So You Think You Can Dance: Top Twenty Perform, Season 9

E: The first performance show of the season is usually a good one.  Most of dancers are performing in their own styles (well, usually one of the pair is, anyhow) and we get to meet the partnerships (eee!).  So I was expecting good things, especially after the two week break since the lovely “Meet the Top Twenty” episode. I don’t know about you, but I definitely feel like that was worth the wait.

We got a lot of talk from the judges (especially about National Dance Day and the new “two winner” concept, and how the judges will pick 2 guys and 2 girls to go home next week, putting into account two dances, the voting and even input from the choreographers) and a surprising lack of emphasis on the pairings, since we’re not going to be voting for pairs but for individuals. Interesting, interesting: I’m so curious how that’s going to turn out.  Will we just lose everyone who didn’t get screen time before?  Will it all be based on luck drawing exciting routines?   But mostly, we just got a lot of memorable dance routines.  Woot!

First off, we have to talk about that blazing Mad Men-styled group routine.  I’m just gaga about it.  We see Cyrus (I so want to call him Glitch) in a white shirt and skinny tie with Eliana (almost unrecognizable again with her hair up in a sleek bun) as his suited secretary.  In neat lines, there are ten desks on the stage, each one containing a boss and an assistant encased in a little rectangle of light.  It’s all very proscribed, and even though the composer (Kerry Muzzey’s “Architect of the Mind”) isn’t one I remember him using before, it’s very obviously a Christopher Scott piece.  I adore his group work without reservation, and I’ve never seen him do something this confined – they spend almost the entire time tied to the desks and the 60s era swivel chairs (gray metal with green leather on the seats and arms), which sets precisely the mood of constriction and frustration.   Just awesome.  Just awesome.

What else do you need to know at the top of the show?  Cat’s wearing a white mini-dress with a gold belt.  It’s sleeveless, and has a textured pattern of rectangles and squares (like an embossed monochromatic plaid, if that makes sense) worked into it; the whole thing has a 60s Gogo dancer vintage vibe to it, which is very appropriate considering the opening number.   Director Kenny Ortega rounds out the judging panel, presumably taking a break from directing Bunheads episodes.  Okay.  He’s very chatty and tends to be overly positive, perhaps, but he’s okay; at least he’s not lacking for relevant commentary.

The first of the new pairing boasts a shocking abundance of hotness; Witney and Chehon.  Good grief!  The sizzle!  The swagger!  I’m going to shield my eyes!  But here’s the question.  Do they sizzle together?  We get 9 seconds for them each to spit out some relevant facts about themselves, which include Witney’s ability to play the drums and the guitar (which offers a whole other level of insight into her – well picked, Wit!) and the surprising tidbit that Chehon was born in Chicago before moving to Switzerland.  Dual citizenship, cool.  They’re performing a Louis Van Amstel samba for us, and while the choreographer/Dancing With The Stars pro swoons over the wonderful Witney, long lost Louis’s a bit worried about Chehon’s ballet dancer hips and their inability to swivel properly for ballroom.  Chehon’s worried that he won’t be able to carry off the dance and look pretty at the same time.  Er, okay.  Not that this isn’t an actual concern, but it’s unusual to hear one of the men acknowledge it.  (No. I used the word pretty, he did.)

You definitely need to shield your eyes from Witney’s sparkly pink ballroom bikini with fringed skirt.  Chehon’s got on tight black pants, a short sleeved white button down open to show his glistening chest, and a tall pompadour.   He’s tan and has this ridiculous hard body; she’s pale and soft.  Their sexiness stands in opposition of type, which is cool. He’s also a lot taller than her than I would have thought (even without taking into consideration the heels he’s got to be wearing.)   They whip and spin around to “Jump” by the Cube Guys and Lucinana.  She’s blinding, she’s so fast, and at every turn, she whips out an equally blinding, knowing smile.  He’s there for her, but yeah, you can see his hips are still stiff.  Shame, that.  His posture’s great, though.  I think my favorite part is when she shimmies wildly up against him, lip synching “came here to party.”  Cute.

