So You Think You Can Dance: Top Ten, Season 9

E:  You might have guessed it, but I’m still bummed about last week.  The pain of losing that many dancers in one blow – and some of my favorite dancers to boot – is just too fresh.  But.  I will valiantly pull myself together to enjoy this batch of new routines and the All Stars who come with them (some never before seen, and one my giddy ideal, squeal- inducing pairing).

The thought that floods my mind as the show begins is that Cat is wearing a Dalek.  Mr. E did not agree, but it’s all I can see in that long sleeved, loose fitting silver shift with the reflective panel on the bottom.  Well, okay, it looks a little like chain mail, too, but come on!  Look at the bumps on the fabric!

In keeping with last week’s recycled odes to the past, we begin with a group piece dedicated to Gene Kelly.  At first I think it’s a general ode to the Golden Age of Hollywood or WW2, but then I see Cyd Charisse in her green dress and the hayseed version of Kelly’s character from the Broadway Melody fantasia in Singing in the Rain, and all the WW2 uniforms (On the Town, perhaps? though it’s the women dressed as sailors, not the men) and I’m just loving it.  Then there’s the ladder from Singing in the Rain, too.  Love love love.  Although – why is Tyce dancing?  Which guy is missing?  Crap, it’s Cole.  That’s so not cool; we’ve been largely lucky with injuries this season, only the delightful, lamented Janelle having to take a single break.  Anyway, Cole ends the routine from the ladder, and we get confirmation from Cat that the piece celebrates what would be Gene Kelly’s one hundredth birthday, and here’s his widow to celebrate with us!  We were so shocked by Patricia Kelly’s appearance that Mr.E and I had to look it up; she was married to Kelly for the six years before he died, and at 46 years younger than her husband would be a mere 53 or 54 now.  So no.  She wasn’t overbotoxed; she just married a guy technically old enough to be her grandfather.

Not that I don’t love Gene Kelly, but ick.

Anyway.  I’m sorry – I’ve gotten into the habit of ranting at the beginning of these posts, haven’t I?  I’m going to have to do something about that.  Meanwhile, let me introduce our guest judge, another ballet heavy hitter: Benjamin Millepied, the ballet dancer and choreographer who might be better known to the general public as Mr. Natalie Portman.  As if that weren’t reason enough to envy him, he’s articulate, gorgeous and (not coincidentally) has a new company to promote in LA, which kind of makes tonight a win all around.  Can you imagine him and Natalie watching the show together, cuddling with baby Aleph?  Is it lame that I think that’s cool?  Because he does let slip that he’s been watching at one point.   I love that in a guest judge.

Oh!  And let me tell you about the first dance, the one that explains Tiffany‘s bizarre outfit in the intros: she’s got disco with Brandon!

I’m thrilled about this; Brandon is the lift king, and his disco with Jeanette was one of the highlights of Season Five.  And let’s face it, disco is fun.  Choreographer Doriana Sanchez boasts that the routine features 11 lifts; at Tiffany’s suggestion, we count them with a ticker.

Now, the thing I don’t love about this routine (other than Tiffany’s slashed up black pants)  is that it’s set to some atrocious pop from today’s music charts, Cobra Starship’s “You Make Me Feel.”  Bah.  Not that you have to use disco to dance disco, but still, I can’t help feeling it’s mostly better when you do.  The piece itself is very swoopy, and the lifts are great (my favorite might be the ending pose, where Tiffany’s parallel to the floor; they look like the number 7, or even a really goofy fountain), although there are a couple places where it looks like the hard work that it is.  The judges are pleased; nothing makes Nigel’s disco-loving heart happier than a Doriana routine that goes well.  Mary calls it a party, and Benjamin lauds Brandon’s partnering while praising Tiffany’s fearlessness and expressive face.

