E: So, okay. Last week stage won 55% to 45%, and I’m willing to bet most of that lead came from Gaby’s poetically beautiful Mandy Moore routine. I’m sure they won’t give us a count next week, not when the votes are going to be folded in with the finale, but if they did I have a feeling street would have the edge. They certainly had my favorite numbers in this rather uneven week. And then there’s the moderately shocking elimination…
I’m getting ahead of myself, however. First, let’s talk about “Everybody Hurts,” the REM classic tune covered by Jasmine Thompson and used in the opening number in which, yes, all of the contestants got to show us their hurt. Because she’s the queen of the eighties and nineties tunes, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to know that the piece was choreographed and conceived by Mandy Moore. It’s got a nice kind of tidal undulation to it, lots of shaking loose limbs, lots of rise and fall. Megz and Hailee lift Gaby, Jaja pushes through a line of her competitors, and Megz stands alone in the end as the other dancers fall to earth.
Cat’s wearing an elbow-sleeved black minidress embroidered all over with clusters of tiny flowers that change from green to purple depending on the lighting. Where does she find this stuff? Crazy awesome. Eschewing their customary black, Team Captains tWitch and Travis appear in, respectively, a bright blue sweater and a green suit, which, dang. The best that can be said for Nigel and Jason is that their conventional jackets both have interesting lapels; Paula is wearing egg yolk yellow with a pretty crossed neck. The dancers come out in the order that you might expect them to finish in – Megz and Hailee, the obvious choices to go home tonight, Virgil and Jim, and then Nigel’s favorites Gaby and Jaja.
And it’s last week’s stunner Gaby who has the first routine of the night, a Ray Leeper jazz piece with All Star Marko. You know, Ray’s fun and all, but his routines are never my favorites. They tend to showcase style over substance, even when he’s trying to be serious (as with the baffling grief routine for Ariana and Derek), and this week he’s not even bothering with a story. It’s all about Gaby’s booty, and she’s not sure her dad will be very happy about it.
As it turns out, though, I sort of enjoy Ray’s plotlessness, because there’s a ton of real dancing doing on. And I really enjoy the costumes, which have a real Victorian/Steampunk feel: Marko’s wearing a vest and bow tie and lots of little straps over black pants, with Gaby in a rusty bustier ensemble with funky sleeves, a short ruffled skirt, and these amazing tights that go up to her thighs in various layers of fabric, topped with what look like metal studs on her thighs. I doubt I’m describing this well, but I liked the over all effect. She spends a lot less time waving her butt than I expected — not nearly as much as she did in her Geisha/Ninja piece — though there is one uncomfortable section where she just seems to be standing there doing nothing while Marko holds her butt out for us to see. Anyway, I enjoyed it, but I don’t think it’s going to be memorable, which goes back to my main critique of Ray.
“That wasn’t half as booty-whatever-it-is as I thought it was going to be,” Nigel observes (or perhaps complains), saying that Gaby’s dad will be fine with it. As much as he loves Gaby and Marko and Ray, however, he doesn’t think it was necessarily her best. Paula calls it boot-a-full (sigh) and thought Gaby made the light-hearted seem easy when it wasn’t. Jason owns to be really disappointed that it didn’t reach the incredible emotional level of last week’s masterwork, which is hardly Gaby’s fault. To him, that wasn’t a dance for two people, it was a dance for a company, which is kind of a good criticism. I could see it as part of a musical, with lots of folks on stage, making more of an impact. I want to be leaping out of my seat every time you dance, he adds, and that frustration turns out to be prophetic about the entire night.
Cat tells us that the contestants have set their solos to music that reminds them of their mentors, or maybe just their families or upbringing. I can’t be the only one to think is a little vague. Virgil picked LL Cool J’s “Rock the Bells” because it reminds him of family and block parties and good times. His mentor, Clyde Evans Jr. is another short dancer with a high wattage smile, has been looking out for Virgil for the last 15 years, teaching him how to dance big and happy. In true 90s style, Virgil dances next to a huge boom box wearing short black overalls with one strap hanging under his arm, and the inevitable backwards baseball cap, graphic in solid white, black and red. There’s a great kick back feel to the piece, which is blindingly fast and incredibly musical.