Nigel’s thrilled to have Louis back.  Witney’s a star (duh) but Chehon is overcompensating with his turn out (whatever you say) and needs to give into the music.  Mary loves the routine, and thinks that while Chehon had issues with his foot placement, his body was good.  Let me say it again – duh.  Kenny Ortega starts off comparing Witney to Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot, which is a mind-blowing compliment until he spoils it with hyperbole; some like it hotter, he quips, claiming the 18 year old is sexier than Marilyn.  Don’t go there, dude, okay?  No one can take you seriously when you’re that far overboard.  None of the judges address the real question.  Are Witney and Chehon hot together?  Are they more than the sum of their parts?  For me the jury’s still out.

The next new couple is – ta da! – jazz dancer Tiffany and contemporary specialist George!  Hilariously, George introduces himself in his 9 seconds by saying “I’m George Lawrence the Second.  My father is George Lawrence the First” to which the little ticker on the side notes “hence the second.”  Ha.  Love you, snarky editor.  Tiffany’s last name is Maher and her friends call her T-Maher-Star (okay).  And she has hands like a baby.  Since we know virtually nothing about Tiffany other than the fact that she looks a ton like Audrey Case, this is important information.  Also, I’m in awe of her abs. We hardly get to see the pair interact, but we do get to see Sonya Tayeh (yes!  that’s two for two, Tiffany – she must like you, and that kind of makes me like you)  explain they’ll be dancing a love story.  Yawn!  It’s one of those amazing moments when you just melt into another person, Sonya explains, when you are certain you really see each other for who you are.  Sure, whatever.  But they need to be light and fluid, Sonya warns, and not choppy because they aren’t used to each other.  The Second wears beige sleeping pants; T-Maher-Star’s in a white lace teddy with a halter neck, bare back, and a ruffle up the front.

Holy heck are they not choppy!  Immediately I love the soft, sweet music, which is about as far from Steed Lord as you can get – Sleeping at Last’s “Turning Page.”  I am valiantly trying not to care that it’s from the Breaking Dawn soundtrack, but I’m definitely not yawning anymore.  “Nothing prepared me for/the privilege of being yours,” the singer coos as Tiffany falls into a deep back bend.  She seems to float up into the air to wrap herself around George’s side.  There’s a lengthy assisted hand stand, and a stunning spin where both dancers extend a leg before falling apart.  The lifts are effortless, the movement continuous.  It’s beautifully evocative of first love.  “Your love is my turning page/where only the sweetest words remain.”  Aw.  George runs over to stand in front of Tiffany, to perform for her. “I surrender who I’ve been to who you are.”  Within the next phrase, they’ve reversed positions; he sits, stunned to see her reveal herself to him. “Nothing makes me stronger/than your fragile heart.”

Oh!  I just love it.  I can’t stop watching this routine, seriously.  Sonya’s beside herself. Mary’s breathless with it, praising the dancers’ ability to live in the moment (take that, Chehon).  You layed your soul out there, she tells George, and then comments on Tiffany’s leap to his side, the one that looks like she was levitating.  Kenny loves their generosity, and says it takes him back to the pain and glory, the exquisite emotion of youth.  You spilled it, he says, and Cat takes up the baton; “all over the place” she smiles. Nigel praises Sonya’s soft, romantic period and speculates that she might have found love in her personal life.  You’re a wonderful couple, he tells them; you’re both small, but you dance right out to your fingertips.  True that.  The dancers beam adorably.

Most years you can see how carefully the producers partner the dancers.  You can see they pair for height, obviously, and racial diversity, and age.  Often a dancer with lots of screen time – but less technical experience – is paired with a technically proficient contemporary dancer unknown to the voting public.  This way, everyone wins; the street dancer (that’s what they usually are) gets someone who can help them through, and the lesser known dancer gets help.  It’s nice. Witness, for example, the partnership amazing b-boy Philip Chebeeb and eventual season five winner Jeanine Mason.

