E: You know what? Tonight was a good, good night. The top 8 were all on their game. Distressing as it was to lose two dancers, it was a least a pleasure to know that everyone acquitted themselves well.
Why is it that 8 dancers seems lost on the stage? How could this week’s group look so much smaller than the top ten? It’s weird, that; Mr. E and I couldn’t help thinking it looked like a woefully tiny bunch. Maybe it’s because the group number started with just the four guys, looking slim and stealthy in dark pants and sheer black turtle necks. The women step out of shadow, wearing black and red mandarin dresses and wielding fans. The lighting and the sound flicker. I don’t know why the Asian influences make me think of Quentin Tarantino, but they do. Maybe because the fans looked like weapons? Or more likely the combination of Asian influences with the music, Woodkin’s rockabilly “Run Boy Run.” Yeah, that’s it.
Hee – check out Cole doing the Karate Kid crane move! Cat – dressed in a stunning fitted black cocktail dress with a lace overlay – introduces newbie choreographer Peter Chu. Then she introduces the judging panel: Nigel, very British in a red coat, Mary, without an enormous butterfly ring for the first time in a month, and superfan/Cat’s bbf Jesse Tyler Ferguson, wearing a shiny shiny three piece suit with a particularly fabulous patterned bow tie. Turns out everyone tonight will get a solo and a dance with an All Star. Drat – when do they get to dance with each other again? Because I really like that, seeing the cast members in ways that surprise you. The format of this season leaves a lot to be desired.
As any citizen of Panem knows, the final eight is when they interview your family and friends back home. Which is to say that the producers have two hours to kill, so we get an extended package on each contestant’s family before they do their solos. First up is Tiffany from Florida (ah ha – the tanning obsession explained) , who followed her older sister to dance class and was able to do the routines despite being four years younger. Dancing is a connection to the sister Tiffany loves so much she took her place in the Reaping… no, no, sorry, my mind is wandering. Anyway. It’s the show that she loves “so much,” her parents tell us, teary eyed about their little girl’s chance to dance on the SYTYCD stage. She’s picked the song “I Was Here” as performed by the Glee cast, and I realize we haven’t seen her dance alone since the auditions (and barely even then). It’s lovely, floaty and athletic; this girl is peaking at the right time.
The first pair routine of the night is for Witney and All Star tWitch. Hmmm. tWitch was the inadvertent kiss of death last week, and bottom dweller Witney does not need the help. The two have “debutant” choreographer Luther Brown, a regular presence on So You Think You Can Dance: Canada where he may actually judge with Mary Murphy. Fascinating. Luther has an impenetrable catch phrase; he wants Witney to do or be ‘ratchet.’ I can’t quite tell if this is a verb or adjective. Maybe both? At any rate, this is down and dirty East coast hip hop we’re talking about. Can the Utah ballroom dancer handle it?
Both dancers wear black clothes with exaggerated shoulders; Witney’s are fur. She looks incredible girly with the fur, harem/diaper pants and bright red lipstick, her blond hair flying. She minces, skips, and then bends down to get nasty. It’s a supremely confident performance surprisingly rich with character. I loathed “My Homies Still” by Lil’ Wayne and Big Sean (Lil and Big – ha – but seriously, what’s with shouting “go stupid” for half the song?), but the dance itself was entertaining, stomping and posturing all over the stage. They’ve got high energy, excellent unison and a boatload of swagger. Also, I’m not sure, but it really looked like tWitch armpit farted at Witney.
Nigel goes nuts waving his arms and Cat gives him a stern look. “You’re not trying to be street over there, are you? It’s kind of Dad-at-the-wedding.” Crazy Uncle Nigel. That guy. He wants to know if all young Mormon girls dance like this; I guess they have to if they come on this show! He thought Witney was brilliant and pats himself on the back for saving her last week. Harking back to Cat’s wedding crack, he welcomes Luther to the family, and wonders if ratchet refers to vermin poop. Mary has all sorts of names for the routine; buck, sick, frozen. It was everything, she says, and she couldn’t be happier to be around her buddy Luther again. (It seems they judge the Canadian version of SYTYCD together.) She loves Witney’s cool confidence, her surety. Jesse’s having an embarrassing fan moment just for being in the same room as tWitch. Ha. He makes a crack about the diaper pants, and then compliments them for their “waiting for the bus” move. “That’s how I wait for the bus,” he deadpans. The judges all fold their arms and “wait for the bus” in unison.
