So You Think You Can Dance: Top Twenty, Part 2

E: Man, that sucked.  Not the dancing, of course, but ouch was that a difficult evening!  Losing 4 dancers in one night’s no fun, no fun at all.

But let me not get ahead of myself.  There was a lot of good dancing to start us off, and a few stumbles from some of last week’s stand outs.  In fact, there was so much I almost don’t know how they got all this – 10 pair performances, 1 group number, a guest routine and various plugs for side projects – into the two hours.  No wonder we didn’t get solos from the 6 dancers in the bottom!  Let’s take a look.

In an ornate black mirror, we see Cyrus’s face. Slowly, slowly, he turns his head so that we see that the right side is painted like a grinning skull, to go along with the red half jacket he’s wearing.  In a forest of stunted trees studded with more ornate mirrors, the dancers thrash and stomp to Marilyn Manson’s raw, growly, surprisingly catchy “Beautiful People.”  The art direction’s got a real “Thriller” vibe to it – in fact I assume that’s what it was at first, but no.  The women are in red teddies or short dresses, and the men in full black bodysuits with glittery spangles on one side and silver half coats on the other.   Everything revolves around Cyrus – there’s a bit of ringmaster feel, as if it were a twisted Moulin Rouge.  Perhaps it’s the blond hair, but Daniel (low and powerful) stands out a lot to me here, as well as Cole; the women are harder to recognize, some with black lipstick and leaves instead of hair.  In the end they flash in a clump with Cyrus at the center, as if electricity pulsed out from him to them.   Nappy Tabs definitely has something new going on, because I wouldn’t have guessed that was their work.  I liked it, though.

The dancers come out for their little intros in pairs, an unusual move especially considering the de-emphasis on pairings.  To save time, I guess?  Tonight, Cat’s wearing a stunning red mini dress that fits her so perfectly it’s magical. Sleeveless with a high neck strung over a gold circlet, the dress has a slightly bloused top and a slightly ruched skirt.  Cat has her hair up with a corded golden headband, large gold earrings and fantastic gold shoes.  When she introduces guest judge Adam Shankman, he tells her she looks like a big sexy tomato.  Cause that’s a thing, right, sexy tomatoes?  “Take a bite, why don’t you?” she quips, and he pretends to run up to the stage.  Ha.  By the way, it turns out the post office is desperate enough to start issuing stamps inspired by National Dance Day.  They were very pretty, all things considered, but still.

So, check it out.  This is how the dances are chosen from here on.  Each pair picks a number from – well, in this case from 1-10, but as of next week it’ll be 1-8, and so on.  There’s a board with 10 (or next week, 8) styles written on it.  Each couple picks from the list in the order that they’ve randomly drawn, with couple #1 getting their pick of all 10 styles, and couple #10 stuck with whatever’s left. I don’t know how I feel about this; won’t it allow dancers to avoid the more difficult genres?  And isn’t getting those genres – being challenged – the point of the show?  Sigh.  I guess we’ll see.

Perhaps because they gave us such a rousing ending to last week’s show, the first pair up is Lindsay and Cole.  What they’ve picked is a Christopher Scott hip hop routine, in which Cole is a nerd and Lindsay is Jennifer Aniston as a Horrible Bosses style amorous and aggressive dentist.  Er, okay.  That’s sort of weird.  I wonder if it was the movie Horrible Bosses, or just the song “Teeth” by Lady Gaga, or merely a peculiar combination of the two that inspired this?  It amuses me that they had to make Cole a nerd, because otherwise what guy would resist being, um, importuned by their gorgeous dentist?  Whatevs.  Cole looks hilarious in highwaters, hipster nerd glasses, and a rainbow sweater with suspenders.  Lindsay’s got a little black dress on under her white coat, which she rips open pretty promptly.  Cole cowers, and Lindsay strong arms him, but even when she leaps up into the chair to cover his face with a gas mask, it doesn’t really come together for me.  It’s a clever enough idea, but nothing in the choreography really offers either dancer a chance to shine.