My suspicious mind has to wonder if the first time we see Nick Lazzarini, Season One’s winner, as an All Star doesn’t have something to do with the dance company/reality TV show he and choreographer Travis are involved with.  Like I said, I didn’t watch the show back then so I don’t have any emotion invested in Nick.  I love Travis, however, and am intrigued that he’s designed a piece to allow Witney to get her sexy on.  Because she wasn’t before?  The idea is that Nick and Witney are the ghosts who can’t stop haunting the theater where they performed, and Travis has them dressed in a kind of goth Vaudeville look. I’m drawn in by the vampy concept, but the whole doesn’t come together for me; Moloko’s “Sing it Back” doesn’t move me, Witney’s corset looks painfully restrictive rather than sensuous, and the black lipstick and slightly green skin tone aren’t flattering.  Nick fades into the background in black and white.  Some of the tricks they do competing for the microphone are cool, especially the backbend she does over Nick at the end, but, eh.  It isn’t until later that I realize that Witney’s real sexiness comes through her smile, her joy in movement; to design a piece around her sensuality but not allow her to grin defeats the purpose.

Maybe it was all better close to the stage, though, because the judges love it.  Excellent, Benjamin says, praising the “difficult release of tension.”  Nigel thought she was totally committed, calls her a star and says she can go all the way.  Hmm.  I’m not sure the audience likes her as much as the judges do, given all the times she’s been in the bottom, but I guess we’ll find out.  Mary’s clearly been practicing her quips because she fans herself and proclaims “Lord have Murphy.”  Okay.  She loved the fall back/back bend ending.  So, good.

Dmitry’s created a ChaCha for Cole so fiendish that All Star partner Anya says it’s kicking her butt.  Ouch.  Thankfully Cole’s really good at ballroom.  And thankfully he’s not too injured to dance!  They dance to The Wanted’s “Glad You Came” and oh my goodness; there was a point where Cole squatted down to spin Anya from side to side, and the avid look he gave her was so intense I had to fan myself.  I like it.  There may have been a concentration break involving a hand hold, but I loved the crazy split slide, and generally my faith in Cole’s ballroom skills are unshaken.  He wants to be the first person on the Hot Tamale Train after the pairs have split.

Alas, however, it is not to be.  None of the judges enjoyed the routine as much as I did.  Mary needs him to apply pressure to the side of the balls of his feet.  Okay.  I so was not looking at his feet.  Benjamin continued his positive critiques by complimenting Cole’s partnering and movement quality, but Nigel slams the dancer for not connecting to his super sexy partner.  Say what?  Apparently Cole’s lines were lacking as well.  I’m pretty sure I was looking at those, and I don’t get it.

Next up is Cole’s former partner Lindsay, who has Broadway with Emmy nominated Spencer Liff and All Star Jakob.  Excellent!  I’m such a fan of them both.  Spencer’s put a scrim on the stage for us to peak through as Jakob mimics Lindsay’s movements. “Apparently, my shadow is a dude,” Lindsay deadpans hilariously.   Obviously this is going to be super difficult, since they’ll have to be perfectly synchronized without even being able to see each other.

Unsurprisingly, they’re dancing to “Dancing Dan (Me and My Shadow)” from the musical Fosse. The synchronization of the opening sequence, where Jakob is hidden behind the scrim, floors me.  It’s gorgeous.  I’d forgotten how freaking fabulous Jakob is.  Lindsay is his perfect complement (tall, leggy, bendy) and they have gorgeous sharp clean lines, and they’re seriously flat out dancing, and I adore it.  The moment where the two snap their torsos back and Jakob is so flexible his hand actually touches the floor?  I could watch that over and over.  From the tight black shiny vests to the canes to the lighting, there’s nothing about this I don’t love.

Nigel’s over the moon as well, and can’t resist making Jakob show off his feet to Benjamin.  Lindsay was magnificent.  Mary can’t help focusing on Jakob first, too, but then – with apologies to Cole – puts Lindsay on the Hot Tamale Train.  That’s a well deserved ticket!  I know I complained about them keeping Lindsay last week, but this was pretty fabulous.  You’re a fantastic pair, Benjamin tells them, perfectly musical; he loved the way Spencer built the piece to a rousing crescendo.  Even if what he’s saying has been all positive, he clearly knows what he’s talking about, and a lot of it comes from the choreographer’s perspective, looking for different levels and contrasting textures of movement.

