So You Think You Can Dance: Vegas Week and the Top Twenty

E: Okay, I have to admit I was a little surprised at the outcome here.  Where I thought there might be balance, there isn’t. Two dancers talk themselves off the show. Some obvious favorites don’t make the cut. To be fair, though, I had more than twenty favorites; one thing the Vegas week episodes clearly show is that there are way, waaaay more talented dancers than can make the show, so it’s inevitable that some who we hope to get through won’t.  Once again, they managed to include people they’d only barely shown us before, something that has me smacking my head against the wall.  Take heart in Aaron and Tiffani Maher, folks – they made it to the finals after getting no screen time in the auditions. And after starting as a complete unknown, Jeanine Mason won it all. Maybe you guys can, too.

Or, who knows.  Maybe one of them is the person who got injured and won’t actually be in the top twenty after all.

Lesson of this episode?  You think you know it all?  You don’t.

We begin with the dreaded group round; the poor, deluded contestants imagine that they’re going to be allowed to go to sleep after two grueling rounds of choreography, but oh, no.  They’re placed into groups of five, and randomly assigned music to dance to.  The way the episode is edited, it looks like the groups go in a random order, Street and Stage mixed together; I have no idea whether this perception is accurate or not, but there it is.  Here’s a quick rundown of the groups we saw:

Party of Five: Jessica Rabone, Virgil Gadson, Lily Frias, Tyrus Watson and Ariana Crowder

The judges adored this quirky team with their perfect synchronization, their black and white graffiti themed clothing, and their Virgil-centric choreography.  Jason notes that it was a perfect interpretation of James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing.” Nigel gives the world’s ugliest compliment to the new-to-us Ariana, telling her that since she didn’t look bad in comparison to favorites Jessica and Lily, she must be pretty good too.

Justin Ballasy, Corey “Mission” Whitfield, Jason Kidd, Burim “B1” Jusefi, Unnamed Waacker

The guys (all in black pants and torn white ts) told a story that seemed murderous, apocalyptic and perhaps even dealing with the undead, to judge by the waacker’s white contacts and finishing pose.  Very cool, especially Mission’s tricks. So happy to see him still in the running! The judges loved it.

We see groups that include Mary Kate Levore, Peyton Albrecht, Kate Harpolian, Brandon Anderson, Christine Shepard, Alexia Meyer and a brunette girl who looks a lot like Jeanine Mason but isn’t Jeanine’s sister Alexis who auditioned a few years ago; they all look spectacular.

Date Night: Thomas Archie, Edson Juarez, Alyssa Allen, Marissa Milele, and Ekaterina someone

4 contemporary/jazz dancers join up with Slavic ballroom dancer Ekaterina for a routine set to “Fever.”  All goes well until everyone but Ekaterina goes to bed around 4:30 for a power nap; everyone else gets up around 6 as arranged, but Thomas doesn’t show until 8, just before they’re scheduled to perform.  Because of this, the impressive gymnastics  Thomas performs alongside Marissa and Edson aren’t synchronized.  Really, there’s a synchronization fail all-together, and the judges are mightily displeased. On the other hand, no one really fell down, so they’re all safe on the strength of their previous work.

Blackout: James ‘B-Dash’ Derick, Little Boy, Ladia Yates, Angyil McNeal, Brittany Thomas

Oh, dear. Teacher Ladia tries to run the show – not only assuming command of the choreography but putting herself in the center as Virgil did with his group — and this time it just doesn’t work, which is miserable because these people are fabulous as individuals.  In frustration, the group decides to dance with black duct tape over their mouths (hear us through our dance, not our words), a gimmick that Paula absolutely loathes.  The judges summarily boot Angyil (noo!) and make Ladia dance for her life at the end of the round.

After this we see some more less successful groups, which include Standing O and Jaclyn Hamric (hey, she was there after all!), who both end up safe despite in Jacklyn’s case being called an eyesore.  Youch!

