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

E:  Sigh.  That was so wonderful I still feel sated.  Not sated enough to stop watching the show over and over, but just blissful and floaty and grand.  I’m so sorry this has to end, but I’m just loving the quality of the routines now, aren’t you?  Now, I genuinely don’t know who’s going to win.  I know who I want.  I know who the judges want.  But the rest of America?  Will the judges preferences affect theirs?  What a lot of good questions.  So let’s get down to them!

Cat opens the show in a red lace dress with a tiered knee length skirt and short sleeves.  She looks great, of course, but it’s not one of my favorite looks; it feels a little dowdy for the finale.  But I don’t care. She’s Cat, and we only have two nights left with her until next summer!  Sorry for that unpleasant thought.  Not looking forward to that drought.  There’s no artificial shortages tonight, however; we get five performances from each dancer!  Wow.  A solo, a group dance, an All Star dance (clearly designed to show off the best of each individual) and then a pairing with each of their fellow finalists.  Excellent.  (Although – what did Cat not count?  Because that actually adds up to six.)  And check it out – cheerful, effusive Rob Marshall (director of Oscar winning musical Chicago) has joined the judging panel.  Let the dancing begin!

First up, it’s Eliana and Cyrus, together again.  Their appointed task is paso doble with Jason Gilkison, which explains their costumes during the introductions.  Eliana’s in black with blazing red, flamenco-inspired red ruffled skirts and a plunging net-covered neckline; Cyrus is shirtless with a loose cummerbund over black pants and a sort of split skirt with a red lining.  (His ear plugs are red, for the accent – cute.)  They both look fabulous.  Jason’s idea for them is that Eliana is the matador and skirt-wearing Cyrus is the cape.  I’m the matador, Eliana puzzles?  I feel more like a mop.  Ha.  When the ruffled skirt hits the floor, she does look a little bit like a really glamorous mop.

I have to admit, I didn’t so much see the gender reversal, but I thought it was all in all a really nice aggressive paso.  Red circles spot the floor as the dance begins; Eliana and Cyrus rise up slowly, slowly as if from the dead.  White spot flash in, and it’s all appropriately dramatic.  Of course Eliana is wonderful, but Cyrus mostly holds his own. His posture is excellent and when the dance calls for sharp, staccato movements he’s (unsurprisingly) amazing.   He manages the lifts and holds nicely as well, and there are quite a lot.  And then there’s the mopping; Eliana drags Cyrus on his back before he pulls her in turn (tremendous, because she looks so queenly and aloof).  The music (Daft Punk’s “The Game Has Changed”) brings a nice element of electronica that enables Cyrus to do a little glitching, as it were.  But.  There are moments where his difficulty with fluidity is a real problem.

At the point where he badly flubs a leap, I turned to my husband and said, you know, I love Cyrus’s personality (he’s so genuine), I think he’s incredibly gifted dancer, but I will be upset if he wins and he probably is going to.  That makes no sense, my husband contended, not if you like and respect him.  They’re always careful to say we’re picking America’s favorite dancer, not necessarily the best. And the only answer I can come up with is this: that I like great dancing more than I like Cyrus. Tiffany or Eliana are both worthy winners (even though I, like the judges, have an opinion on the subject), but this show calls for its contestants to transcend their genres, and while Cyrus has made truly astounding progress, he hasn’t done that yet.  Of course you could rightly argue that Chehon isn’t all the way there, either, but he’s so much further along.  The difference between them is so great, it would feel unfair to me.

Anyway.  Sorry.  Rant over.

Eliana’s magical, Nigel effuses, Jason Gilkison has been missed, and Cyrus deserves to be here.  Still, it wasn’t a perfect job on his part; his legs needed to be straighter and his shoulders weren’t always in proper form.  He pulled his punches, though, I think, not mentioning the really messed up leap.  Mary makes an odd analogy about skinny dipping with snapping turtles (eek) before calling Cyrus on the leap and a bent cartwheel.  Eliana, on the other hand, is perfect.  Rob Marshall compliments their ability to throw technique away and tell a story with passion.

Sonya Tayeh has created a routine to celebrate Tiffany‘s achievements on the show; it’s all about taking the time to appreciate where she is, to live the moment with joy.  With tears in her eyes Tiffany tells us that Sonya created her first routine on the show and was the first person to make Tiffany believe she belonged and that she could do this.  Aw!  She’s getting me choked up.  All Star Will (looking so much more relaxed with those long dreads than he did back in Season 4, even though I’m not sure I actually prefer the look) is her partner in happiness.

And wow, what a truly joyful routine it is.  Will wears beads and loose full trousers, and Tiffany has on a purple bra, black panties and a strange purple cummerbund-like thing that’s attached to some high garters.  She looks great as always, but I don’t get it.  Moloko’s “The Time is Now” is the perfect backdrop; “let’s make this moment last,” she sings.  You get the point; they’re living in the moment, they’re feeling everything, they’re alive.  Their interactions are playful.  At one point Will holds Tiffany across his knees as if she’s flying.  The final lift, which stutters a little bit and doesn’t quite make it all the way up, still gives us that impression of flying.

