E: So that’s a lot of ground to cover! We’ve got the usual amount of brutal cuts, breakdowns, injuries and general disasters. And we’ve got the editors’ mission – to give us a dramatic show – that sometimes sits at odds with my preference to meet the actual contestants. Still, in the 219 dancers we have an abundance of wondrous, astonishing talent, and it’s a pleasure to see them ply their trade.
Cat separates the two genres of dancers — Stage to stage right, Street to stage left — and the judges walk between them, trying hard to look cool. Nigel points out that since less than 10% will make the live shows, they should all be concentrating on the journey rather than the destination, advice that makes me like him a lot. We find out that the two casts will be entirely separated through this entire process, never sharing the stage from here on out, and that Travis and tWitch will be mentoring the contestants and also advising the judges on which dancers they’d like to keep around.
Per usual, the contestants will repeat their solos so the judges can see how they compare to each other. This year, they have one minute; the judges see ten dancers in a row without comment before making cuts. First up, stage, and the first stage dancer we meet is warrior princess Marissa Milele, 20, who was featured prominently last year and made it to the green mile the year before. She says that she’s concentrating on being sexy rather than just strong this time, but what I see is how much finesse she’s gained in the last year. And happily, she comes off as strong and powerful anyway.
After we see some terrific ballroom and a fantastic ballerina — and, oh my gosh, wacky/sad Caleb Brauner — we find out that Marissa is through, as are Darien Flores, 19, the ballet dancer with the wrapped thigh from the NYC montage, and 18 year old Derek Piquette, the floppy haired gymnast in gray (also from the NYC audition montages) who hails from Chicopee, MA. Yay New England! We see Jim Nawakowski (duh) and a bunch of other stand outs make it through. In the last group, we get Christine Shepard, Brandon Armstrong, and also Kelly MacCoy , who the day before paid a visit to a wedding chapel with street-dancing fiance Tyrell Noll and got married by an Elvis impersonator. They’re all through, though the same can’t be said for Paula’s biggest fan Darius Drooh (aw!) and Brooke Fong (bummer). Before telling them that they’ll be learning his piece to start choreography, Travis presses the remaining dancers to make the judges feel something.
When the street dancers begin their solos, they start with newlywed Tyrell; while I actually enjoyed his work much more than his initial, somewhat controversially mild solo, he gets summarily cut — the only one of a line up that included Megs Alphonso, Jessica Rabone and Alain “The Hurricane” Lauture. He’s gutted. Kelly (who as a stage dancer isn’t allowed in the theater) cries when he finds her with the news. Detroit Jitter Mike “Dat be Dancin” Manson and Wendy Williams impersonator Corey Barnes are cut, as are krumper Roydell Shannon and spiritual vibrationist Kareem Ali; I’m astounded that these guys could get cut for the solos when their auditions (especially the second two) were so spectacular, but there it is.
We get to put a name to the curly haired dancer in the L.A. montage of great female street performers; she’s Yorelis Apolinaria, 19, who auditioned as a contemporary dancer last year and was ironically cut in the hip hop round. But she’s spent the last year obsessed with and solely training in hip hop, and she knocks it out of the damn park. (tWitch, my friend, I would wish that your comments on the dancers might be a little more meaningful than “she is a beautiful girl” — out of respect for your wife if nothing else.) I can’t help feeling like dancers with memorable and unusual names get a little bit of a boost from that; this seems like a name to remember. tWitch redeems himself in my eyes a little by going insane for Kenya “Standing Ovation” Sutton, who has a panic attack the night before but absolutely slays it on the floor. Team Street might be all female, he enthuses, I’m not gonna lie. We see some guy do a backflip off the scaffolding at the back of the stage, and successful runs from Hebrew breaker Asaf Goran, the girl in the bowler hat from L.A. street girl montage, proud Brooklynite Eliazer Chapman, creepy wonderful Sam I Am Reyes, lyrical popper Marie Poppins, and fierce krump/animator Jaja Vankova. Also through are Dragon House animators Boris Penton and Andre Rucker. Well done, boys!
Of course, then it’s time for reality to hit in the form of Step Up choreographer Jamal Sims. We see the dancers practicing in the Westgate ballrooms, where Asaf tells us he feels stupid, potential winner Robotic Ryan lurks in the background, and Memphis Juker Montrell Britton makes cute faces of horror over his bow tie.