Bloodline: Gaby Diaz, Jim Nowakowski, Hailee Payne (I thought that might be her with the pixie haircut!), Denys Drozdyuk, and Natalie Holback (sp)

The judges are all over this gorgeous group and their powerful contemporary piece, calling it the best of the day and saying that the dancers seemed like part of a company.  I love all the unusual lifts, especially Denys picking up Jim and tossing him around.  The girls are beautifully matched, even Gaby dancing well outside of her style, and new-to-us Natalie is a clear and impressive talent.

All told only 5 dancers were cut during this round, about four of whom we see: Angyil McNeal, Alyssa Guerrieri, a blond girl, and a male street dancer named Zeus. Ladia dances for her life and rather predictably kills it; Jason and tWitch lose their minds.  35 street dancers and 34 stage have made it through to Round 5 of Vegas week.

And sadly for them,  the stage dancers don’t even get to sleep at this point.  Instead, they’re handed over to Sonyah Tayeh, and after a mere thirty minutes are sent off to a ballroom for an hour of practice and tips from Travis before being hustled onto the stage once more.  (Travis himself freaks out to Cat about picking the best possible team; I already know what it’s like to lose the show, he says.)

The first group consists of Darien Flores (who’s contemporary and not ballet, who knew), Moises Parra, Edson Juarez and ballroom dancer Denys.  They’re all spectacular.  Paula only likes three of them, though it’s not precisely obvious which three.  Can she possibly not appreciate the awesomeness that is Denys?  The dude is a ballroom dancer, and look at the way he leaps!  It’s outrageous.  There must be someone in his corner, though, because they all make it through.

From here on all the restraint the judges demonstrated in the group round evaporates, and they begin a savage bloodletting, particularly of the ballroom contingent.  Ryan Raffloeur (who does seem to stumble), Ekaterina, Kevin Morales (who?) and poor Brandon Armstrong, who looked pretty good to me unless you were comparing him to Denys, which the judges undoubtedly are.  Denys’s girlfriend and partner Antonina Scobila lands in a group of contemporary dancers; Jaclyn, a curly haired girl named Christina, and the Mason-like brunette whose name might be Tandy.  Adorably little sprite Antonina with her pointy chin and huge eyes and rosebud mouth tells us she wants this with all her heart, but she can’t get the choreography together.  She’s not remotely bad (though, do we hear Travis saying that she’s moving unattractively? For shame. I notice they didn’t give subtitles to the judges this time) but neither is Jaclyn, and they’re both pitilessly pruned from the contestant tree.  Well, not entirely without pity; Paula, in fact, calls Antonina forward and tells her it’s been one of the joys of the competition to see her grow.  If they say I’m not right for the show, I respect their decision, Antonina tells us.

The last group consists of standouts Gaby, Hailee, Christine, Kate and Natalie.  They’re all through, but Christine gets dinged (especially by Paula) for looking down too much.  Most of  the clips they showed of her looking at the ground?  Everyone else is doing the same thing.  It didn’t make the point well. I might be a little biased in her favor, though.

And with this, the stage kids are finally done for a time.  Instead of going to sleep like sensible people, they hit the pool, probably at the insistence of the editors who’re happy to have shots of hot girls in bikinis splashing water at their cameras.

It’s 4:30 on Day Three, and Nappy Tabs make their appearance to end the choreography rounds.  Tabitha, who demonstrates the routine in a whole piece for us all, is thrilled to be the last choreographer standing.  It’s a good point; hip hop is usually first, to gently break in the street dancers, but this time she gets all the good dancers who’re at least moderately adept at picking up choreography.  I say moderately because, well.  Some of them either are just having a bad round, or were let through on the strength of their solos/personalities, because we see some seriously bad attempts.

