So You Think You Can Dance: Top Twenty Perform

E: Almost as exciting as meeting the Top Twenty – let’s see the pairs!

And, how fun: the first competitive episode opens with four of the dancers (Jasmine Harper, Alexis, Curtis and Paul) hopping out of a car with the license plate SYTYCD and dancing their way through a loading dock, layered in sweat clothes and hats.  They’re grooving to Herb Alpert’s “Putting on the Ritz” – mostly instrumental but with a little choral section which I guess is the part attributed to Lani Hall.  To the side of the loading dock, Tabitha sits between Jade and BluPrint at a table, dancing with their hands.  All 20 dancers, a whole raft of choreographers – Sean Cheesman, a be-feathered Travis Wall, Jason Gilkison, Napoleon and a super cool looking Christopher Scott – get in on the fun, dancing through racks of clothing (where Aaron fakes a move on a very surprised Nico), through make up and the control booth and popping out of dressing room doors.  They swan through a little cafeteria area where extras/staff members snap their fingers, past a guy in a gorilla suit, past a bar where an older bearded man stands with a trumpet.  Mary Murphy steps out of some staging to dance with Jason, and Nigel tries his hand at animation; all in all, there’s a great feeling of camaraderie and good spirits.  The dancers end on the stage in retro tuxedos in a lovely synchronized ending, and Cat pops up a the end, laughing and smiling with sleek hair and a hot pink t-shirt mini-dress.

And, yep: the man with the trumpet was Herb Alpert himself, who Cat points out in the studio audience – and also in the studio audience are choreographers responsible for this piece, the D’umos.  Napoleon is wearing their little boy in a carrier on his chest. Yay, D’umo family!

Joining Nigel and Mary for tonight’s show is audition judge Wayne Brady.  Let me heave a big sigh now; he’s articulate and informative, so it’s not him per se, but I really really hope we get some actual dance professionals on the judging panel this season!  But let’s not waste any more time with that hand-wringing. First up – Mariah Spears and her partner.

When I make this confession, I doubt that any of you will be surprised.  I made some lists and charts to try and guess which dancers would be paired together.  There.  You’re not surprised at all, are you?  Nerd=me.  The first thing I started with was height: Fik-shun and particularly Jade are really short, and so could be compatible with only 4 possible girls.  (And yes.  Yes I did freeze the TV so I could compare the dancers by height when they were lined up at the end of last week’s show. Are you surprised?  Of course not.)   Mariah is one of those four girls (the others being contemporary dancers Malece and Amy and ballroom dancer Brittany), though as a krumper, they’d be very unlikely to pair her with either Fik-shun or Jade because they like to mix up the styles.  There are two medium height guys, Carlos and Paul, so my thinking was that her partner would be one of them. Paul, to follow the rules stated above, wouldn’t be put with the shortest girl, Brittany, since they’re both ballroom dancers.

And sure enough, after Mariah gives us her 10 second run down of important/cute/quirky biographical facts (19, fake front teeth, sleeps with her eyes open – the snarky rundown editor proclaims “she’s a vampire”) we see that she’s been placed with contemporary dancer Carlos Garland (24 year old black belt and ping pong player).  I like this pairing, even if they’re pretty nearly the same height; they both have a lot of sweetness and charm.

Now, in many years past the producers would softball the contestants for the first competitive episode.  Hip hop dancers drew hip hop, ballroom dancers ballroom, etc…  But it seems that the Meet the Top Twenty episode has totally removed the need for this pandering, because tonight’s routines almost never line up with the dancers’ styles.  Accordingly, Mariah and Carlos draw a blistering fast Jason Gilkison jive.  Jive!  Good grief!  You might as well give them a quickstep and murder them during the show!  Neither one of them got much air time during the auditions, at least not by name, and not only do they get a brutally difficult ballroom style but they also go first?  Damn. At least viewers might remember Mariah from last season, but still, that’s a tough beginning. Carlos likens the choreography to dancing on a hot stove.

