So You Think You Can Dance: Season 10 Performance Show, 20 down to 18

E: What kind of sadist decided that would be a good idea, eliminating contestants at the top of the show and then making them dance?  What a ridiculously horrible thing to do; it started us off on a down note and tainted everything that came later.  FOX, you know this is mostly your fault.  Give them a results show!  Seriously.  What’re you showing that can’t wait?  Nothing.

Now, if you can get past that ghastly downer of an opening, there was a lot to enjoy about this week’s show.  I’m sorry I took so long to bring my thoughts to you!  Combine a national holiday with school vacation and a heat wave and you get an E who rarely visits her computer. I’ll try to be as speedy and pithy as possible.

Let’s start with the actual opener.

This week’s group routine was a gorgeous Tyce DiOrio contemporary piece about dolls come alive.  And no, it wasn’t creepy other than the baffling laughing moments, it was fun – in large part, I think, because of all the different eras the bleached out brown and cream and beige costumes came from – Edwardian, Victorian, Restoration, Regency, jazz age and so on.  I’m a sucker for bustles and boaters and suspenders; it was good stuff. Amy’s bee-keeper hat and veil were particularly striking.  Beyond the costumes, the music ( from the Moonrise Kingdom soundtrack) drew me in, and the dancing itself lilted prettily.

And then, okay.  That’s when they do a run down of last week and Cat – attired in this baffling disco combination of a black strappy nearly Fifth Element sort of top with a pleated Southwestern looking skirt –  lets us know that we’ll see people get kicked off first and then even the eliminated dancers will dance in the regular pair routines.  Because, you know, that’s sure to produce great performances.  I can’t quite replicate my initial fury at this innovation now (which was prodigious), but I really hope they change it.  At any rate, the bottom consists of Carlos and Mariah (who began last week’s show with a fun jive but suffered from little previous screen time and harsh comments from the judges), Brittany (who we’d never heard of before the Meet the Top Twenty episode), Alan (great performance with the blindfold, but the dance featured his partner more and he had very little screen time in the auditions), Makenzie (rave reviews for a Viennese Waltz, a genre which doesn’t always draw viewer attention) and animator Jade.  One of these things is not like the other…

Now, okay.  Alan and Makenzie were showered with praise by the judges.  I can see their inclusion, I guess, in the sense that Alan played a more supportive role in his piece and we don’t really know him yet, and Makenzie danced in a less than popular style, and anyway someone has to round out the bottom three.  Why the waltz didn’t doom Paul as well I’m not sure, which leaves me quite curious about his comparative popularity.  But Jade?  The judges loved his routine, and he’s been absolutely lavished with attention from the judges and editors.  All I can think is that the viewers en mass must not enjoy his cocky attitude; I can’t figure out a way to see this vote that isn’t personal to him.

The judges elect to “save” Alan and Makenzie; they won’t be required to dance for their lives.  The other four do, and it’s not particularly revolutionary.  Carlos probably performs the best.  Honestly, of the four Mariah is the one I actually care about.  Jade’s a great soloist (not that you particularly see that here), and while he does seem to have kept up with the show’s demands so far he’s still the least versatile, and Carlos and Brittany have been wonderful but we just don’t know enough about them for me to get emotional there either.  And I suspect that’s why the judges send the latter two home.  Honestly, I figured that unless those two received enough votes to avoid the bottom entirely they were the likely ejectees. It’s certainly not that Jade outdanced Carlos when invited to dance for his life (between the girls the balance is more debatable) or has more to offer this format.  Nigel claims that they spend a lot of time talking to the choreographers about attitude and work ethic and room for growth, but I highly doubt there’s anything wrong with Brittany and Carlos’ attitude and work ethic.  Perhaps these two have the true lowest vote total, but either way they’re very very clearly the dancers the show is least invested in.

And so we’re starting everything off with a bad taste in my mouth.  I can’t believe Brittany and Carlos have to dance with their partners after this crushing blow!  They try to be brave, but their faces kill me.  Do you think the idea is that the judges don’t want to make their choice based on two weeks of dancing?  That it’s more fair?  The intervening days have somewhat lessened my fury, but I’m not happy thinking about going through this again.