The judges disagree.  As one, they tell Lindsay she wasn’t sexy enough or sufficiently invested in her character.  Really?  I’m honestly surprised that every one of them thought that; I keep re-watching to see what they saw, and I just don’t.  To me, that character part was fine; it was the choreography that let me down.  Nigel goes so far as to call her immature and say she wasn’t focused enough on her partner.  As one they also tell Cole, during the judging, that he’s too invested in his character and is frankly freaking them out.  (“If my pants were hiked up that high I’d be freaked out too,” Adam jokes before bringing up the Jennifer Aniston comparison.) I don’t know about you, but it sounded to me like they weren’t joking; they all found Cole really creepy.  And apparently he’d been in character all week.  Somehow by the end of judging, Adam’s gotten in a plug (first pun, then acknowledgement of pun) for Step Up Revolution and Cat’s sucking on Cole’s lollipop.

Moving on!  Up next, Will and Amelia picked out a Sonya piece (contemporary?  jazz?  I’d guess the former but who knows).  Smart cookies.  We’re still on Sonya’s softer side, following two people bearing the weight of the world while searching for the light.  The heaping of cliches got me a little annoyed – but not for long.  The aching strings of Olafur Arnalds’ “3326” draw Will and Amelia around the stage; she’s in a simple army green dress, and he’s wearing a black t-shirt and soft beige pants, and her skin glows white once more.  She was so covered up last week (while giving the effect of being uncovered) that I forgot how pale she is.  Sonya calls the piece heavy and desperate, and of course you can see how she means heavy; the dancers are bogged down, struggling desperately to hold on to each other and move forward.  Amelia drags Will forward, his hand clamped around her ankle as he pushes himself off the ground.  He boosts her up, only for her to fall.  She leans forward; he holds her so she can stretch to her (very flexible) limit. There’s another amazing lift where he swings her up with a leg over his shoulder. The music and the movements are lovely, just lovely – so different in feeling from what they attempted last week, and wow.  They end holding themselves in a stop, panting, as if afraid of falling off a precipice, as if they’re afraid to move, and are suddenly bathed in light.

Mary screams, and the crowd screams back, and everyone goes nuts.  She notes that Will held Amelia while she was off balance, which can be dangerous and injury producing and requires a lot of trust to look as effortless as it did.  Coolness.  Adam stands to applaud them once more, and Sonya copies him from the audience.  She’s got these huge black hoop earrings with the word poison written in green inside the circle; Adam tells her they’re going to have words.  Hee.  He was lost in the brilliance of the piece, and blows Will and Amelia a kiss. Hee.  Nigel declares his love for Sonya, but marvels at how Amelia and Will submerged their quirkiness into the character of this piece.  He rightly notes that they’re really lucky to be together – even if that does sound quite a lot like patting himself on the back.  And speaking of patting, Cat calls Will a Labrador.

Nick and Amber have drawn – or I guess I mean to say chosen – the Argentine Tango.  Oh, cool.  (Also, ballroom twice in a row?  Wow.)  Miriam and Leonardo are back to choreograph, but we spend only the tiniest moment with them before heading right into the dance.  “Tanguera” by Sexteto Mayor seems like typical tango music.  Nick’s wearing a black pinstriped suit, and his hair is slicked back and puffed up at the same time, and wow, he’s so intense!  It’s very cool.  I thought he might have too much of a baby face to pull this off, but he’s terrific.  And Amber’s even better – last week, she was dreamy and floaty, but now she’s intense in red and black, dominant.  During the flicks some part of her costume goes flying, but it’s not big enough to matter.  They’re fierce; it’s such an intense mix of sex and aggression you almost expect them to start slapping each other like Cher and Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck.

“That’s how Mary treats Nigel, too,” Cat quips when it’s over.

The judges fall over themselves to praise the pair, especially Amber, which makes me a little suspicious.  Do they know the results of the voting?  Will they take this into account if Amber and Nick are in the bottom 6?  Adam compliments the choreography (hot!) and loved their personas.  Amber’s a fire-breathing dragon.  Nick was such a great partner he maybe disappeared a little bit.  (His costume probably helped with that, too.)  Nigel barks that Amber made herself look good, like a cobra waiting to pounce.  And though Nigel says Nick was very strong, I am worried the judges are sort of preparing us to lose him.  Or buttering Amber up because we’re going to lose her.  Either way, they’re making me nervous.  Mary wants us to know how difficult the piece was, especially the “reverse pivots” – this is the move where Amber wrapped her legs around Nick’s waist and he did something like five turns across the entire stage carrying her.  They made that look easy, and it’s far from it.

