So You Think You Can Dance, The Next Generation: 9 to 8

E: I wondered how this episode would go — would we have a trio to account for the odd number of contestants left — but I didn’t imagine we would return to the odd old format of the contestants dancing with their All Stars.  Oh, and the awkward pre-recorded interviews with Cat, which were less awkward than the first time, but still, boo. Turn it around next week, folks!

I will admit, though, that I’m growing quite fond of the dancers, and that a lot of the dancing has been pretty darn good.

First up, a routine for the 18 remaining folks, a zoot suit riot set to Meghan Trainer’s “Me Too” (written by Jason Derulo, who knew?).  It’s a flurry of super fun jazz that I guessed was a Nick and R.J. piece but was actually choreographed by Brian Friedman.  Okay.  Cool.  Good on you, Brian.  I won’t say it topped last week’s Bollywood, but I enjoyed it a lot.

In a feathery dress that’s either white or a very pale pink, Cat re-introduces the format from the Top Ten show, starting with a samba for Jake and Jenna.  Well, I guess it’s good to get the most uncomfortable bit over right away.  They dance to the ballroom classic “Hip Hip Chin Chin” by Club De Balugas, choreographed Dmitri Chaplin and his fiance Jenya Shatilova.  (Hmm. Does this mean the contestants will dance in their own styles every other week?)  They dress Jake all in black and Jenna in tiered fringe flames, so she’s very clearly the star of the show.  She looks so amazing, in fact, that Jason (who appears to be auditioning for Grease?  Talk about commitment to a look!) actually asks after her dating status.

This week’s solos are preceded by fake “campaign speeches” to tie in with the presidential election, what with it being such a beautiful example of the democratic process and all. Free civics lessons for everyone!  For my money, the best part of all this is when Cat snarks that that contestants will give us speeches “in their own words.”  Oh my! No plagiarism here!  Tahani starts us off with an articulate piece of rhetoric and a rocking, stomping routine to Queen Bey’s “Run the World (Girls).”

Tate and Kathryn are up next with a Brian Friedman contemporary about distance and time, where Tate is longing for Kathryn but can’t have her except through a dream connection.  Yep, more dancing in their own styles.  It’s not that it’s bad, exactly, but it’s definitely not the challenge they give adult dancers.  I’m more intrigued by the concept than the piece, which involved more pretty gray-toned dresses and lots of anguished reaching; I’m just not sure exactly what’s going on. Is this a dream? Is Kathryn Tate’s mother? Her friend?  Her crush? An abstract ideal?  Without question the best thing about this season is that the choreographers can’t rely on the old crutch of romantic relationships for every single routine.  I mean, I miss having some, but it’s forced the staff to remember that human beings relate to each other in different ways, which can only be a good thing.  The piece is set to Oleta Adams’ “Get Here” (which, wow, totally took me back) and includes lengths of fabric separating the dancers in diagonal lines.  Nigel, his right hand free of its mysterious bandage, commends Brian for his range, and Jason notes that if he didn’t already know who Tate was, he wouldn’t have known he wasn’t watching two professionals.

Next up, Sheaden‘s solo to Major Lazer’s “Lean On.”  He’s minty and adorable in a green sweater over a plaid shirt, white skinny jeans, and blue sneakers.

Dave Scott’s planned a routine where Kida is a puppet (or more accurately a marionette – notice he starts the routine on actual strings) and Fik-shun is his master.  It’s fun, what Dave calls a Broadway hip hop Pinocchio set to Desiigner’s “Panda.” Kida’s make up is creepy and astounding; I spent about half the routine thinking he was wearing an actual mask.  Well done, staff!  Nige calls them out for special praise.  Both dancers wear red pants, white shirts, suspenders and black shoes, Kida in a black vest with tiny white polka dots and Fik-shun with a jacket of the same material.  It’s a neat look, although they’ve let out Fik-shun’s braids so he has a kind of low clown wig around his ears – what Nigel calls Princess Leia buns.  I’m sorry I’m focusing on the trimmings; I loved the movement, but I found the story line a little confusing as control moved back and forth between the master and marionette without any clear resolution or cause.

Giggly Ruby‘s platform is 24/7 dance.  Her solo, to Travis Tritt’s “Girl Gone Wild,” exemplifies what’s weird and cool about Ruby.  She’s amazing, first of all, but she’s (how shall I say this) mature enough looking that you feel like you’re looking at an adult, and then you remember she’s 13, giving the audience come hither looks and performing pretty sexualized moves in a bikini top.  And I know, I know, that’s what ballroom is, but it’s still – I don’t know.  Uncomfortable.

