E: Hey, guess what? They listened! Not to me, because my words I’m sure came far after they made the decision to abandon the format change, but generally to fans and bloggers and the social media outcry over Carlos and Brittany’s brutal ouster at the beginning of last week’s show. No more dancers will be forced to perform after being eliminated! Excellent!
Instead, they’re placed in jeopardy at the start of the show, and by the end it’s incredibly obvious who’s going home. Is that breaking the news more gently? Is that better? Maybe. At any rate it couldn’t be worse…
The opening group routine has me super excited from the first moment. There’s a crazy structure on the stage that looks like a massive campfire or the barricade from Les Miz, perfect for creating bold shadows. The dancers are in white, the women in long dresses with their hair tortured into close fitting braids. As soon as we see the song – Soley’s “Pretty Face” (Nathan Lanier remix) – I’m thrilled because Lanier means Christopher Scott. When the dancers begin to move, however, and aren’t dancing hip hop it’s clear that it has to be another Sonya Tayeh/Christopher Scott collaboration, which is something to shout about. It’s marvel, watching the dancers scuttle up and down the barricade and particularly seeing them throw themselves off the back. It was too fascinating, even, for me to search for the meaning of the piece; I just loved to watch, to see the styles flow together, to see the dancers pound and thump and fly.
This week’s judging panel includes birthday boy Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, ESPN’s Erin Andrews and singer/reality show judge/choreographer (yay!) Paula Abdul. Superfan Erin Andrews is there to promote next week’s All Star game; though Cat didn’t mention it, Erin excelled on Dancing With the Stars, which makes her if nothing else more qualified than Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Wayne Brady. Mr. E and I happened to watch that cycle, and she was impressive. She talks for a living and she’s good at it (facts that go together less often than you’d think) but you can hear her locker room brassiness bleed through her comments, which definitely adds a new edge to the panel.
Wearing a simple little black dress, chunky gold jewelry and sporting some glamorous hair, Cat points out that there were only 17 dancers in the opening number, something I hadn’t noticed at all. It was Jade, and he wasn’t dancing because he tore his meniscus during rehearsal. Oh, yuck. He’s not going to be able to dance for another 3-4 months at least, which has to suck. And indeed, when we see him in the audience disappointment renders his expressive face nearly unrecognizable.
It turns out that this might have been his week to go anyway, however, when Cat reveals the names of the bottom three guys: Jade, BluPrint and Curtis. We’ve already discussed that Jade might have had an issue connecting with the audience, and BluPrint had a really tough performance last week given Brittany’s ouster, but Curtis? Wow, I certainly overestimated his excellent sexy jazz number’s capacity to counteract the dreaded opening slot curse. While it doesn’t matter for this week, it makes me incredibly nervous for his future.
And the girls? The rationale behind this trio is kind of impenetrable. Alexis had enough of a following to survive her dreadful hip hop (which even including tonight’s offerings still holds my title for the worst routine of the season) but lands in the bottom after her redemptive contemporary routine? While I wasn’t in love with that piece, I thought she shone far more brightly than her partner Nico. Perhaps, though, her fans were motivated enough to counter a bad routine (maybe through binge voting) but relaxed too much to keep her afloat after a merely decent one. And Jenna, for her spectacular cha cha? What? Does that mean that the audience isn’t connecting with her – that the judges may be promoting her too strongly – or that they agreed with Nigel’s critique that her cha cha didn’t include enough ballroom choreography? And finally it was the other ballroom number that brought down Jasmine Mason, another shock. Except it shouldn’t be, maybe, because that’s enough to be a pattern; the first week both girls in ballroom routines ended up in the bottom, and the same is true again. We’ll have to see if the pattern continues, but yikes. Her tango was one of my favorite routines of that episode. Of course, it was a terrific night over all, so whoever ended up here would have been a shock to me.