Now, this paradigm doesn’t quite explain the pairing of Janaya and Brandon; yes, he’s a stepper (street dancer) and she’s a well trained contemporary dancer, but had we ever heard of either one before the “Meet the Top Twenty” episode?  Sadly, no.  Their 9 second bios don’t help much, either.  She doesn’t like to eat orange candy (“then don’t” snarks the comment editor) and looks a lot like HGTV host Sabrina Soto (I’m noting that, she doesn’t mention) and he’s allergic to pets and has horrible taste in hats (again, that last bit’s me).  They’ve got a Nappy Tabs hip hop routine, and woah!  Tabitha’s pregnant!  Of course she’s the type of pregnant woman who’s still perfectly thin and in shape, with a perfect round basketball of a belly.  How adorable is that?  Is she due during the run of the show?  I would love to see their baby!

Ahem.  Anyway.  Cute as they are, I had to roll my eyes when Napoleon explained that the routine would be about Brandon struggling with addiction, and then handed him a bottle.  Their reliance on props can be a little tiresome, and I was afraid this bottle and paper bag would sink the routine for me.  But not so.  I like “Take Care” by Drake and Rihanna,  which was a good start.  Janaya’s wearing jeans and a dark blue shredded top, and they’ve got Brandon wearing jeans and a wife beater, and sitting on a chair.  Nice.  The dance moves from the two fighting over the bottle to really good unison work; I like that. In the end, Janaya backs away, making him choose her or the bottle; after a beat, Brandon kicks the bottle away and wraps her in his arms.  Brandon, who’s powerful and hard hitting and conveys a good sense of character, outshines the technically proficient Janaya, who doesn’t really manage to project her emotions on the same level.  It’s a good enough piece, certainly not a disaster, but it doesn’t shine.

Always thinking with his director’s hat, Kenny Ortega praises the story telling. It felt like there were words.  The far less dewy Nigel declares that the choreographers “didn’t expose you” – which, ouch!  Basically, his critique is that NappyTabs gave a smooth, lyrical piece so that Janaya didn’t have to hit hard, and that she needs to lower her center and get down and dirty.  It sounds like jargon, but I see his point.  Mary agrees as well, saying Janaya wasn’t gritty enough, but notes that the piece was clean and well executed.  As she’s praising Brandon’s character work, Nigel throws a bucket of water on the proceedings, saying that the standard on the show is just too high for what they did.


The next new partnership is sometimes emotionless contemporary dancer Alexa and Aussie ballet dancer Daniel.  And, hmm.  I don’t know why, but this sits weirdly with me.  Maybe it’s because they’re the same height, or they’re both blonds, or because he’s not addicted to the 80s like she is, but something about it feels odd.  She tells us that she likes red lipstick (duh) and puppies, and he gives us a cliched rundown of Australian things like shrimp on the barbie and boomerangs and a pet kangaroo which seriously has to be snark and – wait, is he really related to Crocodile Dundee?  Crazytown.   Anyway.  Is it wrong that I would find that claim much more interesting if he made it up?

The two have a Sean Cheesman jazz routine (because for contemporary and ballet, jazz makes sense?) which is promised to be tricky and athletic.  Alexa gets dropped on her head a lot in rehearsal. A lot.   When the music ( “Hey Hey” by Dennis Ferrer)begins the two are on a scaffolding, wearing shiny red suits.  Or at least, Daniel’s in a three piece red suit with a black tie and bare feet, and Alexa’s wearing a ruffly suit facsimile made out of shiny lyrca.  It’s ghastly and unflattering for both, especially Daniel, whose face turns a clashing shade of red as the dance goes on.  Unspeakable, really.

I have a general problem with Cheesman, which is that his routines don’t involve a lot of actual partnering, and indeed, the two roll around a lot and dance side by side (once crawling on their backs across the floor side by side) but have no personal interaction.  And there’s a wind machine whipping Alexa’s hair as much as her movements are, so she’s just got a blond curtain covering her face the entire time.  The piece itself is serious dance, constant running around, very athletic and cat-like.  They twist and contort and roll in the scaffold, clamber down, run all around the stage and climb back up.  At the end, they slide their faces up a bar, and Daniel particularly looks like a wonderfully devilish prankster.  And yes, you can see the flirty aspect, or the intention for that, but it’s sort of hard for it to come all the way through when they don’t even get a chance to look at each other.  Very well danced, though.

