E: Eliminations hurts so badly at this stage! Actually, this whole episode wrung me out. The contestants share their inspirations, I sniffle, the All Stars choreograph, and a good time is had by all.
As with last week, as with every week, I spent a fair amount of the group number (a psychotic goth circus in which S&M clowns beat on a large cage) wondering who choreographed it. Perhaps Tabitha and Napoleon, since there’s a distinct hip hop flavor to it? Sonya, coloring outside her book like collaborator Christopher Scott did last week? Perhaps an All Star, in keeping with the theme?
I was wrong on all counts. That was the Mia Michaels routine I’ve been longing for all season – except it totally wasn’t. I like dark. I like Gothic. This? Not so much. For sure part of it’s the song – Brick & Mortar’s “Move to the Ocean (Baauer Remix)” – but that’s not the problem. I hate to say it, even, but no matter how hard I look or how many times I re-watch, it’s just boring. I mean, seriously, they didn’t DO anything! Tucker seems to have created a really cool, creepy character, but beyond that? No one even mentions that Aaron is missing. It’s just off.
Cat, sunny and golden last week, seems to have dug into Mia’s Gothic theme with thick black eye make up, slicked back hair and a strapless black sparkly jumpsuit with a peplum and belt and skinny legs. Okay. Of course the dark outfit has no effect on her perky personality; she’s thrilled to tell us that her lobbying has finally paid off (for real?0) and they’ve secured Jenna Elfman as a guest judge. I know, I know what you’re thinking because I thought it too. Jenna Elfman? Of Dharma and Greg? For real? But it turns out that before she was an actress and comedienne, Jenna Elfman was a professional dancer, who has danced for SYTYCD friends Adam Shankman, Debbie Alan and Kenny Ortega. Oh, and a living legend named Twyla Tharp. That’s a serious name to drop. I’m stunned. Is she as articulate as Christina Applegate? Eh, maybe not, but I’m not going to say she doesn’t have the cred to be here.
Let’s get the bad news up front: I was right about Hayley being in trouble with her only mildly entertaining hip hop, but not about Amy and her show-opening disco, because perpetual bottom dweller Jenna is back in the bottom two despite a spectacular routine last week. The audience really just does not respond to her, huh? It’s sad. I mean, I like her. I like her very much. That said, in what world would it be fair to keep her over the wonderful and far more popular Hayley?
And, ouch. Tucker joins Fik-shun in the bottom, and that just hurts, because Tucker’s arguably the best dancer left among the guys, certainly the best trained, and there’s no way that the judges will keep him over the charming and super talented little dynamo. I can’t help wondering if this second incursion into the bottom means that the question for the crown is between Aaron and Paul? So not what I would have expected.
Fascinating news: this is the last week the judges will save anyone. Next week, contestants will be eliminated by voting totals. Nigel’s careful to caution us that when we vote this week, we’re really voting on who to send into the finale. Because we have time, each of the endangered four gets to solo. Fik-shun reminds me how fantastic his solos are, exuding joy and wiggling his butt to Edit’s “If You Crump Stand Up.” Hayley shows us some gorgeous side sliding to the delightful David J. Roach’s “Skin and Bones” (Marko and Melanie danced to this two seasons ago). “And she’s brought her skirt with her!” Cat coos when Jenna appears with a train affixed to the bustier she appeared in moments ago. Swedish House Mafia’s “Greyhound” is an interesting choice of music, but it’s kind of awkward the way ballroom solos often are. Finally, Tucker knocks my socks off to Rufus Wainwright’s “Beautiful Child.” Why, why can we not be losing Paul instead? (Not that I dislike Paul – it’s just in comparison.) I hate this.
Okay, fine, no more grumbling. Cat explains that the dancers are going to talk about their inspirations, and Aaron makes me cry right out of the gate talking about his dead best friend, killed in a car crash their senior year in high school. He cries, and that’s always brutal – really, why is it so gut-wrenching to see a big man cry? – and by the time he explains that he always sends a kiss up to heaven at the end of every performance, I’m done.
