So You Think You Can Dance: Top Fourteen Season 9

E: So now that I’m back from vacation and I’ve seen last week’s show, I can tell you a few things.

1) This episode was a painful, painful bloodbath.

2) The season was originally supposed to contain a top 16 (to avoid such bloodbaths) but Nigel really wanted more dancers.

3) Audition round screen time doesn’t mean as much as you’d think.

4) And finally, Mia Michaels’ work is so inspired by particular dancers that it’s really, really hard for anyone else to pick it up.

When the camera lights on Miss Cat Deeley, she has her hair in a coronet of braids, very Swiss milkmaid, and a shimmery deconstructed fringe around her shoulder – sort of like a feather boa only made out of bits of pink and white and silver fabric.  And her news is just as interesting and unexpected as her frock; tonight the 7 remaining couples will perform classic Mia Michaels routines from the show’s history.  Wow.  A greatest hits of sorts – that’s totally fascinating and not a little alarming.  Also unusual – we have two guest judges this week, Britain’s Ballet Boyz, Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt, who certainly bring unimpeachable international dance cred but unlike, say, non-pro Jesse Tyler Ferguson, haven’t seen either the original performances, this season or indeed a single moment of the American version of the show.  Talk about an epic fail – couldn’t the production team have given them a tape to watch on the plane or something?  I get that fresh eyes can be a good thing, but is that going to render them more or less useful? Especially when you’re cutting out 4 dancers in one night…

Okay, rant over.

And let us begin!  When seen in it’s entirety, Cat’s dress has a peach spangly body with a fringed boa-like bottom, and really is much too Miss Piggy for my taste.  But that’s why we love our kitty Cat – she’ll try anything.  We have an interesting aerial group number where five of the women are tethered to ropes, where all the girls have their hair teased out to insane lengths so you can’t really tell who anyone is, and where copious amounts of open mouthed kissing goes on, most of it while the men are upsidedown on the aerial lines.  I immediately assumed that this was inspired by Eliana’s Cirque du Soliel work, but Nigel trotted out Fifty Shades of Gray (ha, Nigel) and I’ve read online that it was an ode to Mia’s current long distance relationship.  Which makes sense – you’re tethered, you’re kissing, you’re going in opposite directions and can’t reach each other, you’re tied down, you’re tied up.  The song is called “Hanging On” (ah, so literal, Mia) by Active Child.  The women are in gowns, there are roses, the men are in tuxes – except the two pairs who aren’t tethered, where the women wear Victorian looking underskirts and the men formal wear minus the jackets.  It’s interesting, but not one of her strongest pieces.

Oh, wait.  There’s some cute news, too.  While most of us were watching the Olympics, Tabitha and Napoleon were having their baby – and apparently naming him/her after the Olympics!  London Reilly Duomo – very cute, and very gender neutral.  I’m only going to guess the baby’s a boy because of the kelly green onesie?  That’s not a slam dunk gender association, though. Either way, super sweet looking family.

Okay.  First up are Cyrus and Eliana, who have been gifted with tWitch and Katee’s Emmy nominated routine “Mercy” – the one with the door, tailored to tWitch’s skills as an actor and lack of experience as a contemporary dancer. And all that makes it an excellent fit for Cyrus, who’s humble and bowled over to be doing one of tWitch’s routines.  Silly question of the week; what was the moment on previous seasons of SYTYCD that most inspired you?  For Eliana, it was Wade Robson’s Peace Dance (I love Wade Robson, although I think that piece may pre-date my real viewership of the show) and for Cyrus it was watching animator Brian Gaynor audition for the show.  Because guess what?  Brian’s now yet another of his roommates!  Seriously, how many people have they crammed into that tiny apartment?  And will they be reported to the Board of Health by viewers?  The rehearsal package dwells for a long time on how it cracks Cyrus and Eliana up that they have to kiss.