So.  Nigel’s careful to admire how technically demanding Cheesman’s work is before he says they didn’t take time to interact; Daniel and Alexa will be blamed for it, but he’s implicitly acknowledging that it’s not all their fault.  And it isn’t – I find this choreographer very much hit or miss that way.  It’s such a shame; poor Alexa was so emotive on the last show!  She just can’t win.  I’d hate to see either of them go home (especially him), and the whole thing’s making me worry, especially with four dancers going home next week.  It’s not good when Nigel thinks your dancing is insincere.

On the other hand, Mary thinks they’re so exciting and red hot.  I’m glad someone liked the color choice, anyway.  And she was pleased to see Daniel being so puckish, enjoying himself.  Kenny thought it was a risky, demanding routine.  We end with his damning note that it was great exercise but didn’t take him on an emotional journey.


The next potential punching bags of the evening are contemporary cutie Amber and weepy ballroom dancer Nick.  Interesting, this pairing, mostly because she looks older (especially from a distance) and also because they got very little screen time in the audition rounds.  They were around, but not named.  She’s a jock, it turns out, she uses stuffed animals to ward off her fear of the dark, and she likes bunnies.  What’s with the fluffy animal thing?  He likes the movies, his friends (one would hope!) and generally sounds like he’s putting up a dating profile until he mentions that his father works at the playboy mansion. (“Niice,” the snarky screen editor comments.)  I don’t think that’d be a selling point on a dating website, but it’s definitely a conversation starter.

Anyway.  They have a Jason Gilkinson waltz, and damn, Jason’s decided to give Nick some tough love and rips him into teeny tiny pieces in rehearsal.  Gosh.  Jason always seems so cheery and mellow!  I was surprised, I’ll say that much.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who feared Nick would cry again.  It’s a double edged sword to get your own style, Jason observes, because expectations are so high.  The package ignores Amber’s dancing completely.

When Cat stars them off, the two have already begun a spin along with Tina Arena’s “Nights in White Satin.”  Nick’s wearing slim black pants and a black button down and tie, and Amber’s in graceful flowing white and gray.  She’s also ridiculously cut, and ridiculously fluid; I was mesmerized by her.  I mean, I know in ballroom the guys often fade to the background (unless they’re Pasha), but I thought Nick wasn’t quite as good as his partner at finishing his motions all the way out, as Nigel likes to say.  But that sounds harsher than I want it to; the waltz was very pretty, very smooth, and built to a nice crescendo.  There were lots of spins and lifts, and it all looked effortless except one lift where Nick swung Amber from one side of his body over to the other, the way I’d do with my kids.  That bit was gorgeous until the end where I thought he stumbled a bit – not that I blame him; I can’t pull that off once my kids pass the age of 5, let alone a full grown adult.

None of the judges remarked on that, though.  Mary thought it was dreamy and floaty with melting transitions.  Fantastic extensions!  Amber pulled it off.  Kenny Ortega alliterates: it was fluid, flowing, and beautifully designed for the camera.  It’s as if the steady cam operator was the third partner in the dance!  Cat gives a shout out to John (the guy from the auditions, right?) which makes me love her more than ever. Nigel’s stunned at Jason for barking, and then name checks the odious woman from that Dance Moms show – who (even grosser) turns out to be in the audience.  Yuck.  What was the point of that?  I know we love the whole cross-TV dance solidarity thing, but really.  I thought that show was more about behaving badly and societally sanctioned child abuse.  Anyway, he says the tactic brought out the best in Nick, but wonders if a waltz is memorable enough to get voters to call in.  Heavens knows that neither Amber nor Nick’s had a chance to build up a fan base (again, this feels like a cannon fodder pairing, which kind of sucks) so they could have used something memorable.