The three girls dance first; they’ll learn their fate at the end of the night. They’re all good. Ballroom is really difficult to do solo, but I can’t see that this is going to hurt Jenna because the judges adore her. Often contemporary solos, especially for girls, bore: spin here, jump here, life leg over head there, throw self on the floor here. They feel the same. I found Jasmine’s extra compelling, perhaps because her leaps are quite spectacular; she gets some really good height. On the other hand tap is a perfect medium for solos, and Alexis does well if not as well as I was maybe hoping. I can’t help thinking that based on the previous two week’s performances, she’s the obvious candidate to go. Will Nigel part with a tapper so soon? We’ll have to see.
First up this week (watch out, kiddos) is Amy and Fik-shun. Okay, they really ought to be bottom-three proof, right? The produces are pulling out the big guns, because they’ve not only drawn the opening slot but they also have – you guessed it – ballroom. Happily for them it’s one of the more exciting ballroom disciplines, the paso doble. For the first time this season, veteran ballroom goofball Jean-Marc Genereaux returns sporting hipster glasses and offering a “paso war” for the two adorable pixies to fight. He garbs them in black – they look remarkably like Katniss and Peeta minus the fire – and asks them to fight to the death to Jack Trammell’s “Tactical Dominance” (Orch Hybrid version).
And it’s good. Amy brings the necessary fierceness, tension in every line of her body. Fik-shun definitely brings the right attitude, but, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I know he’s so tiny and slight, but his movements lack weight – he doesn’t seem properly tense to me. Is his center too high? Are his shoulders riding up, or is it the costume? No, his shoulders are definitely up, so maybe that’s part of the problem? I want to feel like he’s a bow pulled back and ready to spring, to see his arms and his legs fill with energy, and I don’t. I want to feel like they’re shaking the floor. Oh, I don’t hate it – it improved vastly on the second viewing – but I was expecting more from this fabulous pair. That said I have trouble imagining Amy joining in the ballroom curse.
As usual the judges just adore them, and this surprises me a little coming from Mary. Oh, wait. She does call him on his shoulders being high (ha!) but it doesn’t seem to effect her like it does me. This paso war isn’t going to kill anyone, she declares. Bringing her sports training to the ballroom, Erin says Fik-shun tamed The Beast, and that these two are the pair to beat and they better watch out for the bulls-eye on their backs. (This is a good point, but damn, we’re all about the archery metaphors! I’m telling you, it’s the suggestion of The Hunger Games in the costumes.)
Paula Abdul is simply giddy to see Fik-shun again, because he was on that (sadly dreadful) dance competition show she did two summers ago, Live to Dance. She’s so proud of all he’s learned since that she just wants to squish him! Cat obliges. Ah, Cat – yet another reason I live vicariously through her. She gets to hug all the sweaty dancers! Paula proceeds to blow Amy away by saying she wishes Amy could have been one of her dancers back in the day. Echoing Mary’s comments, Nigel tells Fik-shun he’ll get more power in his arms when he learns to keep his shoulders down. “You can’t be head and shoulders above the competition if you can’t get your head above your shoulders,” Paula chirps. Sounds like a dancer teacher adage to me!
Wow, this is some serious front loading – my favorite couple up are up next! It’s funny how the top two couples (I can’t be alone in assessing them thus, right?) are pocket sized Amy and Fik-shun, and giants Jasmine and Aaron. Just a fun juxtaposition. Anyone else find that funny? Anyone? Bueller?
At any rate, the two giants have drawn Spencer Liff and Broadway. Excellent! Even more excellent, his idea is a Noir mystery; Aaron’s a hard-boiled police detective, and Jasmine’s the ghost of the murder victim whose death he’s investigating. Can they solve the case together?