Of course our first group actually kicks butt because it consists of girls, and this is shaping up to be the year of the street girl.  Popper Marie Poppins, freestyler Frankie Freeman (red-headed stank face girl) and pink haired popper Christy Doyle (hey, she has a name! this is the one who wanted to pop out a baby) murder the routine.  It’s all zest and personality and hard hits, and so exactly what the judges want.

The boys, on the other hand – well. The next group consist of super hot Hebrew breaker Asaf Goren, krumper B-Dash, Burim, and hoofer Justin, which I’d think would be a great group.  Sadly, it turns out that Asaf really, really can’t do choreography.  B-Dash and B1 are both quite good in my opinion, but Justin (who isn’t nearly as terrible as Asaf but according to the judges has uniformly struggled with choreo) gets cut, and both Asaf and B1 are asked to dance for their lives.  Like that epic animation duel from a few years ago, don’t you think?  Even B-Dash is told that while he got all the steps, there was no life in his movement, and the judges need him to do better.  Really?  Dang.

In the meantime, we see great work from krumper Jaja Vankova, Vegas week favorite Yorelis Apolinaria, Lily, Standing Ovation, Ladia, Ariana, and that guy Christopher whose last name is shrouded in mystery.  And then we get another full group – Bobby ‘Anime’ Major, Alain ‘Hurricane’ Lauture, Mission, and an L.A. animator we haven’t officially met, Brian, whose lengthy last name I fear slaughtering if I try to spell it.  Sweet Bobby is such a disaster I can’t imagine how he got this far. Brian and Hurricane are put through easily, but poor Mission; he has all the moves down, but maybe it’s that his hunch-shouldered style is a little awkward doing it?  Otherwise I can’t explain it. At any rate, he’s thirty, so unlike Anime, he can’t come back again, and it really hits the normally upbeat choreographer/dance teacher; Standing O cradles his head in her arms as he weeps.

We’re told that five other dancers are cut, including Brittany (no!), the girl with the number 12 cut into her hair, and the short girl with dark braids who punches the ballroom walls.  And this sorrow, it’s time to see a shirtless Burim bound onto the stage, where he unleashes a torrent of spins, flares and power moves, spending almost the entire time on his head.  It’s absolutely bananas (if light on dynamics), and he’s easily put through.  Things continue to look up as Asaf takes the stage wearing what looks like a ninja mask.  At first, he spends a lot of time scuttling and flipping on the floor, but when he busts out the power moves, the crowd loses their collective minds.  I’m honestly not sure why he’s getting a bigger reaction than Burim, who gave us more tricks that were just as good, but Jason, Paula and tWitch all leap to their feet and cheer him on.  When he ends the routine by pretending to hang himself with his sleeve, Paula crows that he gave his life to the stage.

After two quick yeses from Jason and Paula, Nigel remains a little resistant, quipping that it’s not “so you think you can entertain” in response to Paula’s gushing praise that Asaf is a born entertainer.  Not understanding that he’s already made it through, the excitable and emotional dancer asks Nigel if it’s “so you think you can headspin” and stops the panel cold.  This is 2015, Asaf goes on angrily; you’ve seen headspins and power moves before. Is he slagging Burim?  And why, why would he do that?  The other judges try to engage him, but Nigel and his producer instincts slows them down.  Let him talk, he says, so that Asaf can get himself into even hotter water.  (“What’s he doing?” my ten year old asked, genuinely puzzled. “Talking himself out of a spot on the show,” I replied.)

It’s honestly really hard to figure out what happened there.  I think Asaf was offended by Nigel’s comment that seemed dismissive of entertainment value, and had too much adrenaline pumping to control himself, though it also seems clear that he thinks of himself as a man who must speak the truth and considers self-control to be inauthentic.  Though the judges smooth things over — everyone respects each other, there doesn’t need to be anger because he’s already made it through — the second he leaves the three male panelists express their shock over his disrespect.  Why are you defending his actions, Paula?  It didn’t even make sense.