Anyway.  The music begins with Cyrus smoking a cigarette at the edge of the stage, and progresses through everything you remember – the stalking, the yelling, the posturing, the slamming of and hanging off the door.  She yells, he pretends to be too cool for it.  While Cyrus doesn’t project the same level of smoldering sexual energy that tWitch does,  he still embodies the character.  They manage that kiss pretty credibly, too, don’t you think? And wow, Eliana just seethes.  Katee was perhaps cuter in her frustration, but Eliana is scary.  Maybe that’s because Katee was so much smaller than tWitch and so their physical tussling was no contest, but Eliana (dressed up like Amy Winehouse) really could do some damage to Cyrus. My critique of this routine has always been that there’s not a ton of dancing in it, and there still isn’t, though Mia’s added some excellent touches so that Cyrus is stuttering and shaking up against the door, making use of his style.  It’s great music, it’s over the top emotion, and it’s really all about character and it’s very, very difficult to sort out the old dancers from what the piece ought to be.

Nigel’s happy, though, and finds Eliana convincingly threatening.  Mary calls it swaggerocious (ug) and loved Cyrus’s “ticking, rippling action.”  Michael Nunn admits to his complete ignorance (again, production team, what was your problem? or are the Ballet Boyz above doing their homework?) but Billy Trevitt loves the mix of genres.

Tiffany and George take on another routine from Season 4, “Hometown Glory” performed by Katee (again) and Joshua and made famous by the assisted run.  In my heart of hearts, I’ve always thought the run bit was overrated; I’m sure if I was a dancer I’d know how hard it is, but, I don’t know – she runs.  It’s cool.  And?  I love the song (who doesn’t love Adele?) and I loved Katee and Joshua, but it wasn’t their best routine, in my opinion.   In other largely irrelevant news Tiffany loved see Ellen Degeneres dance with tWitch in “Outta Your Mind” (remember her hanging from the door during the Season 7 finale?) and dreams that she’ll get to dance with Ellen in this season’s finale.  Is it me, or is Tiffany’s tan getting to be too much?  George rightly adores a thrilling Wade Robson routine from Season 2, “Ramalama Bang Bang.”

I might like this routine better in this new version than when Katee and Joshua did it.  That’s what Mia wanted, and I think this was a rare case where that was possible.  Tiffany’s stutterly motion is gorgeous – she’s so fierce, so anguished, seeming always on the verge of angry tears.  The only thing I can say, really, is that she starts off anguished, while in the original version, something in the dance freaks Katee out, and the progression is interesting.  George is glorious.  Mary praises their flawless transitions (and indeed, they danced fully one moment to the next).  There’s a murder on stage 36, she howls, and says George improved on Joshua’s performance.  Well, George is a trained and very gifted contemporary dancer, while Joshua was an insanely gifted street dancer, so that makes sense.  Michael lauds their energy, but feared Tiffany felt the routine so deeply that she failed to connect with George.  Hmm. I didn’t get that feeling, but Nigel agrees, and further thought the run didn’t stand out, mostly because Tiffany wasn’t relying on George, she was just running.  You over-egged the pudding, darling, he smarms.  I don’t like the way he said, but maybe it’s true – we certainly see less of her legs than we did Katee’s, although I was blaming that on wardrobe.  Should she have been lifting them up higher?  Should her motion have been something that looked more obviously like she couldn’t do it alone?

When Cat reveals that Will and Amelia are doing the infamous Emmy winning butt dance, I’m nervous.  Of all Mia’s routines, surely this is the most tied to particular dancers.  Of course, I can see that if anyone can carry this off, it’ll be Will and Amelia, but, yikes.  What a high bar to set for yourself!  By the way, you have to watch that full video to see where Mia describes Randi as a poodle and says that Evan is so about her that he’s lost all bodily function.  This scenario – sexy girl, (perhaps older) man obsessed with her booty – slays me.  And the music  – “Koop Island Blues”, by Koop featuring Ane Brun – is one of the best I’ve ever heard on the show.  Just deliciously French and moody.  Is Amelia going to require butt padding to adequately pull this off?