Tessandra Chavez has the idea that Jaja will play a character who suffers from early onset Alzheimers, making it very hard for her lover Alex to connect with her. Since the contemporary piece is also full of animated bits, tWitch cautions Jaja to pay attention to the textures, knowing when to be soft and when to be hard. The dance is set to Daughter’s “Youth,” giving me yet another reason to be grateful to the show for re-introducing me to this wonderful singer.
And, wow. Jaja’s wearing a simple floral dress in a thirties style, her hair long in the back and pinned into complicated rolls over her forehead. As we get a closer look, it’s begins to look less like individual rolls than an infinity symbol, which is rather wonderful even if unintended. She sits on the floor, trying to read a book, unable to make sense of what’s on the page . Is it a journal? It could be. Her frustration and devastation are patent. Alex, wearing a striped shirt and suspenders, steps in, and as they dance together, we see his love and patience, and her mercurial transitions not simply from hard and soft movement, but from fear and confusion to clarity and remembrance. In the moments when she knows him, we see their playful relationship as it was; he pokes her on the nose, they grin and jig in sync. But it can’t last — she picks up the book again, tears it in her anguish and lack of comprehension, and when he tries to still her, she flees, frightened.
It was spectacular. It was a thousand different things at once. The judges, of course, are standing.
After declaring her love for Tessandra and her hatred for the unforgiving disease of Alzheimers, Paula tells Jaja that she affects the audience. There was, is, something touching and innocent to her. It all makes her the ultimate dancer. Jason is actually wiping away tears, admiring her commitment, and Cat says that they all ought to be sitting in pajamas watching The Notebook. Oh. Was that book supposed to be the titular notebook? (You’ve been singing all day, Cat, he adds, trying to distract us; why don’t you sing something for Jaja now? No, shout Nigel and Paula as one.) That was like The Notebook, Nigel agrees, loving the way Jaja went in and out of lucidity. It was a memorable blend of acting and dance; Jaja has truly taken advantage of the opportunity to learn, and she’s so up there. “It’s Jaja, everybody,” Cat rock-sings. Cute.
Hailee introduces us to her teacher Mandy Shaw, who saw something special in the girl at a dance competition back when Hailee was only 12. Mandy was there for Hailee during her family troubles, and in return Hailee helped Mandy heal after the death of her child. Oh, wow, that’s some serious stuff. Travis wants Hailee to stand out in her solos the way she does in her duets, and I do actually think it was an improved solo; varied tempo, lots of power and attack. It felt very Hailee, which is great.
This week, Megz has hip hop with Christopher Scott and All Star Joshua. No, it can’t save her after last week’s paso, but at least she’ll get to go out on a high note, right? Chris tells us that the piece is called set to a song called “Freedom” and is about the concept of freedom – how humanity just wants to be free. Sure, Chris. That’s cool. That the song is sung by Pharrell? Also cool.
What surprises me about the piece is that Megz is super tense, and Joshua seems to be talking her down and trying to get her to loosen up, which somehow just not where I thought Chris were going. I mean, she’s tense and resisting the entire time, right up till the final pose. I do like the dance, though, especially after re-watching it — it’s flat out dancing the entire time, and you know that means a lot to me. Both dancers have graffiti painted vests on, which is pretty cool. They look very hip hop. Even Christopher Scott wears a painted church in the choreographer’s ghetto in the audience. I like it, but I’m not over the moon.
That was really good, Jason says, and then he tells us that the dancers only get 7 hours with the choreographers, and only limited time with their partners, and have to do four dances this week, and then you see this is all by way of a backhanded compliment because what he really means is that the dance was good but not good enough for the top six. That’s fair, although not much tonight has been exactly exemplary. Well, I mean, Jaja, but still. Anyhow, he ends by saying it was in Megz’s pocket and no one has a pocket like her. Nigel says her excellent performance proves that she’s well rounded, because it was as much jazz as hip hop, and then he goes on a lengthy tangent about how hip hop doesn’t get enough dance school cred but it will some day because all styles were street at some point, right? Um, no. Have you ever seen a street minuet? I think not. Paula agrees with Nigel about something or other and thinks it was fun in Megz’s element.