Finally, the competitive rounds are done and the contestants are released to sleep, while the judges meet with the team captains to pick the two separate top tens.   At 8. a.m. on Day Four, the 23 remaining street dancers and 24 stage sit in a ballroom, segregated like the bride and groom’s side at a wedding.  Alexia Meyer, Derek Piquette and a street dancer we’ve never met named Eddie Eskridge all express their hope that they’ve made it. (“And since we’ve never heard of you,” I tell Eddie through time and the television, “we all know you couldn’t have.”)

First up, jazz dancer Marissa Milele, who becomes the first member of team stage on her third try.  It actually takes her a minute to understand when Nigel tells her she’s following tWitch’s footsteps by making it after two failed tries; these kids are just too nervous for such complicated reveals, Nigel.  I had a feeling this was her year.  I haven’t been her biggest fan in the past, but I’m moderately excited to see what she’ll bring.

After her, Asaf gets let down easy, and leaves knowing that he needs to train in choreography over the next year so he can try again.  And maybe once this airs, he’ll have the chance to rethink his whole “if I feel it I have to say it” attitude; courtesy is not your enemy, dude.  Ladia is let go next (sad, but not completely surprising considering the depth of talent) and then a dapper-looking B-Dash, which really does shock me.  I absolutely thought he’d make it.

A very emotional Edson Juarez tells us that boys don’t dance in his culture, because it’s not considered macho.  (I don’t know how that squares with Latin ballroom, but okay.) I’m genuinely astounded to find that the 24 year old only began dancing when he was 19.  How do you get that good that quickly?  Of course he makes it.  In quick succession, he’s followed by successful candidates Kate Harpootlian, Hailee Payne and Moises Parra, bringing the stage total to five.

Team Street finally gets its first member in locker Hurricane Lauture, who bonds once more with his fellow Haitian Jason (nee Desrouleaux).  He was on my shortlist, and I’m really pleased that he made it.  He’s quickly followed by a very emotional Jessica ‘JJ’ Rabone, who perhaps has been rejected too many times to know that she’s a shoo-in.  Or at least, I’ve always thought of her as a shoo-in, because like Alain she’s not only a brilliant dancer but is lit from within with irresistible joy. Freestyler Yorelis Apolinaria becomes the third member of team street (obvious from the first moments of Vegas week), followed by the show’s first waacker, Lily Frias. Hip hop dancer Ariana Crowder shocks me by becoming the fourth girl on tWitch’s team.  Yikes!  We’ve still got Megz, Standing Ovation, Jaja, Frankie, Christy Doyle and Marie Poppins!  I’ve been assuming all season that Jaja makes it — I feel like they’ve shown her get in as they did Jessica — and I hate to lose all those others, especially for someone we’ve barely seen.  Badly done, editors, badly done.

Ready for some drama?  Though the judges are clearly about to put him on the show, Denys Drodzyuk drops out because the show isn’t going to do standard ballroom anymore.  Why have you wasted our time, the judges rightly ask.  You took a spot we could have given to other ballroom dancers, Jason presses, and Nigel virtually chases him out of the room.  Bad move, Denys.  Bad for the audience, bad for ballroom, and probably bad for your chances of ever making it again, not to mention Antonina’s. We quickly lose Peyton (meh) and Tandy (boo!).

But my favorite street guy makes it through next, Virgil Gadson.  I am so excited about him!  Since his audition, I’ve been banking on him to make the cast, and he does. If he can conquer Broadway, he clearly can do choreography.  He’s perfect – explosive, eager to learn, and so much fun.

On the other hand, I have to eat my words about Eddie Eskridge, because the judges put him through.  What?  I’m sure he’s wonderful, but why have we never seen him?  Ridiculous.  They managed to pull one over on me for sure, but why?  The eighth member of team street is — Megz Alphonso?  She can’t believe it, and I can’t believe it either.  She’s great, don’t get me wrong, but no Jaja?  I was so convinced that this was her year.  My daughters — who have been banking on Jaja taking the whole thing, who are still smarting from her exclusion last year — are distraught.