Before the next solo, we hear the touching story of Will, a chubby kid with low self esteem whose life was saved by dance. I’m not sneering; it’s genuinely moving, listening to him talk about being the class clown (shocking) and failing at school and a social life until he learned discipline through dance. Aw! You can see a sweet teary teen Will get crowned Homecoming King. I wanted to hug him so much. He shows us the confidence and purpose he gained through dance in his solo to James Morrison’s “Better Man.” Eeep! Dude is crazy tall, which makes his leaps and his leg kicks seem like they go on forever. When it ends and Cat introduces his number (and his proud parents wearing green “Will Power” t-shirts), Will can’t hold back the tears.
I love it. Sigh.
Following Will is Cole, paired with All Star Allison (love!) for a Sonya contemporary piece. Prepare to be shocked, but Cole’s playing a cold, heartless beast who refuses the pleas of a desperate woman. Not that he doesn’t do that brilliantly, but isn’t this at least the third such routine we’ve seen him do? I for one would like to see him try tender or romantic out of a thousand different emotions and characters they could have someone that expressive play. Just saying. The piece is set to Bjork’s “Possibly Maybe (Instrumental)” which is not, in fact, instrumental. Just saying. He’s in black with a gray waistcoat, she’s in shredded and ruffled white with teary blurred make up – raccoon eyes, really – in a super pale face, and she begins in an almost prayerful attitude, like a broken Victorian doll. It’s a pretty fabulous look for both of them.
The routine itself is pretty fabulous, too, but I find myself conflicted about it. Part of my problem is the lighting, dim enough to allow us to see the gorgeous choreography but not enough of Cole’s expression. Which brings us to the other, rather odd problem; that Allison’s anguish breaks us down so completely that Cole becomes nearly invisible. Oh, he’s there, and he’s dancing beautifully. He tosses her around maliciously, toying with her. It may be the best I’ve ever seen him dance. That lift, where he picks her up with one arm? The dragging? The choreography is Sonya at her best. “Where’s the love you promised me?” Bjork howls. Allison falls back slowly onto the floor, half faint, half murder, and her control is spellbinding. You can imagine Cole as Scrooge, or even Jean ValJean, throwing Fantine out into the street. But I just wasn’t feeling the same level of malevolence as in “Addiction/Gravity” from him; his role felt supportive rather than equal. But maybe that’s because Allison is so extraordinary? Is it just me?
Jesse wants Sonya to know he’s not fooled by her new hair (she has this interesting side French braid, the mowhawk gone); she’s still as wonderfully sick as ever. It was so insanely intense, he wants a drink. I can see that – I bet it was even cooler in person. Allison has exceeded herself, Mary claims; it was her best performance among a plethora of brilliant performances. Cole will make the finale if he keeps dancing like this, she says, and I find that interesting, since the judges already know who’s in the bottom. Does that mean that Cole is, as usual, safe – or that based on tonight, the judges will put him through? It’s quirky and powerful and scary – or at least Cole is, Nigel tells us. Season 9 is the season for unique performers and Cole is definitely a part of that. Cole did strong partner with his scene stealing All Star.
Cole’s former partner takes the stage next. We get to learn a lot about Lindsay‘s gorgeous blond family, how her mother opened a dance studio to spend time with her four daughters, and how Lindsay’s mentors are Dancing With the Stars‘ Mark Ballas and his ballroom champ mother Shirley. That makes a certain amount of sense – didn’t they basically adopt the Houghs from Utah? She dances her solo in hot pants and a mullet skirt/cape to “Senorita” by Bond, and it has a paso vibe and it’s completely awesome. She’s an amazing technician, and she’s practically glowing. Her legs are like lightning!