So, on to the happier news.  There is dancing!  Ray Leeper’s crafted a jazz piece for Hayley and Curtis that even the dreaded opening slot won’t make you overlook.  In Ray’s world, which lives to the tune “Mama Knows Best” by Jessie J, Curtis is a bad boy, and Hayley’s the girl out to give him his comeuppance. There’s some doubt during the rehearsal package over Curtis’ ability to bring the bad boy vibe (unnecessarily so, given last week’s smooth hip hop), but there sure is none once the two take the dance floor.  Both dancers wear head-to-toe black – a sleeveless t-shirt and pleather jeans for Curtis, bodysuit and thigh high vinyl boots for Hayley, and damn but the whole thing is sexy and amazing.  Her core strength is ridiculous; she stays bent over backwards, pressing him down to the floor each time he moves, for what feels like an age.  It’s such a cliche, but this pair brings real sizzle.  (Now, there were a couple moments where I felt like they weren’t absolutely grooving together like I wanted, but it was 95% there; they’re definitely one of my favorite couples.) The judges?  They love it. Nigel’s palpitating, Mary calls Curtis a puppylove giggle bucket – which is to say, he’s got a cutesy round face like her – but says it doesn’t get in his way.

OH.  Now that brings me to something else I love about this episode.  Christina Applegate in the house!  That girl, seriously.  She dances.  She’s smart.  She’s articulate and she’s emotional.  I rank on the idea of the celebrifan judge, but she’s the one I really get behind, because I feel like she not only knows what she’s talking about, but she knows how to talk about it; most of the guest judges bring one of those elements, but not both.  She says Curtis makes her forget he’s a tapper, and instructs both dancers to perfect their timing and anticipation within their pieces.

Next up, another completely smoking routine, this time hip hop for Aaron and Jasmine H (or “Haitch,” as Cat called her.  Thanks, Eliza Doolittle).  Tabitha and Napoleon have decided that Aaron’s a slick jazz musician, and Jasmine’s his booty call in this particular city.

As Alicia Keys “Tears Always Win” begins to play, Jasmine sits on her couch reading “No He Doesn’t Deserve You!” as Aaron walks in, hat on his head, wife beater tank over khakis, guitar in hand.  The look Jasmine shoots over the book could burn through that guitar case.  She pushes it out, she pushes him, but eventually she gives in and they flip and twist and grind against each other until the music goes away and so does he.  I really can’t say enough about Jasmine; there’s something unconventional about the way she contracts her body, and it’s just so freaking interesting and raw and surprising.  It’s messy, and I love it.  That said, their unison section was pretty wonderful, and that tank top is pretty good for showing off Aaron’s long arms, too.  Really, I loved the rolls, I loved the crazy somersault-split thing, I loved the song, I loved the dancers, I loved it all.

Copying Christina, Nigel says he forgot Aaron was a tapper, and delights the tall fellow by saying he’s become a major asset to show.  Is it weird that this makes me happy?  I’m such a sucker for a feel good story, and not less after the crap the judges just pulled. Words like star, actress and maturity get slung around by Cat and Mary.  After asking if Nappytabs are setting out to inspire babymaking with the routine, Christina dubs Aaron and Jasmine the couple to beat.

After the commercials (which include a promo for Seth Green’s upcoming sitcom, and yes, I will at least check out the show Dads even though it’s a sitcom because its Seth freaking Green returning to TV), we get to see a little of the National Dance Day “hip hop masterclass” which can’t be that difficult or Napoleon wouldn’t be able to do it with little London strapped to his chest.  After that bouncy cuteness, we see Malece and Jade with Nakul.  Bollywood!  Awesome.  Malece is playing hard to get – and the two clown around in rehearsal, to a degree which again makes me wonder what’s going on with the judges’ choices.

When the music begins  – “Radha” from the Student of the Year soundtrack – Jade leaves Malece a present, but she’s coy and throws it back.  I’m not sure how much more story I see in the routine than in those opening moments, but mostly, I get what I like.  Speed. Bounce. Lux costumes. (Malece particularly is all sparkles and pink and purple – a little girl’s princess dream.) Nearing the end, it looks to me like Malece at least is running out of steam, but Jade seems to have it down.

