So You Think You Can Dance, Season 12: Top 8, Two Eliminated

E: Summer, where have you gone?  Don’t leave me!  As if the school calendar weren’t creeping close enough, we see the turning of the seasons in the dwindling number of dancers on So You Think You Can Dance.  Only the very top are left now, as we chug closer and closer to the finale.  Even Cat is looking ready for fall with her long sleeved blousy top, black with tiny white or cream roses, and a glittery rose broach at her throat.

I love the opening number so much I’m kind of embarrassed to find out after that it was choreographed by Tyce DiOrio.  Blech!  It’s terrific, though — set in a library with the dancers dressed in Adams family garb.  All four girls wear the same black Wednesday Adams dress and the same black braided wigs, Megz the only one breaking slightly out of the mold with glasses.  The boys wear short pants and suspenders in a variety of black and white stripes, with Derek standing out the most in a v neck college sweater.  There’s lots of evil finger waving under mischievous chins,  and hopping on and off of wooden chairs to “Lillies of the Valley” from the Pina soundtrack.  For me, Jaja’s face and Gaby’s dancing are the highlights.

When Cat walks out, we see that her blousy top is connected to a little black damask skirt; Travis and tWitch join her wearing adorable pink bow ties.  (To complete my observations on the non-costume fashion, Jason wears a white t-shirt and Paula far too much make up.)  We find out that Street won the night again, 52% to 48%.  A Street win is seeming almost inevitable at this point, right?  Or maybe that’s my love of Jaja speaking?

Anyway, the first routine of the night goes to Virgil, and it’s a Sean Cheeseman African Jazz with Jasmine.  The idea is that he’s a sinister force trying to corrupt and control the innocent Jasmine.  Everyone is worried about adorable Virgil’s ability to not only contain his natural ebullience, but to actually project evil. Um, and also his ability to lift Jasmine, who’s a lot taller. The costumes add a lot more nuance to the story; Jasmine’s dressed in angelic white, a lacy linen off the shoulder number that I totally adore, and Virgil wears essentially dirty brown burlap rags with patches and amulets sewn into the front, as if he were a crudely fashioned voodoo doll come to life.

And man, I love this.  I’m a sucker for African jazz in the first place, but I love these layers of story and the New Orleans vibe.  The music  — Transglobal Underground’s “Kintamani (Hanorman’s Forest Mix)” thrills me with its complex, layered percussion.  Who can listen to this without wanting to dance?  Impish Virgil seems to get into the sinister spirit of his character to me; Jasmine positively dwarfs him, but he manages to lift her smoothly and easily.  Soon he’s moving her around the stage like a puppet, and then there’s a thrilling unison section, until she’s turned the power on his and controls his movements herself, finally snapping his neck so that he falls to the floor.

Oh my gosh, I liked that so much. With Virgil, I often feel like I don’t love his routines as much as I want to (even the super fun robot piece), but this is two weeks in a row of awesome.

Before he launches into his critique, Nigel apologizes profusely for confusing Jasmine and Sasha in “Misty Blue.”  THANK YOU.  I’d love to know whether he took a lot of heat for the potential racial tinge to his senior moment or just did that on his own.  Either way, I’m glad he corrected that in the biggest platform he could command.

You’ve never had a bad week, he goes on to tell Virgil.  It was a great routine, and you punch above your weight level.  (I feel like the really tall girls he dances with – or at least Comfort and Jasmine — spend a lot of their time around him crouched, so they don’t dwarf him. Has anyone else noticed this?)  He goes so far, in fact, to call the dancer “a proper little Ant-man,” which is taking it a little far.  He’s not THAT short.

Continuing on the party line, however, Paula says he proves what she always says, that size doesn’t matter.  She means it as a short person herself, of course, but that’s not how her male co-panelists take it.  (“I’ve been saying that for years,” Nigel quips.)  She loves that he dances with joy.  Jason found the piece stylistically on point and praises his technique on the lifts, but for the first time feels like Virgil struggled to get into his sinister character.  Huh.  I don’t agree.  Gee, it’s almost like art is subjective!  Anyway, Jason found Virgil’s performance too comedic.  Cat makes Virgil open the envelope, and he wilts with relief.  Safe!