Emmy nominated choreographer Chelsie Hightower, however, is not done: she has a jive for Aaron, which seems like it could be a ton of fun. Well, actually, her story seems pretty dumb and very Dancing With the Stars (they’re a 1950s couple watching a dance show on TV who just can’t help dancing themselves), but the idea of Aaron jiving seems solid. I’m bemused by Chelsie calling him a real man, who knows how to lead; is this some sort of slur on her celebrity dancing partners? Anyway, the dance is fast and fun and flirty and super athletic, which all seems good, as does Chelsie’s red Marilyn Monroe dress and the song (“Great Balls of Fire” from the Million Dollar Quartet Broadway soundtrack.)
Well, Mary wasn’t as enamored as she wanted to be. She thought they were a great couple, loved all the fun touches (including some West Coast swing) that Chelsie included, but thought they missed some connections and that Aaron had trouble keeping his shoulders down. Okay, I’m going to agree about the shoulders, but the connections? I rewatched, couldn’t see what she meant (even though Aaron nodded so she was probably right) but after not calling ballroom dancer Paul on his huge missed hold last week, I’m annoyed about this. Oh well. As Jenna starts saying awesome he is, Aaron realizes that he’s popped a button in the middle of his shirt, and we’re all momentarily distracted by him re-fastening his clothes. You’re a real man, Jenna continues, and you’ve followed through on your pledge to be more than just a good tapper. Also, he’s a “money dancer” – that is, someone who gives his all in performance. I’m surprised it wasn’t a little better, Nigel glowers before showering praise on Chelsie for paving the way for Lacie and Witney and Lindsay to become DWTS pros. America, he finishes, don’t judge Aaron just on this routine.
To this I would like to add an observation. When we think about some of the perhaps surprising winners of the past (Chehon, Lauren, Jeanine), the ones who didn’t start out as favorites but stole our hearts, they’re folks with a narrative. We become obsessed with their stories – not simply their backstory (which Tucker wins) or their personality (which Fik-shun and Amy win) but with observable growth, with change, with the show making a difference in them. If there’s any contestant with a storyline this season, it has to be Aaron, right? He wasn’t supposed to be in the Top Twenty at all, and yet here he is, succeeding against all expectation.
Speaking of darling, popular dancers, Fik-shun is up next. Before he and All Star Allison can show us the routine she’s choreographed about prejudice against interracial relationships (gee, I wonder why she’s thinking about that?), he tells us that his inspiration has always been his parents. His parents bring the adorbs big time. I want to find your movement, Allison says, and their work seems to be very organic. They have lanterns against the darkness, and it gives a feeling of a secret tryst which isn’t her stated intention but seems to work. Birdy’s “Skinny Love” sets the tone. There’s a cool lift, a really nice unison section. It’s enjoyable and good work for someone we’ve never seen choreograph, but not revolutionary or amazingly memorable.
I want to be Allison, Jenna enthuses. I think you’re perfect. Fik-shun is pure life force and can do no wrong in her eyes. Nigel lavishes praise on Allison for a beautiful routine beautifully danced. For good measure, he lets everyone who hasn’t heard know that Allison and tWitch are getting married this fall. Say it with me: aw! Fik-shun has been on an amazing journey, and despite his technical mistakes, there is something about him that cannot be ignored. (Like you’re about to ignore Tucker, who doesn’t make those technical mistakes?). She does praise his pirouettes, though, because Fik-shun’s improved his technique greatly. (I did notice that he really doesn’t point his feet even now.) Despite not clapping at the end of the routine, Mary says it made her heart sing, made her want to scream and shout, that there was breath-taking build and flow and architecture to it. Fik-shun, she finishes, you make me feel something.