Or at least that’s what I think until Nigel points out – and Jade gleefully admits – that they’re not doing the proper hand signs.  Um, okay, that’s not cool.  Those hand positions are important! No wonder Nakul gave them a golf clap.  Nigel warns that Malece has to back up her pixie charms with great performances or the audience won’t love her forever. Indeed, the entire critique is studded with moments of tough love.  Calling the entire thing a commendable effort (ouch?), Christina tells Jade that he needs to humble himself and actually learn from the choreographers.  Double ouch!  If you’re Carlos, you’ve got to be furious right about now. As we zip to commercial, I catch sight of Miriam and Leonardo in the audience.  YES!  We have tango!

Not right away, however.  First we’ve got a Stacey Tookey routine for Nico and Alexis – a sequel, if you can believe it, to her Season 7 Soldier’s Goodbye routine for Robert and Kathryn.  And she’s got Kathryn to help them learn the routine.  Under a poster of Kathryn!  Not intimidating or anything, that.

But Alexis acquits herself well enough.  I’m not sure why this routine didn’t have a greater impact on me, because the dancing was very pretty, and the music – Olaf Arnalds and Arnor Dan’s “Old Skin” – is haunting and evocative.  Maybe it’s that Nico takes Alexis’ duffel bag away before he greets her?  Does that deflate the vibe – the big reunion – before it even happens?  I don’t know, but it’s something.  The shapes are pretty.  The dancers can certainly do them.  There are several points where Nico carried Alexis around, and her legs are straight – and especially when the piece ends with him holding her up, her body straight, their arms around each other, her toes just barely touching the floor – and it starts to get at the emotion I want from this piece, but generally it’s not quite where I want it to be. There’s melancholy in the song – the difficulty of fitting into old skin, hiding in your own body, dissatisfaction – which seems fitting for the subject, but not clear in the choreography.  So, I don’t know – is my problem with Stacey, or are they not delivering what she intended?

Nigel can’t get over the music, and I don’t really blame him.  Nico gets better and better each week (low praise, right, since he totally blew last week, not to mention nonsensical since he was very good the first week).  Everyone agrees that Alexis excelled outside of her comfort zone. Mary lauds both dancers for letting the music carry them away.  I’m fascinated that Christina calls Nico out for changing up the choreography – it seems his spins at the beginning should have been a different variety – and while she says what he did was better, it makes me wonder if his skill set is too limited.  When Cat stands them up to do their numbers, he makes a “call me” gesture and blow a kiss to the camera.  Riiiiight.

And oh dear – next we have the first of the eliminated contestants, Brittany and her partner BluPrint.  Oh, weird.  That means BluPrint will dance with Mariah in the future. A pair of street dancers?  Crazy.  Anyway, Brittany and BluPrint do their damnedest to pull off a Spencer Liff Broadway routine about two college students flirting in the library.  It’s a cute idea, and Liff’s given them a large wooden table and a bay of bookshelves to work with.  Brittany is adorable in a rust colored swing dress with a wide belt, and BluPrint wears the 50s Greaser uniform – pegged jeans and a white T with the sleeves rolled.  It’s cute and bouncy (they swing off the shelves and somersault over the table) – and the song “It’s Oh So Quiet” from the Ice Princesses soundtrack – fits the idea perfectly – but I can’t help thinking that the verve and personality required were wrecked by Brittany’s ouster.  The zest for life we saw in last week’s African jazz has been utterly deflated.  Honestly, I feel a little like the routine was dumbed down, even.

Because at this point they’re just hear to buck Brittany up, the audience gives a standing ovation.  There’s no way this routine deserved that, but Brittany does, so I’m good.  The judges tell BluPrint he needs to step it up, but have nothing but praise for Brittany and for the routine itself.  Nigel even apologizes that she isn’t going to get the chance to shine on the show as he knows she could. BluPrint needs to learn how to sell the routine, how to act, how to be a dancer instead of a robot.  (And it’s true, Brittany was as you might expect much more expressive than her stolid partner.)  Fondly recalling an old Hollywood adage, Nigel tells BluPrint “to succeed you need sincerity – and if you can fake that you’ve got it made.”  Um, thanks for the tip, Uncle Nige?

