coming Home” too, actually, but perhaps the point was that “Fool of Me” was personal to Sasha in a way “Coming Home” wasn’t.) When the interview’s over, Sasha asks Cat for a hug.
She’s picked Rachael Yamagata’s very pretty “Be Be Your Love” for her solo, and dressed in a rather atypical matching bottom and top of cream lace. She does this amazing collapsing backbend into the floor, and the ending is perfectly timed with the music. When Cat reads her numbers, Sasha’s lace gets caught on the glamazon’s beading.
Stacey Tookey is not done for the evening. The girls will finish with her, in a routine about two suppressed housewives from the 50s, trapped in the idea of perfection. Well, now that’s very unusual coming from the queen of the abusive love stories, and I approve of change like that. And right away, I know I approve of a lot. We can start with the costumes and the set; Sasha’s bold in sunset orange, and Melanie’s delicate in celery green, both damask patterns on simple a-line shapes, suggest the 50s and also the ballet at the same time. They sit on little corner benches tucked inside picket fences, which immediate suggest propriety and confinement more than perhaps anything else could have. I am blown away by this piece, and in an unexpected way it’s very personal. (No, no, it’s not a trapped housewife thing.) This piece of music – the Ahn Trio’s “Heart Asks Pleasure First” – comes from The Piano, which ties The Mission as my favorite instrumental score ever. Yes. You heard that right. I love it more than the score to Star Wars, or The Lord of the Rings, or pretty much any other iconic score you could name. I fell asleep to this album for years, and I danced to this song – this song in particular – alone in my room for even longer. And I’ve always felt this music in the context of the film; the piano, the rolling surf, the delicate nuance amidst the repetition.
So with that amazing sound swelling beneath the dance, it brought a strange new light to something I already love. I loved the dresses, I loved the picket fences, I loved the dancers support for each other, I loved their movement, I loved Sasha’s reaching fingers and Melanie’s hand clamped over her mouth. I loved watching Sasha carry Melanie down out of her box, and then Melanie returning the favor. I loved it. I loved it all.
The judges, giddy with relief at something going so right, fall over each other to express their joy. Two actresses who can dance, Kenny marvels. The prison of picket fences was so powerful, he wanted to leap onto the stage himself and break them free. Katie loved the clothes (sigh) but also thought it was a terrific exploration of women’s friendships. Well. The girl has a teeny bit to say! You are so loved and so amazing, Mary tells the dancers. She adored the musicality and the gorgeous movement. Nigel wants us to know that Melanie and Sasha held each other during the commercial, supporting each other, preparing together. Aw. It doesn’t matter who wins, he says, momentarily ignoring the massive quarter of a million dollar prize; any dance company in the country would be lucky to have you. And you should both definitely join companies. (Unless, you know, Melanie actually wants to finish school. Or go on tour with Lady Gaga. Or try to hold Kenny Ortega to his smooth Hollywood promise to cast her in Dirty Dancing: My Least Favorite Mistake.)
Finally, Tadd and Marko present this year’s alternative to Russian folk dance; gumboot stepping. Okay, I’ll bite. Chuck Maldonado tells us that this style hales from South Africa, and was created as a method of communication by gold miners. Cool! Not quite so cool are the literal costumes – bright blue uniforms with silver reflective tape. And helmets with headlamps. Tadd has a wheelbarrow. The music is Outkast’s “B.O.B.” It’s not as hard hitting as I wanted it to be, though it’s certainly fun. The best part was definitely Marko rolling over and out of the wheelbarrow. And they do look pretty fun slinging the pick axes around. “Oh, please let me be Snow White!” Cat coos, running over to hug them. Katie is so excited about their futures. Sigh. Mary gets a kick out of Marko’s light going out, and says they’re solid gold for her for sure. Nigel praises their great journey. The rhythm of stepping’s better with more people, he shrugs, and you were a little off. I’ve always thought a girl would win this season, and I still do. Will this have a reverse psychology effect, or is it a done deal? I’m curious. Either way, Nigel says, you should be proud. Kenny closes the judging by congratulating the contestants and wishing them good luck.
They’ve done all they can, Cat tells us. (Ah, but have they? Really?) Now it’s up to the viewers at home. “I’d like some diamonds, please,” she tells the boys, and off they go.
So, were you as underwhelmed as I was? Are you willing to cut the dancers some slack for it – was it the show’s fault for asking so much of them – or are you really disappointed? Also, if I’d said to you a month ago that Christina Applegate could critique circles around Katie Holmes, would have believed it? Will it be an all girl final two? Can any of the other three dancers possibly beat Melanie? Would it be a crime if they did? Results so soon, my friends. Now, let’s watch the fantastic gallery of the seasons best routines, and give a final hurrah to a summer of dance!