For her mentor, Gaby tells us about her great Uncle Dale and how he was a dancer in Cuba and how hard that was, and how he had to leave. She’s sorry he ‘s not around to see her dance on the show, but knows that he’s looking down on her happily. She dances to “It’s Your Thing” by Christian McBride and DeeDee Bridgewater (am I the only one who was expecting Cuban music?) and it’s cool. I still feel like none of her solos on the show live up to her second audition, but I still think she’s great.
Proving that the producers really do not want him to win, Jim “draws” samba. Oh well – at least we get to see Anya, and the first ballroom piece not by Jean-Marc. Not that I don’t love Jean-Marc, but it’s nice to see Dimitri Chaplin, too. And it’s even more awesome to see Anya. The idea is sexy cool fun, totally anti-ballet, and while Jim finds Anya spicy and intimidating at least he doesn’t break down into tears after drawing the hardest style of the season. They dance to “Fulanto” by Gillando Goma, with Anya in a gold and black fringe leotard and Jim wearing black pants and a buttonless black button down shirt.
And, you know what? It’s pretty darn good. It’s way, way better then I thought it would be. He’s got way more hip action than I expected, and he’s shimmying and shaking what he’s got, as Travis hoped, and he seems to just be going for and having fun. Not to sound like a broken record, but he’s just way more believable than I was fearing. No where near as awkward as poor Darion was, certainly. I expect Jason is feeling the same thing when he stands up to clap at the end of the routine.
That was so fun, Nigel says, but who wouldn’t have fun dancing with Anya? Oh, Nigel. You and your relentless plugging of the heterosexual player lifestyle. It wasn’t amazing, he continues, but I was surprised at how good you were, what with the demands of latin ballroom going so strongly against your ballet training. He thinks there wasn’t enough flexibility in Jim’s back (I’m not sure I agree) but over all loved the choreography and was happy with it. Paula lauds Jim for being a strong partner, and says he struck a nice balance between attending to the audience and to Anya. She wants more isolations from his chest and rib cage. There’s a lengthy discussion about a hip shimmying move I can’t spell; Cat tries to get Jason to attempt them on stage, but he doesn’t bite. Jason is pleased and totally shocked at the way Jim embraced the style.
I absolutely expected Jaja to say that her mentor was Philip Chbeeb, who went to the Czech Republic and encouraged her to move to LA and join his crew, but instead she brings up Ceseare “Tight Eyez” Williams, who we’ve definitely heard of as a krump pioneer. Isn’t he the one who gave B-Dash his nickname? And Nigel misheard his name and called him Tight Ass? He tells us how special Jaja is, that she’s one of a kind, and that the whole community feels like they’re on the show with her. It’s pretty great. When she does an animation solo to Edit’s “Laundry”, wearing a white button down and sunglasses over shiny black tuxedo striped leggings, she brings us the robot with impressive, musical precision and her patented cheery smirk. The judges stand by the end.
Like Jaja, Virgil‘s been gifted with an emotional, story-driven contemporary routine. As with his earlier routine this season, Justin Giles has crafted a touching story of intimate connection between a married couple set to a Ben Howard song, this time the percussion centered stunner “All is Now Harmed.” (Ben Howard is another one of the show’s musical gifts to me, starting with “Old Pine” in Elyse Freelinger’s audition.) And that’s not even getting to the story; Virgil plays a former soldier haunted by the loss of his friends, holding on to his dog tag and shutting out his wife Melanie. Virgil has had friends in this same situation, and wants to honor it; he’s so moved that he ends up crying in rehearsal.
And, man. The piece is spectacular. Justin is just a master at choreographing emotion, and bringing the audience in to an intimate relationship. Like “Promise,” the dancers don’t use up the entire stage, but their every motion conveys the story. Virgil recoils as Melanie touches him, patiently but firmly pressing inside of his sorrow and frustration and anger and guilt, delicately probing the edges as he shudders away from her, eventually exploding out in his pain. The music builds tension until Melanie finally breaches her husband’s defenses, but even as he rips the dog tags over his head and lets his wife in close enough for an embrace, he can’t let it fall from his outstretched hand. I’ll admit that the first time I watched it all I saw was Melanie, her limbs glowing in the stage light, her caring, her focus, her strength and her incredible ability to bring us feeling and character through her body. When I watched a second time, and then a third, I can see Virgil matching her, thoroughly believable in his distress, tears in his eyes. And the more I watch it, the more I think this might be my favorite piece of the season, although that may have more to do with Melanie than Virgil, and definitely has something to do with the song. It actually makes me want to go back and watch everything Melanie’s done on the show, because it’s immediately become one of my favorite pieces of hers, too.