The two dance to Fantasia’s instant funk classic “Get It Right” dressed in mod 60s inspired clothes in black (his suit) and yellow (her dress, his tie) with piping details in the opposite color.  From the opening pose it’s snappy fun, and they clearly throw every bit of energy and skill and heart they have into it.  It’s lightning fast for sure, filled with kicks and partnering and personality and a few lifts and flips thrown in for good measure, and there’s nothing about it I don’t respond to. They both look fantastic – I’ve never noticed this before, but with the big 60s hair Mariah reminds me of Chelsie Hightower, and sells it just as well as that ballroom powerhouse would have.  Alas, however, the judges’ comments are not so sunny as mine. While praising their life and energy, Mary drags our spirits down immediately by saying they didn’t have the requisite bounce and retraction for the jive; as a fan I have to say I didn’t notice at all. They get an A for performance quality from Wayne but a knock for being frantic (duh?); Nigel again brings up the damning double bounce but does echoes the other judges compliments too.  Given the judges reaction, the kill spot, the genre and their lack of air time, I fear for them.

19 year old jazz dancer Jasmine Mason (who likes cats more than people) is one of the tallest girls, and it’s very much in the show’s formula to pair her with similarly tall 19 year old Russian ballroom dancer Alan Bersten (who loves the color blue, his two older siblings and once crashed his car into his own house).  Mr. E could not stop howling at the comments editor here. “I’m not a crazy cat lady,” Jasmine protests: “yes you are” says the bullet next to her.  When Bersten brings up his favorite color and then his heritage, the comments come up “blue” and “Red.”  Hee.  Like Mariah and Carlos, Jasmine and Alan have had very little screen time during the auditions. Unlike Mariah and Carlos (and Alan), Jasmine lucks out with a Travis Wall contemporary routine, close enough to jazz to be completely natural.  Or you’d think so, anyway, until you hear what his concept is: love is blind, and so the pair will dance falling in love wearing blindfolds.

That’s right.  Blindfolds.

Jasmine is floaty and beautiful in a gray gown with a sheer, diaphanous skirt; Alan looks adorable in a gray pants and a sleeveless gray shirt with an uncomfortably wide sheer panel in the front.  The stage is lit like a greenhouse, silhouettes of tangles vines climbing the walls, and the music is Ingrid Michaelson (as in Travis’s season opener for Melanie and Marko, “Turn to Stone“) covering the Elvis classic “Can’t Help Falling in Love (live at Daytrotter),” which is soft and flowing and gorgeous.  As with “Turn to Stone,” partnering is the focus; at first I think the solution to the blindfolds (crimson lace) will be that the dancers keep in continuous contact, and while they do begin the piece writhing and sliding against each other, eventually they trust enough to move apart and rush back together.  First they hold opposing hands and lean back, Alan allowing Jasmine’s head to nearly touch the floor; then she lifts her head and they swiftly switch hands.  Damn! Soon she’s surging toward him, leaping blindly onto his hips; later she executes a trust fall without flinching.  Alan’s partnering is rock solid, sweet and tender, and Jasmine flows like a fountain through their lifts. It’s liquid gorgeousness. As the music ends, they pull down the blind folds; he dips her, and they kiss.

Amid the tremendous applause for the piece, Cat is quick to point out devoted older brother Gene and his dancer wife Elena cheering in the audience.  Aw!  Poor, dear Gene.  When the judges chime in, it’s to celebrate what they’ve just seen.  I was never worried about you, Wayne asserts; they established a true partnership immediately, enough to deal with what Wayne likes to rename a “trust drop.” Nigel’s one critique is that Alan didn’t match Jasmine’s emotional expression, though he admits that the blindfold is a handicap.  Travis made me fall in love with you, Mary coos; she calls Jasmine a butterfly (apt), and admires Alan’s partnering.  Truly the ballroom dancers have big advantage there.