Mary lauds Tiffany as a great partner and perfect dancer.  Rob notes the appropriateness of the song and sentiment for September 11th.  Look how you’ve grown, Will, Nigel beams, before he apologizes for underselling Tiffany as the girl next door.  No one as wonderful as you ever lived next door to me, he explains.  Aw.  She ducks her head, moved.

And – yes!  Yes!  Clearly the producers aim to show off their finalists, because we have a classical ballet routine for Eliana and Chehon next!  How completely awesome is that?  Spiffing.  The show’s found a former soloist for the Kirov ballet (who now teaches in L.A.) named Marat Daukayev to help them out.  The dancers are apprehensive; Chehon explains that if ballet dancers aren’t in class all the time, they’re not going to be in proper form, and of course during the show he and Eliana haven’t had the time for a barre class.  So he’s quite fearful that they won’t do the piece justice.

And what a piece!  It’s probably the most famous pas de deux in ballet, and certainly the best known to non-dancers; it’s the one from the Nutcracker.  This may make me a complete dork, but this music gives me goosebumps.  I just adore it.  My mother and grandmother used to take me into the city when I was a little girl to see The Nutcracker, and now that I have daughters, we’ve continued the tradition.  It’s all bound up in Christmas and childhood magic and the spell of that magnificent music.  Heck, there are entire books written about The Nutcracker and its an indelible place in Western culture.  So that pink Sugar Plum Fairy tutu, and the Nutcracker prince’s white and gold – it does something to me.   I mean, sure, it’s one of those routines where the guy mostly just stands there and tosses the girl in the air and spins her around – but oh, how he does it!  And then the lifts!  The leaps!  The spins!  I’m giddy.

I’m not the only one.  Once the judges finally sit down, Rob extolls Eliana’s glorious extension, and Chehon’s strength (no one ever appreciates how hard the man’s role is in ballet).  Nigel piggybacks on this, noting that Will struggled with the last lift (and then didn’t even straighten his arms) but with Chehon the pressage looked effortless.  As is his wont, he’s beside himself that there’s true classical ballet on his humble little “let’s get together and put on a show, kids” TV program.  Oh.  Weirdly?  He’s never seen The Nutcracker.  Is this because he didn’t have daughters?  Does it seem kitschy or not serious if you don’t have a family or didn’t start going as a kid?  Clearly he was into much more mature and serious dance back in the day.  Like disco.

Ahem. Mary calls it a triumph for the show, a celebration of ballet, and with a halt in her voice, says she’ll never forget it as long as she lives.  She has to stop talking before she completely gives in to the tears. Aw!

It’s been a while since we’ve seen her work, but Tessandra Chavez is in the house, and she has a lyrical hip hop routine for Cyrus and Tiffany.  Last week, they had a cute Broadway piece about young love; this week, they’re still each other’s first love, but Cyrus has mysteriously broken Tiffany’s heart.  Though he’s sorry and he wants her back, he’s wrecked what they had, and she can’t forgive.  Complicated and vague at the same time, but I get it.  They’re wearing casual clothes (jeans, etc), and look! Cyrus has a shirt on!  Heck, this may be the only time tonight either Cyrus or Tiffany has a shirt on, although of course her two tops still leave her extraordinarily toned midriff bare.  The music is Beyonce’s “Best Thing I Never Had” and it’s a close fit to the story.  Cyrus begins the routine sitting on the floor, trapped in guilt.  I wouldn’t say it moved me or awed me, but it was still a really nice routine.  Both dancers invest fully in their characters; Cyrus veers near to tears. He tries to hold and kiss her; she’s not having it.  She kicks him, punches at him, flails from the depths of her anger and betrayal. There’s a spectacular lift where Cyrus twirls and flips Tiffany in about five different directions.  He sits on the ground again at the end, distraught.  Tiffany watches him for a moment, then walks up behind him, bends, hugs him around the neck, and walks away.

After Cat has demanded that Tiffany not backslide or even look at Cyrus, Nigel congratulates the pair on never having been in the bottom for the entire season.  Really, it’s quite an achievement since Cyrus was the least studied dancer on the show and Tiffany was a total unknown.  I can’t even account for it on her part, to be honest.  I think she’s great, but I can’t really explain the depth and consistency of her fan base because she was such an unknown and faced wonderful competition.  Nigel praises their ability to broadcast emotion, and the way Cyrus tossed Tiffany around like a rag doll.  (So true!)  Tiffany’s a beast, Mary tells us, and Cyrus killed it.  To my great surprise, Rob Marshall says it’s his favorite piece of the night, and that they had his favorite quality in dancers – abandon.

Tyce has choreographed a routine for the top four, an interesting mash up which essentially allows each person to dance around in their own style dressed up as conductors or orchestra members.  Everyone’s in black and white (Cyrus has on one of those t-shirts with the tuxedo bow tie and ruffled shirt graphic on it) with suggestions of formal wear.  Tiffany’s in a sleeveless jacket with tails (and this is the only time her torso’s completely covered up), Chehon too has a tuxedo style jacket on, and Eliana’s wearing a collared bolero over a boned corset.  They look great, and each of them wanders around doing jumps and spins and leaps and isolations.  Eliana has a baton, and waves it in front of a music stand.  It’s quirky and whimsical and cute without clear flow or a story.  My favorite part is probably the end, where all four dancers freeze and bob back and forth as if they were toys shaking after an abrupt change in momentum.