Will hams up his desire, and I enjoyed that, but the whole pales in comparison.  And not just because Amelia is comparatively pale.  While she was so vitale and kittenish for “Love Cats,” somehow this piece doesn’t take hold for Amelia.  It’s so painful to see, because I adore this dreamy, dreamy dance.  There’s something puppet-like about the movement, and if the two bodies are being animated by their desires in a way that thoroughly by passes normal function – she teases and he craves.  It’s slow and fast and loose and I love it.  And Will and Amelia, who have shown so brightly in the past, just aren’t at the level of the original.

Nigel can’t forget Randi’s backside or (happily) the rest of her, and how perfectly this piece fit its muses.  He finds Amelia sorely and atypically lacking in character.  Mary liked it, especially Amelia’s exquisite work, but she thought that Will pushed way over the top in his fascination with Amelia’s bum.  So kind of a toss up.  Without experience of the original, Billy through it was very strong, musical and endearing.  But not subtle.  Oh no.  Assuredly not.

Janelle’s favorite piece was Chelsie and Mark’s “Bleeding Love” (woot – another of my all-time favorites!) and Dareian loved Kent dancing with Neil, working out Travis Wall’s broken friendships.  Good picks, guys!  They’re asked to take on Kherington and tWitch’s “Dreaming with a Broken Heart,” the one with the bed tilted on the stage and a smoking hot shirtless tWitch.  And rose petals.  I didn’t flat out love this routine, either; it felt a tiny bit like like pretty-ness rather than substance, but maybe that’s just because the people involved were so ridiculously, mezmerizingly pretty.  Dareian notes that it’s going to be tough to live up to, if for no other reason that tWitch has about a foot on him, so he’s not going to be the same sort of presence as he rolls around in anguish, dreaming of his absent lover.

And yes, I think the height difference was a problem.  Perhaps because she’s so drowned in that ridiculously oversized  men’s pajama top, or because her hair obscures her face, or because she’s nursing a broken heart herself, Janelle gets pretty lost in the piece. Her intense connection doesn’t end up serving anything, and I can’t help immediately fearing (considering that this is her third problematic performance in a row) that she’ll end up going home to wallow in that freshly broken heart.  I think it’s her time within the competition, but to have just outlasted your relationship from home?  Horrible.  Mia gives Dareian some neat flips and tricks to do, but I’m stunned by how hard it is to see someone else do this routine, too.  Maybe tWitch is just irreplaceable.  Now, Michael Nunn may not know anything about the show, but he sure knows that Dareian has dreadful feet.  Damn.  He also repeats my critique that Janelle’s hair gets in the way of the performance (which sucks in a way, because she didn’t pick her hairstyle).  Billy agrees with me that she’s not given enough to do, and notes that whoever this Titch guy is, his movement is great. Ha!  Nigel thought it amounted to a solo for Dareian, and Mary reminds us that even with his rotten feet, Dareian has better technique than tWitch.

Little darling Audrey loved Nick and Melody’s disco from Season 1.  All I’ve seen of that season is on youtube (no Cat, come on!), but, still, cool.  Her partner Matthew was blown away by Mandy Moore’s jazz piece for Lauren and Ade, which looks like the date one on the couch?  Yes, that must be it.  Hmm.  I don’t recall the judges liking that piece.  Or me, actually.  Now, I started attentively/obsessively watching SYTYCD during season 3, and the piece Audrey and Matthew’ve been given pre-dates my fanhood (or at least my memory of the routines); it’s Neil and Lacey’s performance of Mia’s ode to her dad, set to Billy Porter’s “Time.”  The idea is that it’s this perfect moment out of time, where Mia dances with her father again.  It will be everything you need it to be, Matthew promises Mia sincerely.

As before, Audrey wears a little white dress, and Matthew a white tuxedo with a white bow tie.  The stage is strewn with brightly colored flowers, huge silk daisies in jewel tones.  It’s very sweet, a little girl dancing with her Daddy.  They caper and prance together, bittersweet and sentimental with a particularly beautiful spin.

