So You Think You Can Dance, Next Generation: Top Ten

E: After the first half hour of the first live show, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to recap this show anymore.  There’s just not enough dancing, the judges give nothing but praise, the format tries too hard, and having the kids dance with adult partners ranges from mildly to excruciatingly uncomfortable.  I’m definitely not going to do a moment by moment recap as usual, with judges comments (I mean, come on, they’re pretty useless) and the super silly “do you have a girlfriend/do YOU have a girlfriend” interview questions.  That said, I do want to talk about the dancing, because by the end of the show, I was actually enjoying that part.

Opening dance:

All Stars and Top Ten, Christopher Scott, Nathan Lanier, everyone dressed in white, most people doing a little something in their own style including a tap duet for Emma and Gaby that felt slightly out of place.   Mainly what struck me is that enough of the child dancers are tall enough that they look like a company — but the shortest dancers and their pairs (Jenna and Jake, Robert and J.T., Emma and Gaby) really stick out.  Also, I can see that Marko is there, dancing with someone I eventually figure out is Sheaden.

Cat comes on to introduce the show, wearing what may be the world’s most outrageous pantsuit; the slightly belled out bottoms are grass, and the rest is a robin’s egg blue and covered with vines, branches, flowers and birds.  I mean, sure, that fabric would more commonly be used for drapery, but it’s still pretty fabulous.  And who else would have the stones to wear such a thing?  She looks like a crazy seventies Amazon, in the best way possible. (Paula goes for memorable as well in pink with white ruffles and a black bow; Maddie Zeigler looks very age appropriate and pretty in a baby blue dress with a sweetheart neckline and appliqued flowers, while Jason sports a letterman jacket and a man-bun and Nigel looks rather dour in a dark suit. )  Later Cat explains that she’s starting the season off with a extra wacky sartorial statement, a bit like a teacher being severely strict on the first few days of school; after this, she has the fashion authority, and nothing she does will seem odd.

The best hostess on television does not mention Nigel’s bandaged right hand, however, nor give a reason for Joshua Allen’s absence.  We only know that beloved contemporary dancer Marko will be replacing the season four champion for as long as air-time challenged Sheaden can last.  I hope you’re okay out there, Joshua!  We do get a little odd format shift; before they dance, each kid shows up on stage for a mini interview with Cat (director chairs and all), which even Cat can’t stop from being awkward.  Also, it makes me question what’s actually happening in front of the live audience.  Surely there’s not enough time for the kids change costumes during the rehearsal packages?  And if not, when is all of this happening?  I know the group numbers are recorded earlier, but this takes the feeling of a live show away even more, which I don’t like. In addition to dancing with their All Star partner (this week in their own style), each kid does a solo after a previously recorded 30 second interview/free for all with their All Star.

Kida and Fik-shun

These two are super well matched, dancing to a Chris Scott routine in highly patterned, brightly colored suits to “Winning” by Fingazz. Popping, locking, isolations, krump, animation – it’s good stuff, crisp and sharp, as the duo use their ties, jackets and suspenders as props to dance off. Their unison impresses everyone, and true to Chris’s intent, it’s an entertaining vehicle for these guys to show off their mad skillz.  As Nigel points out, the only way in which they’re not perfectly matched is that Kida is less expressive than Fik-shun.  To be fair, though, who IS as expressive as Fik-shun?  Few people can smile like that, with a grin so genuine and so enormous that it takes over their entire face. Upon several rewatches, my verdict is that Kida is actually pretty expressive, but his “facials” just aren’t as big as his mentor’s.

When a patriotically dressed Kida does his solo to “Ants” by ediT, he combines loose, floaty movements with incredibly crisp robotic ones.  It’s very, very good, though he still doesn’t move around the stage.  Like his facial expressions, it’s something to work on that can only improve his already impressive dance repertoire.  By the way, it seems that Kida has turned 14 since the try outs, which means he’s got to be the oldest of the contestants.  He manages to get Fik-shun to name Kathryn as his All Star crush (or at least acknowledge her loveliness).  Also?  I know it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I love that Kida starts his dance with the sign of the cross.  Super cute.