Next up, shortie Malece Miller, 19 year old contemporary dancer with a foot phobia (wrong profession there, chickie) who has dyed her now platinum hair every color of the rainbow. (“Indecisive,” snarks the bullet editor.)    And the short guy they’ve paired her with is – animator Jade Zuberi (21, half Nigerian, loves cats, hates spiders).  Huh.  That surprises me (I thought they might put him with Brittany, who is the shortest and had no screen time at all, or Amy, who had lots of screen time) but it makes sense in a way I hadn’t thought of.  Last week, the judges told Malece they wanted to see more maturity from her, and in pairing her with the edgiest of the four short guys, they’re trying to nudge her in that direction.  (This makes me think of Mollee and Nathan, the teen power couple whom the judges ended up preferring with other people, feeling they were too cutesy together; maybe they want to avoid that by keeping Malece away from Fik-shun.)

In a sort of mirror image of the previous couple, the pair have been given a jazz routine by Travis Wall.  And, actually, a mirror.  They’re the jazz age costars of a movie reading their reviews together; her notices are good, his, not so much.  You can see that Travis has gotten the sexy memo, because he tells us explicitly that he’s looking to pull “maturity” out of Malece. (The pixie girl is nervous about the intense, aggressive choreography, while Jade thrills to develop a character.  And to get his sexy on.) The song is “Silver Screen (Shower Scene)” by Felix Da Housecat, and the pair’s been gussied up in gorgeous 20s style – Jade in a light textured suit with a black vest and red tie, Malece in a cream colored lace dress and marcel waves, brandishing a large feather fan.  They both look fantastic.  I’m not as much of a fan of Travis’s jazz routines as his contemporary ones – I can’t even explain what the difference is, to be perfectly honest, but there is one – but I enjoyed the sort of freeze frame posing to this piece, the flashing lights, and the way the choreography reflects the stop/start rhythm of the music.  It’s perfect to ease an animator into more fluid work, but still sinuous enough to prove he can do it.  There wasn’t a clear storyline, although Jade did eventually tear up the newspaper, and Malece does eventually stuff the pieces down his mouth.  It’s a cool ending image at any rate, and the dancers pound the floor in their aggression and attraction.  It’s not one of my favorites of the night (which probably has as much to do with the music as anything) but it’s nicely ugly.

It’s so Great Gatsby, Cat observes, which is perfectly right; Malece makes an excellent Daisy Buchanan.  Hmm.  Looks like Malece is a little taller than Jade, though I didn’t notice it while they were dancing. Nigel not only praises Jade’s partnering and Malece’s new found sexiness, but lets us know that the number was a hot mess in dress rehearsal and they’ve pulled off an absolutely confounding improvement.  Since he watched the same rehearsal, Wayne is similarly blown away; while cautioning Jade to watch his lines, he does have comic praise for the character Jade played. The segment should be called “So you think you can pimp,” he says, which is apparently meant (and taken) as a compliment.  Jade, when you’ve got it you’ve got it, Mary says of the diminutive dancer’s boundless confidence and swag.  She loved the idea of the piece and seeing Malece discover her inner diva.

Continuing the pattern of short/tall/short, the next girl up is tall ballroom beauty Jenna Johnson (age 19, inarticulate) and curly topped contemporary dancer Tucker Knox (a 23 year old with 3 adopted siblings and the childhood dream of being a mermaid/man).  Just like Malece and Jade these two got tons of attention in the audition rounds, so again, wow.   So much for them putting well known contestants with the lesser known ones!

At any rate, this couple has drawn Tyce DiOrio and Broadway; his idea is that Tucker’s making a play for a skeptical Jenna and eventually wins her over through persistence.  They scamper about to Tyce’s direction, and then perform a complicated cheer to entice votes for what they’ve already decided to call “Team Tuna.”  I can’t quite decide if that makes me want to hug them or throw things.

Kevin Spacey – yes, that’s right – sets the mood with “That’s All” from the Beyond the Sea soundtrack.  The stage is strung with clothes lines, dotted with baskets and draped with white sheets. Jenna’s dolled up in a short navy dress with a glamorous red kerchief at her neck, and runs away from nerdy, bespectacled Tucker when he tosses a rose over her laundry and chases her around the yard. They’re both so long and lean and Broadway – she telegraphs a coy surprise, even a little disdain, and there’s something in set of his back and the curve of his neck that speaks his geekiness to us.   I’m really impressed that he makes this so clear through his body language. At first she throws away his rose, but eventually there’s flirty partnering, lifts, and an absolutely amazing split, and in no time at all they’re hiding behind one of the sheets to smooch.  Good thing we’ve got the lighting team on our side to expose that Tuna kissing!  That was some serious dance from beginning to end.