But before we can see this walking disaster, we’ve got the contemporary round of to go through with the stage dancers. We meet an itty bitty ballroom dancer who we didn’t get to see audition in L.A., squeaky voiced Antonina Scobila (hopefully that’s spelled right, since they didn’t say) and her partner Dennis, who is awesome but somehow doesn’t rate a last name. Come on, people! They’re both through, but fierce and tiny tapper Kelsey Rose Young gets struck down for a lackluster showing. Sailing through are Marissa Milele, jazz dancer Mary Kate Levore (without her bedazzler dad), Kelly MacCoy Noll, tapper Gaby Diaz, a guy who’s shaved the sides of his head, and a familiar girl with fat red curls. Somewhat surprisingly, we see several people make it through after completely flubbing the choreography — Lindsay Arnold’s old partner Brandon Armstrong, Armenian ballet dancer Avo Karpetyan, and sweet Kenya Welch, who implodes to a level I’m not sure I’ve ever seen. Finally, accident victim Jacy Jordan gives what I thought was a good performance (certainly years better than the three we just saw) but gets cut, all the while showing us her terrific attitude. She realized a dream just getting to Vegas; it was a great learning experience, and she feels accomplished.
At 10pm, the doors open for the street dancers. Yikes! It is rough. First up, a group that includes Eliazer Chapman, Virgil Gadson and L.A. krumper James B-Dash Derrick. I’m expecting Virgil to have picked up the choreography (after all, he made it to the green mile a few years ago, and has since worked on Broadway) but he’s even better than I expected. He’s genuinely splendid. B-Dash is a wonderful surprise, but poor Eliazar doesn’t quite get it. He doesn’t embarrass himself, but he doesn’t make it through the round. Next we see a far worse group that does embarrass themselves, including Montell Britton (who’s adorable but doesn’t even try to do the right steps) and Little B, the guy in the clown like outfit who made Paula wear his sweaty hat. The latter asks for a chance to dance it alone, and can’t do it there either. “It’s like you don’t know how much something means to you till you lose it,” he weeps. Meanwhile, dancers named Dizzy and Little Tight Ass (I swear that’s what Nigel said) make it through, either by virtue of comparison or their solos.
As the round continues, we see the girls kill it – Megs, Jessica Rabone, Standing Ovation, Memphis Juker Ladia Yates, New York’s Brittany Thomas, Marie Poppins, the girl who talked about popping while pushing out a baby, and the girl in the bowler hat who’s finally identified as Lily Frias (sp). Sadly, the men are abysmal. Andre Rucker and tattooed wonder Korey Cleveland get cut, though not before we get to see Korey hand Nigel his red tag proving 90 days of sobriety. Korey, man, I am pulling for you; you have so much to live for! I hope you can make it work. Poor Sam Reyes is having a desperate time with the choreography, and they call in tWitch to give her a pep talk. You owe it to yourself to have this experience, he says; trying is more important than failing. She ends up in a group absolutely stacked with Yorelis, Jaja, Dallas’ wonderful Vishonda Sims and a girl with reddish hair and a total stank face name Frankie. Yorelis, Jaja and Frankie murder the routine, and while Vishonda and Sam are no where near as bad as the guys, they suffer by comparison and get cut. Hold your heads up high, ladies! Conquering your fear of the unknown — of looking stupid — is a great gift, and it’s no shame to lose to these other supremely talented women.
We’re being lenient, Nigel lets them know, and it will not happen again. 47 dancers make it through, many by the skin of their teeth. Meanwhile, Jason’s fan Cody Carlson gets to hang out and watch the proceedings, clearly enjoying himself immensely.
The next morning, team stage gets On the Town Broadway choreographer Josh Bergasse, an Emmy winner for his work on the Broadway-flavored television show Smash. He’s looking for the contestants to show real personality, but his routine strikes terror in the heart of many, including Miami’s droll contemporary “with a side of contemporary” dancer Guillermo Morales. While Travis reveals that only 2 or 3 of the dancers are clear stars at this point, cancer survivor ballroom Alan Genkin agravates an old foot injury to the point that the staff medic tells him he risks permanently losing his ability to dance on it if he doesn’t stay off it. He’s carted off to the hospital, his future on the show remaining in nominal doubt.