Guess what time it is?  Baby picture time, or sort of — it’s first dance performance time!  We see Jim as a tiny tyke in 1996, the only boy in a line of girls wearing a shiny pink tuxedo , hamming it up and handing out flowers to all the little girls.  Super cute. He looks much more grown up in gray footless man-tights and no shirt, poised elegantly to start his solo. He dances to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons: Summer,” and just when you think you cannot swoon any more over his feather light leaps and gorgeous extensions, he does this crazy series of swirly kick jumps (yes, that’s the technical term) and you just fall over into a dead faint.  He’s amazing, absolutely amazing, and the judges stand in tribute.

And, ah, apparently we’re not done with Tyce for the night.  He’s got a contemporary routine for Derek with All Star Jamie.  Contemporary, after jazz last week?  Working over time to keep this guy in his style, aren’t we?  One thing I will say, everyone seems to be working over time to get Derek to connect to character and learn how to emote in front of an audience.  He’s so gifted, and I feel like this show is yet another gift to him (and the contestants in general).  It’s not just a career boost, it’s a school.

Anyway.  The routine is about a pair of broken souls acknowledging they’ve fallen out of love, which is sort of what I was saying before; the routine is all about emotions, and Derek is putting all his effort into making the audience feel something.  He’s dressed in a loose, easy top and pants in shades of beige, with Jamie in a lovely pale dress with floral applique that may also be in beige, and they dance to Stevie Wonder’s “Never Dreamed You’d Leave Me In Summer,” which is properly melancholy and elegiac. It kind of fits the end of summer, actually.  There are a lot of sharp angles, and people running at each other and connecting without looking at each other, their arms reaching out around the other’s body.  I can see the idea — wanting and failing at intimacy — but I might have to take back what I said.  This is a very difficult piece for someone whose task is to connect with their partner, with only the final moments providing them a chance to make eye contact.

Paula’s very proud of his strength (that word again) and the way he was clearly immersed in the music.  You’re shaking, Cat notes, hugging him.  This is how dance (and the show) can change your life, Paula trills.  However, her two compatriots don’t feel like Derek has grown enough; though he saw improvement, Jason goes so far as to say he doesn’t believe the connection.  Nigel’s not quite so harsh and definitely more constructive, saying that Derek needs to trust himself enough to be not strong, but vulnerable.  I believe in you and your improvement, Nigel affirms.  I believe in you, too, bro, Jason pipes up, right before Cat opens up the envelope and lets him know that he is, of course, in the bottom two.

Heh. Everyone at least agreed that they liked Tyce’s idea and his opening number.

If you remember back to Jaja saying her mom works as a seamstress in a factory, you won’t be too surprised to hear that her mom always made her dance costumes.  They show us a performance we’ve seen clips of before, from back in 2004 when she was 11 or so, in purple pants and matching crop top.  She’s adorable as ever.  I kind of wanted more variety from her solo (to Tight Eyez “Hype City” and dressed in the habitual black cap, t-shirt and leggings), as much as it shocks me to say it.  I mean, it’s clear she was doing a lot more arm waving, but still.  Maybe it’s just that she doesn’t use the floor much.

There’s a Degree internal commercial in the middle that shows us the dancers in practice.  Whoa – Jim’s doing hip hop, and Megz has ballroom?  Crazy times.  It’s almost like the show is daring us to get rid of them.

Of course, Jim isn’t the only stage dancer with hip hop – Hailee has it this week, too, only we already know Hailee rocks it and Jim doesn’t.  Hailee has Fik-shun as her partner (her boy Virgil’s All Star equivalent) and Luther Brown, and the routine, Luthor tells us, is about having flava, not swag.  Um, okay.  I have no idea what the difference is, and the show has no intention of helping me out. The two are dancing to Chonique Street’s “Let It Go,” both dressed in fitted black clothes (pleather?) under big flowery jackets, Hailee with her short hair curled.

