So You Think You Can Dance: Season 9 – NYC and Dallas Auditions

E: YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  They are back, baby!  Cat!  Nigel!  Mary Murphy!  And the most amazing, mindboggling, fantastic dancers.  Such good times.

Unlike American Idol, the audition rounds on So You Think You Can Dance have a really special charm.  First, they’re much better at not making fun of people; there are a lot more great auditions then there are awful ones.  Second, and most excitingly, we get to see a wider variety of great dancers than the ones who make it on the show.  The live performance rounds require a particular skill set; you need to be able to partner, do lifts, and be flexible enough to pick up lots of new styles.  Clearly, this tips the scales toward contemporary dancers.  But in the audition rounds, we get to see spectacular breaking, tapping, clogging, whaacking, you name it.  We get to see people who excel in their own genre, even if they don’t make it on to the live shows.  And I love that!  So while the auditions on American Idol are generally painful, these?  These pretty much rock.

Now, okay, granted, we didn’t see any clogging last night.  But did we have fun?  Did we see some really unique, personal performance styles?  Oh yes we did.  It’s the good stuff that interests me, and that’s mostly what we got.

New York, New York – it’s a helluvatown!  This really is the place where you go if you want to be a dancer.  If you’re looking for a ballet school, a Broadway show or a contemporary company, this is where it’s at.  This is where so much of the work is.  Sure, you might start your life in Wapakoneta, but if you want to dance, this is where you go.  The talent is fierce, you guys.  How adorable is it to see the delightful Cat Deeley in scarves and mittens, beckoning dancers into the Brooklyn Opera House for their shot at the big stage?  We get to meet a pastel of unnamed folks (boo! tell me their names! that’s such a pet peeve of mine) who live in the city and extol its virtues as the Mecca of dance.  And then we get to the real stuff.

First up in front of Nigel, Mary Murphy (eeeeeee!) and a surprisingly mellow Tyce DiOrio, the adorable Amelia Lowe, who wants you to love her flapper style and think of her as your own personal Berenice Bejo.  Nigel gets the editing staff to put most of the chatter with her in black and white, in reference to The Artist.  And Amelia is definitely cute. I think, but I’m not sure, she was dancing to French chanteuse Edith Piaf, which is kind of perfect.   Mary and Tyce think she’s everything.  I wouldn’t go that far (did anyone else feel she was trying too hard to be like last year’s adorable pixie champ, Melanie Moore?), but I do like her.  Clearly she’s one to watch.

Next up, Japanese hip hop/b boy fusion Toshihiko Nakazawa.  If you only saw the commercials, this is the guy with his hair dyed Ronald McDonald red, hopping around with his foot locked behind his neck.  My favorite part of his routine was (what I interpreted as) the humor, the moves reminiscent of Donald O’Connor in “Make ‘Em Laugh” flipping around as if he was struggling to get off the ground and couldn’t.  Very cool.  His English is limited, although it’s hard to tell if he’s playing that for laughs or not; he certainly got the room laughing, though whether it was with or at him, I can’t say.  He’s sent on to choreography, which is to say he was pretty terrific, but not jaw-droppingly awesome enough for the judges to send an untrained dancer straight on to Vegas.

Then we have a montage of awesome auditions.  A b-girl, a contemporary girl, two hip hop guys, all through, no names, nothing.  I hate that.  I think a few of them were shown in the opening montage of trash talking/bragging NYC dancers, too, and that – combined with the rareness of b girls in general – made me extra sorry not to have seen more of them or learned their names.

Our last audition of day one is Philly street dancer Shafeek Westbrook, who likes to perform in mustard colored pants.  He doesn’t bother with a shirt, because, well, look at him.  His arrogance has me prepared to dislike him, but I can’t; he is actually wonderful.  Preposterously strong, moves like silk, dances to classical music with bits of contemporary dance blended with the hip hop and street tricks, and he has a Mighty Mouse tattoo, which has to count for something, right?  Vegas is calling.

Past contestants Robert Roldan and Courtney Galliano display the choreography, and 10 people make it through, including a blond girl in a lacy blue top they’ve shown (and quoted) repeatedly.  Toshihiko unfortunately is not one of the successful ones; he doesn’t even perform, realizing midway through the practice he can’t manage the lifts.  There it is – the nature of a show that requires partnered dances.  I’m glad we got to see your moves, though, dude.

