E: Hullo, dance fans! Two hours, two cities, two celebrity superfan judges, and some really smokin’ dance. Not too shabby for a Tuesday night.
After a montage of successful L.A. auditions from seasons past (Eliana, tWitch, Philip Chebeeb), we’re treated to the second half of the auditions begun last Tuesday. Let there be street dancing! First up is 26 year old Nick “Slick” Stewart. World’s most creative nickname, right? Slick is a practitioner of flexing, a style perfected in his hometown (borough?) of Brooklyn, which he calls a combination of bone-breaking, hat tricks and animation. And, holy cow. When the dude says people standing in front of him ask if what he’s doing is real or CGI, I understand what they’re getting at; he begins his dance with one arm splayed against the theater wall straight above his head.
What comes next is one of the most squirm-inducing routines I’ve ever seen; to say that he has loose joints is an understatement of epic proportions. Contortionist Slick is able to turn his shoulder completely around in it’s socket, for one thing. He can move, too, which is nice – it’s not just hat tricks, but pretty decent use of the stage. As astonishing as it starts out, it looks all the more shocking when he doffs his t-shirt. He’s slim, tattoos on muscles and bone, and you can see every impossible twist and turn. It’s just insane; the judges are writhing, wanting to look away yet absolutely unable to. How this will translate into partnered danced no one really knows, so he’s sent to choreography, where, Nigel theorizes, he won’t have to let go of his partner’s hand when she spins. True that.
Following that bit of astounding showmanship is far more conventional contemporary dancer Alexandria “Alex” Kessinger, an 18 year old foster child with a miserable life story who may or may not call her Aunt Mom. It’s unclear. (Is her aunt her foster mother? Did I mishear that? Like I said. Unclear.) Either way, her foster mother trains Alex, and they’re both good enough at it that Alex won Miss Dance America. That’s right; you can tell by the smiling that gorgeous Alex is a pageant girl – the blonde curls, the deeply unnecessary come hither looks, the safe/naughty little wink. Those moves – and the stage mom cheering her through them – seem a bit creepy to me, but of course Nigel just drools, and to be fair, when you look past the affectations she’s really terrific. The audience adores her, and Mary – who seems unmoved – shrieks and holds up a ticket to Vegas.
Shifting styles again, the show brings us 23 year old Sebastian Serra, a Puerto Rican ballet dancer currently with the Orland Ballet. He’s wearing a black tank top and Miami-colored short shorts (you know what I mean – there are tiny strips of teal and pink and coral and light blue, just what Tubbs or Crocket might have worn to the beach back in 1985), and our Nigel cannot get over the shorts; he comes back to the horror of them again and again. I don’t know how he can even focus on them (loud as they are) because damn, the opening split jump was explosive! Really spectacular. His first spins seems a bit wobbly, but he more than makes up for it with his subsequent display of spinning mastery. It’s marvelous. Jesse Tyler Ferguson pretty much hits on him (though it’s much less skeevy than when Nigel pervs on about the super young girls) and when Nigel offers a ticket to Vegas as long as the shorts don’t come, a enterprising producer gets us a shot of Sebastian slamming the shorts into a trash can. Very cute. I hope someone gave him some pants to leave in, though; even for L.A., that’s probably frowned upon. Jesse? Anything lying around in your dressing room you could share?
Because three excellent dance routines in a row is too much for our tiny brains to handle, we have one of the show’s patented montages. A contemporary dancer (female) in a green skirt, another in black hot pants, a ballroom pair and a super tall guy in a hat all make it through to Vegas. I really wish we’d got to see the guy in the hat; the crowd seems to fall apart over his work, and it looked unusual and exciting. Will we get to learn your names, dancers? I hope so!
After that tiny taste of ballroom, the show’s offering us a bigger bite. Misha Smagin, 22, and Mariia Lebedeva, 25, dance Latin Ballroom. And he seems to think of her as his mother, which weirds me out a little, because the woman has a long sleek black ponytail, a trowel full of makeup, and a dress slit down to (and up to) there, so let’s just all admit that motherly is not the first adjective that springs to mind. But shame on me for assuming her stage look should dictate her personality! She’s like Morticia Adams – a mother – or Elvira, crazy long legs, super sexy, and of course Nigel just swoons. (I’m shocked we don’t hear him compare her with Anya, his standard for sexy ballroom divas, or Witney, who was on the Dancing With the Stars finale last night along with new DWTS pro/former SYTYCDer Lindsay.) Oddly Misha looks like a poet, so they don’t make an obvious visual pairing, but they’re super crisp and just all around fantastic, and they’re sent straight to Vegas.
Haven’t had enough of montages? Rejoice, because up next we have a bevy of wacky auditioners; a guy with hoops and ninja hair inspired by Native American dancing, a chirpy Carrie Fisher look-alike in a chicken suit, and a really really tall guy on pointe. As much as I hate wasting time with people who can’t dance, “that chick can dance” was mildly charming, and the fellow in ballet shoes was super flexible. We don’t hear that any of them advanced even to choreography, despite the judges being surprised by ballerina-boy’s level of skill, so I take my mild approbation back. Time waster.