And – wow! Speaking of Utah’s surpassing ballroom talent, Ryan Di Lello is back as an All Star to perform the dreaded quickstep with Eliana! I love Ryan and have been really longing to see him as an All Star, so this makes me super happy. I mean, I love Pasha, but he’s not the only ballroom fella in the SYTYCD stable. And again, I am thrilled to see Eliana with someone who can kick butt. Dancing With the Stars‘ Jonathan Roberts has created the season’s second bored housewife routine; businessman Ryan comes home to find his lady ready for another kind of business. Even better, Roberts has set the scene in the 20s, so Eliana has gorgeous marcel waves and a fringed teddy (not a fan of how low the fringe hung, or maybe it’s just the sheer gap over her thighs, but wow, the black lace and embroidery over the teal silk? Gorgeous!) and Ryan’s in an impeccably sculpted vest and suit pants with spats. Spats! I love spats.
And I love this routine. Man, I could watch them indefinitely. Eliana blows my mind; there really isn’t anything she can’t do. Eliana twitches on a chair, waiting for Ryan to arrive; when he does, he concentrates on his newspaper and not her. In a fit of pique, she kicks his chair out from underneath him; how cool is it that he stayed sitting for a few more seconds? Impressive. Unlike “Dr Feelgood,” what follows isn’t blush-inducing or particularly sultry; it’s just good ballroom fun, very Nick and Nora Charles. The lifts! The jumps! It’s delightful. At the end, there’s a crazy trick where Eliana slowly flips over Ryan’s back (holding a hand stand in the middle) and then swings out between his legs so he can flip over her and then flip backwards off the floor. Amazing!
It turns out that last week Mary blogged for Entertainment Weekly, saying she couldn’t imagine what they could offer Eliana that she couldn’t do. Maybe the quickstep? So she was super impressed not only that her casual guess turned out to be the actual style Eliana danced, and that Eliana performed it so beautifully. Mary also loved the difficult choreography, especially the waterfall at the end (technical term for the crazy rolls). Hey, no mention of Ryan? Boo. “Holy smokies and Lord have Murphy,” Jesse quips, and then gets a little emotional about the privilege of having seen Eliana from her first audition and being blown away by her range. (He can’t evens top thinking about last week’s season high, “Bang Bang”) She’s so accessible, he feels like he knows her (which yes, he knows makes him a crazy stalker). Nigel can’t stop praising the technical perfection of it, saying she does ballroom better than any non-ballroom girl they’ve ever had. She is perfect contestant for the show; it’s like the show was created to show off the scope of her tremendous talent. Absolutely no one mentioned Ryan, which totally annoys me.
Speaking of tremendous talent, Chehon‘s soloing next, and lets us in to his private world. We see pictures of his adorable brothers (all adopted) and his funky older adoptive parents (Beat Wespi and Edith Tschopp) and tells us how at 14 they let him join the Royal Ballet School of London. It made them sad every night to see his empty chair, Beat tells us. Sniff! Edith has Run Lola Run red hair, her bangs pulled to the side with a tiny barrette. Maybe they still live in Switzerland, but it’s been very difficult for his parents to see him perform, and it’s his greatest wish that they get to see him now.
Oh! How was it ever possible that I thought this guy was full of himself?
To begin his solo, Chehon has his face in his hands, sitting on the edge of the stage. When he pulls them back dramatically, he looks angry. And what he does next, leaping and spinning and flinging himself around the stage, is simply extraordinary. When he’s finished and Cat has tucked him under her arm, Mary and Jesse are on their feet, and tears slip down his face. We see his mom in the audience, and Cat greets her by name. By the time the audience has calmed down, Nigel’s on his feet, too, and Chehon can barely stammer out his number.
Back to Lindsay now, who has jazz with – ooooh! – Alex Freaking Wong and Sonya Tayeh! How awesome is that? Of course, there doesn’t seem to be a very clear idea behind the piece. It’s about smoldering sexual tension, which they have to attack, but in a laid back, chill vibe.
Setting the mood for chilled tension, Sonya’s set the piece to my favorite song from 2011, Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” featuring Kimbra. Excellent! This song is ridiculously fun to dance to. Could this get any better? At first, I’m too mezmerized by Alex’s abs to notice, but the answer is yes. There’s something slightly off, like they’re dancing too fast, or not fast enough, and they’re flinging each other around but not looking deeply into each other’s eyes and beating the crap out of each other. In my mind this piece should have been a lot like The Garden, with its freaky hot hostility, and the choreography didn’t get there. It might just be my reaction, but to me, this is less than I’d have expected from Sonya.
