So You Think You Can Dance: Season 11 Auditions, L.A. and Philadelphia

E: Christina Applegate demands it, dancers: show us part of your soul!  Of those auditioning – including b boys, ballerinas, contemporary dancers and a veritable ballroom blitz – how many oblige?   Let’s look at three more days worth of auditions (and a lot of massive montages) and find out.

Day Two of the L.A. auditions starts with a Green Mile veteran from last year, 25 year old Serge Orik (partnered with the soon dismissed Top Twenty cutie Britney Cherry) and his new partner, twerking specialist Alla Kochberga, 24.  No, of course she’s really a ballroom dancer, but the girl can also very impressively shake her posterior in Miley Cyrus-approved fashion.  What’s much funnier is something Cat, in her ingratiating way, elicits immediately – Serge would love to date All, but the twerking queen has a snappy 3 year timeline to straight to marriage and babies and so has no room on her dance card for boys who aren’t ready to commit.  This nearly gives Cat a heart attack. “You just skipped a few steps, sister!” she howls in a fit of hysterical laughter.  Making me wonder if it’s not somehow a bid for air time, Alla tells Serge they can date if they make it through.

And from the stunning, showy footwork opening it’s clear the two are a cinch to advance.  They’re super impressive.  Alla’s legs slice through the air with Ginsu knife like precision; their unison reminds me of Olympic ice dancers, it’s so splendid.  And that split, where she rests one foot on his shoulder?  Awesome. There’s a rare miscue over delivering the tickets, but there’s no question that these two are going to Not-Vegas; they share a quick peck on the lips in celebration.

B boy Timothy Joseph, 24, refers to himself as a springboard on a firecracker.  Though his metaphor might be a little convoluted, we definitely get the picture.  Dude has springs on his feet, back flipping across the entire stage, spinning over the floor, throwing himself in a circle around the center.  It’s bruising.  It also makes me wish that a gymnastics coach had gotten a hold of this guy when he was younger, because with raw talent like that – and obvious determination – he too could have been a world class Olympian.  Right?  Was there anyone on our last mens team who could do air flares like that?

Anyway.  Two things stand in Joseph’s way, the first being a lack of showmanship.  He doesn’t spare the audience so much as a glance, and you know the judges need that connection.  Worse, he’s injured himself hopping up off his back on the last move of his routine, doing something unpleasant to his calf.  He’s sent to choreography if the medics will clear him.

19 year old Casey Askew has very pretty, delicate bone structure, and very tall hair.  Yes.  This is what we learn about him.  He seems perhaps also to have a sly sense of humor; when Nigel asks him how his hair reaches such heights, he answers “a blow dryer.”  Heh. When he dances, he reminds me of last season’s Nico – impressive technique, bordering on quirky without being odd, very impressive spins, and a tween-friendly look.  I love the way he’s first loose and wavy and then sharp-angled in quick succession.  He’s so So You Think You Can Dance, and quickly the judges have had enough. Stop the music, Nigel screams, come and get your ticket!

Because I didn’t love Christina Applegate enough already, she gently mocks some guy whose set up for his routine includes a quick adjustment of his pants.  I’m going to make the wedgie adjustment my signature move, she declares, and gives us a quick demonstration which Nigel joins because it genuinely looks like fun, and because even old show biz cats are cool like that.  This leads to a monster of a montage, the first of several this episode; typically, a montage might bring us three performers, but tonight they’re super-sized.  First, the judges go crazy for an Asian contemporary dancer in a striped bikini top who seems able to spin effortlessly for several weeks.  She’s quickly followed by a tall African American man, also dancing contemporary, shirtless but with bunches off hombred white and green fabric wrapped around his waist.  It’s memorable, but is that really what you wanted us to know you for? Your cummerbund?  There’s a blonde contemporary dancer, a red-headed contemporary dancer in a green shorty top and black leggings who sends the judges singing harmonies of praise, a white male contemporary dancer in stripes, and finally a very beautiful girl in a halter neck dress with flowing hair who dances, yes, contemporary.  This is the best damn day, Mary enthuses.

The fun continues with a 9 year old boy calling himself J4 who wants to audition for the experience.  To help flesh out his act, Nigel calls up Fik-shun and Cyrus again, which is pretty great because the three grove pretty effortlessly – J4 begins, tossing the beat to Fik-shun, who tosses it back so that J4 can play with it for a few moves before tossing it to Cyrus.  (I wonder if his friends still call him Glitch, considering that the show has effectively changed his professional name?)  And speaking of the reason they changed his name, J4 – who does not get sent to Disneyland but merely thanked warmly for his impressive efforts – snags a hug and autograph from his hero tWitch.  “My dream came true!” he grins.