Sonya’s got another piece up, this one for Audrey and Matthew and in her original stompy jazz vein.  Just so Nigel doesn’t think she’s going soft, the idea is a robotic power struggle between a man and a woman. Audrey says she going to show the world her aggressive side; her growl is less convincing than a toy poodle’s.  “Audrey does not have an aggressive side,” Matt deadpans, making me like him.  And – hee – it’s Steed Lord!  I love that I know Sonya’s favorite groups now.  “Hear Me Now” is the song; Matt’s wearing guyliner, long black dance pants (tight, fitted, stretchy) with a neat gold belt-like detail, while Audrey wears black hot pants with the same detail and a black bra covered with gold cording.  With her hair up in that long braid, there’s a little Princess Leia in Jaba’s palace going on.

We found out last week that Matt was happy to have Audrey as a partner because she’s so tiny and light, and indeed, the height that they get in their lifts and tosses is pretty freaking spectacular.  She’s also really flexible, and Matt pushes her around a lot, and flips her legs into crazy positions. There’s a great deal of Sonya-y stomping, and yanking and aggression, and they’re gritty enough for two very sweet kids.  If you like Sonya jazz, you’ll like it, although I didn’t think it rose to the level of, say, Melanie or Mark doing Sonya’s choreography.  My favorite bit might have been the pose at the end with Matthew on the floor and Audrey leaning over him, her back curved, daring him to move.

The judges lurved it.  Nigel thinks it’s Sonya’s second perfect piece of the night, and much to Adam’s hilarity, he demonstrates the “stank step” for us, clomping around the judges table like an angry giant.  Which is just about right, if you think about it.  He loves the diversity between the routines and thinks this couple is one of America’s favorites.  Ah, checking the results, are we?  Mary says they’re one of her favorites at any rate, and loves the way they dance everything all the way out.  Yes.  That.  Adam claims the night belongs to Sonya, that she’s America’s favorite choreographer (she should have had an Emmy nomination, don’t you think?), tells Audrey that he wasn’t sold on her at first but is now, and to my complete bafflement finishes by telling Matthew the competition is his to lose.

Which, WHAT?  Given that the boy had 2 excellent routines, we never heard word one from him before last week’s show.  How is it even possible that he could have outstripped everyone else in that short period of time?  He’s cute, but he’s not that cute!  And he’s a very talented dancer, but two routines in their own style does not a winner make. I almost feel like Adam’s been looking at voting totals, or not watching the show.  We’ve seen so much more of Cyrus and the ballet boys and Dareian and Cole, just among the boys alone.  And it’s Will’s who’s standing out now, I would think, with his personality as well as his dancing. Is Adam smoking something?  Can this be true?

Okay.  Sorry for flipping out there; I just don’t get it.  Not that it’s outside the realm of the possible for Matt to steal our hearts and get there; I just don’t see how it could have happened already. But that’s okay, and do you know why?  Because we have more dancing!  Hurrah!

Christopher Scott gets a chance to redeem himself from the limp naughty dentist routine with a lyrical piece for Dareian and Janelle, about a great date which ends with a proposal.  Well, that’s much more sweet.  (Also, it immediately brings to mind this.) Janelle, however, doesn’t think she can play romantic with Dareian since he’s always imitating Donald Duck in the rehearsal room.

When it comes to the actual performance, however, she’s incredibly convincing, her heart shining through her eyes.  She’s wearing a frothy, ruffly little cream dress, and he’s in a suit jacket, and they’re dancing to “My Girl,” by the Temptations.  It’s far more obvious than “Misty Blue,” and there’s nothing really gasp-inducing about it, but they’re in nice synch, and the chemistry works well enough.  There’s this whole silly thing with his jacket, though; I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m kind of over reversible jackets in dance routines.  I know it’s not easy – I just feel like I’ve seen it too many times. He puts it around her shoulders, then turns it inside out (exposing a gold lining), then takes it off of her at the end to get the ring only to turn and see it in her hands.  The routine ends with a joyous nod yes, and a deep kiss.  Very sweet.