It’s clear from the moment Nigel starts speaking that in his dissatisfaction, he faults the dancers and not the choreography. Technically brilliant, but utterly lacking sexual tension, he growls. Look to Allison for your acting inspiration, because you can do this. (Riiiight, because it’s so easy to be Allison?) Boo me now and get it over with, Mary instructs the audience, because I agree. There was intensity, clarity of movement, great partner work with the “lead and follow” but no chemistry. Well, the chemistry was 70% there, Jesse offers, while the technique was 100%. (I wouldn’t go there myself, actually; you could tell occasionally in her extension that Lindsay isn’t a contemporary dancer.) To compensate for that rough critique, he calls her dingdongdorable and – forgetting about the RNC – jokes that Utah is now empty with so many friends and family members in the house. Let’s see Lindsay get the worst critique of the night! Super. And – huh. Maybe I shouldn’t feel badly about Ryan being completely ignored, because no one makes the tiniest acknowledgement of Alex, either. And that’s just wrong. It’s just plain wong.
For your viewing pleasure, we have Will and All Star Lauren up next, with a high concept Christopher Scott routine. Okay. It’s kind of a confusing concept, actually. Lauren is sort of like Will’s conscience, except a conscience that makes him dance his troubles away. A part of himself that stops him from wallowing in his pain. Tricky to play, right?
Will sits on a low slung gray sectional, staring at bits of paper. Bills? Out of work, maybe? Financially in over his head? He’s clearly frazzled. There are pizza boxes off to the side. We can see Scott’s inspiration is somewhat literal – the song is Wye Oak’s “Dance My Pain Away” the District 78 remix. Lauren appears standing on the couch behind him, a hip hop Tinkerbell in white and gold. He dances up and all over the floor and couch and off the coffee table. While we’ve seen Will do hip hop before, it’s nice to see him play such a totally different character, channeling his natural ebullience nicely. And I liked Lauren manipulating him like a puppet – that makes nice use of hip hop, I think.
Mary loved the routine, gushing all over Will: perfect, intriguing, articulate, musical, tight, precise. She extolls him to believe in himself. Like the shirts say, he has the power. You’re such a ridiculously adorable puppy, Jesse tells him, but it was nice to see you not playing that up for once. And your life story is such a great example of why the Arts are so important in schools. (Yes. How amazing would it be if they offered dance in schools?) The idea of the routine is a tricky one, Nigel notes, because Will never got to interact with Lauren. He didn’t even get to see her. Sometimes cheesy Will subsumed himself into the character beautifully; it was a brilliant idea brilliantly brought to life. You’re never cheesy, Cat coos, hugging Will and calling him a Labrador. As before, he’s brimming over with emotion.
It turns out small town Utah girl Witney is one of four siblings in a huge extended family. And predictably, her Dad still has a lot of issues with all the sexy talk about his little girl. (It looks like she’s the oldest of her siblings, so it’s probably weird enough to him that he’s got a kid who’s 18, let alone that old men are drooling over her.) Blowing me over with her supreme confidence, Witney starts her solo slinking through the audience before ascending to the stage and starting the fast moving ballroom steps. Even while I’m in awe of her stage presence, I can’t help thinking that she’s no where near as crisp as Lindsay.
Surprisingly we go right into another solo – Cole, who recounts his days as a shy, awkward social outcast in Honolulu. Martials arts gave him focus (and a silver medal in the junior Olympics) ; he started to dance because he wanted to theater. He dances to E.S. Posthumous’ “Arise,” and I thought it was spectacular. We haven’t seen a solo from him all season, and it reminds you how magical Cole’s style is – even if he’s wearing stirrup socks, which look a little goofy. He does these series of – round house kicks? Wheel houses? I don’t know what to call them, but it all blows me away. Cat calls him a dancing ninja superhero.
As if to prove that he’s a competent general dancer (or, who knows, totally sink him) Cyrus is working with last season’s winner Melanie Moore (woot!) on a Mandy Moore jazz routine. And it is fast, he tells us. Seriously fast!