And, whoa, in the audience I catch a glimpse not only of George, who paired with Tiffany for one of my favorite routines from Season 9, and maybe maybe Chehon, and definitely last week’s Dani Platz, but also Shizzy Shakes Tarantino, one of my favorite auditioners from last year!  That bright red mohawk/pompadour is hard to miss.  Huzzah!

After this surfeit of amazing contemporary dance, we meet ballerina Jourdan Epstein, 24, who’s dedicating her audition to the brother who finally seems to have tamed his addictions.  And indeed, the opening moment is a direct homage to Mia Michaels famous Addiction routine; Jourdan stops her own mouth with both hands. Though she’s on pointe, we certainly don’t see classical ballet; instead there’s cool crab walking, and an absolutely amazing split.  She dances to “Suffocate” by Daughter, which I first heard last week during  Justine Lutz’s audition and which has quickly become my favorite moody jam of the summer, and everything about her thrills all three judges, to the point that Mary declares “I am all fired up and ready to go!”  I am super thrilled to see ballet dancers getting so much attention this year.

Back in Season 9 we met Johnny “Waacks” Gibson, 22, a deeply serious little fellow wearing a knit cap, a leather jacket over his bare chest, and a diaphanous black skirt, and after the judges are done cracking themselves up by making terrible puns about waacking which frowning Johnny has no doubt heard a million times before, he waacks.  Over the last two years his style has changed into something quite lyrical, as opposed to the brilliant flash of fellow waacking practitioner Princess Lockeroo; while it’s still a member of the waacking family, it definitely bears a clearer relationship to contemporary dance. I have to say, I was disappointed he didn’t use the skirt for dramatic effect in his routine as he did during his introductory package; why wear it if you’re not going to use it?  Captivated by his spins and his intensity, the judges toss Johnny over to choreography.

And like a bad penny, guess who’s back?  Armen Way, the ballroom dancer/would be rapper who famously dropped Malece Miller on her head last season. “I had a little accident in the jazz round,” he explains as we see footage of Mary dressing him down for being a terrible partner. “I technically dropped my partner on her head.”  Technically?  Don’t be a weasel about it, guy; I’m sure it was an accident, but there was nothing technical about it.  My dislike of Armen stems from his sexist rap video and smug, self-satisfied manner; I find it easier to get past him dropping Malece than his overall attitude.

But this year, the 28 year old’s got not only a new partner for his last year of eligibility but a whole new narrative.  The girl – the stunningly beautiful 25 year old Marlene Ostergaard – languished in Hong Kong with an abusive dance partner who stripped the latin contender of her love for dance until she met Armen and moved to America. He’s the best partner I’ve ever had, she gushes, and he blushes fetchingly. “I can say the same.”

Even before their music starts, Marlene wraps her fingers around Armen’s back; when Nigel calls her out on it, she giggles into his shoulder.  They’re just smoking together; it’s flirty from the beginning.  Marlene brings something more grounded out of Armen; it’s manly, but not in a showy, irritating way.  She’s spectacular on her own, and she raises his game, too.  I kind of hate to admit how much I enjoyed that.  Mary Murphy has no such compunction; “You have just taken the damn train and run it off the dang tracks.”  Ha.  Need I even say they’re both through?

And as a montage shows us, three more terrific ballroom pairs make it through; there are two elegant pairs doing standard, and another fiery latin pair.  That’s a total of 10 ballroom dancers we’ve seen, and Cat informs us that this is the best day for ballroom dancers in the history of the show.

And with that, we return to Robert, Kathryn and choreography, where we see Shizzy Shakes and Johnny Waacks but not Timothy Joseph who bows out on the advice of the medic.  Dang. Usually L.A.’s a hot spot for b boys. (Thank heaven for Jaja and Mary Poppins!) Well, Johnny Waacks makes it through, anyway.  It freaks me out more than a little that Shizzy doesn’t seem to be among those snagging a ticket, though.  How can that be?  What happened?

We’re to spend the rest of the episode in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, and the Rocky references fly thick and fast.  Rounding out the judging panel here’s a delightful professional dancer (WOOT!), the elegant and stunning Misty Copeland, the third African American prima ballerina (soloist) with an American stage company.  I really enjoyed Misty’s incisive, articulate commentary delivered with humor and grace; she’s got the ability to criticize without being cruel which is definitely a plus.  (I might just have to read her autobiography; prodigy Misty had never done ballet before being discovered at a community center at 13, an age where many ballet dancers have long been competing for scholarships to prestigious schools and companies.)