You can tell by the looks on the judges faces that they are not remotely happy.  Wow.  I have to say, I’m surprised by their reaction.  Adam slams Janelle at once for not filling out the character.  Huh.  Really?  Dareian was better, he says.  Nigel found the whole thing a little uninspiring, which makes more sense to me; he says both dancers are capable of more (even though he too thinks they could have brought more character to it).  Huh.  No happy faces for Christopher Scott tonight; he’s having the wrong kind of twofer.  (What a good thing he’s got the surprise Emmy nomination coming the next morning! Well deserved, I might add; “Misty Blue” and “Velocity” are two of my favorite routine from last season and maybe ever.) Trying to distract attention from the whole thing, Mary mutters something about Nigel not getting any ideas from all the kissing.  And at that point Adam declares he won’t be upstaged, runs over to Nigel, slaps a hand over his mouth and faux-kisses him.  It was cotton candy, Mary declares, struggling valiantly to return to the point, and you did it okay.  Cat tries to cheer them up, but Dareian looks ready to cry.

After going 1 out of 2 last week, Sean Cheesman’s going to try yet another style with a Broadway routine for Janaya and Brandon, the other cannon fodder pair.   These poor kids, to get him at this point!  Cheesman is so hit or miss, and especially when the public doesn’t know you, the routine you get is everything.  His idea: Janaya’s reading a romance novel on a park bench, and is inspired to turn her fellow bench sitter Brandon into her romantic hero.  Which is to say, she gets quite frisky and pursues him.  Er, could work, I guess.  The music’s from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, “Bring on the Men,” by Linda Eder.  Janaya’s wearing a very girly white halterneck dress covered with red roses and bows and puffed up by a ruffly red underskirt.  Brandon looks more like your normal casual guy on a bench – jeans, jacket, hoodie underneath.

From the first shot of her round eyes peeping out from behind the book, Janaya brings an enormous, over the top character.  She’s playing to the back row for sure.  The mugging on both their parts, I can’t even.  But it’s cute. She pounces, her mouth pursed in a naughty little smile.  He throws himself frantically out of the way.  She does this fascinating slow motion monster move, and later does a neat little slippy flip, hands in his, feet on his shoulders.  She even throws off her shoes – although that’s after she’s stepped on his butt, and after he’s walked over her stomach.  (Which, wow; I keep rewatching that, and it really looks like he puts all his weight on her abdomen, but he can’t have, right?  I mean, there’s no way, he’s much too heavy.)  It’s very, very exaggerated, but as long as you don’t mind the miming, it’s super enjoyable.  By the end Brandon has literally put Janaya in her place.

As with another of last week’s least successful couples, Nick and Amber, the judges lavish them with praise.  Adam tells Sean “you have to be happy with that” and thought the piece was great for both dancers in the comedy and character of it all.  And then he makes another plug/pun.  Nigel loves Sean’s versatility, from great African Jazz last week to this.  I notice he didn’t mention the straight up jazz for Alexa and Daniel, though.   Mary thought it was super entertaining (for sure) and congratulated the dancers on rising to the occasion with their acting.  After lauding Janaya for her fearlessness,  Cat sends her off to read some 50 Shades of Grey.  Heh.

Wow, Eliana and Cyrus can’t catch a stylistic break, can they – they’ve got the Jive.  Eek.  It’s not the Quickstep, but it’s not easy, either, and you know everyone’s worried about whether Cyrus can put a competent routine together.  Tony and Melanie (yay!  I was so excited to see them in the audience, love them) are definitely alarmed.  It turns out that Eliana picked this over the other ballroom options and Bollywood, which was probably the right call.  Cyrus’s got on black pants and an open dress shirt, and Eliana’s dripping in firy fringe – red on top, yellow and pink on the bottom – and her hair’s curly for the first time since the auditions.  And it’s not half as bad as I was expecting even though I could detect a few missed holds.  Like I said, I think Eliana picked out; the Jive works with this pair’s nature ebullience and athleticism. Heaven knows what an actual pro would think of it, but man, does Eliana in particular know how to sell a routine!