Except, and I hate to say this, it wasn’t. Oh, it had great style, and neat little zingy affectations like where both dancers put up their dukes. Cyrus looked adorable in checkered pants (the guy can wear a lot of color) and Melanie was a perfect pixie in a kicky little red dress, but no. “Badder Badder Schwing,” by Freddy Fresh featuring Fatboy Slim, was a fun back ground, and Cyrus did well. And I’m sure it was totally different for him, but in the annals of fast SYTYCD routines? This does not make the list. That just feels more and more like the show is throwing him softballs.
And – ha! That was his ear plug that went flying! Usually it’s the girls who lose bits of their costumes.
You’ll always be synonymous with this show, Jesse enthuses. You’re a people magnet, Nigel proclaims, and America must love you. You’ve also improved tremendously. He’s a bit annoyed that Cyrus doesn’t know the fist bit is Fosse-esque (or I don’t know, maybe he’s enjoying playing history of dance teacher) and lauds Melanie and Mandy. Melanie’s still the Beast, Mary grins. She loves the Fosse fist move. And she’s careful to say that though he’s not perfect, Cyrus has done extraordinary work for an untrained dancer, and that no one else can do what he does in his own style.
Next up, the season’s most virtuoso, versatile dancer; Eliana, from West Palm Beach Florida. She has four brothers and a sister, she’s the child of divorce and is extremely close to her mother. She left home at 16 for the Joffrey Ballet school, which was very difficult emotionally. She does a ballet solo to Max Richter’s “Infra 8” and the audience goes absolutely nuts, which is pretty awesome of them. Her strength and restraint astound me. It’s not flashy, but everyone gets it anyway. Excellent.
My first thought is panic for Chehon that he’s ended up with ballroom again, but this time it’s the tango with Miriam and Leonardo (who, oddly, aren’t introduced in the “junket” as Jesse called it) and of course Anya. In fact, there’s almost nothing to learn in the package except that it’s hard and they have to relearn how to walk – although you can see that Chehon tango-walks beautifully.
As “Breathing Below the Surface” by Jesse Cook starts up, Chehon stands alone, spinning up into the air. Anya enters from stage right; he joins her, and they move together. His beautiful ballet posture suits this dance. The lines are glorious. But there’s something else, too, something harder to put into words. This is tango like I’ve never seen; the guitar is softer and more romantic than the fierce stomping rhythm we’ve come to expect, and as the dance unfolds, it becomes deeper, more intimate, until I feel like they’ve opened up a window into someone’s private life. When Anya smiles up at Chehon, I feel like they’ve been married forever, that they’re dancing together at home, just for each other, just to express their joy and tenderness and partnership. Oh, they flick their legs. Manlier than we’ve ever seen him, Chehon lifts Anya beautifully. But it’s all become more than admiring the subtleties of the choreography. The audience stills, so quiet that I fear they’re not getting it, because there is no pandering to us. We bear witness, but we are not included.
But that’s only until it ends. When the spell breaks, we see the judges on their feet, hear the roar of the audience, and get a look at some Deeley chills. “Edith should come by every week!” Cat quips. Miriam looks to be blinking back tears. As the applause continues, it’s Leonardo’s turn to gulp and compose himself.
It’s the best of the night, Mary gasps, so different, filled with such monumental stillness. Chehon is on the damn train – but she’s too breathless to whistle. Jesse wants another drink (oh, did he get one during the commercials?) because tonight’s performances are just too good. He invents a hot jalapeno bus to put Chehon on because Mary’s train is just not enough. Rolling his eyes at his wacky colleagues, Nigel thanks Miriam and Leonardo for the routine. He loved the classical lines – so perfect for a ballet dancer – but even more, he loved the connection between Anya and Chehon. They smiled at each other in a tango, Nigel recalls, astounded, and it worked. Argh! I wish we’d seen that they both were smiling! Damn our camera angle.
Seriously, that was extraordinary. The unusual choreography, the intense connection between the dancers, Chehon’s emotional high combined to create something unforgettable.
