E: And here it is, the short and sweet. I’m back from vacation. I have viewed. I have sighed. I have swooned. I even cried, y’all. It was good.
So everyone knows that this week we broke up the pairs and introduced the All Stars. Generally, I think this is a better format than the old one, where the contestants danced with each other in new pairings each week; having an expert in each genre really raises the dancer’s game, and it also allows for awesome, out of the gender box narrative like this episode’s last dance. I’m bemused to notice that of the top ten, eight come from “power couples” – Aaron and Jasmine, Team Tuna, Fik-shun and The Truth, Paul and Mackenzie. But before I get to that, let me start from the beginning.
Which, as it happens, is a super cool group routine with dramatic lighting and ten rocking chairs and a great period feel to it. It was a contemporary routine, but get out of town – it was choreographed by Christopher Scott! Turns out he’s really been paying attention in all those routines he and Sonya have created together. There were only the faintest touches of hip hop in what they did; the music, though very Christopher Scott with its profusion of angst-ridden violins, wasn’t Nathan Lanier so there was no give away there either. I’ll pay him what’s pretty much the highest compliment I can; I wondered if Mia Michaels choreographed the routine.
In other words, I loved it.
And to add to the yummy goodness of the episode, our guest judge is the completely fabulous Debbie Allen! Holla! Cat lets us know that the oh-so-predictable bottom four consists of Nico, Tucker, Mackenzie and Jenna. Yep. Sooo shocking. Nigel says it’s all about the routines tonight – they don’t need (read: don’t have time for) solos. I’m highly curious how this will turn out, since the judges have saved Mackenzie and Jenna every time; now they have to let go of one of their favorites. The boys aren’t so tough; unless Nico blows them away like last week, he’s gone. But I’m also dying to know how this would be going if they followed the old school pattern where they sent home the person with the actual lowest vote total.
For the first individual piece, Amy gets a disco routine with Doriana Sanchez and All Star Brandon. Now, much as I love disco, and I love Amy, and I love Brandon, I think this could get her in trouble. Oh, the tricks were amazing, and so were the sparkles, but it’s kind of like ballroom, and she was first out of the gate, and she’s been in the bottom before. That’s not to say she wasn’t terrific; she was, and the judges loved her. I’m just guessing it could be a problem.
Next up, Aaron without Jasmine. Instead of tap, which I fervently hoped for, he’s got a Stacey Tookey contemporary routine with All Star Kathryn, and for once it’s not about angst or cheating, it’s about Stacey’s husband and how he supports her without question and how she draws strength just from looking in his eyes. (Was anyone else stunned to learn that she’s happily married? I mean, seriously, her routines uniformly display romantic devastation. It’s nice to know she wasn’t drawing from her personal life. Or at least her current personal life.) The routine – you know, Aaron was great, but Kathryn just flowed like water through his arms. She’s always in motion, so fluid it’s like nothing else. I didn’t quite get what he was trying to convey at the end when he pulled her hands down from his face (did that look less than idyllically happy to anyone else?) but it doesn’t matter. Terrific piece of gorgeousness, everybody loves Aaron, he got a standing O from the judges and made Kathryn cry with pride (the way she breathes “I hoped it would be him” – swooning!) and it was all around awesome.
Fik-shun gets Melanie Moore and a sizzling Mandy Moore jazz routine in which Fik-shun shows up to his ex’s show and the two get it on again. Melanie’s a torch singer in a sparking red gown and Fik-shun was born to play a newsie (Broadway, take note), so already I’m loving the look. In contrast to Kathryn, you see the attack in Melanie’s work, and it’s just one of the blessings of diversity that it is just as wonderful as Kathryn’s fluidity. Melanie just pushes everything farther than you imagine is possible; this is perhaps a weird thing to say because we so often talk about a dancer’s moves seems effortless, but every kick looks like it takes work. It looks like she glories in the work, in kicking hard, in throwing her head back. It’s a fierce and avid and a fun routine, and I liked it a ton. Fik-shun is adorable as always; I don’t know that I see heat between them, per se, but there’s certainly a great flirty energy, and Melanie herself has enough heat to power a building. The judges, of course, love it, though I’m a little mad at Nigel for taking the time to slag Alan and Malece for not getting Mandy’s vintage feel the week before.
Paul gets a sexy Jean-Marc Cha cha with All Star (and new Dancing With The Stars pro) Witney. Yep, both of last year’s blond bombshells ended up on DWTS this year, which is all kinds of wonderful. And the routine is fun stuff. It’s all fringe and shimmies and black and silver, and I’m struck once again with the fact that I’m watching the All-Star, not the contestant. I know in ballroom the girl’s the flashy partner, but you’d think the choreographers would be thinking more about this. I’m finding this particularly true of the male contestants, for some reason. Maybe your eye automatically goes to the person being lifted rather than the one doing the lifting? But I swear it’s the choreography and not just me. The judges love it, though, and for the second time Nigel tells Paul he’s well on his way to the winner’s circle. Really? Still don’t get it, but Nigel’s seen the voting totals so I guess he knows what he’s talking about.