Day Two brings us weepy Leo Reyes and his dreadful family life, which the show plays full tilt.  There’s quite a lengthy segment about how his mom tried to kill herself, taking pills and leaving herself for Leo and his sister to find; I’m sure she’s battling depression, but on the whole the segment made me incredible angry that someone would do such a thing to their kids.  The poor boy clearly believes that he can give his mother a reason for living by being on the show, and that doesn’t just hurt my heart, it makes me livid.  He dances to what might be original music, it sounds so creepily on point about his situation, he’s lithe and quick and the crowd loves him, and Nigel hands him a ticket without a word.

Next up, Swiss ballet dancer/cool kid Chehon Wespi-Tschopp, looking to expand his repertoire like Alex Wong did.  He might turn out to be a little too cool for school, which could prove troublesome when he needs people to vote for him, but we’ll see; he does ballet with a contemporary twist, he’s really good (he’s working in a company, so he’d have to be, right?), and he’s ridiculously buff.  Mary cops a feel after handing him his ticket.

And wow.  That’s it for Day Two!  I could have stood to hear less about Mrs. Reyes and more about the other dancers who made it through – 38 altogether from NYC (yes, we met only 5 by name), 21 through choreography and 17 straight through – but okay.  That’s a respectable haul.

And it won’t be bettered by our next audition city – Dallas, Texas.  Um, okay.   I suppose after NYC and LA they have to go someplace, right?  And there’s a good ballet companyNigel and Mary are joined at the judges table by the verbose Lil’C.  First up, 29 year old Bree Hafen, who stays at home with five year old Luke and two year old Stella, and wonders if she’s worth the time away from her kids.  Is she talented enough?  Is it right to think of her talent and her passion if it takes her away from the kids, who she loves more than life?  Maybe it sounds a bit much, but I really like her.  And damn, but the woman has abs you could bounce quarters off.  She’s a rock.  And she’s wonderful.  Uncle Nigel has Luke and Stella sit in his chair during the audition; I bubble over with tears when he gives Luke a ticket for Mom.  Then Stella gets up and starts going through ballet positions and even trying to break dance, and damn, but she’s amazing!  Seriously, two year olds are normally not that coordinated.  It’s seriously impressive. C leans over to Mary, shaking his head. “This is the best show ever,” he sighs.

And – weirdly – we’re done with female contestants for the episode.  After two.  One from each city.  Weird, right?

Next up, we have The Exorcist and The Zombie.  Yep.  That’s right.

First, Stepheon “The Zombie” Stewart, 21, a tall guy with crazy eyes and flat ironed hair; he’s strong, slithery, and gives us some really nice locking and popping while rolling his eyes back in his head like a creepy doll.  He does this insane backward crab walk down the stairs, and finishes by crawling off the stage.  I don’t know what he can offer for a whole season, but the judges eat it up.  Lil’C particularly goes on a tear about how much he loves his job.  “Glory to God,” Stepheon says, pointing up, “but thank you.”  And he’s off to Vegas along with the sweet/strong housewife.

They’ve been showing promos for The Exorcist and The Zombie together, so I’m figuring that only one of them could be good.  And Hampton “The Exorcist” Williams clearly has the edge in crazy; he draws out your pain through you soul, the skinny dread-locked dude explains, to renew you.  O-kay.  As his routine starts, he’s half off stage, and I can’t help wondering if he’s trying to steal the soul from the curtains.  But it turns out I’m wrong – he’s actually pretty amazing.  It’s certainly on the emotional side – the music is Evanescence and he’s stabbing himself in the heart, crawling on the stage reaching desperately with his fingers – but wow, it really is good.  He gets a standing ovation from the judges and the audience, and there’s a great deal of crying (Mary, the audience) and swearing (the male judges).  Finally Nigel bleeps that doesn’t care if the other judges agree or if he has to pay the ticket himself – Hampton is going Vegas.  I don’t see him as an overall contender (again, the lifts) but I love that sometimes this decision is purely emotional.

And that’s it from day 1!  Well, not entirely.  We see a montage of three terrific contemporary dancers, and we’re told that 5 people get tickets right away (which means, oddly, that one of the contemporary dancers couldn’t have) and 5 more from choreography.  Not New York level numbers, but still more than we get to see.