Tate and Kathryn

Tyce DiOrio has a piece for the ladies about a butterfly (Tate) and a little girl (Kathryn).  This seems like a fun idea until we learn that Tate’s just hatching and Kathryn touches her wings, deforming them so she can never fly.  (Or, I don’t know, maybe Tyce doesn’t understand butterflies, because Tate does fly a little in the middle of Kathryn crippling her.)  Obviously this calls for a lot of anguish and weird angles from Tate, which she performs beautifully; in the side by side running grand jete, she’s actually more impressive than Kathryn.  I don’t really understand Tyce’s idea of dressing both girls in gray, or what Kathryn’s emotions are supposed to be (would she be mischievous?  Mean?  Sorry for what she’s done?) because we get a lot of gentle prettiness, which doesn’t seem appropriate.  I liked it (and I love the song, Dawn Richards’ “Goldenheart,” which as noted by Cat incorporates chunks of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”), but I wanted more specific direction from the choreography, because after Tate left the chiffon chrysalis, I couldn’t follow the action.

Tate’s solo work (to Factor Eight’s “The Beginning”) is stunning; her extensions and her flexibility is insane.  This girl is at a level we rarely see on the show; it’s hard to imagine she’s not going to be a huge star some day.

Jake and Jenna

Oh boy.  Okay, this is where the kid/adult pairings start to feel seriously uncomfortable.  First there’s choreographer Jean-Marc wanting Jake to dominate Jenna during the dance, which is frankly weird even when you’re talking about adults.  And then we have the fact that little Jake’s eye level puts him right in Jenna’s cleavage, something that’s extra clear in her practice outfit with its low and open neckline. Jake has scads of charisma, and he’s a terrific dancer, but I find watching them dance together uncomfortable.  Maybe that’s as much my problem as the show’s, but there it is.  I don’t even want to talk about it.

Other relevant info: they danced a to Fly Project’s  “Toca Toca (Radio Edit)”.  Jake soloed to Tito Nieves’ “I Like It Like That,” wearing an incredibly ballroom outfit (sheer top with plunging neckline and embroidered flowers) and he’s just Jake; huge smile, great hip action, fast feet.  I’m curious to see what the general reaction to this is.

Sheaden and Marko

I’m still so puzzled.  What happened to Joshua?  Why is his replacement Marko, and not another hip hop dancer?  I mean, not that Marko isn’t fabulous at hip hop, and not that Joshua didn’t master many styles on his route to the champsionship, but still. It’s weird. Pharside and Phoenix don’t mention it when they describe their routine, in which Marko’s a sleeper and Sheaden’s the bogeyman under his bed.  How cool is that?  It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that P &P are the only choreographers all night to come up with a clear story that’s also completely kid-appropriate.  When they dance to Statik Link’s “Why I’m Here,” Sheaden looks adorable as a sort of undead Victorian waif hiding under an actual bed, and he and Marko are a terrific pair; they have a nice sync to them, and both get really down in the pocket, as Paula would say.  Not to mention that the little guy gives us scads of character.

When it’s time to do his solo, Sheaden (who apparently was featured in tWitch and Allison’s Dance Off on the Ellen Degeneres Show, did anyone see that?) is super acrobatic and makes great use of the entire stage. That finally tumbling run into a cocky little crouched pose? It’s great; he’s the total package, expressive and dextrous and overall impressive.  And he’s so in tune with the music (Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now,” the Busta Rhymes section); watching him really rewards repeat viewing.  I’m curious to see if he’ll be sunk by his lack of airtime, or if a memorable performance can save him next week.