After this, it’s time for the first solo of the night.  Or it will be after we get a little film in which Eliana gets to talk about her journey.  (Some years Cat interviews the finalists, but if that was the case we don’t get to see it.)  Though it starts with a lot of clips of Eliana being wacky and enjoying the experience to the fullest, she takes up the tale in earnest when she talks about being paired with Cyrus.  Tactful but honest, she acknowledges being happy and apprehensive at the same time, and fearing that he overshadowed her.  It wasn’t until “Bang Bang” – a mountain top experience for her – that she felt like people could really see who she is as a dancer.  I’ll say!  She cries when she talks about wanting to win, about wanting the circle to be complete.  I just think she’s wonderful.  And there she is on stage, glowing softly. Her solo – to Johann Johannsson’s  “Passacaglia” – slices through the audience like the edges of her stiff black tutu.  She just did a cartwheel/walk over on point, people!  And the leaps?  Holy crap, are you kidding me?  That blew me away.  Best solo ever.  Judges, why aren’t you standing?

Speaking of getting worked up, Stacey Tookey’s doing a routine for Chehon and All Star Allison, and she’s going out of her mind with excitement about the stuff Chehon can do.  She’s hilarious, squeaking and squealing when he performs some bit of insane gymnastics.  His answering smile, pleased and embarrassed, is just the cutest thing. Her idea?  It’s a facet of the “I Will Always Love You” story; Allison’s got a job opportunity that will require her to leave Chehon, she wants the job but him too, and so Chehon is forced to be the strong one and step away from her because he loves her so much.  Again, this has got to hit quite close to home for Chehon.

Stacey’s chosen “Leave” from the Broadway cast recording of Once.  The singer’s no Glen Hansard, but it’s still a great song.  Allison’s wearing a lovely navy dress, and Chehon’s in khaki pants and a crisp white open shirt. As ever, Allison wears her extreme emotion not just on her face but over every inch of her skin out to the tips of her toes.  You can see in Chehon the war between love and possession, and she doesn’t make it easy – she clings to his leg, drapes herself over his shoulders, and no matter how often he boosts her up or kicks her away, she doesn’t want to leave. The partner work astounds me.  There’s a flotilla of fabulous lifts, but the audience screams in particular delight when Chehon boosts Allison up over his head (one of her legs flying up over her own head, his hands under her stomach) and then takes one hand away.  That’s right, he holds the lift one handed.  It’s aching and painful and spectacular.  In the end, Chehon disentangles himself only to kiss Allison tenderly, hands on the side of her face, and you can see in her reaction that the kiss was an ending.  Slowly, she backs away, and they’re so locked into each other that neither one of them breaks character as Cat stalks in to verify the number of hands in that amazing lift.  Stacey claps and bounces like a giddy school girl in the audience.

Do I even need to tell you that the judges are standing?  Nigel begs Mary to blow the Hot Tamale Train whistle and she does.  She gasps that she needs to toot Stacey’s horn first, the “three time nommy eminated Stacey Tookey.”  Hee!  First Nigel calls her an Oscar nominee, now Mary says she’s nommy eminated.  I love it.  “This is your year,” Mary insists fervently.  She’s in awe of Chehon’s new freedom, his elastic movement and loose back and the incredible lift kick (which, holy crap).  We don’t blame you for getting so excited about Chehon, Stacey, Rob adds, because the judges are all beside themselves.  And Allison?  She is fierce.  Shouldn’t she be an actress, Nigel asks the director?  I love that Nigel tries so hard to get Allison work.  It’s genuinely sweet.  Rob agrees. Nigel’s amazed by the new depth in Chehon’s performances, his increasing ability to connect to and convey emotion.  It was brilliant.

And now for something completely different!  Do you remember a few years ago when Tyce did a Broadway routine for the top two girls which involved frilly parasols?  Not this time, baby!  Ray Leeper is putting them to the pole.  Damn.  He calls the routine Burlesque to Broadway, and he’s brought in yes, a stripper pole for our aerialist which has to be between 10 and 12 feet tall if not more.  Wow.  And Ray has the hutzpah to set the performance to “When You’re Good to Mama,” using the Broadway revival soundtrack and not the version from Rob Marshall’s Oscar winning screen version of Chicago.  Wow.

Eliana (in red and black) spins out from the top of the pole, strongly backlit, while Tiffany, in shades of blue with another cummerbund showing off her ribcage, twirls at the bottom.  Burlesque Broadway is right; Eliana dips and tumbles, Tiffany sways and sweeps, and both girls arch and strut and send their fringed costume bits flying.  It’s way too much fun.  You can see Eliana’s Circe du Soleil training here; she is so ridiculously, incredibly strong on that pole.  Tiffany does really well, flipping around the pole herself, pushing off El, (as she calls her), then squatting on the floor.  But wow.  Eliana shimmies up the pole to end the number with one leg clutching the pole and the other bent over her head, spinning with her hands out in the air.  Holy cow, how strong is she? It’s mindblowing.