Cat and her sleek dress and her sleek hair turns mumsy, tutting that Jenna’s bright red lipstick is now smeared over both their faces.  “What were you doing back there?” she wonders, rubbing the offending make up off both dancers’ noses.  What indeed!  “It was fun!” Mary coos.  Tyce is her Dr. Feelgood; it all just makes her happy, because it was so flirty and fun and full of character that both of them looked like Broadway stars. Agreed.  I’d like to see that show.  (For one thing, it was full on, flat out dancing, which I love.)  Wayne stutters over his admiration, saying Tucker reminds him of Donald O’Connor and Jenna of Cyd Charisse and Gwen Verdon, which basically floors both of them. (It makes me happy they both know what insane compliments those are; I think Tucker might have swooned.)  Without question, you’re a power couple, Nigel says, patting himself on the back for putting them together; they’re going to do great work over the season and he can’t wait to see it.  Me neither!  Cat gives Tucker a big smooch on the cheek so he has a pink mark to match the red ones.

When Cat tells us that the next girl is adorable ballroom dancer Brittany Cherry (a 19 year old who hates sponges – ? – is deaf in one ear, and can allegedly hang 6 spoons from her face), I assume she’s going to be paired with pint sized Fik-shun – but no.  It’s animator Dorian “BluPrint” Hector!  (20, loves earlobes -? – roller-coasters and whistling like a bird.)  That’s a surprise to me, because BluPrint is one of the tall guys, and that leaves only Amy Yakima who’s shorter than Fik-shun and Paul.  However, it seems like a nice fit, because she’s very lively and expressive (which as we know is BluPrint’s fatal flaw) and she’s got scads of partnering experience.  He’s had a ton of screen time and she’s had absolutely none, so both of them should benefit here.  Also, they’re both really adorable.  So that’s nice.

The two have drawn Sean Cheesman and Afro-jazz.  “Not great,” Sean says, laughing genially at BluPrint’s first attempts.  He wants Brittany to be sexy and grounded – not pretty or cute – and BluPrint to have a free neck and back, something pretty much opposed to everything he normally does.  Yikes.

If you were to just watch this dance without knowing their history, however, you’d never know that.  Unitard wearing Brittany is definitely grounded and sexy, and BluPrint is impressively loose – I mean, heck, they start off writhing on the floor, so we see that they’ve both achieved Seans’ objectives in moment one. Oh, weirdly cute – they each have dots painted on their faces – hers are brown and his are white and gold. Despite his hideous harem pants BluPrint even does a sort of worm, and Brittany rolls up practically into a pretzel and back again.  Professor Trance and the Energizers’ “Drumming Circle” is a perfect musical choice with all the clicking and sighing and stomping; there’s something about Afro-jazz that just makes me want to dance myself.  I always enjoy these, and this was no exception.  There’s a section toward the middle where I thought BluPrint looked a little stiff and his synchronization was off, but as I said, he was terrific in the beginning, and once he and Brittany start dancing in unison at the end it turned out pretty spectacular.  We get to see one of the benefits to a little girl/tall guy pairing as well when BluPrint tosses Brittany around as if  he were simply tossing his jacket over his shoulder.

The audience loves them.

Immediately Cat descends on them, teasing BluPrint about smiling and looking joyful during the dance.  To illustrate, she attempts to imitate the dance, which sends the judges into gales of laughter; she starts mugging even more as Wayne loses it completely, and soon all the judges are wagging their arms and squeaking “follow the yellow brick road” because she looked like one of the Munchkins in Oz. Eventually, Wayne’s able to tell BluPrint that he’s operating the tradition of tWitch, defying the constraints of what our imaginations say a street dancer should be able to do.  Brittany was so strong he felt “the motherland in you.”  Making BluPrint smile, Nigel claims it’s one of the best routines ever for an untrained dancer (down with the hyperbole, please) and that no one should claim the style was easy because its his heritage.  What did he just say?  Ugh.  Are people really that ridiculous?  Surely not anyone worth talking about would make that kind of assumption.  I’m going to pretend he didn’t say that. I thought it might be a train wreck, Mary says, but instead its on the train.  Really?  She loves little dynamo Brittany, and thinks that the terrific routine allowed BluPrint to get loose just like Sean wanted.