It’s — hmmm.  Like last week’s Frankenstein routine, it’s all attitude and no substance, in my opinion.  I certainly don’t dislike it, and it seems like Hailee’s doing everything called for, but more of that is standing around posturing than it is actually, you know, moving.  Both dancers rip off their jackets, revealing that Hailee’s wearing a tight bodysuit.

To my surprise, the judges adore it.  Of course, they loved the Frankenstein routine, too.  I’m all for atmosphere, don’t get me wrong, but why isn’t anyone else bothered by the lack of steps?  Virtually out of his mind with excitement, Jason says that wasn’t just flavor, it was chicken and waffles.  (Nigel gets to pull out his old white guy routine full stop after that.)  It was sweet with some hot sauce, Jason finishes, like a party in my mouth.  I’m trying hard not to be grossed out by that.  Anyway, Nigel loves the flavor of the dance whatever it was.  The performances were brilliant, the connection was perfection, and the dancers go together like bread and butter or coffee and cream.  Ah, finally food metaphors he understands.  It’s so clear that you just love to dance, he tells Hailee.  I do love dance, she adds.  That’s clear in every pore, Cat agrees.  Paula thinks she’s amazing and that every agent, director and choreographer will want to work with her.

I hate giving bad news after great performances, Cat sighs when it turns out that Hailee (who had the precarious task of opening the show last week) lands in the bottom two.

We see three year old Gaby at her first ballet performance; turns out that she missed the dress rehearsal, got bumped into in the  and freaked out that she wasn’t going to know what she was doing, got bumped back stage and cried hysterically through the entire thing. Ah, three year olds. The video is too grainy and far away to really tell, but happily she got passed the trauma and became the very well versed tapper we all know and love.  She dances well to Santana’s “Oye Como Va” and it’s pretty fun, but I can’t help feeling like she doesn’t add enough texture to her solos — it’s more like her first audition than her second, successful one.

And here’s the answer to my question from last week: we have Jean-Marc and All Star Paul (what, no Pasha?) to help Megz with the paso doble.  Hip hop dancers tend to end up with the paso, but jeez, it’s like a death sentence; even when it’s good ballroom doesn’t generally get the big numbers, and especially with the untrained dancers, it tends not to be good.  If Megz makes it out of this week, they’ve almost guaranteed she won’t make the finals.  I guess we’ll find out how strong her fanbase really is, huh?  In that way, ballroom is a test not only of your ability to adapt to different styles, but also of the lengths your fans will go to support you.

So, okay.  The song is Tom Player’s “Blade of Blood,” which cracks me up.  Both dancers wear capes (black on the outside, red inside) with Paul in an open backed vest and long pants (“50 shades of So You Think You Can Dance“) and Megz in a crazy fringe-covered ballroom “dress.”  “There’s something off about the way she’s dancing,” Mr. E observed, and with my limited ballroom experience I would say it’s her frame.  Her shoulders are hunched over, her hands look awkward, her posture’s wrong, and she generally just looks uncomfortable.  It’s hardly the worst we’ve seen, but it’s not good.

You’ve gotten further in the competition than I expected, and deservedly so, Nigel backhands Megz, but you’ve reached the end of impressing us with this.  (He’s right in that I’d never have expected her to outlast both Yorelis and JJ, especially given her limited screen time; good on you, Megz.)  It really exposed your lack of training; instead of her frame, he talks about her terrible footwork, something I pretty much never notice.  While she agrees, Paula points out that Megz’s fire and intensity is half the battle.  Right; Derek and Jim get the technique, but Megz gets the opposite half of the equation.  She does mention, to a chorus of agreement, that Megz’s shoulders were all wrong.  Jason suggests that the dancer’s intensity became tension in her body, in this case.  She needs to learn how to properly channel fierceness through her body, and be like Lara Croft (really?  a video game character?), feminine and strong.  Right.  She’s still one of his favorites, he adds, but it’s not going to keep her out of the bottom two, which is where she’s landed.