“I know I’m going to regret this, but Nigel, I’m coming to you first,” Cat begins.  Nigel mops his forehead with a handkerchief and begs her to come back.  Ha!  Cat shakes her head; it’s just not good for him, you know.  It’s not fair.  Rob steps into the breach, saying that he can’t get over picturing Queen Latifah (Mama from the film version) attempting that choreography.  The crowd goes nuts – it’s his line of the night.  At first I think that was a mean crack at her weight, but then I picture comedienne Latifah doing it, and I can see that she’d be hilarious. Graciously, Rob loves that it was something he would never have thought of, he thought it was fierce, and can’t even get over the opening pose.  “There’s no sense on the panel right now,” Mary sighs.  It was crazy great, and both girls are extraordinary.  (They both are, but it’s interesting to me that no one really highlights how skilled Eliana is.  Perhaps it’s just not necessary because everyone can see it?)  Nigel finally gasps “It’s so hard…” Ew, Nigel! …”to think of anything to say that won’t get me in trouble!”  Ah well.  They’re both astounding.

Cyrus basically admits that all he wanted to do was show off animation in his Atlanta audition.  He just thought he’d get more attention to his style, and not that he’d actually make the live broadcasts of the show.  The clips from Vegas make you fall in love with him all over again.  When he says that his low point was doing Sonya’s piece because it hurts him to feel like he was letting her down and not doing it justice?  Oh my gosh.  The boy just glows with sincerity and the fervor of his good intentions.  It’s beautiful.  He’s beautiful.  He laughs a little over the oddness of being recognized and how weird it was that people wanted to take pictures with him at the National Dance Day festivities.  He does a blistering solo to Messianan’s “Holy Ghost”; I need to go back through my old posts because someone on this show has definitely used that music before.  Cyrus during the auditions?  That’s my guess, but he might not have been the only one.

Anyway.  Looks like he managed to get Mary and Rob to stand up. (Is it wrong of me to be peeved on Eliana’s behalf that they didn’t stand up for her?)

Tiffany tells us the words that she lives by: “Never let fear of striking out stop you from playing the game.”  And like Eliana, she talks specifically about the way she’s been portrayed on the show.  I had no idea, but she wasn’t put straight through to Vegas. This finalist actually had to make it through choreography.  Also, she was featured in the first few seconds of this season’s first broadcast doing a leg spin (right after some amazing audition footage of Chehon), and she thought wow, I’m going to be all over this show.  But then as we all know, she wasn’t.  In Vegas, she was largely ignored by the judges up until the ballroom round. So when it was time for the judges to pick the top twenty – which apparently happened after the show started air, fascinating! – and she saw so many girls who’d been featured in the audition rounds (editors, why are you including Amber with Janelle and Eliana and Audrey and Amelia here?), she thought she was doomed.

But as we know, she wasn’t.

She wants us to know that she’s a fighter, that she’s had to fight maybe harder than anyone else to be there.  Heck, even in that first number Sonya made for her, no one could tell her apart from Audrey.  But from the judges and choreographers, she gained faith that she could do this.  With her piece with Ade, she felt like finally she was seen for who she is.  She breaks into tears as she tells us that she’s fought so hard every minute to show America her love of dance, and her worthiness.

Seriously, don’t you want to just hug her up?

For her solo she wears a bronze colored bra and asymmetrical skirt.  She’s picked Fantasia’s “I Believe” and it couldn’t be more fitting.  Finally, finally, she believes.

Sonya has another routine for us tonight, and like her first, it’s based on the contestants’ journeys.  (I always want to put quotes around that word when it’s used on a reality show.)  Chehon and Cyrus have struggled to get where they are, but have supported each other.  What’s up with them wearing matching shirts to rehearsal?  Cute.  Also?  This whole thing is super dramatic – the sharp edges of the lighting, their sculpted bodies, the way they begin with their backs to the audience and turn, then walk up some steps in unison.  I love it.  The music is a “Fangs” by Little Red Lung, the District 78 remix (and I looked it up because it sounded so cool and man is the remix incredibly different; for one thing, it’s not originally an instrumental piece). It’s a jazz routine, yes, but it’s heavily influenced by Cyrus’s style.  Sonya’s brought a lot of the staccato movement into it at which Cyrus excels.  The men roll off each other, lift each other, lean on each other.  While I can’t help imagining Cole here, it’s well done.  Most of the time Cyrus’s weaknesses don’t show at all (especially if you don’t look at his feet).  There’s one odd moment where he runs really fast and then stalls before jumping up on Chehon’s back, but generally, they look and work terrifically together.  And when the lights go out, leaving us with their dramatically shadowed forms on the stage?  Smoking hot.

I’m going to give it to you straight, Nigel begins, which is a little alarming.  Cyrus’s level of improvement has been ridiculous.  Nigel thinks he’s inspirational and is proud to know him; he goes far enough to say that he wishes he had Cyrus’s excellent attitude, and that Cyrus is the best person in the competition.  (I half expected him to trot out Jack Nicholson’s classic line from As Good As It Gets, “You make me want to be a better man,” but sadly he doesn’t.) Chehon, on the other hand, is Nigel’s favorite dancer.  Right.  (Except for Eliana, obviously – he must mean his favorite male dancer.  He’s too free with his superlatives, this one.)  Chehon didn’t need to improve as a dancer, Nigel continues, but he’s grown so much – which is a sort of tricky line to toe, right?  I mean, you don’t want to imply that being reserved made him a bad person. I think the story here is that Chehon has grown tremendously as a performer and learned how to open himself up so he can truly give of himself on stage.  But that’s part of growing as a dancer.