Before anything else, we get some goofy videos – there’s a clip of Adam and Nigel doing one of the National Dance Day routines (to “Blurred Lines,” blech) and making an amusing, would be viral video for Funnyordie.com called “So You Think You Can Prance” to riff off the prancercize fad.  It’s nice that Nigel’s willing to look like an idiot that way (Adam’s less of a surprise) but I can’t help wishing they’d picked a better song for the routine, which seems likely to be the easy one.  I was thinking of teaching my kids one of them this year, and it will certainly not be that one.

Okay, back to the real business at hand. Tall 18 year old Floridian tapper Alexis Juliano is up next; we find out she’s a fan of the color blue, fishing, and Justin Bieber.  (And yet there she is looking like an actual adult. Huh.)  Her partner is bilingual 18 year old Colombian contemporary dancer Nico Greetham, lover of goofy noises, cupcakes and Selena Gomez.  (“I make really weird noises and people appreciate it greatly” – if I was 16, that hilarious phrasing might have been all it took to get me to fall for him.  Seriously adorable, even with the Gomez crush.)  That’s sort of amusing, Gomez and Bieber, especially when presented together. Plus Greetham is sort of Bieber-esque, right?  So maybe they’ll end up as a couple.  Who knows?  Super cute and sassy, these two – although now I’m struggling to think of which guy left is tall enough for Jasmine Harper, the tallest girl.  The two have drawn a Christopher Scott ‘goofy cool hip hop.”  Previous finalists Marko and Cyrus have come with Chris as his assistants, which is fun, but it becomes quickly apparent that this season’s contestants have no swag but lots of athletic prowess, and Scott adapts on the fly to incorporate tricks that will show off his dancers.  Tricks, amusingly, that Marko and Cyrus cannot duplicate.

The routine, set to Labrinth’s “Last Time (Knife Party remix),” is a bit of a gymnastics off, with synchronized moments (is that dubstep, all that hand boxing?) between some shoving and posturing and fussing with sunglasses.  They’re both dressed down in a slouchy cool way, denim and knit and urban.  They push at each other like puppies, showing off, and the tricks are indeed cool, but over all there’s just not a lot of substance here, not a lot of dancing that works.  It ends with her pretending to kick him in the balls. The attitude of it all is fun, but meh.  When the routine ends, Mr. E. sighs and remarks on how watching other people attempt it really increases your respect for what the animators do.

Nigel takes pains to say how incredibly talented Alexis and Nico are and how much he loves them and hopes America will forgive them before telling them they sucked, that they gave up on trying to feel the style.  “You didn’t get down, it wasn’t dirty.”  Seconding the harsh words, Mary calls it “pleasant hop” and says their tutting wasn’t properly squared off.  (It turns out Nico’s hands don’t make the proper shape; he’s got duck hands.) Though the unison was good, they just failed – as Mary likes to say – to get down into the pocket.  (I’m not sure the unison was that great, actually, but okay.)  Wayne opines that they need to adapt, push themselves out of their comfort zones.  We did try really hard, Nico insists, and practiced a ton and we did have a good time at least.  The judges think that the audience already loves them and will vote to keep them in anyway; it’s interesting, because I too don’t want them to go, but then I can’t really name anyone I want to get rid of, and this is very clearly the worst routine of the night.

After that unfortunate bump, we’re set to smooth things over with goofy and gorgeous double jointed contemporary dancer Makenzie Dustman, 18, who loves vampires, eating sushi and making rap videos (?).  She’s paired with 21 “jive” dancer Paul Karmiryan.  There’s a whiff of silent movie star about him – the plastered on smile, the ballroom preciousness. He wiggles his ears for us, claims to be able to solve the rubix cube in under five minutes, and admits he always has a smile on his face.  (“Cheez!” snarks the editor.  Yeah.)  I’d have thought Makenzie was too tall for him, but I guess they both have that kind of show biz kid air about them, and between Fik-shun and Paul, the hip hop dancer is in much greater need of the one remaining short girl.