In a more traditional partnership, we have super tall Will and surprisingly tall Amelia. They’re both contemporary dancers, but it becomes pretty clear that he’s almost the only guy tall enough to dance with her.  How did I not notice this before?  Amelia knows how to put together a string of interesting personal tidbits; in addition to being a retro queen, she has a tattoo artist father (but no tattoos herself), a pilates instructor mom, and was named after Amelia Earhart.  Will likes the color orange and thinks he’s Simba the lion king/cub in human form and hyperventilates “um” for maybe 6 of the seconds.  He’s also adorable; his round face and round eyes and good nature reminds me of our family friend JB (who also happens to be a terrific dancer) and also Fringe star Joshua Jackson.  And, what do you do with two contemporary dancers?  Hip hop, of course!  Back to Nappy Tabs.  Um, okay. I’m happy to see that cute belly again, anyway.

Oh, I know.  I’m a dork. I’ve accepted this.

Their plan for the routine is simple – it’s a “character pop.”  Amelia’s a high class kitty out on the prowl who finds love – or something – with alley cat Will.  And the purrsuit begins, Napoleon purrs.  Ha ha.  He’s good at it.  Amelia notes that, like Baby in Dirty Dancing, Will can’t help giggling after a few seconds of sexy face time.  Maybe I’m weird, but it makes me like him.  Can he take himself seriously enough to pull the routine off?  “Put your paws together for Amelia and Will,” Cat laughs.  And we do.

From the first notes of The Cure’s “Lovecats,” they have me; I adore the song, which is sexy but also spritely and playful.  Will reads a newspaper while lounging in a rather capacious dumpster (as alley cats do), until Amelia oozes around the corner.  He’s got on a slouchy jacket with leopard print sleeves; she’s wearing boots above her knee, black stockings with the control top showing under a belted leopard print leotard and bolero jacket, and sends one sexy black leather boot around the corner first.  The two prance, caper and pounce, and it’s all very feline and not as skanky as it might have been because it’s all presented with such exuberant good cheer.  Particularly, we see a great deal of Amelia’s backside.  One of the more spectacular moves involves her in a backbend, him playing guitar with her leg (a Nappy Tabs tell) and then swinging her around until she lands on the floor in a split.  Crazypants.  I mean, seriously. That walkover split is amazeballs.

They do a lot of synchronized work, and while I wouldn’t exactly consider it hip hop, there’s hip hop vocabulary to it.  It’s not just that they aren’t hitting it hard, it’s – I don’t know, it’s all just something else, like Broadway with some hip hop vocabulary, and I love it, and I hope the judges aren’t going to hold that against them!  The crowd is going nuts, and never more than when Will bends over Amelia (her butt once more wiggling in the air) grabs one of her legs, bends it around his neck and swings her up onto his shoulder. It’s completely spectacular.  Damn, but I wish I could do stuff like that!  This whole routine made me want to dance – but then that song always has.  Will walks over, deposits Amelia in the dumpster and hops in to join her, making a “alright!” face and showing off before Amelia yanks him down out of our sight.

So stinking cute I can’t stand it.

Oh!  And even better?  Cat coos delightedly that she hasn’t heard The Cure in ages, and she’s now going to call Will Top Cat.  I love Top Cat!  It’s perfect.  You know, with the newspaper and the alley?  She’s the bomb.

Kenny enthuses about the routine, calling it fun and charming and saying if we had a kitty like Amelia we’d play with her all day.  Um, ew?  He found it a great mash up of styles.  I like that designation!  Good.  Nigel wants to call them Cat and the Smitten Kittens (“our group name in case this doesn’t work out,” Cat quips) and remarks that it’s not hip hop, but who cares?  This is a great partnership with great personality; I agree, although I was worried about Will after the last show, what with the jiggling and Nigel wanting more from him and the fact we’d never heard of him.  This is the kind of place where the thought that goes into pairing the dancers has really paid off.  Mary can’t help calling them purrfect, calling Amelia a quirky little vixen, and saying that the routine just makes you happy.  Yes it does.  This song always has, and the way they danced it?  It makes me want to dance myself.  I can’t stop watching this one, either.

Also, I’m loving the sign in the audience (made by someone creative and also clearly in the know about who was put with whom) which refers to the pair as Snow White and Prince Charming.  Amelia totally has that look! I love it.  And I like that her persona is pliable enough to be both Snow White and a quirky little vixen.  That’s a nice gamut.