Anyway, I know what Nigel’s getting at.  Part of which is that as cool as Cyrus is, Chehon is the one who deserves to win.  He doesn’t come right out and say that, but it’s there.  He makes sure we see Flashdance star Jennifer Beals in the audience, and says that she served as inspiration for a generation of dancers; Chehon and Cyrus could do the same.  (And you know, it’s a good point about both of them; how many little boys want to be ballet dancers? Maybe more will now.) Life is a fight in general, Mary adds uselessly, but you’ve both had tremendous journeys.  Rob chooses to concentrate his comments on something Sonya has said to him – that the dance is about support.  And it’s true, the two of them did support each other (though again thinking about this makes me miss Cole more), and that’s common in the community of dancers, which most people don’t realize.  It’s generous and beautiful and very much not Black Swan.

To give Chehon a breather, we get a short and very cool solo from Jean Sok, a young (French?) hip hop dancer missing his left leg who dances uses canes – doing air flares, handstands, even juggling them.  Very neat.

Back to the ballet world; Chehon auditioned for the show to explore other styles of dance.  To that end he found Vegas week incredibly rewarding, which is such a mark of his skill as a dancer and his attitude. Has anyone ever said that in the history of the show?  Hell week is rewarding?  He always felt that he had something inside, but the show taught him how to let that out.  We see cute footage of him goofing for the camera (what was up with that banana?) and then blowing the judges away with his solos.  The judges and then the choreographers (he singles out Stacey particularly) made him believe that he could share himself, that he had something worth giving.  It doesn’t matter if I win, he says with tears filling his eyes, because I’m just so thankful for what the show has given me.  Aw!

Seriously, I want to hug him.That shy, hopeful smile enchants me.

Chehon’s solo features interesting little nods to the show – he’s dancing to Devotchka’s “How It Ends,” so memorably used by Neil and Kent – holding a ticket to Vegas.  He’s dressed similarly in a gray tank top and long pants.  In fact, he starts the piece thumping his fist against his side, so evocative of Travis’s choreography (Neil shaking his hand right before stabbing Kent in the back).  But where Travis’s piece was about loss, this is about joy. Chehon bounds through the air, opening his arms to the world, showing both the pain and the glory, the confusion and the bliss.

Next we see the man himself, Travis Wall, with a contemporary routine for Eliana and Alex Wong.  YES!  Could I be more excited?  Nope, I don’t think so!  Travis feels the responsibility of  creating a piece worthy of two of the shows best-ever dancers.  Eliana, meanwhile, wants us to know that while they’re goofballs in rehearsal, they will achieve the proper seriousness on stage.  No one tells us what the seriousness is about.

The music  – Harry Nilsson’s “Without You” – makes it plain, however.  Alex and Eliana couldn’t live if living meant being without each other!  Well, duh.  Alex lies on his belly on the floor as Eliana (brilliant in a yellow spaghetti strapped dress with a multilayer handkerchief hem) stands looking away from him.  His feet are hooked around hers, and he pulls her backward by crawling away.  So neat.  Their strength and their chemistry is awe-inspiring.  Watching him sneak under her, essentially sustaining a back bend without his hands touching the floor?  Ridiculous.  Like “Bang Bang,” I can’t even critique this because it’s so fluid and gorgeous and wonderful that I’ve sunk inside it and I can’t separate one sinuous movement from the next. Somebody ought to start a dance company around these two so we can see them do this all the time.

And predictably, the judges are on their feet.  That was poetry, Rob gushes, and there’s nothing Eliana can’t do.  (She’s proved it every week, Mary nods.)  There was a lift “in second,” Rob mentions – the split lift where her legs went up past horizontal – that was just beyond words. Once he gets over sighing and shaking his head, Nigel says that the piece combines his favorite things; the song, Travis (who will have a great career if people let him, which, huh? is someone not?), and of course Alex and Eliana.  Not only is Eliana his favorite girl this season, she’s his favorite girl ever.  Or at least in America.  Didn’t he say that to Melanie on last season’s finale?  Not that he isn’t justified, because she rocks.  It makes Eliana cry.  Mary Murphy wants us all to know that of everyone who’s ever passed through the show, she gets more questions about Alex and what became of him after his injury.  Count me on that list!  (Not of people who know Mary to ask her.  The one that wants to know about Alex – oh, you know what I meant.)   She’s thrilled with Travis, and cannot believe Eliana’s extraordinary feet and ankles.  The girls rocks.

And here’s the final challenging piece of the night.  Oh, lay off, I know they’re all challenging – but this is the other one way outside the dancers’ comfort zones.  As I’m sure you’ve noticed, most of the routines have been in the dancers’ styles, or complimentary ones, omitting the paso for Eliana and Cyrus.  So now, to balance things out, Chehon and Tiffany have a rumba.   Oh no!  They’re going to make Chehon do ballroom AGAIN?!!!!  That’s the third week in a row!  I get a little pissed that he didn’t get the paso, which he could no doubt pull off as beautifully as he did the tango a few weeks ago.  Will the rumba kill him?  Dmitry Chaplin’s desire is for the dance to be so steamy that the audience feels uncomfortable.