The first group boasts grandma’s girl Alyssa Guerrieri, who gave us the last audition of the season, as well as ballroom dancer Ryan Raffloer, Kelly MacCoy Noll (who we saw Josh praise in the rehearsals) and sassy-strong Alexia Meyer in bubble gum pink. Though she’s not bad, Kelly’s timing is off and the other girls are a little better, so she’s cut, bawling and devastated. This brings us to the first auditioner of the season, Peyton Albrecht, who goes through, as do Mary Kate, Gaby, Christine, Marissa and ballroom dancer Dennis. Give us his last name, please! He was probably the best dancer we saw in this entire round. The spectacular Edson Juarez freaks out because he’s never done Broadway, and not only gives a lackluster routine but injures himself doing a trick and falls on the floor at the end. Luckily for him, the judges put him through on the strength of his previous work. Alison Hannigan look-alike Jordan Hilgenberg (whose mom and step father skipped their honeymoon to bring her to the audition) isn’t so lucky.
Guillermo Morales flops, in a group that includes stand outs Brandon Armstrong, the short Asian girl named Megan who’s been on the green mile the last two years, and the red-headed girl finally identified as Kate Harpolian. The judges put Megan, Brandon and Kate straight through, cut Guillermo, and ask the final member of the group to dance for his life. This is Moises Parra, 18, the guy with the shaved temples who we’ve been seeing excel all episode; his problem, the judges state frankly, is not being masculine enough. It seems he took their instruction to show his personality a little too literally; apparently they want his authentic personality, but only if it’s butch enough that they can imagine him dancing with a girl. This is a little tough to hear, especially since what he did was terrific.
He dances to Devotcha’s “How It Ends” (a ballsy choice in front of Travis). The beginning of that could have parted the Red Sea, it was so strong, Jason tells Moises, but you lost it in the middle. Paula thinks he needs to be fiercer. You’re in my imaginary top ten, Nigel compliments/warns him, and only you can take yourself out of it. He goes through, one of 36, a number that does not of course include the injured and devastated Alan Genkin. “Next year, you’ll kill it, right?” Cat asks him. I’m glad they’re all so convinced there’s going to be a next year for him to be a contender on.
At 6pm, Stomp the Yard and You Got Served choreographer Dave Scott teaches the remaining street dancers their second round routine. I didn’t realize there was dancing in You Got Served. Huh. Anyway, after a mere hour of practice, the dancers start to show off their locking and animation, and things go much, much better. I don’t even know how it could be this much better — are they just starting with the best dancers? — because these guys are doing great. We see Jessica, Hurricane, B-Dash, Standing O, Boris and Yorelis all kill it, along with hoofer Justin Ballasy and someone named Christopher who I think I might recognize from one of the New York montages, and a brown-haired girl with the number 12 shaved into the back of her head for season 12. (We also see Bobby “Anime” Major in the audience, so he appears to be through as well.) Illijaz Jusefi gets cut (boo, I thought he was good!) and his brother B1 (Bunim) is asked to dance for his life, as is Stephen Ban, the nerdy cool animator whose family is sadly completely uninterested in his dancing and doesn’t even know he’s on the show. B1 kills it — generally, I think that getting to dance for your life is actually a ploy to get the audience more invested in the dancer — but Stephen is sent packing.
And there it is! 36 stage dancers remain and 38 street. Next week, we’ll see the final round of choreography (choreographed respectively by Nappy Tabs and Sonya Tayeh), the dreaded group round, and watch them put 10 dancers through in each team. So far, the street team stand outs for me are Virgil, B-Dash and Hurricane for the boys; Yorelis, Jaja and Jessica lead a super strong girls field that also boasts Megs, Standing O, Lily, Marie, Brittany, Ladia and I think Angyl McNeal (just with straightened hair). I mean, wow, have we ever seen competition like this? Awesome. I almost wish it could be an all girls team street; I think those are going to be the hardest cuts, choosing between the street girls. Stage dancers excelling so far include Jim, Gaby, Mary Kate, Christine and Ryan, with Marissa, Alyssa, Brandon, Peyton and Moises along for the ride. I’ll be curious to see how the fact that they’re casting a television show (where, among many other issues, I’m sure they don’t want racially monochromatic teams opposing each other) factors into their choosing the strongest dancers; they’ve got a bevy of great talent to pick from. I’d like to think we win whoever they choose.
And that’s this week! Can’t wait for next week to see who’s made it through. How about you? Which cuts were the hardest? Is there someone you loved in the auditions we haven’t see yet, like Lily Leyva, Corey “Mission” Whitfield, or Miranda Wilking? What would your ideal top twenty look like?