Obviously there’s a standing ovation at the end. Cat sends Melanie off, chanting “Peter!” which in her accent sounds like “Peeta”; in case you were wondering, Mel just finished a run on Broadway as Peter Pan in Finding Neverland. She’s currently in rehearsals as Chava in Fiddler on the Roof, and is being replaced as Peter by Amy Yakima, all of which makes me really, really want to go to Broadway. Road trip, anyone? With real delight on her face, Paula say what a joy it is to have Melanie back on stage. (That would have meant a lot more from Mary, or even Nigel who, you know, actually knew Melanie.) Though she hopes he can work on getting more lift in his jumps, Paula tells Virgil that he was unbearable vulnerable and delivered a very mature performance, an excellent critique given how much the judges have questioned the man’s ability to give them something other than his natural ebullience.
You have a great humbleness and honesty, Jason begins, and you make us feel like we’re right there with you. Somewhat to my surprise, he gets a little personal, saying that when he’s songwriting he can feel the difference when one comes from an authentic place inside (and hopefully audiences can too); I’m amused by this, because I don’t think of him as being that kind of songwriter. Fun and booty calls, sure, but deep emotion? Maybe I’ve missed those ones. Anyway, he says that Virgil gave him that feeling of truth. Nigel appreciates the people who’ve gone to war instead of him, both home in England and here in his adopted country. Justin gave Virgil, and Virgil gave the audience, a real sense that love is the force that cures all. (I disagree with that assessment; love reached him, but explicitly can’t take away all of his brokenness.) Your performance overroad your lack of technique, he finishes, which I think is fair. You and Melanie made it real, Cat coos.
And I can see I’m going to stay happy, because Jim‘s solo is next, and I’m not sure we’ve ever had as a good a soloist on the show. He picked a song that reminds him of the harsh winters of upstate New York, and speaks of his mentor, Timothy Draper, who offered him a summer scholarship to a prestigious ballet program when he was a child. Draper died in 2003, and just thinking of his not seeing what Jim eventually achieved makes the tender-hearted dancer cry. “I hope he’s still proud of what I’m doing,” the young man weeps. He wears those simple gray leggings again, and dances to Nathan Lanier’s “Ra,” and there’s power, speed and control in what he’s doing. It’s very different from earlier solos, much more strength than airiness, but equally spectacular. As Travis noted in practice, it’s perfect.
Nick and RJ have a jazz piece for Hailee and Robert; she’s the angel of death, draped with black chiffon over her face and shoulders, and she’s trying to deliver death’s kiss to poor Robert. Ah, that again, the deadly kiss. Is there any shot it could live up to “Good Kisser“? I doubt it, but I do love both Hailee and Robert, so it’s not a hopeless proposition. Hilariously, Hailee really loves Robert, is thrilled to be kissing him, and cannot stop giggling in his presence. She cracks me up, that boy-crazy girl, swooning over handsome guys regardless of the likelihood of them swooning back.
They dance to Beyonce’s “Haunted,” Robert wearing black pleathery pants with a sort of leather shrug over one shoulder and straps down the opposite arm, with Hailee veiled and wearing an astounding black leotard made of layered pierced fabrics and topped with feathered shoulders. I can’t even explain how cool it is. She looks properly evil — she’s great at getting into character — although I’d be feeling the piece itself more if he seemed either afraid of her (Nico in “The Kiss of the Spiderwoman“) or drawn to her (Rudy in “Good Kisser,” Curtis in “Go“) instead of neither. They were both terrific, don’t get me wrong, but at least for me the piece was more stylized than actually scary. It ends with a lip-mashing kiss, and Hailee tossing Robert to the floor.