It’s clear that the dance is being staged as a wedding night – the tropical gauzy curtain, Chehon’s tuxedo pleated shirt and black pant, Tiffany’s bedroom hair and white satin negligee.  And, okay, I don’t feel uncomfortable, but I really liked it.  It was more sweet and romantic than anything else, and Norah Jones and Adam Levy’s duet of “Love Me Tender” enhanced that feeling.  Tiffany and Chehon both seem to have the proper rumba action.  I’m kind of sorry this quiet piece is how they have to end their nights, having been so brilliant and exciting otherwise, but this was really lovely.

Mary thought it was beautiful (yay!) though not as connected as she wanted (boo); Chehon was perfectly masculine, and she loved the slide he did on his knees across the floor (which I agree, very athletic and romantic) and his control and gorgeous movement.  And she says Tiffany could actually be a Latin dancer.  Nice.  Rob thought they had a beautiful connection, very natural in their movement and not overplayed. He loved their abandon (there it is again) and found it very sexy.  Chehon was smooth and elegant.  Now this is so much sexier than the pole dancing, Nigel insists (and obviously we believe him) because it’s all about slow control.  I agree that that’s valid, I’m just surprised to hear Nigel say so.  Couldn’t we afford buttons for your shirt, he wonders of a blushing Chehon.  Mary guffaws; of course there are no buttons, Dmitry dressed him!  The camera catches Dmitry smiling in the audience, flapping the edges of his wide open shirt.  Good one, Mary.

The final routine of the night belongs to Cyrus.  It’s what you’ve all been waiting for all season, he and choreographer Christopher Scott gush; Cyrus, tWitch and animation!  I wouldn’t say I’ve spent all season assuming it would happen, but I’m definitely psyched that it is!  If it’s half as good as last week’s dubstep, it’ll be insane. Christopher brings in some guy named Max who’s a big deal in the animation world, just to make sure he gets the details right, and Cyrus just about dies of joy.  They robot hug, and it’s so damn cute.  I’m completely enamored of Chris’s concept, which is that Cyrus and tWitch are genetically engineered supersoldiers waking up in a lab and trying out their new bodies.  (It ought to be cyborgs, right, rather than genetically engineered anything, but I’ll try not to be picky about nomenclature.)  Look at tWitch and Cyrus, their faces lit up like little boys at Christmas.  Even super cool, laid-back tWitch looks giddy.  Love love love.

To a zappy little ditty called “Like a Criminal” by District 78, we begin.  Cyrus and tWitch stand behind glass panels framed in metal, beneath the number designations T-0995 and CY- 1184.  Fascinating.  Details like that kill me!  (Wouldn’t you love to know if the numbers mean something?) Each wears a dirty white tank top over jeans, with fingerless gloves.  We see their eyes begin to blink awake, first one, then the other.  They twitch, taking in their surroundings.  Then they smash through the glass doors.


Tiny pebbles of glass scatter across the entire stage; they really had to go last, didn’t they?  The clean up from that’s going to be nuts.  They clomp around the stage and they’re totally super soldiers and it’s really cool.  I am maybe not quite as enamored of it as I was of the dubstep, but it’s still frickin’ awesome.  I think my favorite is the posing and posturing is the end, where something shuts them both down and they lock into a standing position.  Really really cool.

The judges sit, clapping politely.  No, just kidding.  They’re standing and going nuts just like the audience.  Cat wonders if she could order five of the super soldiers, just in case a couple of them break.  Nice try, Cat – and get in line. You’re superstars not super soldiers, Rob tells them. Mary goes out of her mind, blathering about Christopher Scott and murders.  They killed the routine, they nailed it, they stole the show!  Nigel thanks tWitch for all his hard work (reminding us that tWitch is not animator) and says they’re both world class, and it’s not just him that said it, it’s Christopher Scott, who really ought to know. Then he goes off the deep end a bit.  Perhaps he’s just reacting to the crowd and it’s intense love of this routine, and fears the impression this will make on the viewers at home being that it is the last routine.  Whatever his reasoning is, he takes it on himself to counteract this euphoria.  Nigel lavishes praise on Cyrus, repeating what he said earlier about being a great supporter of Cyrus’s, but says that he can’t vote for him.  Nigel is a dancer, and he has to go with Chehon, who is a great dancer now when Cyrus isn’t as good as he’s going to be.  Nigel will understand if the audience votes for Cyrus, because he’s magnificent.  “You warm my heart. I love your bones,” he finishes, but I can’t vote for you.

So who else is wondering if this has entirely doomed Chehon’s chances?

And the thing is, you know how I feel.  I agree with Nigel.  I didn’t vote for Cyrus, either.  I voted for Chehon, and the judges opinion one way or the other wouldn’t have swayed me.  But it felt so ungracious of Nigel to say that then, when the emotion in the room was running so high after a terrific performance show.  Perhaps it would have felt better if he’d told Chehon earlier that he’d vote for him?  Or had Cat ask who the jduges thought should win?  Either way, it was really uncomfortable.  I know he’s the head judge, and it’s his job, and I’m sure he cares passionately about who wins.  But the choice isn’t his anymore.  And is it going to make a Cyrus victory feel unearned?  Cyrus’s face just wiped blank of his usual ebullience, and watching that felt awful.