We see little Derek performing way back in 2005 (gah, I feel so old!), getting pulled in at the last minute to substitute for another boy in a cheerleading routine when he wasn’t even taking dance classes yet.  He didn’t like the cheering part, but he did love dance and ended the piece in a split.  Dang.  He gives a passionate solo to The Irrepressible’s “Two Men In Love” wearing little black shorts and his now signature green t-shirt.

This week in jazz, we have Kayla dancing for Ray Leeper with Neptune.  The very complicated idea is that the two are a couple getting back together after a long break, secure in the knowledge that they ought to be together, which seems to me rather a lot to convey.  They dance to “Infinity” by the XX, with Neptune in relaxed jeans and corn rows; God knows why, but Kayla’s wearing a solid gold bikini with a little pleated skirt.  The piece is pretty, and I love seeing Neptune out of his style because he’s just so good at it, but I don’t feel the story at all.  I don’t think that’s the dancers fault; there’s nothing in the choreography that says reunion to me.

The judges show more enthusiasm for Neptune and his journey than they do for the routine itself.  After praising his incredibly growth, Paula brings down the house by tell him she loves his upper body.  Quit snickering, Jason!  She means his ability to do isolations.  She does think that the piece exposed his lack of training, and hopes he’s hungry to learn more.  You’ve nailed it every week until now, Jason agrees, asking whether he’d ever done partner work before the show.  He hadn’t, and Jason thinks that it shows in his technique during the lifts.  I very much disagree — I rewatched it to see if they were dodgy, and couldn’t find anything — and it makes me want to pat Neptune on the back.  It’s pretty impressive how quickly he learned this stuff!  Jason’s quick to say that it’s not about him being a strong dude, which he is.

Finally, Nigel almost gives an elegy for Neptune, saying he’s so proud of the way the dancer has changed.  Like Paula, he encourages the young man to take classes, saying he could be an amazing professional dancer, even intimating that it’s not too late for him to aspire to something like Jim’s solo, which is an insane and not at all useful comparison.  Anyway, this all makes it sound like they know something when it’s revealed that he’s in the bottom 2.  Except, there’s no way more people voted for Megz last week, right?  At least in the studio, they went nuts for his Franken-routine.

Ready to break the cuteness bank, Virgil‘s family has donated a video of him dancing on a stoop during a bbq at the age of three.  It’s impossibly adorable.  Scream-worthy adorable.  His personality filled solo, to Kendrick Lamar’s “i” wins him a standing ovation from the judges.

And, here we are: it’s Jim, Comfort, and Pharside & Phoenix.  Poor Jim could be forgiven for thinking that the world has it in for him when he finds out that he’s not only in the style the judges feel like he’s unsuited for, but when everyone’s other critique is his ability to bond emotionally with partner, his theatrical choreographers have created a piece where he can’t make eye contact with her.  I mean, yikes!

It’s a super cool idea, though; she’s Medusa, and he’s Perseus come to kill her.  They’ve decorated the stage with golden statues on columns, put Comfort in a crazy body suit with a snake wig, and Jim in a strappy leather top and skirt and given him a round Grecian shield and strappy sandals.  They dance to “Hey Mama” by David Guetta, Nicki Minaj, Bebe Rexha and Afrojack.  He looks amazing, but all the things he must have feared come into play.  He executes the moves, but lacks swag, and can’t really interact with Comfort. Maybe if he’d kept his shield for longer than a second, it would have increased the sense of dread between them?  The stakes?   I thought the unison section was quite good, actually, and the leap where Comfort essentially runs up his body and shoots off his crossed arms, but, yeah.  He still doesn’t look comfortable.