Which is a more reliable blast of fun, Bollywood or Disco?  They’re both pretty fantastic, high energy and kaleidoscopic fun, but Bollywood might win out, if only for the surpassing excellence of the costumes.  The show’s sole Bollywood choreographer, Nakul Dev Mahajan, has envisioned a piece for Will and All Star Kathryn in which he’s a snake charmer with a flute, and she’s a snake in a basket.  Excellent!  Have we ever even seen an audition for a Bollywood dancer on the show?   Not to go off on a tangent, but why is that?  Nakul runs a dance studio, doesn’t he?  Have none of his students tried out for the show?  That’s a genre I’d enjoy seeing represented.

Anyway.  Will and Kathryn look fabulous in their brightly colored silks and jewelry, and they have the energy to tackle a very demanding routine.  Will’s arm movements aren’t always as precise as I’d like, but he doesn’t tired through the performance, capering and bounding and knee spinning as required, so big cheers for him.  And I love seeing Kathryn slither and bite.  I’m afraid it might be possible for Will’s hamminess to start grating on me, but I’m not entirely there yet.  “Ooh La La” from The Dirty Picture Show soundtrack was a nicely bouncy bit of music, too.  That’s what I mean about disco; who can listen to this stuff without wanting to dance along?  It’s impossible.

Mary’s full of compliments for Kathryn and Nakul, but can’t forget Will’s energy and beautiful control and of course his likability.  This is the bit which makes me think of the Millepied family curling up in front of the show together; Benjamin says he’s been watching Will, and finds his unique charm and varied expressions engaging.  Eeee!  Nigel praises Kathryn as a Hollywood star (which one lead role in a dance movie doesn’t make her, but whatever) and thanks her for honoring the show with her presence.  Kathryn tries to squeak out her gratitude to the show that changed her life but Nigel cuts her off to repeat how proud he is of her, because apparently even that’s all about him.  Boo.

And now the moment we’ve been waiting for and dreading in equal measure all season.  Can Cyrus do contemporary?  Travis has a routine for the animator and for All Star Jaimie who partnered b-boy Hok in Season Three.  The theme – life after the apocalypse.  How very now of you, Travis.  Romantic dystopia is all the rage.  M83’s “Outro” provides the backdrop as Cyrus carries Jaimie on to the stage, dramatically backlit.   He’s shirtless (smart), and she’s wearing a gray dress, and the focus is really on her as she twists and writhes, though he lifts and partners her credibly.  There’s one moment where he does a pretty decent leap back, too – not something which would get a contemporary dancer onto this show, but quite good work for a street dancer who isn’t Joshua or tWitch.  Did he fumble the hold in the beginning where she’s kneeling?  I’m not sure, but it looked that way.

The judges don’t comment on it.  Benjamin finds his raw energy exciting.  While everyone notes that Cyrus needs to work on his feet, Nigel quotes Bob Fosse who preferred dancers who need to dance to perfect technicians.  How adorable and earnest is Cyrus as he listens to this praise, nodding his head fervently to indicate how desperate that need is with him?  Mary noticed the difficult transitions between lifts, but believes Travis didn’t make the piece all about Jaimie.  Really?  Did we watch the same dance?  Oh well. I suppose it’s possible that he could have made the piece even more about Jaimie.  And that cool tandem walking motion at the end did leave a final impression of equality…

Also utterly out of his comfort zone is Chehon, paired with All Star Lauren for a Dave Scott hip hop piece about friendship.  I kind of groaned when I saw they were dancing to Maxwell’s “Pretty Wings” but it worked for me; I liked their loose, relaxed clothes, and their loose, joking energy as the two leaned back and forth on each other, flapped their pretty wings and playfully pushed each other around.  Chehon generally seems so tight and wound up, so even if the idea was slight, it felt pleasant and even a little magical.  Will the audience vote for it?  That I can’t say. More than anything, it’s cute.