I don’t actually know the answer to that question but I could not care less. Aaron crouches by a chalk body outline in a little L made from caution tape, near a nightstand topped by a tumbled lamp, jewelry hanging from the drawer. He stands, mopping his brow, when Jasmine enters in a puff of smoke. Of course he’s wearing a fedora and a trenchcoat; she’s in a gorgeous purple negligee, long and full and silky, and she wanders the stage as Megan Hilty belts the rather wonderful “They Just Keep Moving the Line” (ah, Smash – would that you lived up to that song and that voice) before finally pushing an arm ostensibly through Aaron’s chest. Oh, the horror frozen on his face! She wants to move into the light, but he fights to stop her, and they reach for insight together, dancing in glorious unison. It’s what I like to call flat out dancing, and I could not love it more. The leaps! The back bends! The way he throws her through the caution tape! His determination, written so plainly on his face, as he drags her back toward him! Her leg, sweeping over her head in a perfect circle of purple silk! The way she holds her arms up before finally, in confusion, returning to the smoke!
“When Jasmine and Aaron got together, it was moidah!” Cat coos in a little broad New York accent. Nicely calibrated, Cat. She then brings our attention to giant signs in the audience – Aaron’s face blown up to at least 3 feet. Cute. After commiserating over the horror of seeing one’s nose so enlarged, Erin tells Jasmine she’s thrilled to have seen her famous legs in person and to confirm that they are indeed as advertized. Also, yay Spencer! For her part Paula explains how Aaron reminds her of MGM contract dancers, and how Jasmine reminds her of Cyd Charisse, which I think is frankly kind of mean. (Jasmine looked so blank I couldn’t decide if she processed this as a backhanded compliment her partner, or just didn’t know what a humungous compliment it was to herself.) Having spent the weekend on Broadway watching Motown: The Musical and Kinky Boots, Nigel’s determined that both of these two are polished enough for the Great White Way. Mary believes they achieved the style and class Spencer wanted, and that it would be a crime (ha) if they were to fall into the bottom three. Well, we’re all about the criminal bottom three this week. We can only hope next week will be more law-abiding.
Really, though, I can’t imagine them being in the bottom either. I can’t gush about this pair enough. They’re such great storytellers! The judges can’t stop talking about her legs, but how charming and unexpected is her girlish giggle? The word’s become a bit loaded for me, but she’s so effortlessly mature on stage and so much her real age off of it; I’m finding it a pleasant contrast. And Aaron; the look on his face, the almost puppy-ish eagerness with which he soaks in the judge’s praise, and the way he turns to Jasmine to share his joy! Love them love them love them. And that doesn’t even begin to touch the magic they hold for me on stage.
But the show isn’t made up of just one couple, and so we move on to Paul and Makenzie, doing a contemporary piece by newbie choreographer Lindsay Nelko. Why do I feel like she did a group routine last season? Also, wow, she’s really young looking. In more relevant news, her idea is that terminally ill Makenzie helps husband/lover Paul come to terms with her situation. Interesting. This is the kind of scenario my husband finds manipulative; if you didn’t know that was the premise, would it be genuinely moving on it’s own?
Maybe. I love the version Lindsay’s found of Idina Menzel singing “No Day But Today” – a “Live From Soundstage” stripped down rendition which lets Menzel’s glorious voice tell the story with minimal instrumentation. Pretty pretty Makenzie wears a white halter dress with a lattice detail at the neck, an open back and sheer skirt; Paul has on a white button down with light blue pants and a wide belt. All gracious understanding, Makenzie comforts a grieving, weeping Paul. It’s supremely pretty and floaty, filled with gorgeous floating leaps, and I like the idea and the choreography and the look, but somehow don’t really lock into the intended emotion.
In what’s surely one of the most cogent and informative critiques she’s ever given, Paula tells us that in her work with the Make a Wish Foundation, she’s seen this scenario many times – sick children at peace, giving strength to their heartbroken families. Concept approved! Patting himself on the back for hiring Lindsay, Nigel thinks she’ll be an asset to the show – but he also wonders why this episode is so depressing. It’s funny, isn’t it – last week’s theme was the battle of the sexes, and this week, death. Erin is sold on both dancers: Mary is finally buying into Paul, admitting that she’s found him insincere up to this point. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one getting that vibe from him! Tonight Mary and I diverge on that point, because they made her cry and I’m still on the fence.