When Jason Gilkison appears, you might think that Paul is about to get a big break.  Ballroom is ballroom, right?  But it turns out that Paul has never danced a Viennese Waltz before, because he specializes in Latin Ballroom rather than Standard.  Okay, but you can’t convince me it doesn’t help at least a little.  Jason’s conceit is that Makenzie’s a princess who’s escaped from her hotel room (hello, Roman Holiday) and Paul is her imaginary prince, the fantasy she dreams up in the outside wide.  Okay, so that’s a little less Roman Holiday and a little more Harvey, but its still cute.  Makenzie feels like a truck driver rather than a princess in her new (low-heeled) ballroom shoes – but hey, even in the heels Paul is still taller, so maybe they won’t look as awkward as I initially feared.

And oh, get a load of that dress!  I’m such a sucker for 50s couture.  Makenzie sits on an over-sized bench with a trench coat and a sheer pink kerchief over her head as Avril Lavigne sings about the rain in “I’m With You.”  Ah, wonderful. Just as Jason hoped, Paul floats around the stage in a well fitting shirt and vest, elegant and sharp; as Makenzie leans back, the tulle layers of her underskirt float up.  She stands and he slides the coat off her shoulders, showing off the lovely flowered neckline of her sparkly pink dress.  The skirt bells out as she turns into him and he twirls her up into a lovely lift.  So, okay, with her slightly bouffant hair she is a now little taller than him, but he carries her as if she weighs nothing,  spinning over and over.  They reach together so beautifully.   A crash of thunder in the song prompts Paul to bring his lady love an umbrella, and the two dance with it for the second half of the piece.  It’s light and lovely, looking effortless in that way where you know it’s anything but.  So, okay, his cheesiness asserts itself sporadically, particularly in the ending pose where he strokes her jawline (very silent movie), but I can mostly forgive it after the jaunty way he flipped the umbrella before sitting down.

After Cat coos over the Audrey Hepburn/Roman Holiday feel of it all, she tosses the critique to the ballroom expert. And of course Mary just adored it. She appreciates how difficult it must have been (particularly she gives us a mini-lesson in ballroom shoes, which are painfully stiff until you break them in and would be torturous to someone like high arched Makenzie) and calls it a floaty marshmallow of a romantic fairytale.  In the same vein, Wayne feels like they were a wedding cake topper come to life, and remarks on how Paul’s grace belies his strength.  It’s true; nothing looks labored, and considering their (lack of a) height difference, and how slight Paul is, that’s rather surprising.  Guess he couldn’t have won So You Think You Can Dance: Armenia without being able to partner, huh?  Nigel calls the piece Armenian Holiday, as well as a beautiful romantic vision of Vienna, and praises their rise and fall.  All in all, it’s an excellent return to form for the evening.

And, ooooh.  The actually gets better from here and stays on the upswing for good. Next up is the tallest of the girls, Jasmine Harper, the 20 year old contemporary dancer who like the color red, whales and has twin sisters, which is to say, sisters who are twins. She’s paired with 25 year old tapper Aaron Turner (I did not think they’d put two African Americans together at the start – in my memory, this is a first- but I guess height and differing genres are more important).  He reveals that he’s a part time DJ in Vegas (“Table Turner,” the editor titles him – love it), that he once dressed up as Pee Wee Herman but really loves Batman, that he’s smart but incapable of learning foreign languages, and demonstrates his ability to do the worm with his eyebrows.  The two have drawn a Sonya Tayeh jazz piece – yay! – that will be swampy and aggressive.  She wants the tallest dancers in the competition digging through the mud, and she’s thrilled with them.