Jason applauds Jim for going for it before saying that he really didn’t get there.  You tut well, but generally it looks foreign to you when hip hop is supposed to feel natural.  (This made me bristle a little; granted that it does run counter to Jim’s training, I’m still not sure it’s fair to say that hip hop dance is every person’s natural state of being.)  It’s easy to be natural in a leather skirt and bondage gear, Cat snarks. Thanks, Cat! Nigel loved the routine and the concept and Comfort but felt that the end result was a little uncomfortable.  Jim’s solo was exquisite, however. Pharside and Phoenix threw everything at you, Paula observes, with no time to breath.  Connecting a bit to Jason’s critique, she notes that it looks like he’s trying too hard. Ah well. At least he knows he’s safe for this week.

Hailee‘s first filmed solo has her dressed up as pirate and getting literally trampled by other kids on their way out.  She cried through it, but gosh darn it, the show went on!  Proving how desperately she wants to be choreographed by Sonya, she dances to Steed Lord’s “Vanguardian” in a blinged out red bikini top and hot pants, very pin up and fiesty.

Guess who’s back?  Mandy Moore!  Hold the keyboard while I take a celebratory turn around the room, please.  The piece – for Gaby and All Star Robert — is going to be about anxiety and moving out of your comfort zone.  Robert is the comfort, dressed in mauve scrubs, while Gaby wears a blue chiffon dress with a Grecian feel.  Mandy’s oldie of the moment is Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel,” and the whole thing is soaring and stunning.  I’m not sure I entirely get Mandy’s intention — why is Robert lying on Gaby’s back?  Why is she supporting his weight?  It’s cool, but is it comforting?  I’m not sure I care, though, because it’s all lovely in that very 80s/90s power ballad Mandy Moore way which I’ve missed.  And I love love love  the closing pose where Robert cradles Gaby in his strong, comforting arms.

And the judges are standing.

That was in a class of its own tonight, Nigel gushes.  He can’t state that strongly enough, or praise Mandy and Robert and Gaby enough.  The magnificent technique (and really, you can’t tell she’s not a contemporary dancer) brought beautifully contained emotion. He warns her that lots of choreographers will want her as their assistant (?) but she should focus on being a star first.  Um, okay.  That was unequivocally world class, Paula enthuses.  You’re an actress dancing, embodying anxiety.  Not one thing could have been better.  You just get it, Jason agrees.  I always knew that about you (right, that’s why he passed on her the first time she auditioned) but you surpass my expectations.

Back in 1996, we see Megz dance with her brother Matthew, wearing a pink tutu that still galls her.  She’s wearing the tutu, not Matthew.  In the present, she dances to Steve Akoki’s “Delirious (Boneless)” wearing gray leopard pants and a pink crop top under a black shirt that’s buttoned only at the top — vintage Megz, in other words.

Jaja‘s drawn an Al Blackstone Broadway routine (yay, Broadway!) with last year’s winner Ricky in his first appearance as an All Star (yay, Ricky!) .  The idea is that Ricky’s a mobster (a word Jaja has never heard) and Jaja’s his wife, and they’re spending the night in jail before being sent up the river.  She’s pissed, and he just wants to have fun before they go. “Look how fiessy I am!” she tells the camera, wrapping herself in a father boa.  I hope there’s a gif of that out there, because that was awesome.  During the rehearsal, Ricky dips her and she looks up at him. “I hate being in jail, but I’m glad that I’m with you,” she tells him, her voice low, and he busts up so hard it’s a wonder he doesn’t drop her.

And, oh my lord.  She’s wearing a white dress with a fur collar, sweetheart neckline topped with sheer shoulders and sleeves.  The bodice gathers to a belt and then bells out into a wide skirt.  She’s like a 30s snow princess.  It’s magic.  And man, can she telegraph how pissed she is!  It’s exactly the sort of thing that would make a guy say that dressed, dismissive cliche: “you’re so cute when you’re angry!”  They’re dancing to Nat King Cole’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” which tells you everything you need to know about the piece’s intention, and it’s fun and flirty in execution.  I love watching Ricky coax Jaja into enjoying the moment despite herself.  He’s light and cat-like, and they’ve got great chemistry.  In the end, they clip a pair of handcuffs on, determined to be happy in their fate while they can.