I’m going to be super curious whether Hayley, who’s never been in the bottom, ends up there in the next episode, because her disapproving loan officer won over by the exuberance of dance routine just didn’t catch fire. It was all well and good – you’d think with Christopher Scott and tWitch she couldn’t lose – but in a night of stellar routines, this was the most forgettable in my opinion. I’m especially curious given that Jenna produced a wonderful piece. Not that Hayley isn’t great – her tutting was particularly nice – but the routine just didn’t sparkle like many of the others. So we’ll get a chance to see how deep her fan base really is. I can’t help thinking the judges would lose her rather than Amy, no matter how much the viewers love her.
Mandy Moore has a contemporary piece for Jenna, who is thinking of breaking up with Neil. (When it ended, my 8 year old looked at me and said “I guess they broke up, huh?”) It’s set to a cover of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and the stage is rimmed with (electric) candles. Mandy and Neil just kind of get each other, and man, when they go from the assisted run into that lift where Jenna leaps up to shoulder height and spins 360 degrees around Neil’s body? Four times? I honestly do not know how that’s possible. The judges adored it. Another standing O. Miss Mandy Moore is having a good night.
Spencer Liff has a Broadway routine (do they call these “West End” routines on the British version of the show?) for Mackenzie, and they’ve brought in Jakob as her partner, which just makes my heart skip. They are freaking splendid as a couple heating things up to “Too Darn Hot.” It’s so swoony. The extensions are redonkously – I mean, seriously, the point where they’ve got their legs up, just hanging there, and give a little flick kick because they are that strong? Preposterously beautiful in a sultry red silk dress, Mackenzie embodies Old Hollywood glamor – she’s got a real Lauren Bacall/Rita Hayworth thing going, and it’s spectacular. The whole thing is spectacular. I felt sure after Jenna’s piece was such a hit that they’d keep the ballroom dancer, but wow, Mackenzie didn’t give an inch. She fought for that in the biggest way. Spencer goes out of his mind, and the judges stand up once again.
After seeing him in the audience, I’d been wondering all night who drew Ray Leeper and whether that was going to be a good thing for them or not. Jasmine is the dancer, and Marko her All Star, and let me just say that it totally was a good, good thing. The idea is, I don’t know, just to be odd and sexy and for the two of them to dance in unison, and they’re dressed exactly alike – both like Janelle Monae, actually – and they’re not alike at all, yet what they each did was so interesting that I just didn’t care. Marko got a couple extra jumps (why? seriously, he’s not the one competing, what is up with that? at least Fik-shun had as many tricks as Melanie) but I loved his movement, and I am beyond in love with Jasmine’s weird Jasmine thing. I want to hate that it was set to the song “Blurred Lines” but I sort of can’t, not when they dance to it like that.
The penultimate piece belongs to NappyTabs, Comfort and Nico; the dancers are lizards, and they scurry around and up a cargo net. It’s fun. The Missy Elliot song is fun. Nico’s costume is crazy – the high cowl-like neck and flapping sleeves somehow make him look overly tall and unusually thin so that his head flaps like a chicken’s, which is a good thing and a bad thing at the same time. The judges aren’t in love. Ah, Nico and hip hop. Was he doomed from the start? I liked it, but in a night where I loved many of the routines – in a night full of finale worthy routines – he just didn’t get the piece he needed to survive.
Not so his fellow bottom dweller. The final routine of the night goes to Tucker, and it’s a doozy. Travis Wall’s come up with a routine about two brothers. The first (Robert Roldan) dressed in a dark grey, is sick, depressed, perhaps an addict, clearly bottoming out. The second is Tucker, dressed in a pale gray, the beacon of light, the support if only his brother will let him. Both dancers have had life threatening experiences which they’re drawing from; Travis has taken the story from his life with his “brother”, Danny Tidwell. It’s awesome, and everybody cries.
To no one’s surprise, the fifteen people (Nigel, Mary, Debbie, Christopher, Doriana, Stacey, Mandy, Jean-Marc, Spencer, Ray, Napoleon, Tabitha, Travis – that’s all the judges and choreographers, right? Did Nigel get his math wrong?) voting all pick Tucker to stay. The girls are a trickier story; the vote was 9 to 6, and it turns out Nigel was among the six who wanted to keep Mackenzie. I wouldn’t have said this before this episode, but I think this time I would have voted with him. At any rate, we all know neither Jenna or Mackenzie could have won at this point, so Mack can take comfort in being on the tour. I mean, we do, right?
Is it possible? Cheehon and Eliana both had big breakthroughs at the top ten week. So, maybe? It seems super unlikely, though. I don’t see the same sort of growth narrative going on that Cheehon had, and Eliana only dipped into the bottom once. Is there only going to be one winner, and will it come down to Paul and Fik-shun? Who’s your favorite dancer, and do you think they have a shot? Who will we lose this week? Do you want to see the remaining dancers on the tour? Am I alone in wishing that all the Top Twenty was on the tour? I’d be much more inclined to go if they were – gives more variety, more chances of seeing my favorite routines again.