Except from the judges reaction, it turns out that’s not quite what it was supposed to be.  Actually, all I really needed to see was Mia’s grave face to know it had somehow gone wrong. As she did after watching the piece originally, Mary cried, but she notes that while Audrey shone, Matthew lacked emotion.  Billy lauds the flawless movement, while Michael brings up Matthew’s breaks in concentration where he was too clearly thinking through the process of the dance, rather than living it.  Lowering the boom, Nigel quizzes the pair on Mia’s relationship with her Dad.  Who was her Dad?  How old was she when he died?  What did he do for a living?  Brutal!  I can’t remember whether I knew he was the Marlboro man or not, but I didn’t know he was also a “song and dance” man; Nigel chastises Matthew for not putting this into his performance.  You can see poor Matthew  collapsing internally under the weight of this criticism; you can read every piece of self-criticism, every cringe, every regret, on his sweet tense face.

Well.  That was hard.

For their favorite SYTYCD memories, Witney and Chehon both bring up auditions.  For Witney, it was Travis auditioning in drag; for Chehon, it was Melanie Moore.  Interesting that Witney brought up Travis, because the pair has been given the mother of all Mia routines; The Bench.  A boy, a girl, a bench, some mixed signals, and love that never quite connects.  This is the season 2 routine that had my friend A begging me to start watching the show – and one that won Mia her first Emmy.  Both the dancers are blown away by this opportunity; it was the first thing Chehon had ever seen from the show, and 12 year old Witney was thoroughly obsessed with it.  Yep.  That’s twelve for you – the beginning of the fixation with unrequited love.

Anyway.

Celine Dion’s “Calling You” is the music (and, Mia trivia, her first Emmy nomination came for choreographing Celine’s Vegas show – technically the TV special of it, but still) and there’s the bench, and the flower, and the simple gray clothing.  And I find it beautiful, and moving, and I can’t believe that Witney’s not a contemporary dancer she’s just so damn good, and it was aching and lovely and yearning.  Gorgeous.  Not to take anything away from Heidi and Travis,  but I was super happy with that.  The audience screams their delight with a high pitched, primal squeal.  Apparently in Dad mode, Nigel grills the pair on the back story for the dance; Mia fell in love with a gay man who couldn’t return her love because he didn’t want to break her heart.  Or, I don’t know, because he was gay?  Silly Nigel.  Does that really require explanation?  Anyway, he praises their technique and also their passion.  Mary found it hypnotic; she still thinks Chehon is too controlled, but Witney was fearless and remarkable.  Salt Lake City is the place for ballroom, Michael wants us to know.  It’s a great city for dance, and Witney’s a great dancer.  It’s Chehon that he offers a job to, however. I’m sad to think we won’t see this pair together again.

The final couple of the night is Lindsay and Cole.  Cole, it turns out, comes from the same studio as his buddy Mark in Hawaii, so Mark making the top twenty was his biggest show related thrill.  Well, that would be pretty darn thrilling!  Lindsay was just as captivated by Season 2 as her pal Witney, and there’s the footage of her dancing to Travis and Benji’s hip hop routine to prove it.  Too darn cute!

Now, how funny is this.  Remember a few weeks ago, back to the last performance episode where Cole and Lindsay danced a love/hate routine that annoyed me because it felt like an inferior retread of Mia’s seminal – and Emmy winning – “Gravity/Addiction“?  Well, guess what they’ve got to perform?  That’s right.  Mia cautions Lindsay about her need to make the movement pretty; Kayla felt that too, she says, but you have to get over it.  Like Witney, it’s hard to believe Lindsay’s not dancing in her own style here.  And I am intrigued right off by the way they’ve chosen to play it.  Kupono was harsh, villainous, malevolent; Cole is robotic, impersonal, cold.   But – and I find this wonderful – the very hairs on his head vibrate with his stiff movements.  It’s such an interesting choice, and if we were on Nigel’s other show, the judges would be telling the pair they made it their own.  I’m not willing to say that it was exactly as moving as the original version, but it was pretty terrific.