Jordan and Sasha

Next comes another underseen contestant, Jordan, who lets us all know in her interview with Cat that Kida is the king of loud, smelly farts.  Awesome.  I guess that’s better than trying to figure out if he has a girlfriend.  Anyway, the two ladies get jazz specialist Brian Friedman, who wants them to dance about support systems.  Sasha needs help, and her self-styled mini-me, Jordan, will hold her up.  It’s as complete and intertwined as Tate and Kathryn’s piece, but less pose-y, which I like even better.  Andra Day’s ‘The Light That Never Fails” is a stunner of a song, and I love the layered costumes, even down to the rather inexplicable twigs in their hair.  Jordan tells us that she has a strong emotional connection to the piece because her mother often leans on her.  When the two have danced, Jason says that this kind of beautiful compassion and giving is what America needs to see at this painful moment, and Nigel wonders where Jordan came from, because she’s so much better than he remember from her audition.

Her eloquent solo is set to “Freedom” by Anthony Hamilton and Elayna Boynton, and it’s also lovely and emotional.  Big props to this girl.

In the middle of the show, the All Stars dance together to X-Ambassadors “Unsteady,” wearing maroon and gold in a classical, Greco-Roman-looking style.  It makes me a little sad, missing this, because it’s quite good.

Emma and Gaby

Obviously the two tappers have drawn Anthony Morigerato, who gives them a piece with staging, as is his wont.  This time, there’s a platform with two ramps on either side, which the dancers stomp up and slide down.  It’s very cute and peppy, set to Meghan Trainor’s “Watch Me Do,” and Gaby manages to dance about half the routine with one hand behind her back because her mic pack fell out and started whacking her.  Talk about a ‘make it work’ moment.  The show went on, so well done Gaby!

Emma solos to Lion Babe’s “Impossible,” typically bright and fast and bubbly, and uses her thirty seconds to ask Gaby if she cheated to win the show.  How would you even do that?  Are there legions of tapper hacktavists?  Or is Emma assuming that Nigel would disregard fan votes?  I’m sure she’s not that paranoid or thinking the comment through that clearly, but what a goofy question.

Ruby and Paul

Jean-Marc has what Ruby calls a robotic cha-cha for this pair.  Because of their lack of height disparity, these two feel less weird than the other two ballroom pairs to me, although that’s weird in its own way.  Ruby looks grown up enough to pass – as long, that is, as the show isn’t highlighting her constant growling laughter, which puts her solidly back into the “very very young” camp.  She’s an absolutely spectacular dancer, though, and as Nigel points out it’s no wonder at all that she’s the junior ballroom champ.  She and Paul go through a myriad of tricks and twists and turns dancing to “How Deep is Your Love” by Calvin Harris and Disciples (most notably that standing split move where he grabs her foot and flips her from behind him, up over his head, to in front of him), and she never misses a beat.

Ruby dances her solo to E.S. Posthumus’s “Unstoppable,” which has been featured on the show many times, and here, I don’t know.  I loved her costume but I felt like the orange skirt overwhelmed her a few times; it was supposed to be an accent, and I think she got wrapped up in it instead.  She’s still completely terrific, though, and I’m sure it helps that the solo was first. All my kids saw was the cool outfit.

Tahani and Comfort

I just love Tahani; she’s got this great mixture of cute and sassy and fierce that compliments Comfort very, very well.  The two have a Luther Brown routine to “Cut It” by OT Genasis featuring Young Dolph, and they just stomp it out, fun and fearless.  As Jason points out, it’s the kind of routine you just want to dance along to, mostly unison bits down low in the pocket, with lots of humor and character.  Tahani steps up the gymnastics as well, and then has a long and cute banter session with the judges; Jason gets up and dances, Nigel brings up the vomiting, and Tahani jokes that the “old man” move was inspired by Nigel.  It’s quite a success. She’s definitely the Peeta of this group of tributes (minus the star crossed lover angle).

Her solo, to Chris Brown’s “Anyway,” gives us more of the same; tumbling, thumping, stomping, and just fun.  You watch Tahani and you feel good.  She’s got a complete mastery of the form, and oozes charisma.