Hey, we finally get to see injury prone belly dancer Janelle!  Excellent.  She’s paired with contemporary dancer Dareian – short cutie with the bad feet – and even though I kind of wanted him for Audrey, I think this is a nice fit even if it features two of the best known contestants.  Still lots of pocket sized cuteness.  Janelle, whose eyes are so enormous she could be an anime character, likes cooking (she’s Middle Eastern; of course she does! feeding people is what we’re about), the color purple (hey, me too!), belly dancing and her middle name; Dareian hates hockey and spiders.  The rehearsal package makes a lot of how easily hurt she is; you can tell they’re never going to get tired of the clip where she smacked her head into the wall.  And Dareian, during their Sean Cheesman African Jazz routine, definitely has the chance to smack her head into the floor.  (Sean, seriously, what’s your damage?)

It’s a fast and athletic piece, but unlike Cheesman’s earlier one, there’s a real sense of joy to it.  I love the painted tattoos on the dancer’s bodies, and their shredded costumes – somehow it gives a southeast Asian feel to it, like we’re on an island somewhere as much we’re in Africa. Perhaps because the support team has Janelle’s thick, curly black hair standing back from her face (tricky since it’s still down and wild), we can see her avid expression.  Both dancers have feral grins on their faces, and in the opening moments of the piece, they look at each other in synch to the music, which establishes the sense of connection that Cheesman’s previous piece lacked.  There’s a feeling of belly dancing throughout, too – lots of stomping and shaking and fun. Janelle also gets dragged around the floor a lot.  The music – “Jungle” by Hilight Tribe – is just what you’d expect.  It’s hard to listen to without moving along. This is another piece that makes you want to get up and dance for the thrill and exercise of it.

Cat brings the two tiny dancers over for judging; neither of them comes higher than her shoulders. Nigel takes the time to laud Dareian for his pirouettes during the group number (the one true solo moment of the piece) before gushing about how exciting and breathless it all was.  If you survive rehearsals, he tells Janelle, you could do well.  Right.  Mary affirms this assessment; they’re both winners, but Janelle does everything well.  (Er, okay.)  Perhaps feeling guilty for his cold response to the first jazz piece, Kenny Ortega enthuses about Sean (who’s in the audience wearing a very snazzy stripped jacket) and the cross-cultural feel of the piece.  (Ha, it wasn’t just me.)  The dancers, he says, looked like flames dancing across the stage.  Okay, I’ll buy that.

Now the next pairing is another serious power couple; Cyrus and Eliana!  Woah.  That’s nuts.  This fits the classic mold – racially diverse, a technician and a street dancer – except that they’ve both got huge amounts of screen time.  And, as Eliana notes, Cyrus is tall and strong enough to lift her!  He flashes his guns (huh, hadn’t seen those before – hello!) and his thousand watt smile.  (Believe me when I say that this did not look cocky or off putting, just adorable.)  I thought Chehon and Daniel did just fine in Richardson’s piece, but perhaps she feels self conscious about being strong and on the taller side?  She definitely isn’t a typical ballet waif.  She also loves True Blood, hates raisins and adores the word Alfred.  Er… Cyrus, on the other hand, reaffirms his nickname is Glitch, and lets us know he’s a Pisces who likes shoes and basketball.

And because it makes all the sense in the world, the powers that be have assigned them Broadway.  Tyce decides to embrace the oddness of this, writing ballet/Broadway/animation on a large blackboard.  They’re going to be doing a piece inspired by the show Hairspray, and Tyce is scared out of his mind, because Cyrus has never done choreography before.  Except, you know, all through Vegas week and 3 separates times for the previous show.  And then there’s this week’s group number, too.  Stop being a drama queen, Tyce!  You don’t have to exaggerate anything; we know Cyrus has no formal training.  Tyce’s as worried as he’s ever been.