Giggling, Mary kicks Cyrus to the curb – bad feet, posture and transitions – but then pulls back enough to say he was still a good partner and praises his joyful expression, which makes her happy even when his dancing doesn’t.  Eliana, on the other hand, was perfect.  Adam brings up a good point; when he’s doing his own style, Cyrus’s feet never leaves the ground, so this is asking a lot.  Eliana made them both look good, he thinks.  Well, Nigel snaps, Eliana has a tough job compensating for his inexperience, as did Tony and Melanie.  Oh, the look on Cyrus’s face!  I want to hug him. Yes, the lifts were terrific, but he needs to connect the movements between the lifts.

Harsh but fair. Fair.

Dee Caspary’s looking for an emotional connection from Daniel and Alexa.  Uh oh.  His idea – and it’s a deeply metaphorical one – is that the two are in a bathtub where the water drowns out their words; it’s a moment of wordless communion.  That’s an interesting double edged sword; this gives them the chance to counter the critique from last week, but if they fail at it (and maybe they’re just a bad pairing of great dancers) then it’s going to be damning.   Daniel’s shirtless, and Alexa has blue asymmetrical ruffles on a belly baring top and skirt.  The music surprised me; how long has it been since anyone’s heard Yanni?  “So Long My Friend” is pretty enough, though.

The piece is part miss and part (at least for me) stunning hit.  The two twist over and under each other, in and out of a large white clawfoot tub.  There are moments when Daniel looks at Alexa which take my breath away, but I honestly don’t feel like she’s looking at him at all.  It’s almost as if he’s not there, even the one time I can see her looking down at him.  The dancing itself is gorgeous, sinuous and tender.  The lines are lovely.  And the ending, where she lies back over the edge of the tub, so her arms touch the floor, and he slides up between her thighs to kiss her stomach?  Oh wow.  Oh, oh, wow.

Cat reminisces about Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah in Splash.  Erm, there was a bathtub in Splash, anyway, but I don’t remember it being quite so sexy.  It was more technical than emotional, Adam complains, even though the dancing was amazing.  (This assessment causes Mr. E to explode; what more do they want from poor Alexa?  Why can’t she catch a break?)  Mary’s panicked that this dance will inspire a nation of copycat sexy bathtub dances which will result in an epidemic of bathroom dance related injuries. Do not try this at home!  That was so much harder than it looked, perfectly executed, showing off incredible ability – but it was lacking chemistry.  Mr. E starts to pull out his hair.  I’m crying on the inside for Daniel, who seemed perfectly expressive to me.  I’m so afraid he’ll be caught in the coming bloodbath.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m sorry for Alexa, too, but at least I can understand the critique in her case. Nigel tells them to dive in and immerse themselves in the music.

The penultimate dance is a Tony and Melanie foxtrot for quiet underdogs George and Tiffany.  Floating to Sinead O’Connor’s “I Want To Be Loved By You,”  George in a tuxedo with tails and Tiffany in an awesome silver and purple spangled ballroom gown, we get a vision of Fred and Ginger.  It’s so light, so elegant and lovely and effortless.  Tiffany does a high kick and I swear, she actually hits herself in the face with her leg,  Gracefully, of course.  There are spins and several solo passages, and as with Amber something little goes flying off Tiffany’s dress, but it’s all in all magical.  When it ends, the dancers have the most enormous grins on their faces.

And unlike Daniel and Alexa, the grins stay on this couple’s faces.  Mary coos over the perfect fit of it, the difficulty of the moves and their perfect technique.  She loved the glide, the top line, the flow, and the pivots blew her away.  I’m not the only one who thought Fred and Ginger; Adam went there too, saying he’s madly in love with the 40s style of it all.  Patting himself on the back, Nigel calls them an incredible couple with an amazing connection with each other (ouch, Daniel and Alexa) and the audience.  Good for you, gorgeous George!