The last solo of the night belongs to Dallas born Cyrus. His mom is a soldier (we see footage of her in Vegas watching Boris and Cyrus dance in front of a crowd that includes a laughing, appreciative Chehon), he used to summer with his Dad until his Dad died when he was ten. Youch. He dances to “Existence (VIP)” by Excision and Downlink, and what can you say? He is his own. He’s prodigiously talented. The crowd goes mental. Nigel goes mental, yelling out “ratchet!” and Cat tells – is it Nigel or Cyrus, I can’t even tell – that he laughs like a girl. It just makes everyone happy.
Tiffany has the final routine, bookending the night, a Mandy More contemporary piece with All Star Ade. As is her wont, Mandy’s set the piece to some epic 80s pop (and yes, the song is from the 80s, even if Celine Dion’s version hails from 1993). “I’m your lady,” Tiffany wails into a pretend microphone, “And Ade is my ma-ah-an.” Ade flexes his prodigious muscles. Tiffany dares us not to sing along.
And as “The Power of Love” begins, Ade starts tossing tiny Tiffany around the stage as if she were a piece of candy floss. They roll together on the floor. When they stand, the lifts go on for years – back, forth, one side, the other. Crazy. I like it. And yes, Tiffany, I did sing along.
Woah – the judges are on their feet again? Now, I liked that very much, especially the lifts, but really? Their response, and the emotion of the whole thing, reduces Tiffany to tears. Jesse sings to her: “that was ah-may-zing/those lifts were insa-ay-ane.” He cannot possibly take part in picking someone to leave tonight. You’re extraordinary, Mary says, and that was your best performance of the season. (Really? I’d pick “Turning Page” myself. I adore that piece. And actually, the jazz she did with Audrey on the “Meet the Top Twenty” show was pretty fierce, too. I’d probably rank her foxtrot higher, even. Not that I didn’t like it, of course.) What a great match with Mandy, Mary continues, and you are so special. Tiffany hides beneath Cat’s arm. “To quote One Direction, you don’t know you’re beautiful,” the host tells the tiny dancer.
Nigel was convinced that itty bitty Tiffany and gentle giant Ade could produce something spectacular, and they did. And then – I can’t decide if Cat upstaged Nigel, using his prepared line, or if Nigel heard what she said and decided to use it as his own – Nigel quotes exactly the same One Direction song with an enormous air of drama, as if he were imparting great wisdom and not a pop lyric quoted 30 seconds previously. It’s strange. At any rate, he too, believe she doesn’t know she’s beautiful, and loves that Tiffany is so focused and humble, that she’s all work and no vanity.
Interesting. I can’t helping wondering if this fanfare is in part about preparing us for Tiffany making the finals and even beating out Eliana to be the top girl. What can her voting totals be? Really fascinating.
So the dancers are called out. 4 out of the 8 have been in the bottom before: Eliana, Lindsay, Witney and Chehon. Unsurprisingly, blond ballroom besties Witney and Lindsay are the bottom two girls (if Eliana hit the bottom after “Bang Bang,” there would be no hope for the voting audience). To my complete surprise, however, the bottom two guys are Will and Cole, neither of whom had fallen low before. Wow. I’m thrilled that Chehon is peaking at the perfect time, but I thought Cole was the only male dancer as popular as Cyrus. Now I have to assume that’s not true.
Nigel begins by telling us this is the last choice the judges will be making. Votes will determine who gets into the finale, and then who wins. Unsurprisingly, Nigel chooses to save bombshell Witney over Lindsay. Poor girls; they say they knew it would come down to them. But hey, they’re both on the tour, and neither one of them was going to win, so I’m not sure their exit order makes an enormous difference. Perhaps predictably, the judges have decided that as wonderful as Will is, Cole is too unique to lose. Well, they don’t say that, but I do. “I dance because I have to,” Will says in his exit package. “This has been so fun,” he enthuses through his disappointment, and I’m glad to have Cat there to hug him since I can’t do it myself. The judges are standing, Cole’s crying, and we’re out.
Painful, but necessary, I suppose. I’d have kept Lindsay, but I don’t think it matters in terms of the finale; Witney will be out on the penultimate show. What did you think? Were you surprised by the results? By the judges belated love for Tiffany? Which of the three Cs will advance to the finale? Can Chehon beat out Cole and Cyrus now that we’re finally seeing his personality? Did it make you guys feel better to see Mary apologize online for not mentioning certain wonderful All Stars? And how are they going to work the voting for the finale?