Cyrus’s sports red pants with a black shirt and bow tie for the piece, which may or may not have something to do with a classroom since the blackboard has appeared on stage.  Her hair still slicked back in a beehive-inspired twist, Eliana has on a flirty skirt, a bright red belt, a black and white polka dot spaghetti strap top and matching knee pads. They’re grooving to the original cast recording of “Run and Tell That” which basically uses a bunch of different metaphors to sell blackness. It’s all very joyful and upbeat. The dancing is high energy, but most of it (aside from the split lift and her walkovers) doesn’t look particularly difficult.  They run in place, Cyrus moon walks and does a few tricks, they dance together in unison, they use erasers on the floor, they spin the blackboard around, they bounce up and down; it’s not the kind of thing Sean Cheesman’s been doing, that’s for sure.  What sets them apart is the sheer joie de vie of the piece, their charisma, their energy level and the huge, blinding smiles they send out to the audience.  And the audience goes insane, absolutely insane, not least Tyce, who as Cat notes gets more excited than we’ve ever seen him. Proud, Tyce, or just helping to sell the routine?

It’s hardly necessary.  Hilariously, Mary tells them people are just going to google them up; at first, I think she’s misspoken until I realize what a perfect comment it really is.  I’m so going to use that.  She loves the life of it, and she loves that Eliana is a ballerina who gets down. Like the pole dancing didn’t tell us that already? But she’s quite right.  Then Mary takes a serious moment to tell Cyrus that winners are ordinary people with extraordinary hearts. Aw.  Not to question her sincerity, but you can sure see the narrative arc of this season coming a mile away.

Kenny Ortega (I don’t know why, but I love using his full name) wants Tyce to design an entire show around that number.  Fair enough.  You kicked it to the back wall, he says, and yep, they certainly did.  Wiping the smile off Cyrus’s face, Nigel tells the animator he’s not yet a great dancer, but he gives himself so utterly that he’s truly deserving of this journey to see whether he can become a great dancer.  Okay.  Very much on point.  Then he notes that the routine didn’t come close to showing off Eliana’s true brilliance and that she’s the benchmark for the other girls.  Wow.  Throughout the judging, the two dancers have been joyful and humble and utterly winning.

For the next pairing, cute little neck farter Audrey gets fellow contemporary dancer Ryan Gosling lookalike Matthew.  We find out that Audrey loves Taylor Lautner (sigh); Matthew (one of the least seen contestants) loves cats, hiking and has 6 tattoos.  Maybe we should do a tattoo watch?  Travis Wall has decided he’d like to put his own spin on the Titanic story – the movie version, that is.  He’s got an enormous fainting couch and a sketch of Audrey lounging on it, and like Sonya he’s cautious about whether new partnership can give the intense romantic connection he’s going for.

I know I can’t be the only one who expected “My Heart Will Go On,” but no, Matthew squats sketching to the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody.”  Fantastic, classic song and interesting choice.  I’m going to start by saying that the routine was incredibly sexy and passionate; from that first slow walk to the final pose, Audrey and Matthew brought some serious heat.  I can’t help thinking of Sonya’s condition for her own dancers, though, and her fear that their work might look choppy.  There are some points where, I admit, I found this routine choppy, but I think the issue isn’t in the dancers connection, but in Travis’s style.  He choreographs precisely to the music, fitting each movement to each flair or dip in the song, which I normally adore but which made things a little frenetic this time.  Audrey and Matthew live and breath the music, the swells and the breaks of it.  They cuddle, they embrace. Matthew lifts Audrey and tosses her back on the couch; he holds her and she kicks up as he swings her so her legs are higher that his head (a tremendous trick, but it also made it look a little like she was trying to get away from him).  She falls on top of him, and he holds her up in an echo of the iconic “King of the world” pose, which is pretty cute.  For the crescendo of the song (“Iiiii nee-ee-eed your love”) she launches herself off the arm of the couch, and she’s probably a good 6 feet in the air, easy, before she spins around and he catches her.

It’s seriously impressive, that.