Tucker’s dad was an athlete, a big macho dude, but he always supported his son’s ambitions to dance. Aw. “My Dad accepts me for everything that I am,” the dancer tells us, emotion throbbing in his voice, but it’s when Dad starts breaking down (he thinks I’m an inspiration? he’s an inspiration to our whole family!) that I cry yet again. Seriously, I can’t even type that without tearing up. Our inspirational mop top has a jazz piece with the wonderful Courtney Galliano (particularly awesome, because we don’t see her that often as an All Star), and she’s drawn inspiration from Romeo and Juliet. Oh, except the ending. “Nobody’s dying at the end of my love story. Sorry, Shakespeare.” Hee!
Oh, very interesting, she’s picked Zedd’s dance rave “Clarity” (featuring Foxes) which is completely unexpected for a classical love story but also oddly perfect. If all love is tragedy, why are you my remedy indeed! I love the slow parts where the two just breathe into each other, staring into each others eyes, dancing like Tony and Maria in West Side Story. They look a little like Tony and Maria, come of think of it – her big hair and white dress (albeit with the sheer skirt), his slim charcoal pants and button down. There’s some full tilt dancing, too, with a basket toss and a split leaps in unison and a cool move where she runs up him, stepping off his knee, wrapping her leg around his head and spinning around his shoulders. Really really cool. Go Courtney!
Forget about Shakespeare, Cat smiles. Tucker, you are inspirational, Nigel announces. And no, it’s not because he learned to walk again that Nigel thinks this, but because of the graceful way that Tucker handled being sidelined with that knee infection. He thinks that Tucker’s Dad is an inspiration as well and hopefully a role model to other dance Dads who get weird about letting their sons follow their dreams. And then Nigel makes me cry AGAIN by explaining that Courtney was diagnosed with MS two years ago, and actually went blind for a month last year. You are an inspiration to everyone who understands what you’re going through and have been through, he says, and he stands to applaud her indomitable spirit; Courtney struggles to suppress her own tears.
I challenge you to pull it together after that, Cat prompts Mary. How can I say anything after that, the ballroom expert agrees, struggling to compose herself, except that I missed you and I love you, Courtney. Sniff! There’s something more than usually sincere and plain in Mary’s voice. She loves Tucker and his dad, too, and thought the piece was a triumph – the synchronization particularly. Jenna doesn’t have enough time to tell Tucker now how much he means to her, so she promises to corner him after the show. Aw. I guess if you have to go out, this is the way to do it.
Paul’s inspiration is his dancing coach Gregory, who’s like a brother to him and taught him, it sounds like, even when he couldn’t pay. For his part Gregory seems a bit intent on world domination, am I right? This week Paul’s drawn Comfort and hip hop; her idea is two taggers swaggering around. Okay. There’s a graffiti wall with various SYTYCD related tags on it; there are trash cans to dance around, and aerosol cans to wave. Tedashii’s “Dum Dum” provides the backdrop. It’s down and dirty and fast and Paul once again surprises me; he’s in the pocket, he has the physical attitude down, and his movement is spot on. I don’t know, though. When my brother M and I were little, we used to watch The Lawrence Welk show and complain about the dancers having what we called “toothpaste smiles” – that is, they often had this exaggerated smile pasted on their faces the entire time, like they were advertising Crest or something. It gives an artificial feel. Paul has a total toothpaste smile, and I don’t just mean he has great teeth even though he does; his smile doesn’t always feel appropriate to me. He’d been doing much better at controlling it, I thought, but here it’s out of character.
Comfort’s been having a good couple of weeks, Mary thinks, shining on stage. She thinks Paul is incredibly versatile, this fit him like a glove, and he’s still going on the hot tamale train. I’d never have thought from your first audition that you could do that, Jenna notes. Fair assessment. Everyone laughs that it was a good break in tone, and Nigel finishes things off by saying that it’s hard to know who’ll be in the finale, but that Paul’s acquitted himself well. Hmmm. What does that mean?
For her inspirations, Hayley too chooses to introduce us to her dance teachers Steff and Andy. Hayley makes a three hour round trip to the young women’s studio because they’re just that good; wow. That’s some commitment, and also a pretty amazing advertisement for their business. Steff (I think it’s Steff? why do I think that?) cries when she thinks about how awesome Hayley is. It’s really sweet.
