E: Now that’s what I’m talking about! Great street dancing, great ballroom, great contemporary, great tap – I am loving season 10! Welcome to my backyard, the wicked awesome city of Boston, strong, resilient and home of Season Six champ Russell. This year’s auditions take place at the gorgeous Boston Opera House, where the Boston Ballet performs its magnificent Nutcracker, so it’s already filled with magical dance memories for me. Let’s make a few more, shall we?
Hey, have I mentioned that ham-in-a-can Adam Shankman guests with Nigel and Mary this week? I’m beginning to think he’s the only dance industry professional we’re going to get for the auditions this year, which bugs me, to be completely honest with you. But I’ll gripe about that later, if at all; now I’ll just grab a box of tissues and be happy to see the only judge who cries more than me.
First to take the stage is a super adorable ballroom couple; a perky, chatty girl with chin-length magenta hair named Ashley Goldman, 19, and her silent, preposterously doe-eyed ex-boyfriend Phil Kudryavster. Among the very many things we learn about them is this; they entered a Dancing With the Stars Ballroom Battle (check it out, there’s last season’s third place girl, new DWTS pro Lindsay!) and scruffy puppy dog Phil won.** Also, bubbly Ashley will always answer for Phil, and – shocking! – it was eloquently non-verbal Phil’s idea they stop dating and just go back to being best friends. (Adam helpfully points out that Phil might not be as indifferent as he pleads, because he was totally checking out Ashley’s butt, and we’ve got the footage to prove it. Ah, but couldn’t that just be part of their act?) They’ve only been dancing together for a little over a year, but yowza, are they a perfect match. Maybe they’re a little hammy in that ballroom way, but that’s not a terrible thing, and they’re super cute, they’ve got gorgeous sharp edges and great slinky musicality and a lovely energy together. I could just eat them up. Nigel wants to hear Phil’s voice at least once. What would you say if I told you you were going to Vegas, he asks. “I would be speechless,” Phil replies with smooth deliberateness. The dude knows his brand for sure. They’re a shoe-in for Vegas.
Now, normally I don’t even deign to write about the gimmicky people who come in trying to get air time, but Natalie Vilos and her leopard lampshade are honestly kind of charming. And you have to love Adam imitating her dance after while wearing the shade. He’s always up for a chance to slink around the stage to “Fever” inside a prop, that one.
Street dancer John Tesoriero, 21, wears a lion tail (thankfully not real) and has created an audition piece with a beat boxer (later introduced as Gene Shimizaki) he heard performing on the T. I love that they’re actual Bostonians, like Phil and Ashley; we won’t see a lot more locals from here on out. The judges have to put words in his mouth, because John doesn’t paint very good pictures with words; he paints incredibly evocative pictures with his body, though. I love his particular combination of hip hop and b boying, and his truly weird articulation – the exaggeration, the crazy angles, all of it. And the beat boxing is extraordinary – Mr. E, who knows a thing or two about the subject, was blown away. The judges praise his work as goofy, fun performance art (while making sure he knows they correctly see his movements as more dormouse than lion), but they send him to choreography instead of Vegas. Boo. At least they took the time to be in awe of the beat boxing!
After she and her entire family had traveled from New York for the audition, 18 year old Latin dancer Katlyn Rodriguez‘s partner canceled on her. Fortunately for her, her 16 year old brother Jeremy is, in addition to being a ballroom dancer and a good partner, a quick enough study to pick up a routine in three hours. For her audition Katlyn wears next to nothing – she’s almost aggressively naked – which weirds me out more than a little given her age and the fact that she’s dancing with her brother, but their salsa exudes sass and sparkle and fun. The footwork section particularly snaps with joy. Everybody thinks her brother is just the bomb for helping out his sister; predictably, Mary and Adam cry, which makes Jeremy tears up, while Nigel asks the young man to try out himself when he’s old enough. (What’s with Nigel’s math? Jeremy will be 18 in two years, not three.) Assuming that the show is still on, that is, which it better be. Mrs. Rodriguez is bawling, the judges are howling, Mary screams which makes Katlyn giggle with hysterical joy. You might not have expected it given the excesses of praise they just heaped upon her, but the judges send Katlyn to choreography. It feels fair despite the surprise; I can’t help thinking they were more wowed by Jeremy and his speedy routine learning prowess.