I absolutely adore the group routine or the child contestants, choreographed by Jackie Royal and set to Tailor’s “Wolf.”  They’re ragged, dressed in brown, hidden in fog, and it’s marvelous. I love the four legged leaping and the running in place.  There’s this wonderfully mythic, fairy tale feeling to it. Very very cool.

Next to solo is J.T., who needs a box brought in by a minion to reach the podium, ha ha.  I’m still waiting for his self-proclaimed sarcastic humor to kick in, and I’m a little sick of the way the show pushes him, and his dance to X Ambassador’s “Unsteady” is rife with gymnastics, stretching and reaching.  Someone needs to get him and Tate new choreography, stat.

Jordan and Sasha are up with a Ray Leeper jazz piece in which they’re 1920’s saxophone players, or maybe actually saxophones, or something to do with music: Jordan doesn’t know.  She does know Ray sweats a ton, though.  I liked the piece a lot because it was filled with fun and good humor, but I was saddened by the lack of unison between the dancers.  And I was also completely confused: if this is based on the 1920s, then why is the music modern and the costuming (loud patterns, neon pink) so clearly from 1980s?  Right down to the sequined pink Chuck Taylors.  Oh well.  Jordan cracks everyone up with her deadpan confusion.

Tate explains she wants to be the first Canadian citizen to become president of the U.S., which she acknowledges isn’t legal. But hey, this year why should that stop anyone?  Her solo, to the Ship Shape’s “Lorikeet” is finally of a less flowy style, which I appreciate.  She’s wearing graphic black and white coloring blocking (graphic as in artistic, not the inappropriate kind) and her angles are sharp, her extensions insane, and her flexibility enough to make a yogi weep with envy.

In his interview with Cat, Sheaden reminds us that this was Marko’s first time ever in the bottom 2.  I hadn’t thought about that, but it’s true, he made it to the finals without ever slipping into the bottom.  They don’t ever want to end up there again.  (Ah, poor kiddo. I don’t know who else will end up in the bottom, but I’d be shocked if – through no fault of your own – you made it out.)  This week’s dance is yet again in Sheaden’s style, with Luther Brown, about “two fly brothers going off.”  Maddie informs us that “this week its very important for him to show us how amazing he is.”  Oh, the brilliance of her insights,  it’s impossible to contain.  The dance is all swag, set to Yo Gotti’s “Down in the DM;” it’s very bouncy but at the same time very chill, and I’m pretty sure much harder to do than it looked.  The judges loved it, leaping to their feet. Jason even asks for a demonstration (and decries how Sheaden has been in the bottom for two weeks despite his coolness, which, what sort of counting system is that?  we’ve only had one bottom two).  I’m totally captivated by Marko’s baseball cap with kitty ears.

President Emma and Vice President Gaby would institute Tapping Tuesdays.  She dances to Tori Kelly’s “Expensive,” and wears pink leggings with a crystal belt and a matching pink bikini top.

Emmy nominee Travis Wall has a piece for the All Stars, in which Kathryn kneels in despair in a beige dress until the clowns show up to Sarah Vaughn and the Count Basie Orchestra’s version of “Send in the Clowns.”  The clowns are wearing Victorian looking underwear and creepy, understated clown make up, white pancake make up with black accents, and they move like old fashioned dolls, and they’re just really alarming.  They toss Kathryn around, eventually pulling off her dress and giving her some thick white make up which she smears on her face. It reminds me a bit of Liv Tyler joining the silent cult that targeted and stalked her on The Leftovers. Everyone laughs at the camera, unhinged. Shivery.  Big time shivery.

Up next are Ruby and Paul with, huzzah, Miriam and Leonardo!  Outstanding.  Their idea (which again, is inventive and original) is about an older brother teaching his little sister the traditions of the Argentine Tango.  The stage is backed by a sunset, leading both Cat and Nigel to compare it to Tuscany.  Somehow I see Cuba (or hey, Argentina!) in Ruby’s fitted floral dress with its sweetheart neckline and Paul’s exquisitely simple white button down with gray slacks.  And the routine – wow.  They dance to Electric Dub Tango’s “Malevo” and you can see the inspiration, Paul clapping to count for Ruby, the ribbon in her hair giving her a sense of innocence and fresh youthfulness.  And the footwork!  The lifts!  Without question this was my favorite routine of the night.  The judges loved it to, giving an extended standing ovation.  (Points to Ruby for her really funny comment about how she kept kicking Paul in the shins, but that really wasn’t a problem for her.  Totally cracked me up.)