The first dancer up is Bridget Whitman, 19, and man, did I need the tissues for this one.  Bridget lost her dad in a car accident  when she was 12; her last memory of him was watching So You Think You Can Dance together, and him telling her that if she worked hard enough, that yes, he believed she could be good enough to be on the show some day.  Okay, I’m done; I can’t even type that without crying again.  (Poor Mary’s a faucet through the whole routine as well.) Happily Bridget does not disappoint; she’s strong and athletic with great technique and balance, yet so light you never hear her land.  “You were emoting,” Misty tells her, “and it started with your body and it came through your face.”  Aw.  It’s true and poetic at the same time.   Since we’re not going to Vegas, it gets a little confusing when Nigel tries to prompt her to say she’d like to go to L.A. “I want to be where ever the ticket takes me,” she replies diplomatically.  Excellent!  Through to the next round!

Next up another large montage of four stupendously talent African American male contemporary dancers, a grouping that makes it difficult to find superficial ways to identify them.  One’s a great jumper, one twists fascinatingly, one’s powerful and very masculine, and the last one wears plaid and is super light on his feet.   I can’t wait to see more of the montage dancers in Vegas – so far that’s what, 15 amazing people already this episode?  You know they’re showing these folks because inevitably some are going to end up in the Top Twenty.  All Star Robert Roldan was a montage guy, as was last year’s finalist Aaron Turner.  The trick is figuring out who it’ll be.

After the montage, we get Amir Sanders, 21, a ballerina with a wonderfully wild afro.  Actually, when she’s got her piercings in and her knit cap on, she rocks a real 70s, Fat Albert kind of vibe, which I really enjoy. Or maybe it’s just that they play Digible Planet’s 90s masterpiece “Im Cool like Dat” as we meet her?  In addition to being a touchingly huge fan of Misty’s, she’s got a delightfully funky style (major props for dancing to the spoken word section of Beyonce’s “Flawless”) and a look that reminds Mary of a young Diana Ross. Misty lauds her transitional details and the articulation of her feet, but feels that she’s not up over the blocks (in her toe shoes) the way she ought to be, so she’s sent to choreography.

Bored with only one dancer at a time?  Montages up next!  This one’s about the supporters who’ve arrived with dancers, including somebody named Nick who’s framily has spelled his name out in glittery letters, and one girl who brings The Philadelphia Mummers, who look a bit like Aladdin’s marching band.

And then – huzzah we do get to meet Jenna Johnson’s old partner, as I speculated last week, the young Landon Anderson.  He’s turned 18, and Jenna’s back to help him get on the show.  Man are we spoiled for ballroom choice!  Yikes!   I remember how fabulous he was last year, so I’m really excited to see this.  He’s oddly mumbly in the interview with Cat (who’s utterly thrilled to see Jenna); if anyone can explain what it was he called her (cool friend? girlfriend?  girl friend?) I’d love to know, because rewinding it three times didn’t help me any.  Jenna delights in making Opie (sorry, but he looks it) blush, suggesting that they make out before performing when they really just pray together.

It’s fascinating to see, because the moment he takes his opening pose, Landon turns into a different person.  His Campbell’s soup kid cuteness and tragic haircut disappear into a strong, manly frame; their samba is fast, sexy and technically impressive, well choreographed to show off Landon as well as Jenna.  Misty can’t get over the transformation from boy to man, and Nigel’s stunned he wasn’t overpowered by Jenna.  I guess that’s why they’re partners, huh?   Do I even need to say he gets a ticket?  As Jenna follows the victorious Landon out of the room, Nigel steals a little of the boy’s thunder by calling her back and asking her to be an All Star.  Awesome.

And, sigh – it’s time for He Who Must Not Be Named and that same damn pink shirt with the plaid vest, introducing this week’s crews.  First up, Wanted Ashiqz, a Bollywood/Hollywood/hip hop fusion group.  I cannot even tell you how much it pissed me off that I had to Google the group’s name when the show didn’t give it to us?  And not just because it was really hard to figure out how the heck you spell Ashiqz, but because they owe the performers at least that much exposure.  Not right, producers, just not right.   Anyway, the group is all male, and they wear glittery vests (the group leader wears red while everyone else is in teal), and I like but don’t love them.  According to Google they’re champs on the South Asian competitive dance circuit, though. Disappointingly the nest crew is also all male, the Mix’d Elements, who’re the current American hip hop champions and as such do a fusion of hip hop, breaking, popping and krump.  As the show progresses, votes come in heavily in favor of the Wanted.  I really wasn’t in love with either group, but it still surprises me how lopsided all of the votes have been.