But.  Nigel-induced idiocy besides, it was a great show, filled with magical routines.  I’m so thrilled for the dancers, and for myself, that I have this gorgeous bundle of dance all wrapped up on my dvr for whenever I want to see it.  I know I’ve already put out my list of the top routines of the season (I didn’t realize that we’d have to wait a week for the results!) but I could stand to see lots of these again.  Now I’m wondering if the week between shows didn’t help the dancers only concentrate on this huge amount of routines without worrying about the group number and repeat performances for that show, too.  Anyway, “Without You,” “Nutcracker Sweet,” “Leave,” “Like a Criminal” are all more than worthy of repetition.  Will they make the cut?  It doesn’t happen often that a finale routine makes the final cut, but I’d be surprised if at least one of these didn’t.

If we look back, we can see that in addition to the group mash up and his solo Cyrus had the paso, the Sonya jazz, a lyrical hip hop and the animation routine.  Is that any more in his wheelhouse than Chehon with the rumba, jazz, contemporary and classical ballet?  It’s curious for sure, looking at the styles the producers gave our dancers.  The routines were tough, but it’s not as if they went out on a limb with Russian folk dancing.  They almost all seemed like safe styles.  Well, I guess Tiffany could have fallen off the pole?  What do you think?  Were the routines great because they were designed to make the dancers look good, in styles they could handle?  And given that, who will win?  You can probably guess that I’d pick Eliana and Chehon.  I think that their mastery is plain, but will that be America’s result?  Sometimes the best dancer does not win out, even when it’s obvious who that is (and it’s not always).  I think they’ve both got a shot, especially Eliana.  But then Tiffany and Cyrus have never been in the bottom.  Will their fan bases keep them at the top?  We’ll find out soon, and I for one can’t wait.


8 comments on “So You Think You Can Dance: Top Four, Season 9

  1. KT says:

    I so enjoy your detailed recaps. I thought the show had far more hits than misses. However, I find myself less charitable than you about some of the more frustrating aspects of this episode and the season as a whole. You alluded to it when you felt a twinge of regret on Eliana’s behalf when the judges stood for Cyrus’ solo, but not for hers. I will be more blunt. I am so disappointed by what I feel has been an unfair propping of Cyrus from the start. I like Cyrus, but won’t even go through motions of parroting the “Cyrus is so amazing because he has met every challenge and danced with such heart!!!” mantra. I agree with most of that (the heart part), but it has been emphasized to the detriment of other dancers who have also worked so hard, shown amazing heart, and have met their challenges, but have been rarely lauded for the same.

    I’ll start at the end.I believe Nigel wants Cyrus to win. Most of fandom is convinced this it the final season of SYTYCD and ALL signs point to that. With Cyrus, he will be able to close the show with this legacy: a winner to exemplify formal discipline and training (either girl) and a winner to exemplify the untrained dancer, kids who find a way to learn, even if they don’t have access to formal lessons. His comment to Cyrus was a ploy to assure his win. He has done that before and last year, even bragged about using it to reporters. (He crowed about using “reverse psychology”–his exact words– to help Ricky go through and how happy he was that “it worked”. I can find the video if any of your readers is interested). Speculation was that since Jess was coming on strong and he wanted Tadd and Marko in the finale, this was his method of getting Jess into the bottom for the first time. And of course, it worked and he was cut. Similarly, Chehon’s Twitter following had been blowing up over the last two weeks, which probably worried Nigel, so he “fixed it”.

    Here are Nigel’s tweets an hour or two after the show on Tues. : “Damn, I can’t believe #SYTYCD is not trending yet??” followed by this tweet: “c’mon angry people… Let it out!!! Let’s get trending!!” followed by this tweet: “OMG it’s turned ugly!!! Are we trending yet????”

    His intention is clear. Controversy and riled up fans. Twitter blew up with angry voters, saying they were switching votes from Chehon to Cyrus to spite him. Just as last year with Ricky, “it worked”. I am angered and annoyed that he chose to taint the win for either of these men. Neither deserved this treatment. Neither Cyrus, who will win, nor Chehon, who deserved a fighting chance.

    Now, after getting that off my chest, I want to say that Eliana epitomizes all that a favorite dancer should be. Generous, skilled, artistically expressive. I hope she wins.

    I think Chehon took the night. We had been worried when we learned that he was having back trouble from all the lifting he was having to do in rehearsals. He was not able to get to sleep on one night because of it. Tues., I understood why. However, I was impressed that every lift he had to do was effortless.

    My last comment is for the paired boys routine. I don’t agree that Cyrus held his own. He had far less to do than Chehon. He had one lift, one partial or assisted lift while Chehon had 5 or 6 very difficult lifts, involving spinning, carrying, throwing Cyrus. Cyrus weighs more than Chehon, but Che. looked like he was tossing a pillow around. On the very few synchronized sections, Cyrus was so off it almost looked as if they were supposed to be doing different movement (they weren’t). Finally, Chehon, when not lifting Cyrus, was leaping, spinning in circles around him, executing beautiful double tours and windmilled pirouettes. His center was flawless. I so wanted Nigel to mention the disparity in what they were asked to do. To even just say, “Chehon, you were really having to do some tough work there, but you made it look easy” would have been nice. It’s the kind of comment handed out so freely to Cyrus when he manages to be in the right place at the right time, regardless of whether or not he has the technique to pull off the move once he gets there. I wanted them to throw a bone to Chehon. A bone that didn’t come with a side-slam of his lack of personality.