So of course they start to let down the street girls, since they’ve given away the five slots.  Standing Ovation gets the bad news first, but in such a positive way she’s actually left to be justly proud of herself.  I never thought you’d make it this far, Nigel says (whether because she lacks the dancer’s physique or because she’s untrained we have no idea) and the fact that you did is a testament to your fighting spirit and talent.

It’s time for a good run for team stage now, and we start with the most obvious of all possible candidates, ballet dancer Jim Nowakowski.  Jason quotes Travis, who felt that Jim would murder any member of Team Street in a battle.  You’re one of the best dancers we’ve ever had on the show, Nigel adds.  Go, Jim!  Slipping in after are Alexia Meyer (which surprises me a little, though I really like her emotion and performance quality) and contemporary dancer Derek Piquette (who I’m looking forward to seeing more of).

The judges award two more slots to Burim Jusefi (street, yay) and Darien Florez (stage, contemporary masquerading as ballet).  Which means there’s one slot left on each team, a girl for the stage and a guy for the street.

Except, hello.  There are only girls left in the ballroom, which means that Team Street is going to have six girls and four guys!  No way!  They really are doing away with the format as we know it.  Of all the changes, I like this the best; for whatever reason I’m most excited about the street dancers this year, and within that the street girls.

On the other hand, I hate this because they’ve put up four of my favorite dancers against each other.  It’s obvious which way each battle will go — tapper Gaby Diaz triumphs over jazz dancer Christine Shepard, and krumper Jaja Vankova over popper Marie Poppins — but it breaks me.

To sum up:

Stage: Alexia, Darien, Derek, Edson, Gaby, Hailee, Jim, Kate, Marissa, Moises

Street: Ariana, Burim, Eddie, Hurricane, Jaja, Jessica, Lilly, Megz, Virgil, Yorelis

And there’s our Top Twenty!  Two lockers, a krumper, a b-boy, a waacker, and a bunch of freestylers on the street side; jazz, contemporary, ballet and tap on the stage.  That’s a lot of the dancers I assumed — Jessica, Jaja, Yorelis, Hurricane, Virgil, Jim, Edson, Gaby, Marissa — with other stand outs (Megz, Lily, Burim, Moises, Derek, Darien) and cuts I wasn’t expecting at all (B-Dash, Christine, Mary Kate).

Or at least, that’s what we think, and like I said, when you think you know, you probably don’t.  Cat teases over the credits that one dancer had to drop out due to injury (my kids immediately suspect Edson Juarez, who had issues in Vegas, which would bite) and that we’ll meet someone newish next week.

So, in the end, I thought that the judges would be a little more concerned with having an ethnically diverse cast than they ended up being — or, that is to say, I assumed they’d want to make sure they weren’t fielding a white team of trained dancers against a black street team.  Ah well.  At least Team Stage is heavily Latino.  And man, I thought tWitch was joking about the gender balance.  Are we not going to see boy-girl pairs at all this season?  Will the contestants be paired up new each week? It’s clear that was going to be an issue anyway. When the teams have even numbers of contestants (that is, 9 street dancers and 9 stage) how are they going to be matched up?  Ah well. Maybe that’ll just lead to more exciting and varied storytelling.

Also, are we going to be desperately scrounging for different varieties of hip hop for the street routines – tutting, dubstep, and juke rather than quickstep, Bollywood and the waltz?  Or, hmm, will Bollywood count as street since it’s a national/folk style?  I am bewildered.  It’s all uncharted territory from here out, but there’s one thing worth knowing and worth coming back for: whatever else happens, there will be dancing.

One comment on “So You Think You Can Dance: Vegas Week and the Top Twenty

  1. […] survivor Dani Platz. I’m sorry I didn’t place you before, Dani!  It was driving me nuts trying to figure out who you were.  And I really, really hope you make the show next time.  […]

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