Because I love classic movies, I immediately think of the actress of the same name when we’re introduced to Jennifer Jones, 21, a former ballerina who switched to jazz because the pressure to have a ballet body turned her bulimic. If a girl that stunning and fit and slender (and this is on TV, so you can imagine how tiny she is in person) can dance 6 hours a day and feel fat, something is very very wrong with the ballet world. I’m glad the show took the time to get into this issue, even if it’s merely in defense of gorgeousness. When the judges meet her, they’re struck by her resemblance to another movie star – Jennifer Beals of Flashdance. And indeed, we find that our Jennifer thought about doing some of the routines from the 80s classic because she gets that all the time. And when she does dance, oh, but she’s marvelous. She dances to torch music (shades of the other Jennifer Jones) and she’s so expressive, so fluid, so light on her feet. Somehow she can manage come hither without being creepy or over the top. Nigel, who does not share this delicacy, tells her “baby, you’ve got the most incredible face.” Ugh. I’m so glad he doesn’t use the term “baby” routinely. Uncle Nigel, please don’t ever do that again. Maybe it’s the curly two-toned hair, but something about her reminds me of last season’s ballerina/plus Eliana’s appealling earthiness. It’s Vegas for you, doll.
After Jennifer Jazzy Jones, we have a quick montage of good contemporary dancers. A brunette whose balance seems to be off starts things off, then an amazing male acrobat in white and another guy in maroon and gray stripes. Vegas Vegas Vegas!
Meet endearingly nervous 21 year old Tommy Tibball, who teaches dance at his family’s studio in New York. He and his sisters teach, his mom runs the business end, and his dad is just adorable. You kind of just want to hug them all. Tommy’s twitchy and crazy skinny and has crazy extension and crazy feet and crazy flexibility and you can feel in your bones how much Sonya Tayeh would adore him. There’s something so tight about the way he moves, in a good way. Nigel name-checks Jakob Karr and Billy Bell (the skinny! the quirky! the high kicks!) and Adam just dies in a big soppy mess. Vegas!
The final dancer of day one is Jennie Begley, a 24 year old professional ballerina with a company in Colorado; forgive me for pointing this out, but looking at her impossibly skinny body makes it clear why Jennifer Jones couldn’t make it in ballet, and it’s not a good thing. Jennie’s painfully, painfully thin; a dessicated, emaciated, looks-like-she’s dying-on-the-streets-of-District-12 thin. Desperately eager Jennie didn’t have the money to make it out for the audition (or a flexible enough schedule to just drive down to Texas – I’m sure there are so many reasons for this, but I’m always bemused by people who don’t make the auditions near where they live), so her somewhat beefy big brother footed the bill because he believes fervently in her work ethic and her talent. And he’s not just being a doting older brother, either, because Jennie is so damn good. This is ballet, but it’s modern, not classical, grungy and animistic and exciting. She’s not fluid the way Jennifer was, or at least her choreography isn’t, but she’s got a good low center which makes me think she could do hip hop well, and she’s sick flexible; there’s a point where she flicks her leg up behind her head and it’s just insane. More than that, she has this avid, fierce gaze that just pins you down. Forget what I said earlier – this is the one Sonya Tayeh will want. Obviously she goes straight to Vegas.
This time it’s Ryan Ramirez joining Marko to teach the choreography. Dormouse John Tesoriero seems like he’s doing well to me, but he doesn’t make it through, which bums me out big time. Katlyn, whose footage doesn’t seem any more polished, fulfills a childhood dream by making it through. Give Jeremy a big hug, sweetie!
Another day, another street dancer. 19 year old Jason Kidd who dance has taken from the bad streets of Baltimore to 5th place in the World Dance Olympics. Huh. I did not know there was such a thing. Jason’s blond with a dimple and movie star looks (or TV star at the least) and I can’t help wonder if his cocky grin is what charmed the judges so because he didn’t do anything we haven’t seen done better. I think he’s dancing to music we’ve heard before – maybe the Cyrus/Comfort/tWitch/Christopher Scott routine from last season’s finale? If it is, that’s a song we see constantly in solos. He ends his routine with one hand in the air and Nigel asks him to stand in place so the judges (all three, because Mary and Adam can’t stay out of a silly bit) can come up and put their tickets into that hand. I can see people voting for him, but other than the turns, he didn’t entertain me the way John Tesoriero or other dancers relegated to choreography did.