And from the moment the music starts up – one of my favorite songs right now, Delta Rae’s soulful, grubby marvel “Bottom of the River” – I know I’m going to love it too, Aaron’s camouflage harem pants aside.  Both dancers wear olive green and mesh and bring that swampy look to the piece, but all of that is nothing, nothing to the way they twist and crawl and thrash and stomp the hell out of the stage.  There’s something about Jasmine Harper that just draws me in – she adds a layer of life that mesmerizes me like a great actress would.  Her extension is sick, and she just makes these angles that are different from everyone else’s, so messy and authentic that it doesn’t feel like choreography.  For his part, Aaron brings an intensity and a focus that I love.  Between her long legs, and his long muscular arms they’re just an amazing sight.  And I swear there’s a little of the choreography from the music video in there, just for fun.  I can’t even say how much I like this.

Finally I feel normal sized, Cat coos, bringing the tall duo over for their critique.  “I’m going to say two things that make me sound like a creepy old man,” Wayne begins, causing Nigel to guffaw “welcome to my world” and Cat to snort “makes a change.”  The first creepy thing is that he wants to know where Jasmine was when he was 20 (not born, obviously) and then goes on to another bad (though better) Lil C imitation in praise of her.  The second is a question for Aaron: “boy, I think I know your daddy.”  Turns out that Earl Turner, Aaron’s dad, is some sort of locally famous Vegas performer. “You dance like your father sings,” Wayne quips, concluding by calling Aaron a sexy cat – and this leads to a sexy cat purr off between the judges and dancers.  For his party, creepy old man Nigel is thankful for the quality of work Sonya brings to the show, and says that Emilio’s sad loss was the show’s gain.  No, that’s not the creepy part – it’s when he says that Jasmine’s legs go on forever and that they were put to good use.  It’s true, but still creepy. He pronounces them a power couple.  (Power couple, cries Cat, they shook the stage!)  Agreeing with the assessment, Mary less creepily praises Jasmine’s legs and her technique, and then tells Aaron that he really is more than just a good tap dancer.  You danced your heart out, she says.  And they did.

The penultimate girl is sexy-cute 18 year old contemporary dancer Hayley Erbert, who hails from Topeka, wants to own a hedgehog and spend her days eating dessert.  Her partner – and there’s no choice now, since she’s much too tall to dance with Fik-shun – is 19 year old Curtis Holland, the cute tapper who loves animal documentaries and talks in his sleep.  It’s an interesting pairing for sure; Hayley hasn’t gotten a lot of screen time and Curtis has, but their edits have been vastly different.  She’s sexy and occasionally insecure, while he comes across like an adorable puppy.  It could be a good thing, though. They’ve drawn a Christopher Scott routine (uh oh – let’s hope this works better than the last one)  and the concept of it is a little bit unclear: Hayley’s the kiss of death, and Curtis is supposed to put his hands all over her, but he’s feeling shy and awkward about doing so.  Embrace the sexiness, Curtis!  Embrace the girl!  Even if she’s, um, death.

As the routine opens, Curtis returns to what is presumably his apartment (cool in JT style with a sleek leather jacket and hat) where he sets down his briefcase and turns on a tall floor lamp.  And then he sees her – Hayley, sitting in a chair under a hanging light, fierce and sexy in a maroon wrap dress, black ankle boots and black gloves. The music is Delilah’s “Go” (a strange mash up on lyrics from at least one other song) and the whole feeling is Noir – the lamps cast only small pools of light, the floor is patterned from wide paned windows.  “I’ve been waiting for you,” Delilah sings/quotes as Curtis is pulled to Hayley as if with a magnet, “and it’s been so long.  I knew just what I would do, when I heard your song.”  She tosses off his hat, and the two begin a sort sexy fight – flirt, seduce, fight, passing the lamps back and forth between them before breaking into an amazing unison section.  I’m blown away; there’s no timidity here, no reticence.  Both Hayley and Curtis are full on sexy, full on cool, completely engaged with each other, smooth and hard hitting at the same time. Who knew that Curtis with his bubbly, joyous personal style could have such swagger?  They’re terrific.  Remember when I asked if this could be a good thing?  This IS a good thing.  I didn’t think Curtis, for one, had this in him. When it ends, Curtis takes Hayley in his arms, lowers his head to kiss her neck before she pushes him back.  She walks away, business-like, taking his briefcase with her as she leaves; he’s left reaching out, realizing he’s been stabbed, falling to the floor.