So let’s move on to someone with real skill, shall we? Meet Emilio “Millie” Dosal, 22, a protege and roommate of Philip Chebeeb’s. Chebeeb, it seems, now has his own studio and his own crew and a new slick hairstyle and an adoring best friend/sycophant in Don’t-Call-Him-Thoroughly-Modern Millie. (I know, I know, I’m super snarky today, but even with the fawning there’s something very sweet and likable about Millie.) I love the little rise and fall thing he does, as if he’s a machine powering up. His bone-breaking can’t compete with Slick’s – of course it can’t – but the fast section of his routine was amazing, and he’s put through to choreography.
After more silliness – a girl in a gold bikini declares that her childhood ambition was to be a Disney princess, and it turns out Jesse Tyler Ferguson had the same dream – we meet our last dancer of L.A. Mackenzie Dustman, the 18 year old daughter of traveling jazz singers. (“They’re in a vocal jazz group. And they sing,” she tells the judges. I choked.) Her parents give us a little a Capella harmonizing, and their high school senior daughter promptly casts a spell on the judges and the audience. Her long, sinuous movements, and her over all gorgeousness and winning smile melt all resistance. Watching her makes mom cry, and it renders JTF nearly speechless. Do you even need to hear that she’s put right through to Vegas?
So that leaves us with choreography, where we see gold bikini girl, Slick, and Millie. No one blew it entirely, but of the dancers we’ve met only Millie was deemed accomplished enough to move on. We do get a shot of one of last year’s favorites, Jasmine Mason, brandishing her ticket to Vegas as we’re treated to the second Imagine Dragons song in five minutes. Yay! And well done, L.A.! See ya next year!
The logical place to go next is of course Austin Texas; the show’s been to Texas before, but not to artsy Austin, and we can prepare for a lot of cool stuff; the lion’s share of tonight’s episode came from these two days. And of course while stopping in Austin, the logical dance professional to fill out the judge’s panel is – Tony, Emmy and Oscar nominee Minnie Driver? The very British Minnie Driver. What you say? When they announced this last week, I was a bit perturbed, but I have to say, she was lovely. And like JTF, she’s clearly a superfan.
Oh. Um. The question has to be asked. Why has Mary gotten herself an absolutely massive perm? Was the goal to look like Miss Piggy in The Muppets Take Manhattan? Not that I don’t love the 80s. Or ringlets. Just saying.
While we’re on the subject of muppets, though, lets talk about a young gentleman by the name of Anthony “J Freeze” (I’m rather pleased for safety reasons we didn’t get his full name) who is himself a superfan of the show – particularly of animator Cyrus. And despite the fact that you have to be 18 to compete on the show, the producers let this adorable tyke up on the stage to do a little animation. It must be because he lies and says he’s 18. And gosh darn it, the kid is not only ridiculously adorable, but he’s really good! His similarly adorable parents beam, and some guy in the theater keeps asking “how did he do that?” in awe of the tiny fellow’s precision. Nigel thinks that the place to send him isn’t Vegas, though – what about Disney World? Aw!
And it’s good that I have sweet Anthony in my mind, because the next contestant – 18 year old Hayley Erbert – confesses that she’s the sexy one and hopes to put a smile on Nigel’s face. First of all, low bar, honey, and second, BARF! God, what an ambition. The weird thing, though, is that there’s nothing particularly sexy or lascivious about her dancing, no more than any contemporary solo is going to be sexy because of all the bending and whatnot. Okay, her top is more than usually cleavage-baring, but that’s it. She’s got great extension, great feet, she’s really musical, and we don’t see even a moment of skank. Have the producers edited out the winks? Nigel talks of sending her to choreography, and Minnie Driver barks “oh don’t be ridiculous” and hands her a ticket. And as much as I had been prepared not to like Hayley, I kind of wanted to hug Minnie in that moment. Her exasperation was totally endearing.
How’s about something completely different? Meet Donovan Gibbs, 18, who seems to be taking his fashion cues from the BeeGees or Han Solo. It turns out that he comes from a dance family, and that his family was forced to sell their house and car so they could keep their Desert Eagle Dance Studio open. Probably a good call, keeping the business – even though it was clearly devastating – because this kid is a great advertisement for what they do. He does a really nice hip hop/contemporary fusion dancing to something of Nathan Lanier’s we heard on the show last season (that’s the League of Extraordinary Dancers composer – featured in this extraordinary piece). Since we’re all about the families, Nigel calls Mrs. and Mr. Gibbs up, so while Mary holds Mom’s hands, Dad gets calls up for a dance battle (to the death!) with his son. Dad, let’s just be honest, barely looks older than Jonathan and is sharply dressed, and holy crap can the man dance. The split, the split jump – wow. There’s even a little breaking. I’m really impressed. Nigel wants to send curly haired Jonathan to choreography, but Mary and Minnie unite to overrule the geezer and triumphantly send him on to Vegas. Good for you, ladies.