Did I just see some tongue, Cat wonders, and Robert walks up, gives a very dramatic pause, and says “yes” into the microphone as he waggles his eyebrows. Sometimes a girl just has to smudge her lipstick, Cat shrugs as Hailee sputters, giggling that there most certainly was not. We haven’t seen you this dark before, Jason enthuses. You murdered it, like you do every week. Nigel makes a confusing comment about how (as with Virgil) he doesn’t like loosing her big personality. Paula, however, is all poetic compliments: you moved like a flame, all finesse and fury. It was wickedly seductive and Robert is amazing. Well, almost all compliments; she does think Hailee needs to watch her transitions, because she telegraphed a hitch kick. Um, okay.
Megz‘s mentor is one Cynthia Geffon, who taught her since the age of 9. Meggity Megz, she says, made me the teacher I am today because she was a less traditional student, and I had to learn how to help her get her own unique style out. Cool. Megz dances to James Bay’s “Let it Go” which is not a version of the Disney song, but is a terrific vehicle for Megz to blend her hard hitting style with bits of contemporary and jazz. There’s such a smooth flow to it, and it’s really exciting, especially her trademark backbend at the end. Her core strength, seriously.
Now comes the part of the show where the dancers are paired with each other, and interestingly, we have Gaby and Jim together instead of what I would have expected, a stage dancer with a street one. I guess they’re saving that for next week? They’ve drawn Broadway and Josh Bergasse, and Jim’s supposed to be a sick Gaby’s fever dream as she lies in bed at home. Is he real, or not? “I got a fever,” Gaby tells us before kicking the camera in rehearsal, ” and the only cure is more Jim.” Well, we all love Jim, but I am instantly wary of a concept that requires Jim to project Man of Gaby’s Dreams. I have no doubt that they can do the steps, but I’m really nervous about the rest.
And justifiably so. Gaby sleeps in a white wrought iron bed, covers pulled up to her chin, to the sound of Michael Buble’s “Fever.” Of course that’s what they would use. Jim bursts through the stage curtains wearing a fedora, tux pants and a white shirt with a loose bow tie sew into it; he does this fabulous plank spin over Gaby’s bed before pulling her out of bed and helping her snap open her neck-high nightie to reveal a gorgeous red dress. They make great use of the stage, and give us a ton of dancing, most of which is in really good sync. In the end, he leaves his hat on her headboard, and when she wakes, she realizes in shock that it wasn’t a dream. The dancing is good — of course it is, better than good — and I really like the choreography, but Jim’s far less successful at connecting with Gaby than he was with Anya, and definitely not successful at giving us that man-of-her-dreams image. I feel really bad for both of them, especially considering that neither of their first routines killed it, and that these votes will get folded into the finale. Have the producers just guaranteed Street the win?
Josh will murder me, Nigel cowers, but that felt more nightclub than Broadway. Well of all the irrelevant critiques you could have given, Nigel, that takes the cake. The dancing was great, but the chemistry was sorely lacking; your fever left me cold. It was a perfect technical partnership, Paula eases into her critique, but the difficult choreography wasn’t performed with the necessary appearance of ease. They didn’t latch onto the style, which made it feel contrived. And it also definitely lacked sensuality. Jason makes the requisite coded comment; Jim lacked strength. Geez, if you don’t want to come right out and say he wasn’t straight enough, why can’t you just say he lacked the performance quality the piece called for? Gaby was great, but they had no chemistry.
Hailee and Megz have drawn a Stacey Tookey contemporary routine, which means that Virgil and Jaja (already the stars of the night) will be dancing together last. Wow. That’s not pushing us in one direction or anything. In Stacey’s concept, the two are inseparable sisters torn apart by circumstance, saying a final, painful goodbye. Again, very apt when they’re probably both going home. Megz laughs that Hailee runs like a football player and it’s tricky to find the proper counterbalance so the other girl doesn’t flatten her when they hug. It’s supposed to be an elegant, feminine movement that requires both strength and a tight connection, and Megz finds it exciting and challenging.
They dance to Max Richter and Sara Leonard’s “Sarajevo,” which I know I’ve heard before (movie trailers, according to Mr. E, but I’m wondering if the show hasn’t used it before) and the two women wear floor length halter dresses in an hombre fabric with fringe peplums over soft pleats. Hailee launches herself at Megz with a full bodied embrace, the kind of hug you only share with an intimate (and happily no one falls over). It’s really a lovely dance, one of the few where the show brings us real emotional connection between women (reminding me of Stacey’s piece for Melanie and Sasha in their finale). It’s not as clearly articulated in story as Tessandra or Justin’s, but it’s probably the next best number of tonight. In the end, Megz walks away, and Hailee collapses in stages, spent.