Now that’s the attitude I wanted Nico and Alexis to have, Nigel declares approvingly. (Curtis and Hayley don’t know how to respond.) What stage presence, Mary enthuses.  Hayley’s a vixen, and Curtis certainly got over his shyness.  Wayne’s so proud of his little brother from the auditions.  He’s all grown up!  I, for one, am super excited to see where they go from here.

It’s time for the final couple, and if you’ve been following along it’s clear we have the set up for another power couple -street dancer DeShaunt “Fik-Shun” Stegall and jazz dancer Amy Yamika, ages 18 and 19 respectively.  Now’s that’s a pocket full of sweetness and talent for sure! I figured Amy would end up with either Jade or Fik-shun, kind of depending on which guy the judges wanted to benefit more.  I have to say, I like it – and the idea of pairing Fiction with The Truth definitely appeals to my geek side.  Ukrainian Amy loves the color turquoise and Christmas socks; Fik-shun loves smacking his lips, the color red, and his two dogs.   Pleased with this pair as well, Sonya Tayeh has dreamed up a contemporary routine for them in which Amy is avoiding her personal problems, and Fik-shun is the embodiment of those issues that just won’t stay buried.  Amy’s garbed in a full length black dress with a sheer bottom and strappy middle, while Fik-shun goes shirtless with the obligatory black loose pants.  The song, “Elsa” by The Valerie Project, roils with violins and anguish.

You can see Sonya’s concept from the get go; Fik-shun manipulates Amy, directing her like a marionette through the amber light.  She pulls away, but then falls into him; her problems are familiar, a crutch.  He drags her around, pushes her away, lifts her up, drops her.  She’s tense, coiled; he’s somehow hulking, filled with menace. The lines and poses are spectacular, malevolent; I love when he follows her, arms hunched over like Frankenstein’s monster.  The ab-tastic duo ends in a tender, emotional embrace.

In the audience, Sonya stands with her hands on her head, nearly in tears. The judges, too, are on their feet. First chills of the season, Cat announces, breaking into the roar of the crowd. Sonya’s on fire, Mary cries.  She loved Amy’s strong dynamics.  And she wants to know how Fik-shun feels to have just done such a thing.  I had to open up and be fully committed, he says; being that vulnerable isn’t easy for him.  Nodding, Wayne replies that whenever he wants to show people his serious side, he also takes off his shirt and dances with a white girl.  Ha.  Snort.  Amy’s a beast, Nigel says, with ridiculous control of her body.  And Fik-shun!  Who knew?  It’s beauty and the beast – and Nigel’s favorite of the evening.

What about you?  After rewatching this generally fantastic episode easily a dozen times, I’m most partial to “Bottom of the River,” “That’s All,” “I Can’t Help Falling In Love,” and “Go.”  I also really enjoyed – well, honestly just about everything, but if I had to pick something I’d go with the ballroom numbers and the Afro-jazz.  I suspect that Mariah and Carlos will end up in the bottom, which is a shame; Alexis and Nico have a good chance of being there too.  I’ll be very curious to see whether it makes a difference that people are voting for individuals rather than couples.  Will the lesser known contestants suffer for their lack of screen time?  Carlos and Brittany probably are the worst off there, but Alan and Jasmine Mason and Mariah and Hayley and Aaron didn’t get featured very much either.  Or maybe audiences just don’t like some of the contestants who’ve had a lot of air-time; it will be fascinating to see.

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2 comments on “So You Think You Can Dance: Top Twenty Perform

  1. Chaz says:

    “Wayne replies that whenever he wants to show people his serious side, he also takes off his shirt and dances with a white girl.”

    This clip was replayed the next night, so evidently the producers thought nothing of it.

    What would people think if a white judge had said he takes off his shirt before dancing with a black girl?

    Just asking!

  2. […] Some years, I feel like I have a good handle on who the partners are going to be.  Last year, most of it made sense to me.  Divide everyone up by height and genre, and you can get pretty […]

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