Nigel essentially thanks Dave for taking the stick out of Chehon’s butt.  Yikes.  He loves that Chehon was smiling and relaxed.  And then he plugs Benjamin’s new troupe (“hey, don’t you have a new company?”) by suggesting that showing this sort of range would make a company director like Benjamin more likely to hire Chehon.  Of course being Nigel (and being Nigel’s turn) he really doesn’t let Benjamin respond, but who was expecting that?  Mary notes that it couldn’t have been easy for Chehon to buck his training, and that it was good, although not down enough in the pocket as she’d have preferred.  Still, Chehon opening up was a big accomplishment.  Benjamin thought it was spontaneous, fun and charismatic.  No job offer?  Well, there’s always the Ballet Boyz.

Good old Tyce has this idea for George and All Star Allison (woot!  love that girl!): in a kind of Broadway meets jazz moment, George will be a high powered tycoon who sees Allison on a railway platform and can’t help abandoning his business interests for a bawdy encounter.  Oh dear.  George is lovely, and his romantic piece for the first episode remains a season high for me, but I do not see him as raunchy.  He’s so white swan – much too white swan for a credibly steamy rendez-vous with a stranger.

Bahamut’s “Hasmat Modine” sets a good tone, but though George and his sad little mustache perform the choreography beautifully, the emotional through-line doesn’t exist.  Allison brings the raunch, and George tries manfully, but it’s such a painful mismatch I can’t imagine what Tyce was thinking.  It’s not that George can’t dance the steps, but he can’t bring the character in this character driven piece.  Usually the routines are not set up so that the dancers will automatically fail them.   I guess it’s a fair test, to see how George could stretch himself, but on the other hand no one would hire George to play this.

Mary tries to be kind, deflecting attention onto Allison and Nigel’s creepy lust for her. Benjamin’s a big fan and thinks George moves beautifully.  It’s Nigel, of course, who lowers the boom; George was immature.  He had the technique but not the character.  Taking the critique one step too far, Nigel proclaims that any woman expecting a raunchy night with George – particularly firebrand Allison – would be disappointed.

Ouch.  I agree with his larger critique, but damn, that was unnecessarily harsh.  And it all happened in front of George’s father, the one who thought dancing wasn’t a manly enough pursuit for his track star son.

And now for the treat of my night.  All week I’ve been thinking, what All Star will they given Eliana?  Clearly it’s going to be someone to make up for all those weeks of carrying Cyrus.  It’s going to be someone who will allow Eliana to really show us what she’s got.  It’s going to be … it is!  I squealed like a Olympic athlete getting a shout out on Twitter from Justin Bieber.  It’s Alex Freaking Wong!

Emmy nominated choreographer Stacey Tookey’s created about piece about – guess what? – a torturous, on again/off again relationship.   I know.  I was shocked too.  Alex manipulates Eliana (literally turning her head) and Eliana kind of likes it, Stacey tells her.  Stacey giggles and coos about what a dream Eliana is to work with, because she can do absolutely anything you ask.

Dramatic lighting streaks across the stage, highlighting a shrunken, gnarled tree, with Alex and Eliana curled over each other in imitation of its contortions.  Nancy Sinatra’s voice whispers over the theater: “Bang Bang (My Lover Shot Me Down)”.  Alex is shirtless, and Eliana’s got on a red chemise with her hair loose and curly.  I’m so enraptured by the movement I can’t even follow a storyline; the two bend each other into a variety of shapes, they push and pull and twist.  It’s all there, but it’s not something I can back away from enough to analyze, if that makes any sense.  It’s a powerful ocean, and I could watch the waves roll forever.

And the judges are on their feet.

Nigel lauds the maturity of her movement. For the first time, I wonder if Eliana’s curviness gets in the way of her success as a ballerina; she’s so spectacular, but she doesn’t have that very specific waif-like Balanchine look. Uncle Nigel loves Alex, whom he always expected to win his own year (though he doesn’t let him talk back, either); Eliana’s the best girl in this season.  She just is, and he doesn’t care about being fair when he shouts it to the hills.  She’s perfect combination of technique and performance, and his only critique of the routine was that it didn’t go on long enough.  When Mary proclaims the piece the goose-bump raising best of the night, Eliana’s eyes fill with tears. Aw!  It’s a perfect tirsamisu, layered and delicious.  It’s a great song and a great dance, Benjamin finishes, and we all felt your passion.