Jordan‘s all about root beer and footie pajamas.  She dances to Demi Lovato’s “Confident” in black shorts and an orange top, and her pirouettes are amazing.

Tahani and Comfort do Jamaican Dance Hall where Tahani’s the annoying younger sister who won’t stop bugging big sis who’s trying to get her groove on.  Sean Paul’s “Get Busy” set the tone for Laure Courtellemont’s piece, the first of its kind on the show. I saw almost nothing of that in the actual routine, and which is sort of a shame, even though the routine itself was pretty fun.  My only complaint is that I thought the mild twerking and the Jamaican flag butt flaps were maybe slightly less kid appropriate than ideal, but maybe the real issue is the lyrics of the song, about the sexy ladies shaking their things in an attempt to get next to the guys in the club?  Oh well.  Carribean son Jason was all about the new style and it’s execution, but he had an uncomfortable debate with Nigel over whether the style was African influenced or not.

Jake has a platform of pizza and dancing.  Great.  But when he dances, he finished with this kind of weird mussing up his hair thing, which would be sexy on someone who wasn’t ten.  So what was the point?  I don’t know what to do with this stuff and I wish they’d keep it out of the show.   (Er, in other news he wore a tux with one of those sewn on loosened ties, and he danced to Seal’s version of “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World.”)

Up second to last are J.T and Robert.  Even better for them, they got Travis Wall, which made J.T. fanboy out (but only on the inside).  The idea is that J.T. is Robert’s inner child (hey, that’s how I felt about the first week!); a depressed, hopeless Robert sees his old self in the mirror and gets a pep talk of sorts. Or an intervention.  Robert wears dress pants, a vest, button down and tie, and looks properly wrecked but of course also devastatingly handsome; little J.T. has on shorts, suspenders and a button down.  They dance to Oscar winning film composer Alexandre Desplat’s “The Mirror” and Travis has given them a large ornate mirror frame to interact with.  The two dance on either side of it, and then Robert pulls J.T. through, sending him soaring in a move that left Nigel gasping.  I particularly loved the moment when J.T. grabbed Robert by the chin, fierce and insistent.  Look at me! See me! Pay attention! At the end unseen stagehands place the glass back into the frame, and J.T. is gone, replaced by Robert’s reflection.

With the last speech and solo, Kida proposes replacing all other foods with orange juice and pizza.  Sounds like a plan!  He dances to Trip Lee’s “Lazarus,” and it’s good as always.

The final routine of the night — the so-called pimp spot – has been reserved for Emma and Gaby.  I guess Anthony Morigerato is not going to be available for this all season, so the show’s called in Chloe Arnold (of the crews from a few seasons ago).  NICE!  Her debut choreography will force Emma to be fierce instead of cute, which is a real challenge; she can’t quite manage not to smile through the whole thing.  I like “Salute,” the song by Little Mix (very “Run the World”) and I like their appropriately hard edged costumes.  It’s fun.  I love the way they’re always making reassuring eye contact with each other (even though the spend most of the time dancing side by side) and I like the little bits of Irish step dancing, step and even hip hop I can see in the piece.

And then it’s time to call the other contestants and All Stars onto the stage.  The bottom two are Sheaden (no surprise there, poor kid) and — Ruby?  Really?  Is that possibly true?  I’m stunned.  I thought they might get rid of another girl, depending on who it was, but there’s no way they’re letting go of Ruby now, especially after losing their other female ballroom dancer last week.  So Sheaden is let go, as gently as Nigel can manage it. Marko and Cat encircle the little guy, keeping him on stage and facing the audience, and his goodbye package reveals more of his personality than we’ve seen before.  He’s an amazing magician and he’s so hard-working, his fellow contestants tell us, so kind, such a great friend, shy in life but not on the stage.  When we come back to the stage, we see him hugging a tearful J.T., and learn that he’s gone down the line of contestants embracing them in turn.  As the show ends, Maddie Zeigler stands with her fellow judges, openly weeping.

And there it is.  How are you feeling about the format changes?  The overall Next Gen reboot?  How memorable did you find the night’s routines?

*FYI, I’ll be on vacation next week, so I won’t be recapping next week’s episode. See you on the other side!

 

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