Of course, the last time I was this judgmental about a dancer, I was wrong and he won, so who knows.
Next up is Shannon “Shizzy Shakes” Tarantino, 21, a contemporary dancer who looks like a pin up girl with a magenta Mohawk dovetailing into a long ponytail. It’s a great punk glam look, and there’s an odd classical purity about her which makes such an interesting contrast, and she’s crazy elegant floating around the stage. She dances to “Turning Page” which endears her to me immediately, and her core strength and control are super impressive even if she’s got better extension with her legs than her arms. I love the quirky things she does – the somersault from a standing position, the split on half raised feet. The judges are captivated by her expressive, effortless style. Musing that she’s not as edgy as he was expecting given the nickname and hair, Nigel suggests she has a lot to offer (and learn) from the choreographers in Vegas. One to watch, indeed.
I didn’t remember him, but 24 year old ballroom dancer Gene Bersten made it to Vegas in Season 6, and wants to make the Top Twenty this year so that his 6 month old baby sees her dad as a winner. There are serious flaws in this scenario – I’m highly dubious of reality television as a method of proving one’s worth to one’s children – but okay. It’s good to think big and set goals. Gene’s performing with his new partner in life as well as dance, black haired and blued eyed wife Elena, 29. They make gorgeous pictures with their bodies, but they don’t really have the speed I’d like to see, or the outsized personalities of Ashley and Phillip. What they do is enough to make it to Vegas together, but based on that audition, anyway, I’m not sold on them as true title contenders.
There may or may not be members of the Top Twenty in the next montage of goodness; an Asian girl in white and red, a really incredibly guy (whose post-ticket dance of joy is WAY too effeminate for Nigel to handle) and a girl in a lacy purple halter top. “The bar has been set,” Nigel tells us. Good to know.
What a complicated story we see next. Former contestant (and Massachusetts native) Ernest “E-Knock” Phillips, 26, spiraled into a depression after the accidental drowning death of his cousin. Thankfully, he was pulled out of the darkness by a studio owner in Vermont who invited him to work for her, and he found purpose in teaching hip hop and bringing light and love from darkness. Aw. His audition piece includes a track from the news reports of his cousin’s death, and tells the story of his despair, anger and eventual release from pain. I bet I don’t have to tell you that Adam is a quivering mess, literally shaking with teary emotion. Early on E-Knock gets astounding height from a Russian style split leap, and there’s a wonderful krumping section in the middle, and really it’s all much more moving than it ought to be considering how much of it is him pacing the stage looking upset rather than dancing. The judges are so on his ability to convey emotion, so I’m sure it’s the lack of content that gets E-Knock sent to choreography instead of Vegas – a sad miscalculation on his part.
Floridian Alexis Juliano, 19, wants to show the judges that tap can have emotional content and move you. How timely! I’m pretty sure Nigel knows this already – and oddly enough, that’s not at all what we get from her. In fact, Nigel’s one critique is that she needs to listen more to the silences, which are just as important as rhythm. This is code for her having a lot of tricks in her routine, which I at least really enjoyed; her spins are gorgeous, she makes great use of the stage, and does this backward skip thing from one end to the other that you don’t see often (if ever). Everyone’s favorite bit comes at the end of her routine where she concentrates on matching her taps to the soundtrack (an a capella bit of “Mr. Bojangles”). Despite the lack of promised emotional engagement, Alexis is heading to Vegas.
I’m so frustrated with the next lengthy section. Basically, there’s this guy I don’t want to name, because it feeds into his megalomania, who auditions every few years and is actually quite good, but likes to push Nigel’s neanderthal boundaries for gender roles. (Ole Uncle Nige is just way too touchy about the idea of male dancers not seeming masculine.) First he danced with a ribbon like a rhythmic gymnast and this time, he came in a dress. I was quite pleased that we didn’t have too much crap about the dress, but instead focus on the dancer’s impressive ability; when the judges send him to choreography, however, the dancer loses all my sympathy by refusing to go. If they can’t understand his fabulousness and bow to it immediately, then he’s going to swan home. It’s truly appalling behavior in a business which is all about auditioning. When he’s stomped off, we get a little montage of oddballs – a girl in a bunny outfit who goes eighty seven steps too far by grooming herself like an animal, a guy in heels (sigh – who cares!), and a pair of tumblers.