    Well, that is enough griping. I do hope some miracle will transpire and we have a winners circle of team ballet, as they call themselves. It is a faint hope, though.

    Finally, have you seen the after show interviews with Eliana/Chehon together from the top 6 and 4 shows? They are hilarious together and charming to boot.

    • E says:

      I haven’t seen those videos! Where are they? I’m going to have to look them up.

      You’re probably right, Cyrus will win and Nigel will have helped him do it. (I’m so irritated that people would change their vote for such a reason! I will say, most of what I’ve seen is people supporting Eliana and Chehon, but I definitely don’t have an comprehensive view of the voting audience.) And you’re right about Cyrus not being able to stay in sync with Chehon during the few passages of Sonya’s piece where they were supposed to be in unison; I guess I just focused on my surprise at the fact that they looked much less mismatched than I expected.

      I desperately hope you’re wrong about the show not getting any more seasons, though! I loathe that idea. There’s nothing tv like this, and as you can probably tell, I look forward to it all year My summers will be sadly lacking without it.

      Thank you so much for writing in, KT; it’s great to talk to a fellow fan (and a particularly informed one to boot).

      • KT says:

        I, too, hope the show continues, but the signs are all there, which makes me sad.. I feel if Nigel had been certain of renewal, he would have told Cyrus to get training, then come back, as he did twice for Twitch before he was chosen for the top 20 on his 3rd try. With good training, Cyrus could have been a legitimate force. As it was, I felt Nigel saw a perfect storm for his final narrative: charismatic kid, very talented at what he does, and the handy storyline of “all your buddies dropped out and you persevered”. It was too perfect to pass it up.

        Here are Eliana and Chehon’s interviews. In the first, after the top 6 show, they are delirious from fatigue and hunger and thus, quite funny. Butt-biting and rehearsal farts are discussed. Hee.

        Also from top 6. Chehon reminded my sister and me of the dog from Up…”squirrel!”. Sort of random. Again, fatigue and the need for cheeseburgers is blamed for that.

        After top 4, the interviews include some discussion of their technique in ballet, which is interesting.

        In this one, they discuss the lack of a ballet (marley) floor. I knew that they would have to be very cautious dancing on that stage without the proper flooring Guest ballet dancers are also tentative when they appear. I also love Chehon’s sweet comment about Eliana’s spirit, after she discusses having a touch of the flu over the weekend. The girl is dedicated and fierce. They seem to have such respect for one another.

        This interviewer is a member of one of the ABDC dance crews. Che and Eliana demonstrate some of the technique needed for the ballet turns. They discuss all the kissing as well.

        On a side note, these YouTube channels also have interviews with the other dancers, some choreographers, etc. I’ve bookmarked those channels for after the final show. It’s always interesting to have the choreographers’ perspective. God bless Stacey Tookey for letting Chehon know she saw his skill when it seems very few did so.

        Finally, Chehon mentions Maddox. That little boy has become Che’s mascot and Chehon has seemed most thrilled to learn about him, He has been talking about him since the second show of the season. Here is Maddox…so cute:

        I hope you enjoy the interviews. I felt the show dropped the ball in letting us get to know the dancers this year. Thank goodness for these looks at their personalities. I have grown to love them.

        • E says:

          BTW, I can’t believe that Smash won the choreography Emmy. Bah. Hopefully next year will be Stacey Tookey’s year.

          • KT says:

            I know! I haven’t seen which numbers from SMASH won. Did you know that Alex, Jess LeProtto, and Elenore Scott danced on that show? There is a wonderful video of the behind-the-scenes filming of the Bollywood number. One can see Ellenore giving Kathryn McPhee some pointers off and on. In a very gratifying moment, the director is reviewing film on a monitor, then suddenly points to Jess, who is dancing his heart out (naturally) right next to the male star and says, “That one. I want that one right there. I like that one”. He has no idea who Jess is, but Jess just stands out to him. Made me so proud.

            Can you tell I follow the sytycd careers? Speaking of Jess, I’m sure you saw him, Alex, Evan K. and Thayne Jasperson (season 4) dancing on the Tonys this summer. They are in Newsies, (Alex just left of course) which every male dancer in NYC would love to be a part of. Nightly stage door appearances have a rock-star-like air to them. I’m so happy for their success.

            Sorry for my wordiness. I end up loving so many of these people. 🙂

            • KT says:

              Just to add…for the Newsies video and most of IdolXfactor2’s dance videos, one can usually choose the 720 dpi quality. It is completely worth it to do so. 🙂

            • E says:

              Don’t worry about your wordiness at all! It’s great. 🙂 I missed the Tonys this summer, which is unusual for me (so thanks for the tip and video), but I squealed like a crazy person the first time I saw Alex in a musical number on Smash. So wonderful. And yay Thayne! Season 4 is one of my favorite seasons. I genuinely can’t watch a dance number on tv without looking for SYTYCD dancers. Like when Adam Shankman directed the Oscar cast a couple of years ago.

  2. E says:

    Thank you thank you thank you! I’d been watching the C& C videos Chehon did with Cole, but hadn’t seen any of these. Hurrah!

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