Hayley’s hope of salvation lies in part in a Dmitry Chaplin rumba. Well, that’s good news of a sort for Hayley; Dmitry’s done a lot of choreography for the show, and even got a Emmy nod for it. And obviously he’s been a pro on DWTS – funny that he didn’t end up on Mary’s list that way, especially since he joined the revolving cast the same season Chelsie did. Anyway, here’s his idea for this dance: he and Hayley play an engaged couple, and she’s caught him cheating. Will she stay with him, or throw back his ring? The joke of the rehearsal package is that Mary’s his dirty mistress.
And, okay, it might not be my favorite rumba ever, but it’s quite good. It’s very very sexy – he’s all in black with (of course) an open shirt, she’s wearing black underwear and tights under a sheer white button down, her make up smudged (though not to the extreme degree it was in the Meet The Top Twenty episode). There are splits and twists and dips. Do we get the full sense that she’s conflicted about being with him? That he’s trying to win her back? I’m not sure. It’s gorgeous, though, and the music (Elizaveta’s “Meant”) is perfect, and when she throws back the ring, you feel it.
The dirty puns and innuendos just tumble out of Jenna’s mouth; she’s just too enamored of Dmitry to manage more than a “there’s nothing you can’t do” for the contestant before drooling over the All Star. Great storytelling, Nigel enthuses, brilliant choreography, and Hayley has never put a foot wrong in this competition. Has anyone else noticed he often uses that line on the girls who don’t win? Mackenzie already this season, Tiffany last season… Maybe he says in other cases and I just don’t remember, but it’s the sort of compliment that puts me on alert, like he’s appreciative of what they do but knows it won’t be enough. He finishes his critique by saying that Dmitry really got it right this time in everything except calling Nigel Mary on the phone. (Wow, we’ve come so far since the gay-baiting days of American Idol, huh?) “You can call me Mary!” Jenna chirps. Ha. No, no, I am the one and only Mary, Mary cuts them off. Hayley got it right tonight; the choreography was really hard, and she was the perfect canvas for it.
And now I’m really excited, because fellow bottom dweller Jenna (interesting that they put the boys right up next to each other and now the girls – good for direct comparison) has a jazz routine with one of my all time favorite dancers, All Star Mark Kanemura. First, though, we learn that Jenna takes her inspiration from her cousin Shana who died in childhood of muscular dystrophy. Shana’s parents explain that their only daughter showed everyone she met how to do hard things with a smile on her face. We see lots of adorable pictures and film clips of the girls together, two peas in a pod. Jenna loses it while recounting a dream she had after the first performance that Shana had been in the audience. Yep, I’m crying again.
Mark explains that this dance will be like nothing anyone has ever seen, because it’s just a weird explosion of all the stuff in his head. There’s one of those couches shaped like lips, and big framed photos of eyes (one man’s and one woman’s) hung from the ceiling. It’s all about the style. “I’m totally not a vegetarian when it comes to dancing,” he says, confusing the heck out of Jenna. He wants it bloody and raw and alien.
And, okay. It’s odd alright. Both dancers are clad in these high necked high fashion sweat suits – Jenna’s got on black short shorts while Mark’s got the full pants to match this hideous black white and gold print. Its a tight fit, and in my opinion staggeringly unflattering; it makes Jenna look like she has no neck. It’s very Psy, somehow. Jenna’s hair has been braided into a high ponytail, very I Dream of Jeannie; several times during the piece she or Mark will pull the braid straight over her head to play with it. It’s all – interesting. I mostly hate the song (some sort of language fusion called “I Am The Best” by 2NE1) for its repetitiveness and that’s something that generally damns a routine for me, although when the singer breaks out with “Oh Ma Gahd” it cracks me up. I like the attitude and the little sections that look Bollywood inspired. It’s definitely high on style. I wish there was more dancing to it and less posturing, but I can’t help thinking it would look spectacular as a group routine; I don’t know why I think I’d like it more with more people doing it, but I do.
