E: So far I think I’ve watched this episode 3 times all the way through, and many more through the full dances at the end. Drama, strategy, dance – this week had it all.
Oh, yes, and chemistry. Did I mention chemistry? Because holy cow.
The episode is broken into two parts. First, we have Sonya Tayeh’s jazz routine, and then we have the”fantasy suite” portion of the evening, if you don’t mind the Bachelor analogy; each All Star dances with their remaining team members to see which one they’re more compatible with. (Hmm. Prince and The Bachelor in the same sentence? Gotta find some fresh thoughts….)
There’s not much to relay about the jazz round: it’s mostly an excuse to cut the people that obviously aren’t partner material (clearly Paul wants a ballroom dancer so he nixes Ramita, while Allison’s going to pick a guy so she boots Abby, Gaby has used her extra slot to highlight Natalie, an amazing flamenco dancer, but can only take her so far). There are a few significant events, though; we get to see Comfort waffle between Frankie and Deja before cutting the former (who I swear was one of the top contenders during the Academy week for the Stage versus Street season) in a rain of tears. Taylor Sieve accidentally kicks fellow Team Robert-mate Jennifer Florentino in the head during practice, which results in a gushing split eyebrow that ends Jennifer’s time on the show. (Does she dance or does she go to the hospital? Robert seems incredibly peeved she would even think about taking care of her injury first.) And then there’s the moment when Sonya dresses Kevin Davis down for freaking out but mostly for not meeting her eyes when he explains he’s not flexible enough to perform her choreography. And yes, he does wander through it at first, but Jenna keeps him (kicking off contemporary dancer Riley instead) because when Kevin does get the choreo, he krump-infuses it and becomes mesmerizing.
No, the real meat of the episode is in the final section. Each All Star choreographs a routine and then dancers it once with each potential partner. Lets spend a minute talking about the dances we did see (sadly not most of them) and then talk about the strategy of not just picking a partner but picking a winning partner – and oh yes, casting a tv show. The editors picked 3 All Stars to give us full routines. Why those three? What a fascinating question.
Marko has an easy fit – Koine, a fellow contemporary dancer – and a less obvious one, ballroom dancer Sofia. He choreographs a cute little romantic piece, and it feels like he and Koine have been dancing together for years (to him, to Koine, and to the other All Stars who’re observing) and the experience leaves her pretty confident and excited. She talks again about her struggles with her Japanese heritage; Marko can relate to being a minority and finding a safe place in the dance studio. Sofia, all huge eyes and earnestness, is astonished to be there and enormously grateful for the experience – and she also dances out of her mind, the best anyone’s seen her, and she’s looking at Marko like he’s the miracle she’s wanted all her life and she can’t believe he’s real.
Winning contestants often have narratives. If Sofia’s is that she’s not sure she’s good enough, that’s one that she can live out on the show. Reclaiming her heritage isn’t necessarily one that the show can help Koine achieve, and that makes her a harder sell, I think. My guess is that we’re seeing these dances to explain why Marko is going to choose out of his style. I will say, it’s hard to imagine any partner of Marko’s not being a disappointment after his magical pairing with Melanie. I could be wrong, but I’m not sure I see either of these girls in the running for the ultimate prize.
Gaby has an even trickier choice to make; Lex, who’s garnered a large share of air time with his incredible hip hop fusion, and Evan, someone we’ve seen so little of I didn’t even realize he was a tap dancer. (Yes, we’ve seen him do ballroom with Kaylee, but he hasn’t gotten the lavish solo time that Lex received.) What we find out first is that Lex is good enough out of his style to do a tap routine (whoa!) and second, that there is a general worry that he lacks in performance quality and doesn’t emote. Gaby’s created a very fun flirty routine to “The Shape of You” which is just exciting and fun and frankly impresses the heck out of me as a tap routine because of the way it melds story and music and emotion. Now that I’m looking for it, man, I can’t escape how much more expressive Evan is and how much more chemistry he has with Gaby. (It was so much more enjoyable for us, Cyrus tells her after.) It’s clear that Lex is trying, but he’s not there’s yet. Can being on the show and working with Gaby get him there? That would certainly make a compelling narrative arc, one thatwon the show for Chehon, but its also held numerous dancers like Danny and BluPrint back. Is it worth the risk for his amazing solos, or does he need more time? If I had to guess, I’d see her going with Evan, especially given what she says to the other All Stars about feeling like Lex was relying on her too much. Otherwise expect the show to lean heavily on this growth narrative as Lex’s journey.
Last week, when they showed Jenna saying she didn’t know who she was going to choose, I just discounted it. It annoyed me, even. From the beginning she’s wanted Kiki,and when they talk we find out that he’s kind of a big deal in the competitive ballroom world. It’s obvious, right? When they start to dance together, they accidentally kiss in practice, so it seems like they both got pretty wrapped up in being together. They do a gorgeous, sexy paso (and Jenna sure does love her sexy dancing) that ends with Kiki rubbing Jenna’s face all over his, and he clearly feels that it’s been enough.