Dancer in danger! Queen Jasmine Mason and her partner King Alan are taking on a Sean Cheesman jazz routine: it’s tea with the royals! Or, er, royals having tea with themselves? Tea at the palace? Weird, quirky tea.
Alan’s in a tux with a military medal, a blue sash across his chest, a white tie and bare feet; Jasmine wears a cream dress, not quite floor length, with green and gold detail. There’s a Downton Abbey feel to it, don’t you think? Also, who else thinks Charlotte Martin sounds like Tori Amos? “Veins” is quirky in exactly that vein. The two drink from golden tea cups. They slump over a wooden table; Jasmine crawls over the table and spins on her side, freaking me out by walking her bare toes over the surface. (I know it’s ridiculous because it’s not as if anyone’s eating off the table, but I can’t help the visceral response.) It’s wacky, childish fun. Again I’m just not feeling it (maybe I’m grumpy? Is it the lack of sleep?) but I just adore the look Jasmine gives Alan when she pushes herself out from underneath him. It’s so very “ew, cooties!”
Declaring the routine to be “fabulously bonkers,” Cat asks Nigel to start things off, and he does by comparing the dancers to Prince William and “Katie”. Um, no. Alan is an amazing partner but he thinks that they both could have been quirkier. Really? I just find that so odd, because Jasmine’s so much more expressive than Alan that you’d think she’d get some credit. Not that he’s inexpressive – he’s no BluPrint – but she’s so very good at telegraphing emotions. It’s clean, precise and sharp, Mary tells us. The lifts were incredible (she adores Alan as a partner and particularly mentions one neat lift where Jasmine, totally upside-down, hooks a leg around Alan’s neck and swings up so she’s sitting on his shoulder) but also thinks it wasn’t quite crazy enough. Let your hair down, Erin instructs Jasmine; Paula loves the scene. Over all, the judges single out Jasmine for criticism in a way which makes me very, very worried for her.
Ah, and we have another of the bottom three, Jenna and her partner Tucker, and also a pair of new choreographers, Keoni and Mari Madrid. The married duo have some hip hop for us. Yet again, Jenna’s supposed to be dominating Tucker, who’s starting to get a complex. Ha!
They dance to the Immortal version of Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” – I thought Michael Jackson would be cool, but I hate this version. Yuck, seriously. Not only do I not get the story from the choreography, it doesn’t even feel like hip hop. Some of its neat, especially in the synchronized section in the middle, but why do they spend so much time ignoring each other? I don’t get the storyline at all; if anything, he’s manipulating her body, not the other way around. There’s a baseball feel to Jenna’s white pinstriped pants, but definitely not to her black bodysuit with the plunging cleavage; Tucker’s dressed in opposite colors, a white t with suspenders and black pants. I don’t think they look as great as they’ve looked in the past, and I don’t love the routine like I did their others.
The audience goes nuts, but Mary doesn’t seem to know how to say politely that while she definitely liked it, it didn’t feel like hip hop to her. “It’s jazzy hop,” Nigel agrees. It’s hipster jazz, Paula suggests, and everyone loves that. The style sat well on Tucker (Erin even compares him to the King of Pop), but Jenna comes in for a few buckets more of compliments from Mary and her cohorts. There’s nothing she can’t do! She looks like a movie star! Like Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face! Wow. Not that I thought Jenna would be going home, but it’s quite clear she isn’t now.
Malece has a Sonya contemporary routine, the lucky duckling. Of course, she has to do it without her partner, which would be a deficit if she wasn’t going to dance with the guy Sonya brought in to help her teach the routine – All Star Marko! Poor Jade, but Marko’s so spectacular, so expressive. I love the stage full of candelabras, I love Malece’s nude dress with the black lace bodice, I love the light and shadows, so perfect for a song called “In the Embers” (by Sleeping at Last, who sing last season’s stand out “Turning Page“).
And the judges love it, because they’re on their feet.