The audience goes bananas (have I mentioned that tonight’s audience is way more than usually loud?) and the judges stand for it. Really? In a move that makes much more sense to me, Cat can’t help running across the stage to hug Mark. Nigel lacks the words to express just how great and innovative and amazing that was; he thinks Mark should choreograph all of Lady Gaga’s work from now on. (Way to endear yourself to Laurieann Gibson further, dude.) Bringing up the elephant in the room, he tells us that he gets into Twitter battles with fans every week who demand to know why he’s saved Jenna yet again. Because she celebrates dance every time she’s on stage, he says. We love a little crazy on this show, Mary trills; she loved the many influences in the piece, from Bollywood to Middle Eastern to Psy. Jenna performed it marvelously, but the one Mary wants to see more of is Mark. Sing it, sister! You have a great name, Jenna Elfman tells the contestant (sigh); she sees a long future for both as dancers and for Mark as a choreographer.
Who inspires Jasmine? Her mom. Her single mom who supported Jasmine’s desire to dance, even moving their entire family so she could follow through on an opportunity. Jasmine has drawn tWitch, who I’m fairly certain was choreographing for music videos before he even made the show. I am also certain that he did a solo in this vein when he was a contestant; he and Jasmine will be superheroes of dance. Two superheroes arrive incognito at a crime and jostle for the privilege of interfering. SupertWitch and Flexigirl are on the case!
Dressed in plain clothes – very Clark Kent – the two pretend to ignore each other on a park bench. As tWitch intended, they bring the comic book world to the dance floor, pulling open their button downs to reveal Superman style letters on their chests. There’s something of The Matrix in their slow motion, quick-stop posturing. The song is “The Power” by District 78 featuring Cheesa; I use the word song loosely, because it seems to comprise clips of the hook from “I’ve Got the Power” and beeps and chirping. The two spend so much time trying to impress and one up each other that the police arrive before they can actually catch a criminal, and they’re forced to give up. I won’t say it’s as fun as Jasmine’s other two hip hop routines (too many moderately cool moves, not enough dancing), but I love the idea and I like that it’s so stylistically different.
It pleases Mary that Jasmine’s not intimidated by tWitch’s celebrity cool. I bet it’s a height thing; he doesn’t dwarf her the way he normally would a girl dancer. She thinks Jasmine’s a superhero who conquered the routine. Jenna loves tWitch’s sense of humor (me too); she thinks Jasmine makes everything right with the world. Nigel love love loves the choreography, and he pays Jasmine the dubious compliment of saying that with the ouster of Mackenzie, she is now his favorite girl.
Does anyone out there know if we’re back to the single winner format? I really liked having two winners last. I like spreading the wealth. I like seeing more folks get acknowledged. They haven’t said one way or another, which makes me think perhaps they’ve gone back to the earlier format, but I would love to know if any of the girls have a shot.
The last of tonight’s possible contenders for the title is Amy “The Truth” Yakima, whose inspiration is a cousin. Amy’s gotten the happier version of the cousin-story, for her cousin did not die, but instead becames a Rockette. (Sorry, all I can think is the end of A Muppet Christmas Carol and way Gonzo reads the line about Tiny Tim.) It has to be said; cousin Elizabeth is a giant in comparison to tiny Amy. Also, she’s here to hug her itty bitty cousin and be interviewed, which is really nice.
And Amy has hit the jackpot this week in another way; she’s landed a Travis Wall contemporary piece. That’s right, folks, Travis is dancing. He’s apparently extremely nervous about it, but he’s there. Squee! Ermagahd, I’m super-excited. This is about the negotiations and game playing at the start of a relationship, Travis tells us. He’s playing a player who’s relentlessly pursuing Amy; she knows better, she knows he’s bad news, and yet try as she might, there’s something about him she can’t resist. I like the subtle shading there, because even though he’s a player Travis’s words imply that there’s more than just the thrill of the chase here.