Rounding out the night’s competitive pieces, Dave Scott has a supernatural hip hop for tWitch and Audrey: they’ve spent 400 years together in a love/hate relationship.  tWitch notes that Audrey’s really good at hip hop, if only she would believe it; she’s terrified and admits she’d rather be watching the intimidatingly incomparable tWitch from the audience.  There’s lots of character and fun costuming as the two hop out of a coffin; they have kind of a feeling of the Thenadiers from Les Mis, only with more nagging and less bawdiness.  I enjoyed the routine and watching tiny Audrey get sassy with big, looming tWitch, and really really liked Janelle Monae’s “Sincerely Jane,” but I can see that it didn’t go quite far enough.  And let’s face it, they’d have had to knock it into the stratosphere not to feel thin after what we just saw from Eliana and Alex.

Benjamin wonders why Audrey didn’t trust herself; she had it in her, but she let herself be overwhelmed by tWitch.  Mary thought it was a great number, funny and entertaining – and unlike Chehon, she felt Audrey did get down in the pocket, had good synchronization, and even made her look away from tWitch.  Unsurprisingly, Nigel agrees with Benjamin; he wanted Helena Bonham Carter level character and just didn’t get it.  He’s so proud of tWitch that he spends the rest of the time talking up all the dancer’s has done since leaving the show.

And that’s when Cat lines up the remaining ten dancers in front of the enormous prop coffin.  The bottom two girls are Witney (again? but The Bench was so good!) and Audrey (aw, darn it).  The bottom boys are Chehon and George.  Damn it.  All the cuts hurt now.  All four dancers knock themselves silly in their solos, leaving it all on the floor.  Both boys, oddly, dance to classical instrumentalist Olafur Arnolds.  While we wait for the decision, we get to see Benjamin’s new troupe, the L.A. Dance Project; Trio/Moving Parts by Nico Muhly puts three men and three women together in a bewildering round of romantic pairings.   Though they’re clothed simply, I’m intrigued by the way their costumes play with our perceptions;  there’s a man and a woman in gray, a man and woman in black, a man and woman in blue.  They’re paired visually by the color, but the costume choice never dovetails with the choreography, leading us to look for connections where none exist.  I love that tension, love it.

Though the judges weren’t unanimous – because they love both dancers – they perpetual pick bottom dweller Witney over new to the bottom Audrey.  What a tough choice.  Her good bye package is tear-inducingly endearing.  Cat thanks her, and notes that the Titanic routine is one of the show’s best, not just the season’s.

Both male dancers are technically brilliant, but have a puzzling inability to connect with the audience.  Because of his soaring solo work, Chehon has squeaked out a win over George, even though George’s solo was genius and the judges are gutted to lose him. “When I walk away from this show, I will have made one of my dreams come true,” George proclaims brightly in his goodbye piece.  Oh, their sweet faces!  I just want to hug them both.  I hate that performance nights are poisoned with goodbyes.  Do better by us next summer, FOX!   And gosh.  How are they even going to work the finale?

Remember, America, you could have kept them safe.  Look at those lovely little faces!  How will we get on without them?  Who will shine next week?  Did you love Eliana and Lindsay’s routines as much as I did?  Do the remaining dancers deserve to still be on the show?  What do you think?

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4 comments on “So You Think You Can Dance: Top Ten, Season 9

  1. Sonia Gensler says:

    I’ve so enjoyed your recaps of the episodes! I wish I had something more to say than “yeah, what you said,” but I really do agree with everything. It was hard to lose the Oklahoma girl, and poor George’s solo was so freaking wonderful but he does have trouble partnering in an authentically passionate way. Really looking forward to this week. Can Chehon pull himself out of the bottom? Will Witney finally be cut?

    • E says:

      I’m definitely worried about Witney and Chehon this week. How odd, isn’t it, that Tiffany’s one of the few people who’ve never been in the bottom? Tiffany, Will, Cole and Cyrus, I think. Wow. Now that I write that out, it looks particularly bad for Chehon.

      Thanks for the kind words, hon!

  2. MMGF says:

    Eliana is just ridiculously good.

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