Finally, Day 2 starts with another foreign born ballet dancer, Australian Daniel Baker who claims to have taken up dance solely so he could move to San Francisco.  This seems a circuitous route to me; surely there are easier ways to move there than to become good enough to get to the San Francisco ballet?  And now, like Chehon, Daniel’s willing to leave the city he loves for fresh challenges.  And if he has to do without his shirt, well, that’s just how it is.  He won’t hear a lot of complaints (though he endures some jealous ribbing from Nigel).  He’s super likable, really cute, and a terrific dancer – he does that thing ballet dancers do, the leaping run around the stage, and it just kills me.  I love love love that stuff.   Plus, when he says “ballet dancer” it sounds like “belly dancer” and let’s face it, he’s worth keeping around just for that.  I guess you can go to Vegas if you really want, Nigel sighs.  Love it.

Next up, a montage of 4 girls (one with curly blond hair who looks like last season’s Ryan Ramirez) who make it straight through without us learning their names.  Why can’t you put them on the bottom of the screen?  I’m reasonably certain they did that two years ago, and it was really helpful for folks like me who like to know.  People who make the live shows get stuck in montages like this!  This annoys me even more than usual based on what takes up most of the rest of our time in Dallas.

I feel like I need to comment on the next two unsuccessful auditions because of the way they were presented.  First up, Sam  of Lubbock, who looks to be one of those delusional skinny dudes (like the quivering fellow from New York I omitted) and I’m preparing to fast-forward through him when he explains that he’s autistic.  And then I get mad at myself and at the show for exploiting him.  However, I end up watching him dance, and he shows moments of real rhythm and grace even though he’s clearly not going to get a ticket.  Everyone wiggles their arms at him, making an ocean out of the theater, and I can’t decide if it’s despicable exploitation, or if it’s lovely.  It seems to be lovely for Sam, and maybe that’s what counts.

Clearly not lovely is a guy who appears at the end of an otherwise pleasant montage, hating on the show.  The guy in the gerbil suit, and yes, we don’t need to waste time with his name except perhaps to say that it’s something the English eat for breakfast, and that’s just what Nigel does.  We get extended bits of his interview with Cat, where we hear a retread of the New York Times critique of the show (too many tricks – which, seriously, a b boy is going to complain about that?).  She starts off as her pleasant self, gently pointing out the absurdity of knocking a show while trying to get on it.  And then suddenly he’s saying “I won’t cry if I get cut” and she tells him “good, because I guarantee that you will be” and that’s not like our friendly girl at all.  He continues to be an ass with the judges – calling out their positive treatment of Sam as an ill – and gets the boot from Nigel for not being able to back up his arrogance with fresh moves.  Nigel adds something about never letting him through “after what you said to Cat” and I can’t help thinking something ugly went on in that interview we didn’t see.

Anyway.  At least we end on a pleasant note: Jarell Rochelle, rhyming contemporary dancer in suspenders, plaid shorts and a polo shirt. He’s got a bit of a Tommy Hilfigger model look going with serious cheekbones and a sort of straight, noble air. Jarell too is dancing for his momma, who’s losing her eyesight.  Uncle Nigel – sensing an opportunity to appeal to our emotions – asks mom if she can see from the back of the theater.  Of course she can’t, so of course Nigel offers her his chair.  Such a gentleman, Nigel.  Jarell is pretty interesting; he mimes the emotional bits of his story.  He’s mostly contemporary, with quick quick light movements interspersed with locking.  He’s specific, which is great.  Lil’C falls over himself coming up with the right words of praise, but it’s Mrs. Rochelle who gets to hand her son the ticket, a nice bookend to shufflin’ Luke Hafen handing a ticket to his mom.  After Jarell, 7 dancers make it through choreography.

And that’s it!  I know I’ve been complaining that they didn’t give us everyone’s names, but generally I’m just so pleased and happy that the show’s back and we get to see some terrific dancing.  What do you think?  Who of these guys makes the top twenty?  Will they take both ballet dancers?  Can The Exorcist and The Zombie both make it through?  Is Amelia Lowe original or too derivative?  I can’t wait for the next episode to see who else we meet, and what they can do!

One comment on “So You Think You Can Dance: Season 9 – NYC and Dallas Auditions

  1. McKensie Callahan says:

    Yes! Amelia danced to “Non, je ne regrette rien,” by Edith Piaf. I knew the song sounded familiar but I couldn’t figure out where from and now I know!Thanks so much for the help!

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