Finally, there’s a Bollywood routine for Witney and Chehon.  No plot, Nakul Dev Mahajan tells us, just a ton of energy, stamina, speed and concentration on the hand motions.  Well, if that’s all!  Piece of cake. Accompanied by Aatish Kapadia’s “Tandav Music,” the dancers take the stage bathed in red light, dressed gorgeously in red and dripping with gold jewelry.  It’s fast and precise and awesome, just awesome.  The way Chehon holds these positions is just blowing me away.  I thought Witney tired out in the second half, but she managed to get a second wind for the end.

The judges fall over themselves as the dancers pant and glisten. It was pure delight, Adam tells Nakul.  Witney does need to elongate her neck, but Chehon was shining perfection and joy.  Agreeing that Chehon was on fire, Mary loves that the two let go, and praises their sizzling chemistry.  Nigel can’t get over  Witney doing knee-turns.  You both did yourselves proud, he says.

So, hmmm.  Where does this leave us?  Without any break, Cat calls out the rest of the dancers, who’re all now in their solo outfits.  Everyone holds hands, but it’s Janaya (no surprise), Alexa (oh dear), and Witney (what?!) who’re called out for the girls.  Sayonara, Alexa – there’s no way they’re saving anyone but Witney here.  And for the boys?  Nick (no shock but I am belated surprised to realize that Amber escaped the axe), Daniel (damn) and Chehon.  I guess it’s not not terribly shocking in that Witney and Chehon went first and he had issues, but I didn’t expect Witney to pay the price for that.  And I also really can’t say whether they’re going to save Daniel or Chehon.  If Brandon had ended up in the bottom as I was expecting, whichever ballet dancer had joined him would likely be safe, but now?  I’m pleasantly surprised to see Brandon spared (I thought he was pretty terrific) but wow, I’m still very upset.

Weirder still, Nigel tells everyone that the judges (who have known about this for at least a day) do not need to see their solos.  Which I guess is good since now we have time for a lengthy Step Up: Revolution promo (Travis!  Mia!  tWitch!) and a live performance featuring Kathryn McCormack.  I adore Kathryn, don’t get me wrong, but her line reading make me think she should have been taking acting classes before this happened.  The live dance, on the other hand, is riotously joyful and shows off a huge company of dancers, including Philip Chebeeb, Kathryn with face paint, tWitch and Tony someone dancing to Ne-Yo’s “Hands in the Air.”  Cat can’t contain her happiness.

Wrapping things up, Nigel gives us a few words (no, not “nitwit,” “blubber,” “oddment” or “tweak”) about how each dancer’s super special or they wouldn’t be there and you know how he feels so don’t expect any sentimental mollycoddling from him now, okay?  To the surprise of absolutely no one, he calls up the girls and saves Witney.  Which I’m fine with, although I’m sorry Alexa didn’t break through her performance barrier and I’m sorry that we barely got to know Janaya.  Maybe I’m sorriest that Witney ended up in the bottom in the first place.  The two girls give gracious, humble statements about their gratitude for the experience.

And I’m really, really sorry that both Daniel and Chehon landed in the bottom.  That’s painful.  Daniel turned in two technically perfect performances that lacked chemistry, and Chehon, one stunning performance and one underwhelming one.  Does the fact that we just watched Chehon be amazing put him over the top?  Nigel notes that talking to the choreographers really helped make this choice easier, and then he chooses Chehon.

Is it me, or does that seem like a slam against Daniel’s personality and/or work ethic, this emphasis on the choreographers?  Or maybe it’s Nick that’s hard to work with?  Either way, that feels like someone said something.  But maybe I’m just bummed not to see more of Daniel’s sly sense of humor and gorgeous dancing – not to mention feelings really sorry that he quit his job at the San Fransisco Ballet to be here.  I’d have really liked to see if he had chemistry with a different partner.  But them’s the breaks, I guess.  It’s not like I’d have been happy with anyone going home.

So, what do you think?  Were the right dancers in the bottom?  Did the right ones get saved?  Did you have any doubt who the judges preferred?

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