Billy is very, very impressed – not least because you’d never know they weren’t contemporary dancers.  So true.  Mary thinks it’s Mia’s all time best routine (so tough – I think my favorites of hers may be group routines, actually, but this is for sure in my top 3 pair routines, anyway) and it was clearly the best tonight.  (Hmmm.  I’d have said The Bench, probably.)  Nigel’s disappointed with the episode in general, but not with Lindsay and Cole.  In fact, he’s so freaked out by Cole he starts swearing.

And with that – gosh, I really hate not getting two nights – Cat calls the rest of the contestants on stage, and pulls out our bottom 3 girls – Lindsay, Janelle and Amelia – and bottom 3 guys – Dareian, George and Matthew.

Ugh.  Interesting, though.  Of the 6, 5 got major screen time during the auditions, and two dancers who had pretty much none (Tiffany and Will) are going to make the tour without running this gauntlet.  Poor little Audrey is down at the edge of the audience, bawling her eyes out.  Aw, sweetie!  All six dance (thank you for letting them do that, Nigel – so glad we had the time) and they’re all good.

So it’s clear to me that with several problematic performances under their belts, Dareian and Janelle will indeed be toast.  Damn.  But who’ll join them?  Amelia and Matthew have never been in the bottom, and George and Lindsay have.   But how can they turn from criticizing Amelia for tonight’s performance and praising Lindsay for hers, and not save Lindsay?  Of course that’s exactly what they do, they save Lindsay.  Wow.  So the initially unknown (but of course worthy) T-Maher-Star makes it on tour, and early favorite Amelia loses out.  This was pretty upsetting to me. I’m not saying I want Lindsay to go – her solo was particularly fierce. I guess I just feel like the audience in general seems less fond of her, and shouldn’t that be taken into account? Or maybe I just can’t believe Amelia won’t get to go on the tour.  Lindsay’s proved herself a more versatile performer so far than Amelia (not that we can say Amelia isn’t versatile just because we hadn’t see her try ballroom or Bollywood yet, but you know what I mean), so maybe it’s fair, but Amelia seemed to have a stronger connection to the audience.

And consistently, the judges decide to lose Matthew over perrennial bottom dweller George.  I maybe like George better (they’re both wonderful) but is it fair to keep saving him?  I guess that must depend on the vote totals, huh.  Poor Matthew – you can see him get the mental whips out to flagelate himself.  He’s let himself down.  He’s let Mia down.  He holds it together, almost fierce in his composure (everyone else is crying; Dareian gets over his tears quicker for having shed them and is smiling by the end, but Matthew seems frozen in his pain) and it hurts to watch him.  Adam, I knew you were wrong when you said it was Matthew’s to lose, but I bet that’s messed him up.  Audrey’s gulping and gasping for breath.  Aw, kids.  No wonder Suzanne Collins wrote The Hunger Games while watching reality TV like this.   Because the show ends early, we get a lot of the contestants dancing together, hugging and crying and the judges up on stage with them – Mary telling Amelia she’s sure to get lots of work because she’s so unique, Mia kissing Dareian and telling Matthew she knows he has it in him to properly let go. Amelia and Janelle have utterly lost it, and Chehon has lost his shirt.  So at least there’s a silver lining!

And now to begin writing about this week…

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One comment on “So You Think You Can Dance: Top Fourteen Season 9

  1. Chris says:

    Thanks for this review; even if it is late, you give such good details about everything from the dancing to the music and costume. The break over the Olympics, almost made me forget how we got down to the top 10. I usually watch the show with some coworkers from Dish, but we all forgot about it returning last night. Luckily, it was in the Primetime Anytime section of my Hopper, and I got to watch it this morning before work. I would have hated myself for missing the return, and missing the all-stars.

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