So, to sum up my reaction; the fire was there, the dancing was amazing, and I’m perhaps less certain of how the music served the story.  There was more raw passion than there was tenderness, and of course that’s fine, too, if that’s what was intended.  Sonya’s instructions might be messing me up a little here as I search for Travis’s intentions.  I can’t quite decide (much as I really liked it) whether his style served his story.

The crowd has been whipped to an absolute frenzy. Everyone’s on their feet.  Kenny thought it was perfect, Nigel thought it was the best of the night (and adored the perfect fit of Travis’s choreography with every swoop of the music).  Mary thinks Travis has won the lottery, because Audrey was perfection and Matt showed a lovely vulnerability.  Cat wants the pair to know they can change history and that there’s enough room on the door for two.  Oh, Cat.

Who remains?  It’s Lindsay and Cole.  Nice!  That’s a potentially fun pairing – Latin ballroom and, er, martial arts?  Lindsay continues the arachnophobia trend by saying she hates spiders (but hey, she loves food so it’s all good); Cole’s a walking cliche because he’s a martial arts loving Asian who’s descended from the 47 Ronin Samurai.  Okay, that’s so cool.  They’ve drawn a very dramatic Jason Gilkinson paso doble, in which Lindsay is poison instead of a bull to Cole’s matador.  Okay, that could work.  Lindsay showed up to rehearsal with knee pads and fierce black leather boots, which impresses Jason enough for him not to rip Lindsay up the way he did Nick. Or maybe that was something else.

The piece  – set to E. S. Posthumous’s “Unstoppable” – begins with Lindsay parallel to the floor, wrapped around Cole’s middle.  Slowly, slowly she unfurls, and clamps her arms around his bare chest, rhythmically thumping it with one clench fist and – as directed – looking as if she were a vampire sucking on the edges of his neck.  He’s wearing black pants with a sort of high, cumberbund-like waist, and she’s got on a black skirt like a cape (open in the front) and snake-like bikini top and black and blue makeup around her eyes that narrows them.  It’s all super dramatic, and the fierce posture of the paso seems so natural to Cole, as if it were nothing, as if he did this every day.  There’s no point at which it seems (to the untrained eye) labored or inept.  They’re fast and fierce and hard and it’s wonderful. By the end, Lindsay seems to levitate over the ground in the final pose, the judges are standing, the audience is standing, and no one can think of enough ways to praise the piece.

Kenny thought it was mesmerizing, electrifying, as good a performance as any he’s seen on the show.  Mary goes further – she says it’s the best paso Jason’s choreographed for the show.  Nigel wants us all to know that Mary was wrong to ever suggest that Witney might be better than Lindsay.  ( I love how he made sure we all knew he wasn’t the one who thought that.)  For our benefit, Nigel asks Cole how much dance training he’s had (not much, which Nigel obviously knows well by now; mostly in jazz and hip hop, almost nothing in ballroom) and says it was the best paso they’ve have on the show.  Um, Nigel, you remember Pasha, right?  Jeanine and Brandon?  Oh, whatever.  They always do this.  I’m not saying it wasn’t terrific.  I’m just questioning the reach of the hype, that’s all.  He also thinks Jason could add this number to Burn the Floor and it would be a big hit.

So, to sum up.  “Love Cats” ruled for me, but I thought “Turning Page,” was lovely. The “Unstoppable” paso, and the Titanic piece were also special.  And the African jazz was pretty excellent as well; honestly, I don’t think there was a bad routine in the bunch.  And oh!  The opening number kicked ass.  From here, we’re going to end up with a bottom 6 based on next week’s routines, the voting and judges (and choreographers) opinions.  From this week, you have to think that things are looking bleak for Brandon and Janaya, and that Nick and Amber and Alexa and Daniel are in a bit of trouble as well.  Although since we’re not voting in pairs anymore, it could be Chehon who ends up in the bottom.  Hard to say, since next week’s taken into account, and things can vary incredibly in the opening weeks.  This going to be a brutal cut, since they’re taking away four of our dancers!  Bah.  Well, at least we’re getting  a decent look at everyone before they’re gone, and that’s what I like; give me as much dance as possible!

Till the next show, my friends (I promise I’ll be more timely with that recap).  In the meantime, let’s talk dance!

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