They definitely saved the best performances for last tonight!  The judges are standing once more.

You do character like no one else, Paula observes.  You set the tone and carried it through.   How did it feel, she wonders.  I felt like I was the character, Jaja replies.  Paula finishes by calling her the belle of the ball.  I love a period piece, Jason confesses (me too).  He thinks she looks like a 20s movie star, and is the consummate dancer.  I never have to tell you that you look uncomfortable, Nigel pronounces.  Whether it’s on Broadway like last year’s winner, or as part of JLo’s Vegas show, whoever hires you next will be lucky to have you.  Safe and secure, she minces off the stage in a modified version of last week’s princess walk.

We’re just left with Neptune‘s solo now.  We hear about him at his dad’s wedding, getting everyone else on the dance floor with his exuberant, out-going style. He gives us some bone breaking and then krump to Dorrough’s “Get Big”, and the judges stand for it.

Dave Scott has a routine for the final four street dancers (wow, three routines in one week, youch), one about a hot day in the city.  With cityscapes in lights behind them, the four sweat it out on stage, looking like they’re wearing their own clothes.  Don’t they, though?  Virgil’s in a button down, Jaja’s in shorts and white t with backwards ballcap on and a flannel shirt tied around her waist, Neptune in shorts and a sleeveless t, and Megz in a sports bra with under a sports tank. Maybe I need to take back my snark about Jason, because at least for these dancers, it kind of looks like natural movement.

For me the stage routine is less successful.  Tessandra Chavez wants to make the audience feel something with a routine about two couples (Gaby and Jim, Hailee and Derek) who’re desperately addicted to relationships.  Or in addictive relationships.  The dancers wear mostly flowing white, with Gaby’s skirt and Derek’s pants in a pale, hombred aqua; both girls have flowers in their hair.  I like Ed Sheeran’s “Give Me Love,” but I’m not moved like Tessandra wants.  It’s nice, don’t get me wrong.  It’s beautifully musical. Hailee stands out for me despite the boys getting the solos.  The judges are more enthusiastic than I am, giving it a standing ovation; Nigel makes a weird and confusing hand sign, even.

With that, Cat sends Jim and Gaby off stage, hauls Megz and Neptune back up, and delivers the results.  As I’ve been expecting since last week, it’s finally Derek’s time to go — and even though I like him a lot, he’s gone at least a week past where he should have if not quite a bit more.  I’m surprised and very disappointed to see Neptune join him, though.  Again, I like Megz very much and respect her talent, but Neptune is such a versatile dancer.  The goodbye package is lovely: Neptune is a teddy bear, amazing, beloved, Derek is funny and gives warm hugs, and is great to learn from.  The two dancers talk about learning to trust themselves and making friends who’ll be like family.  Cat calls on the other dancers to squeeze them, squeeze them fast, and the dancers get all up in each other’s faces, and we’re done.

So.  That was a good week.  Not as splendid as last week, but still quite good: I loved Virgil, Gaby and Jaja’s routines.  I’m very sorry to see Neptune go (although, let’s face it, I’m sorry the show is coming to a close and I don’t want to lose anyone).  Next week we pick the finalists!  Yikes!  Is there any way that Hailee can sneak past Jim?  Will Gaby or Jaja win, like the judges (Nigel) seem to want, or is it automatically going to be a street dancer, since they’ve been consistently winning the over all vote counts?

I do love seeing all the former contestants in the audience, too — Lily is almost always there, and we’ve seen Valerie, Melanie, Nick and Rudy among many others.  It’s good stuff!  Is there any detail like that which makes you happy?  Let me know!

 

 

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