Erin can’t contain her girl crush on Sonya, who hasn’t even recovered yet from cheering on the dancers. So cute. Erin’s so easily to mimic with that flat accent; I’m enjoying her presence a lot despite myself. Paula and everyone else say their hearts go out to Jade. When Nigel reports that Sonya had been pleased with Jade’s progress in the routine, the young man thumps his heart in the audience. It was Paula’s favorite piece so far, pure poetry; Nigel thinks Marko brought out something in Malece that they’ve never seen. Makes sense, doesn’t it? For all Jade’s impressive success as outside his genre it can’t be the same as working with a brilliant, highly trained contemporary dancer. Nigel gets creepy about how she’s finally matured, and that the routine felt inevitable rather than choreographed. Mary takes this one step further; “I knew you would have this moment,” she declares, “from the very first day I saw you.” Aw. Just, aw. It’s no “Turning Page” – nor is it “Bang Bang” (when Eliana first danced with Alex Wong) – but I liked it.
And hurrah, my little cuties Hayley and Curtis! Seriously, what the heck was Curtis doing in the bottom? That was horrifying! I love that guy. I don’t think I like this voting for individuals thing – I feel like he and Hayley would have helped each other out, don’t you? Because he got more press initially, but she’s hugely rocking the live shows.
Anyway. Jean-Marc has a samba for them, and, oh dear. I’ve been so impressed by how smooth Curtis is, the way he moves like a contemporary dancer, but we have come up against his Achilles heel here. The dude cannot move his hips.
Sometimes the rehearsal package sets us up to think something’s going to be bad and fakes us out, but man, that is not the case here – Curtis really can’t move his hips correctly and it really shows. He’s incredibly lucky that he’s not in actual jeopardy this week, but next week’s – oh dear. I really hope people vote for him. So, sorry, the details: “Straight to Memphis” is the music by Club des Belugas, and Hayley’s spectacular in acid green sequins and fringe, which is to say she looks spectacular and she dances spectacularly. And Curtis is far better than, say, I would have been, or pretty nearly any “celebrity” on Dancing With the Stars. He can achieve the right line and there are points where he looks fabulous, but the hip action just isn’t there. Oh, and they do a death drop lift, and she slips. She doesn’t get hurt, but he loses control ever so briefly, ever so slightly, and it’s alarming to watch.
Paula praises Hayley’s ferocity and sex appeal, and tells Curtis he improved tremendously from the dress rehearsal and did a good job for a tapper; it’s exactly that sort of Paula critique that makes it clear she’s too nice to tell you you’ve blown it. Hayley dominated the routine and she shouldn’t have, Nigel says; Curtis needs to step it up and be the man occasionally. Was that the problem? I don’t think it was stylistic nearly as much as it was athletic. But Hayley? Even her footwork was perfect. You can see that Curtis didn’t distribute the weight properly on his feet, Mary explains, and that doomed him – but he was really close. She was quite unsettled by the sketchy lift. And Hayley, holy smokes. Your fringe could have blown out the candles on Nigel’s birthday cake, Mary concludes.
And here’s our final member of the bottom three, Alexis. She and Nico have drawn a Spencer Liff Broadway piece about a stage magician (Alexis) who’s hypnotizing a volunteer into loving her. Interesting.
I love the feeling of the piece – Nina Simone’s “I Put A Spell On You” creates a gorgeous, dreamlike, almost somnolent atmosphere, and the costumes have a rich Victorian flavor, from Nico’s brocade waistcoat to Alexis’ sequined tuxedo dress/vest over a bandeau top and hot pants. I know, it’s too sexy and short and modern for that time period, but there’s a suggestion in the outline as well as the glamorous hair. So far so good. He sits in a chair, she leans over him with a pocket watch, and the deed is done. She wraps him around herself, makes him dance like a puppet in front of her, pushes and pulls his unresisting body. I like it, but – I don’t know. I wish they were filmed closer so I could see their expressions, perhaps. At any rate, I enjoyed it more than last week’s decent enough offering from this pair.