Daniela and Jonathan

Our last ballroom pair ends up with a salsa routine (what else?) choreographed by Jonathan’s wife, Oksana Plantero.  We backtrack a little to the uncomfortable side of the dial: Daniela is just so tiny that there’s no way to fool yourself into thinking you aren’t watching an adult man dance with a barely pubescent girl.  To highlight Jonathan’s El Salvadorean (“what is that?” the young girl wonders) and Daniela’s Cuban heritage, Oksana chose Proyecto Uno’s “Latinos”; Jonathan promises us Oksana’s not pulling any punches, but given Daniela a pro-level salsa routine.  Jonathan flips the tiny girl, and she shimmies and sashays and flicks her feet like she’s been born to do that and nothing else. Jonathan’s wearing a black sleeveless tunic with military inspired detailing in the same acid green as Daniela’s flowered dress, and they’re a flying blur together.  It’s not as cringe-worthy as Jenna and Jake’s pairing, but not as impressively trick-filled as Ruby and Paul’s either.

When she solos, she’s shaking her brilliant, nearly neon orange fringe dress (which we saw before, yes?) to Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.”  Like Sheaden, she’s fantastic but underseen, and which leaves me very curious about whether she gets through next week’s cut.  No one made any mistakes this week as far as I can see, so it may just come down to which routines (and contestants) were most memorable.

J.T. and Robert

I don’t think I’ve made much of an attempt to hide my problems with J.T. and his presence on the show. He’s so little, and he presents not only as exceptionally small but exceptionally young, more like a six or seven year old than a ten year old.  Kids mature at their own rates, so that’s fine in and of itself — but I truly worry about someone that little being on a show that can be this hard if he’s not ready for the choreography, the judgement, the manipulation or the fame.  He seems much more vulnerable than the other contestants, somehow (though the truth is that even adults on these shows are pretty damn vulnerable).  Not that the judges have been remotely judgey so far, but can that really last all season?  Heck, Robert’s been pretty judgey himself.

The little fellow’s solo to Olly Murs delightful “Dance With Me Tonight,” which we see first, only confirms my view.  He’s adorable, but he shouldn’t be here.  Obviously he gets amazing height on his leaps, but he flails a lot too, his technique wildly inconsistent.

And then there’s the piece, conceived by Mandy Moore to Jordan Smith’s “Stand in the Light.”  (He was a contestant on The Voice, right? A finalist?)  The two dance in a stage filled with star-light, wearing loose navy pants and hombred shirts with navy hems that shift from pale blue centers to white shoulders and collars, sort of like dance pajamas.  And what they do is magical, somehow.  Smart choreography from Mandy, smart song choice, that produces so evocative that the judges keep coming up with new explanations.  It’s about single fathers, it’s about parents  hopes and dreams for their children. That’s the brilliance of Mandy Moore’s choreography, that it speaks to us in such an open ended way. I felt as if J.T. embodied Robert’s pure self, a truth that he’s trying to let shine (“this is who I am inside!”) – in the face, really, of whatever societal pressure to hide that keeps him down. Anyway, I still feel haunted by it. And I’m definitely downloading the soaring, transcendent song.

Nigel tells us he feels moved to apologize to J.T. for thinking that Robert should have picked Sage instead (what, was Josiah chopped liver?), and then to FOX execs Amy Cohen and Cory Henson, who are apparently the people we have to thank for pressing the idea of a Next Generation show on an allegedly unwilling Nigel.  Thanks a bunch, guys.  Really splendid thinking.  (And, again, the kids were good.   You want to make a show like this, with these kids, I’m all for it.  Just give me my old show back in addition and keep the All Stars off the dance floor.)

Finally, the Top Ten dance an unattributed hip hop piece to MIMS “Move (If You Wanna)” which is all swagger, bounding around the stage in jean overalls with white shirts and furry accent pieces.  Of course the hip hop dancers rock it (finally Kida gets a chance to move it, and he does it very very well), but Ruby, Jordan and Emma are real stand outs as well.  The dance takes us into the credits.  The first studio show of the Next Gen is on the books.  What did you think?


*** Updated to say congrats to Travis Wall and Anthony Morigerato for their choreography nods from last season.


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