Alone among the All Stars, Jenna has created two different routines for her possible partners. This means that unlike Sofia, Lex and Kaylee, Kevin “Konkrete” Davis cannot pick up his All Star’s style well enough to make it a contest. (I’m so curious whether they each got a half an hour of prep time, or if they both got an hour of individual attention?) So she’s used the same music (Bishop Briggs’ “River,” which, wow) but given us a krump-contemporary fusion, a battle for domination and control that knocks me and the watching All Stars flat in its raw power and explosive chemistry. As Allison points out, both routines are fantastic; I had no idea she had such potential as a choreographer. Through this whole process Jenna’s been articulate and in command of herself, but now it’s clear she’s genuinely thrown. With Kiki she has all the comforts of a shared style, but she’s never experienced anything like dancing with Kevin. We all got goosebumps, Cyrus tells her, and you can see this isn’t what she wanted to hear; it presents a choice where there might not have been one. And she tells the camera that she’s struggling to discern what the smart choice is. Certainly it would be easier to work with a trained dancer, and more comfortable to share a dance language – but she’s got to know that helping to teach Kevin? It’s a bigger gamble, but it has the chance of a bigger reward. Kevin could win both because he’s great and because he’s a super appealing underdog, and unless she’s changed greatly from her days as a contestant, Jenna really cares about winning. (Not only that, but who knows? Transforming Kevin into a winner on SYT might finally propel Jenna to pro status on Dancing With the Stars.) Could Kiki be a contender? He has a certain laconic charm, but I don’t know. He might be as likely to irritate audience as to enthrall them.
Obviously this is going to be highlighted enormously next week when the partners are chosen and the pairs dance live for the first time.
That’s said, let’s talk about balance. The most obvious balance here is gender. As much as the All Stars are looking to pick their ideal partner, they also have to balance the needs of the group. Allison, Gaby, Jasmine and Jenna are picking from two male contenders, so we know there will be at least 4 male contestants on the show; Marko and Paul have 2 girls left on their teams, so we know there’ll be at least 2 female dancers in the top ten. The other four pairings could go either way. Are they going for gender parity as usual? Now, the show has veered more lately from the old male/female partnerships, and we have seen uneven casts in the past (for Robert, who made it a top 11 in his season) and Megz as the sixth girl on Team Street. But looking at those numbers, you have to imagine it’s more likely that Robert, Fik-shun and Cyrus (who all have one girl and one guy left on their teams) would pick female partners. It’s absolutely possible that Comfort could pick Deja over Mark, but the massive disparity in screen time between those contestants would suggest that like the rest of the female All Stars, she’ll go with a male partner. I feel pretty convinced that Robert will pick Taylor over Jonathan (screen time being a huge factor as well). Kyle Bennet and Dassy Lee are both beloved of the editors, which gives us less evidence for where Fik-shun will go. I’m even less sure about Cyrus; he can stay within his style with Havoc but cross gender barriers. He has to be more comfortable dancing with crewmates from mostly male Dragon House rather than a female partner. Will he choose Havoc, however, if Comfort doesn’t go with Deja? Will the producers let the show air with 4 or even fewer girls vying for the title of America’s favorite dancer?
And that concern brings us to race and ethnicity. To know that the show values diversity you need look no further than the All Stars themselves: four African Americans, an Asian, a Hispanic – and there’s a case to be made for Paul as an Armenian bringing his own diverse flavor. So will it matter to the producers if Gaby picks Evan or Lex, or Marko picks Sofia over Koine? Can Jasmine choose Howard over Robert, or Cyrus going with Kaylee over Havoc? Conversely, will they put both Koine and Dassy in the top ten? There’s no way that someone on the staff of this show isn’t thinking about this, even though they don’t let us see the calculations. And finally, we have dance style: Paul’s partner will be a ballroom dancer, and either Jenna’s or Marko’s could be. Gaby could pick a tapper. Cyrus could pick a contemporary “fusion” dancer (Gaby’s other choice)and Jasmine a street one. Again, the show wants to offer us a diverse group of contestants.
So here’s my guess at the balance the show will achieve:
Allison: Logan (from the little we saw, their weirdness seem to blend well; air time might be even between the young Mr. Hernandez and Zachary Downer.)
Comfort: Mark (air time all day, assuming they don’t need Deja to make up for missing women)
Cyrus: Kaylee (even though she’s not as good in his style as Havoc, she’s way more versatile; she has gender balance for her and racial against)
Fik-shun: Dassy (she matches him in cuteness and her immigration story is hard to beat)
Gaby: Evan (he’s got chemistry and stylistic diversity but loses on air time and racial diversity)
Jasmine: Robert (just based on air time since we’ve seen so little of tall Howard Johnson)
Jenna: Kevin (chemistry, narrative – this is a squeaker, though)
Marko: Sofia (again, not super confident)
Paul: Sydney (yeah, she’s a little taller than him, especially nexy to tiny Kristina, but I feel like he’s been most enthusiastic about her from the start; whoever he chooses won’t affect the cast’s balance)
Robert: Taylor (air time, gender balance, chemistry)
It’s just a bunch of guesses, but they feel pretty reasonable to me.