The final dancer on Day 1 of Philly is street dancer Shafeek Westbrook, 24, who memorably blazed through the auditions in Season 9 and then flamed out just as memorably in Vegas.  He has returned to show us his new, positive attitude.  The judges love his control and his athletic skill (he does this headstand that nearly veers back into a backbend, and the core strength that takes, I can’t even) but wonder where the playfulness is, and the connection with his audience.  You’re not present in your face, they complain. On the strength of his previous work as much as his abdominal muscles, he’s sent through to choreography.

Which is actually where we go next, with Robert and Melanie Moore leading.  Love the longer hair, Melanie – those curls are adorable!  When all’s said and done both Shafeek and Amir are through, along with a brown haired guy from the supporter montage.

I’m sorry to say that Misty Copeland wasn’t able to stick around for Day 2 – but her replacement is the rather wonderful Billy Porter, who won a Tony for his role as Lola in Kinky Boots.  Nice get, So You Think!  I love seeing them expand the judging pool to Broadway.  Regrettably we don’t get to see that much from him.  As often happens, only two dancers are featured from Day 2.

The first is tall, willowy Stanley Glover, 19, a contemporary dancer whose mother died in her sleep of a massive heart attack when he was 4 – and, horrifically, asleep in the bed with her.  I can’t even imagine, I don’t want that image in my mind, the little boy trying to wake his mom.  Almost as horribly, no one else on either side of his family came to Child Services to claim – but thankfully for him, his mother’s best friend raised him as her own, and she clearly did a good job of it, because Stanley radiates joy.  (And that baby picture, I just want to eat him up he’s so precious.)  Because of this I’m surprised by the fierce, atavistic quality to his choreography. He transforms into a strange, alien creature – literally reminiscent of the film Alien, as if something gnarled and horrible is about to burst through his stomach, and it’s as surprising as it is great.  Stanley’s a shoe-in.

Of course, in between Stanley and the finally dancer we do have the inevitable montage, in which 4 would be contestants mess up talking to the camera, but excel at dancing in front of it.  Well, okay, three of them excel – we don’t get to see the last kid, Brian, who gives his age as 22 instead of 20.  Did he think he was at a bar?  The remaining three are super attractive contemporary dancers – a radiant dark haired girl who maintains great eye contact with the judges, a blonde girl who does a sexy split, and a bearded guy with a great puppet-like quality to his movement that just fascinates me.  Or maybe it’s just that he’s really handsome.  Either way, I can’t wait to see more of him.

Finally, we meet krumper James ‘Banks’ Davis, 24, who was almost lost his leg due to an unfortunate encounter with a jealous, gun-totting boyfriend who didn’t like Davis dance-flirting with his girl.  There’s something super likable about Banks, and I am all over his dancing – he does this slow motion, lyrical krump that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  To put it in SAT terms, what tai chi is to karate, Banks’ moves are to krump; he turns the aggression into a meditative, peaceful dance.  Unlike me, the judges wonder if it will translate to the show.  They send him through to choreography to find out, and to my regret the choreography’s too much for him.  Maybe it’s better for us all to find this out now rather than in Not-Vegas, but I’m so glad we got to see his work, though!

And I’m pretty sure we’ve got just the one audition show left!  Who would you put in your Top Twenty from this week’s show?  Are you pleased with the talent accumulated so far?  I can’t help thinking we’re low on street dancers (even if I’m pleased with Johnny Waacks and Shafeek Westbrook making it through), but I also don’t know how they’re going to cut any of those amazing ballroom dancers!  Ah well.  An overabundance of talent – it’s an excellent problem to have.

One comment on “So You Think You Can Dance: Season 11 Auditions, L.A. and Philadelphia

  1. MMGF says:

    Love it. A week out, I’ll admit, I remember few of these auditions. BUT. I do very much remember Bridget Whitman. That girl’s art is *glorious*. The ballroom talent is seriously an embarrassment of riches, I adore ballroom so much. I can’t wait to see who emerges! Oddly enough, I did not at all love Amir Sanders. It felt like a lot of style over substance. But, I didn’t see much of her in choreography, so maybe bringing her into other styles – and being choreographed by other people – will show her talents well.
    Thrilled to have Jenna back as an All-Star. She never got the public love last season that she deserved – to this day, I have no idea why.
    Um… where’s all the TAP this year, though? That one girl on episode one… anyone else?
    And yay for waacking and Johnny Waacks!
    Although… you know I have to………….

    I could watch my girl’s audition over and over forever. Probably my all-time favorite audition!

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