Paula loves the routine, which played to the dancers’ strengths and highlighted the closeness of sisters; she tells us her sister is there, but sadly we don’t get to pry into her life by actually seeing her. Megz was so strong. (That word again!) From chemistry to engagement to the steps, they nailed it. Plus the costumes were great. Before telling her to watch her hands, Jason says he was impressed by Megz’s character work and intention. It’s like Hailee is the All Star, isn’t it – I feel like the judges are forgetting about her. One sister with pointed toes, one with flexed feet, Nigel chuckles, finally bringing up the other dancer. He loved Hailee’s collapse at the end and Megz’s solo, which he too felt displayed her growth over the season and her ability to take in other styles. You’ve both blossomed, Cat smiles happily at them.
And, man. As if I didn’t think Virgil and Jaja were getting enough of a gift by going together and last, they’ve got hip hop with Pharside and Phoenix! Could that be more of a present? Their idea is that the two have fallen in to Wonderland. Love it! They pop out from behind a large faux leather book emblazoned with gold letters proclaiming The Amazing Tale of Jaja & Virgil, Virgil from between Jaja’s hands; Virgil is the Cheshire cat in a fedora with ears and a green suit with a purple lapel and shirt, Jaja in an shredded, fluffy Alice dress. Awesomely, the suit turns out to be made up of small horizontal stripes, alternating between yellow and blue, which give the impression of green instead of actually being green. Love that! There’s something about the static choreography, though, that’s fun but not exciting. There’s a lot of tutting that matches little quirks in the music (“If You Can Crump Stand Up” by Edit) but it lacks movement and scope. The dancers bring lots of attitude, and there’s a cool flipping trick, but the choreographers let them down, I think.
And somewhat to my surprise, some of the judges agree with me. (They loved Hailee’s Dave Scott piece last week, and the Frankendance the week before and I thought there wasn’t enough content in either of those, too, so I never know.) Maybe it’s really not the gift I wanted it to be. You’re some of the most talented dancers I’ve ever seen, Jason protests, and I wanted more from that. I wanted this to be through the roof. Totally the choreographers fault, that. Nigel says he liked the fun routine, which reminded him of Paula and M.C. Scat Cat, and goes off on a long tangent about the importance of hip hop in the American dance scene. But what about this routine, Jason tries to interrupt his boss, who refuses to be pinned down. Heh. Somebody’s showing their colors for sure. Paula found it to be a jolt of electricity and great to watch, but adds that the music had no melody. Even though it had great beats to choreograph to, it made it hard for the audience to engage in it. Exactly! Thank you, Paula. No dynamics, no build…
Ah well. The team captains stand with four stool for the four finalists over on stage right. Moving on, as I expect, are Jaja and then Virgil for street, and then Gaby (look at Rudy howling in the audience) and — Hailee? Well. I can see it, after Jim’s disappointing hip hop last week, but I did think he was going to make it anyway; I thought he would make it to the finale, but not win, or even place as the highest stage dancer. Clearly the dancers had that expectation, too, because Hailee eyes go wide and her mouth shrinks into a tiny circle, while Jim bursts into tears like he’s been hit hard in the chest.
They get a lovely goodbye package. We hear quotes about Megz being born to stand out and Jim being one of the best dancers that’s ever been on the show. Hailee says she’ll always miss Jimothy (snort), and Gaby goes on about his legs. Virgil will miss borrowing Megz’s clothes (ha) and Jaja loved her positive spirit. He’s biting his lip, shuddering with tears, and they’re all jumping in joy and sorrow. Robert enfolds both Hailee and Gaby in a huge hug, and then about half the dancers hoist Jim up on their shoulders as if he’s won. It’s really touching.
And there we stand. Are you more or less excited for the finale with Jim out and Hailee in? I think she deserves it, but I’m also really sad not to see more of his solos, or the chance to see him try to stretch those latent acting abilities that Hailee gives us with such apparent ease. Can you believe we’re already at the end of the season? And who will triumph in the end? I can’t wait to see! I’m revving up my list of favorite routines for the reveal finale in two weeks. So exciting!