Blessedly, the next audition belongs to Anthony Savoy, a 24 year old contemporary dancer with a professional company that doesn’t know he’s doing this. Sure, it may mean trouble for him to be there, but a guy has to follow his dream. He makes the ballsy choice of dancing to “Gravity” and he just mops the floor with it, floating over the stage with glorious elongated lines. “Have you heard him land yet?” Nigel asks Mary and Adam. They haven’t. Because he can – and allegedly to contrast Anthony’s humility and professionalism with some other people who will remain nameless – Nigel pretends to send an obliging Anthony to choreography before handing over the ticket that clearly belongs to him.
After a happy ballroom montage (girl in turquoise fringe pants, guy with open white shirt which does not stay on, guy with jeans and his hair in a bun), we meet Kate Kapshandy, 23 year old Latin ballroom champion. Yes, that’s right, she has four national titles, which reminds me of one of my favorite unsung contestants ever. She’s dancing with Max from season 5 (great to see you, Max! love your silk shirt!) and throws Nigel off when she starts her routine from the wings. This girl likes to make an entrance! She’s wearing a really cute maroon fringe dress, her tan shows off her nearly waist-length platinum ponytail, and inevitably her look is a little more competitive ballroom than what I might personally prefer to see (all sparkle and fakery), but – BUT – she’s spectacular. Floating over the floor, her movements sharp and blurred with speed at the same time, she knocks it out of the park. Would it surprise you to hear that the judges adore her? In fact, Mary calls her the first hot tamale of the season (despite having blown the train whistle and thrown around the T word for other dancers including the vastly inferior Katlyn Rodriguez the very day before), Adam praises her knife-like precision and calls her sex on a stick. “Why on a stick?”Nigel wonders, probably for the sake of flustering Adam. Instead of being thrown, however, Adam uses the opportunity to bust out his Bruno Tonilio imitation, which is really quite good. Standing, pumping his fist, Adam nails the accent and the emphasis and the hyperbole. “You are a burning fire of mesmerizing VEGAS BABY!” he finishes. If she can do other styles, this girl is a serious threat; I can’t wait to see what else she has to offer.
The final soloist of the Boston auditions is Toshihiko “Toshi” Nakazawa, a 28 year old street dancer with an incredibly limited vocabulary. If you ask him to explain his style, he would act out a video game where he fights against different version of himself. On the subway. Cool. The show makes a lot of hay over his nearly complete lack of English, which makes me a little uncomfortable and more than a little worried about his ability to pick up choreography (already a task for street dancers). But. His popping? Locking? Hip hop? Animation? Spectacular. Really, really spectacular. He’s got this great robotic shtick, his choreography tells a story, he’s strong and funny and strange in gold lame Hammer pants, gold vest and silver shirt, and I just love it. Was anyone else reminded of Donald O’Connor and “Make ‘Em Laugh?” I’m sure I’m not the only one wondering how he’ll do in Vegas – because that’s where he’s going.
It breaks my heart a little that E-Knock doesn’t make it through choreography. What on earth? We saw him doing hip hop choreography in his introductory package. I thought he would sail through. I’m quite disappointed. Giving all disappointed contestants a lesson in the proper attitude, he vows to do better, and make his young student into a prodigy so she’ll take SYTYCD by storm in her turn. Weirdly, we see the girl with the purple lace halter top in choreography, too (huh?), though it’s not remarked on by the editors who implied she made it through immediately.
And there it is. I can’t help thinking the ballroom dancers are some of the strongest folks we met in Boston, am I right? But on the other hand, Jennie and Jennifer and Anthony and Shizzy Shakes and Tommy – I’ll be watching for them for sure. Next week, we’re going to Memphis with – um, what? Wayne Brady as the guest judge? UGH! I love Wayne Brady, but for the love of God, bring me dance professionals, people!
**Edited to say that I’ve watched the DWTS clip and Phil did not in fact win the Ballroom Battle, despite apparently claiming to. WEIRD. Granted that he didn’t actually speak, but it was clearly implied when he raised his hand after Ashley refused to say who won. Phil and his partner came in second, while Ashley and her partner took third. Sounds like the DWTS pros put the pairs together? Anyway, I just thought that was strange and merited a mention. I wonder how the actual winners are feeling now?