That was tough work for a girl, Nigel observes (ugh, it wasn’t that physically difficult, dude). When another judge exclaims in shock over Alexis’ bottom three status, he shrugs and rightly points out that it’s the nature of the competition. All of these kids are brilliant. Paula thinks she’s back on top (was she ever on top?), and Mary was hypnotized (ha ha) by the routine. Erin lets us know that it was much better here than in rehearsal. I feel like that’s a theme. All in all, the reviews are so positive I have a sinking feeling in my stomach for poor Jazzy M, who to my mind has been much more consistent than the admittedly excellent Alexis.
Finally, we have the newest couple – Mariah and BluPrint! The krumper and animator have been gifted with a Luther Brown hip hop routine, one he promises will be “go” from the word go. (I actually thought he meant the routine was set to a song entitled “Go” but it seems that was a mite too literal.) The rehearsal footage features a lot of flying sweat. Anyone thinking that the two are getting a cake walk because this is sort of their style is in for a surprise.
In the middle of the stage is a smoking white trash can; it’s an image from a shanty town, except that the smoke/flame in the can is brightly colored (and of course the pure bright white of the can). I don’t really get this as scenery, since they don’t interact with it at all, but whatever; I’m too busy watching the two dancers flash out at the audience like wolves to notice. I love love love this choreography! That’s flat out dancing for sure. There’s an incredible jumping unison section in the middle, and even though there are (contrary to the dancers’ protestations) moments when they’re literally lying on their backs and doing isolations with their legs, it’s almost completely high speed, full body hopping leaping spinning hip hop like I’ve never seen it. It’s awesome.
Justly, Cat mocks Mary’s attempt to talk street in her rapturous response to the piece. Up close, I can see that Mariah’s futuristic looking white jump suit has been accented with little studded gloves and big heart earrings. Before commenting on how stunning Mariah was last week, and how problematic BluPrint’s lack of facial expression is, Erin asks Luther to create a work out tape. Too right! Paula follows this up by telling BluPrint she thinks he’s holding back. Mariah’s personality shown through, Nigel starts, and that comment goes where you’d think – a lengthy critique of BluPrint’s stoic countenance. Personality wins, he explains: personality helped Sabra beat Danny Tidwell, and Benji beat Travis. (Bad boy, Nigel, stumbling to remember Travis’s name!) You’re not a great dancer yet, so you need that personality to come out. I’m starting to feel sorry for BluPrint even though I agree with everything the judges are saying. It’s not like this routine called for a lot of emoting! Sigh. Granted, the relentless judicial bullying led to a major performance quality breakthrough for technically proficient Chehon last season which in turn led to his win, so maybe I shouldn’t be judging the judges to harshly? Happily Cat steps in and defends BluPrint as actually, you know, having an appealing personality.
And with that, we get the three girls up on stage and (after hearing that Jenna is perfect, Jasmine has unnecessary self-doubt and Alexis sucks at remembering choreography) receive the totally unshocking news that the judges are sending Jasmine home. Self doubt is really that much worse than not retaining steps? But even if the critiques hadn’t clued me in, I probably should have guessed that they’d choose to release a contemporary/jazz dancer (who’re represented in abundance) over dancers with unique specialties. Her fellow dancers weep for her; we can lip read Mariah sobbing out an “I love you” from just off the stage.
Damn, how did that even happen? All these cuts will be hard, because as I said, all these kids are brilliant, but Jasmine was so terrific last week, and the week before. What a bummer. Next week adorable Kewpie doll Malece dances with adorable pink-cheeked Alan. (Seriously, it’s like he’s blushing permanently.) Seems like a good thing on paper, anyway – that’s the kind of partnership I thought they’d put together initially, before they tried to “mature” Malece. And now they’ve declared her mature, and he’s managed to be domineering, so maybe we can have innocence and experience together in one package? We shall see. Bye Jade! Heal! What do you think? Was I too grouchy – did you enjoy this week’s show as much as the last few? Can you explain away the dancers in the bottom and do you agree with the elimination? Is there any way Curtis can keep himself out of the bottom this coming week? Let me know what you think.