And from the first strains of James Vincent McMorrow’s stripped down cover of “Wicked Game,” (live from the Killkenny Arts Festival 2011) it’s clearly something out of the ordinary. Her ruched chiffon dress is exquisite with its mullet skirt and color bands in a gray-blue and olive, and flows when she moves; he’s dressed simply in an army green. They stand together in the spotlight, his face heart-stoppingly intent as he moves in; the camera closes in on her pained face as he walks up behind her, slides his beautiful hand along her collar bones. Not to sound like a romance novel or anything, but he’s just consuming her with his eyes. Woah. From that moment, there’s a blending of romance and power, of manipulation and desire. It isn’t about the steps, although some of them are extraordinary; the synchronized pirouettes, the lift where she flies backward from his shoulder to the ground (just as McMorrow sings “I wanna fall in love… with you”, swooping down to accent the word fall), the flying leap where she springs into his arms off the floor. No, it’s about emotion, calculation, changes of direction. He moves toward her, she turns away, he spins her back, she twists again, he flips back to face her. Once, twice, she twists her head awkwardly against the floor, reaching away from him. Once, twice, he holds her oddly, pushes her down, pulls her up. She pushes him away hard. They fall together, but still she resists. There’s something so measured in his movement, so intense, so demanding; there’s so much emotion in hers, desire at war with common sense. You can see him working not through the steps of the dance, but the steps of his wicked game, his calculated pursuit. Her inevitable surrender at once thrills and alarms (will she regret this?) as their bodies entwine and all we can see is her pale leg and their feet, still pointed.
The judges, of course, are standing. The very enthusiastic audience continues to scream.
That was perfection, Jenna gushes. Amy is an angel of heart and soul, and this world is a better place because of her and Travis. Last week Travis’s routine actually made her six year old son change his relationship with his three year old brother, and she’s just amazed by the power of what Travis’s achieved. When it comes down to it, Nigel thinks Travis is a genius, thinks his work is going to do more than even Travis can imagine. It’s a privilege to watch. Let’s face it, Mary observes, most of Amy’s routines on the show have been cutesy; the waitress, the bellhops, the hobos. It’s true that those are the ones people remember, anyway, rather than the fiery paso or Sonya’s anguished contemporary. With its sophistication and maturity, this routine took her to another place. No one on this show has gone where you just went, Mary finishes. Or at least, that’s where she finishes with Amy; everyone wants to comment on Travis’s nerves and how great it was to see him dance.
And you know, it really really was. I cannot stop rewatching this, and I catch subtle nuances every time.
Unfortunately that brings us to the saddest portion of tonight’s proceedings, where Team Tuna is sent home together. Nigel sighs over the preposterous irony of sending Jenna home after what he considers her best work of the season, but it must be done. I think that’s fair. It really kills me to lose Tucker, though, and it makes me cry all over again (you rats!) when both dancers say that meeting each other and becoming best friends was the best part of the journey. Aw! Can I hug them? Can I hug them please?
Earlier in this episode, Nigel has explained that tonight is the judges last chance to interfere in the voting process. The vote after this episode will determine which two dancers don’t make the finale; the lowest vote-getters will go home next week, and then of course the votes will also determine who wins the finale. So in light of this it was the only fair thing to save Hayley even if they like Jenna’s piece better; if they hadn’t, they’d have automatically be putting Amy and Jasmine in the finale. Not that I’d exactly mind, but you need to give that third person a fighting chance. Who’s in your ideal finale? I suppose of the dancers left I’d prefer Aaron, Amy, Fik-shun and Jasmine. I think Amy’s a very good bet after that amazing piece – what gift from a competitive standpoint! – but I’m curious to see how Hayley’s voting block recovers. And I’m thinking the guys could very easily be Aaron and Paul, the two who’ve stayed out of the bottom all season. What about you? I’m awfully curious to see who America’s picked. Will Fik-shun recover from this week’s dip into to the bottom enough to best perennially popular Paul or the ballroom-vulnerable Aaron? Soon enough we’ll find out.