Anyone up for a montage? We see an elegant red-headed ballerina and two – no, three – female contemporary dancers, all of whom are bound for Vegas. Hopefully we’ll see more of them – the ballerina in particular seemed not merely graceful, but also funny, collapsing outside the theater doors after receiving her ticket.
I have to admit, I was ready to fast forward through the next dancer. Ugh, I thought, watching the scenes of Dannon O’Brien putting ghoul and zombie make up on his friends and neighbors for a recreation of his family’s annual haunted house; they’re just out to exploit this kid and make him look weird. Heck, he’s named after a yogurt. He gave a maniacal laugh. And then he danced.
I’m not sure I loved him as much as the judges did – despite excellent feet and legs, there were quite a few moments where he didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands – but but there is no disputing that the boy can really dance, or that he had an original piece of choreography, which was a really nice things. And anyway, I’m not the one handing out tickets to Vegas. Which is just what Dannon got.
And if after that lightness, you were up for a sad back story, you’re in luck, because we now meet stutterer Shane Garcia, 20. Shane is tall and gaunt and has learned that if he talks to a beat, it helps him overcome the stutter; dance has become his way of speaking, of sharing his soul, without words. He, too, is a practitioner of bone-breaking, animation and some really nice footwork – and again, he’s not as outrageous a bone-breaker as Slick, but he’s still pretty terrific. I don’t know if this is silly to say, but I thought his plaid shirt was actually a perfect costume, because you could see his shoulders particularly twist against the hard lines in the plaid, highlighting his movements. The judges gush. Mary and Minnie both cry, and Mary comments that she’s so in awe of self-taught dancers because she had to take so many lessons and work so hard with instructors and so his level of achievement awes her. It’s a lovely thing to share, really, and a generous thought. He goes through to choreography.
Let me spoil you right now and say that the next dancer, Daniela Bustillos, also ended up in choreography. We get bogged down in a terrible tale of the 21 year old’s native Venezeula, how she and several other family members had been kidnapped at gunpoint, starved and threatened. But if that awful experience hadn’t happened, she wouldn’t have moved to America and taken up dance; because dance is her overriding passion, she’s okay with this as a silver lining. Her mom sits at the judge’s table (how do they ever get anything done, seriously?) and is very sweet. The dance, unfortunately, needs work; there’s a little quirkiness, a lot of personality, but stilted transitions and no height in her leaps. As they’re casting a TV show, and as Daniela’s so gorgeous and compelling, the judges don’t cut her loose.
Because Minnie’s explaining to Nigel and Mary that her hotel is “properly haunted” which means she’s exhausted because she slept in a truck instead, we don’t get even a moment of pre-audition banter with muscle-bound 21 year old Nick Muckleroy. Awesome name, am I right? And wow, he’s an awesome dancer. Mia Michaels would go bananas; there are not enough bananas in the world for how crazy he would make Mia. He’s insanely powerful, meltingly musical, he does splits and handstands and tumbling and twisting leaps and sends the judges straight to goosebump city. You were born to dance, Mary gushes, and Minnie lets us know in no uncertain terms that she’s the kind of fan who calls in to vote and that she would sit on her phone for hours to make sure Nick got as many votes as she could give him. This guy is why the ticket straight to Vegas was invented.
Also on the plane to Vegas; a hip hop dancer in a hat (male, aiming for J.T. style), a guy in red shoes, and a blond b-girl who might just be fabulous krumper Mariah Spears from last season. I hope so – I loved that girl! And hey, Utah’s not that far from Texas. It makes sense. Whoever she is, Minnie loves her, and make the bold, on-air prediction that the girl will make the Top Twenty.
Ending the solo auditions is our old friend, one of last year’s most buzzed about auditioners, Hampton “The Exorcist” Williams. I’m stunned to see that he’s only 22, and that he too has an adorable four year old daughter. And because – you guessed it – the show is all about family, Nigel invited little Kira up on stage to do the exorcist dance with Daddy. Like a puppeteer or a Jedi, Kira moves Hampton without touching him, buffeting his body back and forth, stretching toward, pushing against. Eventually, Kira’s mother Darlesha Goggins (24) cannot remain in the audience and rushes on stage to join in with a looser, more lyrical version of her boyfriend’s style, and they’re this outrageously weird and wonderful family unit, and everybody loves it and them and the judges actually stuff tickets in all three of their hands, even though of course Kira can’t really compete and who know what will happen with the other two. I can’t even say how much I would love it if Hampton could do the choreography. I can’t wait to see him in Vegas week!
And that ends this portion of tonight’s program. To my utter delight, Shane Garcia makes it through choreography and gets to go to Vegas! Caracas native Daniela proves that she, too, has the chops. Good for you.
So what did you guys think? Are you down with the celebrity judges, or are you missing the likes of Nazi Barbie Toni Redpath and Robin “The Pussycat Dolls are still relevant” Antin? Do you think we’ll go back to the choreographers only judging panel for Vegas? Do you have a new favorite dancer? An old favorite who’s reappeared? Could anyone we’ve seen tonight be best Tyrone Cobham?
And that’s it till next week, when the show brings us the Boston auditions. Woohoo! Come on to my house, So You Think You Can Dance.