Hey, guess what?  It’s time to Tango!  Yes yes yes!  It’s Miriam and Leonardo with an Argentine Tango for Alan and Jasmine M.  Outstanding!  She’s the fresh, innocent young girl, and he’s the suave user who takes her in.  Oh dear.  The music is “Escape from Slavery” by PP Music.  (What a dreadful name for a band.  Blah.)  In sparkles and ruffles and flowers and light girlish pink, Jasmine sits alone on the floor in a pool of light.  Alan – commanding in dark velvet, his hair brushed up high – strides over to her, and she looks up with all the wide eyed trust and amazement in the world.  Oh, wow. Who else loves the tango?  I’m so pleased they happened to focus the choreography and acting on Alan, who clearly needed the showcase.  The moment where he rips off Jasmine’s scarf, brings it to his face, smells it, and stuffs it into his suit coat pocket?  Creepy powerful.  The movement is wonderful and the lifts impress big time.

You had another moment, Christina coos.  For his part Nigel can’t get over the pressage lift at the end (you know, the bit when Jasmine rests on Alan’s shoulders and then he pushes her up over his head so his arms are fully extended).  No other guy in the competition could have even attempted this, Nigel notes, except maybe Aaron.  Mary loves the smoldering (you’re not alone, Ms. Murphy) and wants us all to know how difficult the choreography really was.

My 8 year old gave the next routine her highest rating – sort of funny, because it’s the routine that impressed me the least.  It’s a Sean Cheesman jazz piece for Paul and Makenzie about a mad scientist who’s built a sexy fembot and now wrestles with her for dominion.  You know, this week was chock full of the battle for the sexes.  I felt like everything I had to explain to my kids was jut a little weird.   Just saying.  For his part, Paul had a little trouble getting out of his shell and sticking his face in Makenzie’s cleavage.

Unlike my daughter, I wasn’t entranced by this routine.  The dancers weren’t at fault – and there was certainly the aggressive sexiness that Sean asked for – but there were way too many jazz hands for me.  The lab coat and little red robot dress were cutesy instead of Gothic. As a certain reality show judge would put it, for you, for me, it was just a’ight.

And because it was more sexy camp than Gothic, Cat brings up Weird Science when the piece is done and Makenzie’s squatting over Paul’s twitching form atop a dais.  “You’re a modern day Kelly LeBrock!”  I wish Makenzie kept her evil robot face for her closing pose, actually, but okay.  It’s another naughty routine, Nigel muses, segueing to ‘naughty ballerina’ Melissa in the background, round to bursting with a baby in her belly.  Aw!  She’s awesome. I hope they update us about her baby.  Somewhat ominously he declares that Makenzie is a star and America needs to wake up and realize it.  There’s nothing in it Mary didn’t love (I see to be the only one unimpressed) and Christina lauds them for letting the choreography breathe.  They did?  Then she compares Paul to Patrick Dempsey in Can’t Buy Me Love. These 80s references are flying thick and fast.

As soon as Stacey Tookey starts explaining her concept for Carlos and Mariah, I can see that he’s going to fare better than Brittany.  Not only is he actually going to perform in his own style, but he’s supposed to be playing melancholy and numb, which surely will allow him to channel his feelings into his work instead of trying to counteract them.  Think about The Vow; accident victim Carlos doesn’t recognize his wife Mariah.  Poor Stacey’s really excited to show her dancers off.

So Carlos is allowed to look blank and wrecked, and instead of attempting to hold back her tears as she did when she was saved and he was eliminated, Mariah can give us anguish in her face and body.  They’re both so good.  He’s in a white button down with suspenders, she’s in a deep purple gown with a side cut out and scrunched up petal looking things (oddly ballroom) and them hold each other and hold back from each other with exquisitely calibrated agony.  It does indeed show them both off to great advantage.  There’s a lift where Carlos whips Mariah all around his body as if she were a waterfall.  Later, he carries her on his shoulders as if he’s underwater (fitting for the song, Ellie Goulding’s “Dead in the Water”) and she’s reaching for the air above.  Once, he curls into her, pressing his face into her back, just enough so you know that he too wishes he could connect again.  It’s one of the best pieces of the night.

America got it so wrong, the judges all proclaim.  Erm, can’t really blame that one on America, judges, and everybody knows it.  After all, you were the only ones with the power to actually save him – and if he’d gotten more screen time, who knows if it would even have been an issue! Stupid editors. It’s not that I don’t want them to praise him, but he’s not buying into it and neither am I.  You made the wrong choice, judges; suck it up.  Little Miss Hip Hop has come out on the other side of the rainbow, Mary coos. Christina loves the grace and pain and beauty Mariah showed, and Nigel wanted her to know that Stacey praised her to high heavens.  He acknowledges to Carlos – and this at least feels real – that the first cut is the cruelest.

This week’s penultimate routine is a rousing, joyful hip hop that Tabitha and Napoleon have created for Amy and Fik-shun.  Wow, they really are playing to the couple’s strengths this week, huh?  In almost every pair at least one partner is in their own style – and it’s the partner that was further out of their depth last week.  The idea of this bit is that the two are bubbly, fun loving bellhops in a hotel.  The choreographers claim there’s flirting going on, but I don’t see that so much as the fun, and the whole bellhop thing seems like an excuse to use the song “After Party”  by Dorrough Music with its repeated lines about being at a party in a hotel – and, of course, the chance to use the traditional hotel luggage cart.

But I don’t even care, because it’s just that much fun.  The dancers swing from the bars on the top, they bounce, they shimmy and lock and pop. What a match these two are; their energy is just perfect together.  They’re infectious, stomping in their maroon bellman uniforms with the gold braid.  (Yes, it’s weird that Amy has no pants.)  When the two toss back their heads and just shake their torsos, letting their arms flop, everyone goes nuts.  You just can’t help yourselves, Mary says.  It’s a party on the stage rather than in a hotel.  You light up the stage, Nigel rightly points out.  You’ve had yet another moment after last week, says Christina, and I can see you riding this wave to the finale.

The final couple is yet another power couple, Jenna and Tucker, and this week they’re in Jenna’s wheelhouse with a Dmitri Chaplin cha cha.  His conceit is that Tucker’s a sleazebag in a club, and Jenna’s the sexy girl who’s gonna take him down a few pegs.  There it is again; was this an actual theme to the week?  Poor Tucker apologizes to his mother, and hilariously tells us that if he ever went to a club he’d be much more likely to trip over the door on the way in than to own the place.  Hee.  Jenna, on the other hand, is thrilled to be playing the sexy girl.

And wow, does she do it well.  Tucker’s totally creditable, oozing across the stage toward the railing where Jenna’s perched, swaggering to Pete Rodriguez’s “I Like It Like That” (the Aaron Jerome remix).  It’s good swaggering music. When he too leans on the rail in his black suit, red tie askew, reading to light up, Jenna oozes around the back and knocks the cigarette from his lips.  And then she slowly, slowly drags the tie from around his neck.  Hello, kitten!  She wasn’t kidding when she said she likes to play the sexy girl!  Jenna’s fierce in crimson and she flashes fringe at Tucker till he’s eating from her hands – and then slams him down.  I liked this so much.  They’re excellent actors, these two – it’s almost like another Broadway number.  I cannot wait to see what they do next!

Mary and Christina are of my opinion generally, Mary thinks Tucker missed the style a little but loves Jenna to bits and Christina talks up the raw dirtiness of it.  I don’t quite understand the point, but Nigel uses his moment to say there wasn’t enough cha chaing in the cha cha.  What’s the point of critiquing the choreographer?  I hate that this was the last thing we heard, because he literally says nothing about the performers. I’m glad he separated it out at least a little, but it’s an unnecessary sour note.  I thought the routine was great.

And there it is, barely in time for this week’s show.  Who will be in trouble now?  Does the audience like Jade or not? Will Mariah be safe – and what will it be like when she dances with BluPrint?  Also, I’m curious. What were your favorites?  “Tears Always Win,” “Escape from Slavery,” “Dead in the Water,” “Mama Knows Best” and “I Like It Like That” would be mine.  What?  Is it weird that I listed half the numbers?  Naw, it was just a good episode.  Let’s just hope they learned from last week and won’t be eliminating contestants at the start again.  Down with that experiment!

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