So You Think You Can Dance: Top 9, Season 14

E: There was some seriously fantastic dance going on here tonight.  SERIOUSLY fantastic.  Each week this show keeps getting better!  I’m so grateful to have it back, I can’t even say.  Like last week, I’m going at this out of chronological order, but I think it’s a bit neater that way.

As perhaps a nod to last week’s disco-glam, Cat wears an 80s-inspired long sleeved black mini-dress with sharp shoulders which is laced up on each side through wide grommets.  She reminds us we’re going to lose one more dancer.  Boo.  But first, some great dancing.  So yay!

Group Routines:

Group opening number: “Ya Ya,” Jonte,/ Luther Brown

Not to sound too much like Mary Murphy, but Luther Brown is killing it this season!  I loved the stomping, joyous vibrancy to this thrashing piece which clearly owes a lot to African jazz.  I was pleased to see Jasmine straight off; I hadn’t realized they were going to keep the ten All Stars together through the whole process.  I’m glad they did. My kids loved the little hip hop break outs, but I confess I’m annoyed; it’s excellent to see Fik-shun and Cyrus getting their groove on, but if you’re going to bring Mark’s b-boying and Lex’s I don’t even know what, why no solo for any of the girls?  Comfort is a freaking hip hop dancer (not to mention an All Star).  Do you really not think she has something to offer here?  And Lex is no more fusion than Kaylee is. So more sunshine for the ladies next time, okay?

And as much as I loved this entire routine, my favorite part was easily the costumes.  Oh my Lord those costumes!  The fabrics, the feathers, the prints, the turbans and headwraps!  To me it seemed like a marvelous, brilliant fusion of Polynesian, South East Asian, African and Japanese fabrics and styles.  There may have been even more cultural hat tips than that; I would love to see an interview with the costume department about this week.

All Star Routine:  Nina Simone, “Strange Fruit”/Travis Wall

“I’m not really enjoying this song,” my eight year old complained after initially being entranced by the All Stars lying beneath a tree, spread out along the shadows of the branches.  I didn’t give her the full on explanation her older sister got about lynchings and how this ties into the debate about Confederate Monuments and the actions of neo-Nazis, but I did explain that the song is about racism and both it and the dance are meant to be unsettling.  And of course, she wondered about the clothing change at the end which literally updated slavery era racism to the modern day, an was an easier question to answer since it was just about camera techniques.   (Is it persnickety that “Strange Fruit” is more of a Jim Crowe era song?  I wonder if the white clothes are quite right. Probably, as that might make a very effective piece more obscure.) We begin with the convulsing, death rattle of lynched bodies dangling from a rope; we end with Allison and Cyrus grasping each other’s hands. Horror, fear, worry, hope, bridges.

Jasmine was a huge standout in this routine – her long body is flung forward just as Simone sings “black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze,” vulnerable white nightgown billowing out over bare brown legs.  My eyes were drawn to her again and again.  And there was no escaping Marko with that enormous leap into a roll over the entire company of dancers.  Gorgeous work by the lighting department, yet again, making shadows with that spectacular tree.

Top 9 number: Crown Royale Reserve, “Hey, Pachuco!” /Chris Baldock

The suits were fun (gray with acid green patches on the boys and neon orange for the girls) and I loved the slicked back vibe and the guys wearing white gloves, but you really couldn’t think of anything for Taylor to do during the pair-dancing besides twirl awkwardly with a table?  Lame, Chris Baldock.  Otherwise there was pretty fantastic flat out dancing here.  For me the stand out was actually Sydney.  Huge props for her and the other girls (Taylor and Kaylee) who did handless cartwheels in heels.   And I loved the end, with everyone dancing together.  No heavy meaning here, just dancing fun.

Pair routines and solos:

Logan and Allison: Louie Prima, “5 Months, 2 Weeks, 2 Days”/Emma Slater and Sasha Farber jive

I adore Louie Prima, and I love anything WW2 themed, so I guess I expected to like this more than I did.  Again, I think the packaging made me expect something different, which was former soldier Logan meeting and wooing his dream girl instead of an inept Logan very hamhandedly dating his dream girl.  He’s late and she’s annoyed, he tries to kiss her against her will, he literally drops her  …  not very impressive!  And also not as charming or cheeky as I thought we’d get.  Not that there weren’t some cute moments.  And somehow Logan totally embodied that gangly 50s comic, all long limbs and slicked back hair that emphasizes his big ears – he struck me as a young Don Knotts or Normal Rockwell hero, which I quite enjoyed.  The way he laid his head on Allison’s back, or fell back into a roll after a cheeky kiss?  Those were the character bits that spoke to me.  As far as Emma and Sasha’s choreography, I can only say that if I had watched the piece without the intro I’d have assumed it was Broadway and not ballroom.  That’s not a complaint, just a statement of fact.

Solo: Perfume Genius, “Otherside”

He’s a shirtless gymnastic wonder!  It’s Logan, everybody!

Koine and Marko: Grace featuring G-Eazy, “You Don’t Own Me”/Dave Scott

This was so freaking good I can’t even stand it – absolutely one of my top routines of the night.  Who knew that Koine could hit so hard?  I vaguely remember that she going a few seconds of air in the hip hop round, but I was unprepared for what we saw in Dave’s “pageant queen rejects the constricting contestant lifestyle” piece in which gentle Marko tenderly helps a tearful and angry Koine pry herself away from her mirror and tiara.  The song lyrics may be about a girl who can’t be bought because she has her own money, but the dance (powerfully expressive of the music) beats us with samples from the classic 50s song.  “Don’t tell me what to do, and don’t tell me what to say, and please when I go out with you, don’t put me on display!” Koine is no one’s object.  She’ll cut you with glittery, glittery tears running down her face if you try and tell her what to do.  Marko’s amazing (that standing flip/somersault thing?  Sweet!) and they’re both so deep in the pocket it’s a thing of beauty.  The tutting!  The breakout!  The way they looked at each other every few beats, so connected and so strong!  I love seeing Koine wag her finger at her own reflection, and even Marko kicking the chair back to the vanity from across the stage was impressive. I couldn’t love it more, and the judges are right there with me.

Solo: Sabrina Claudio, “Confidently Lost”

In her gorgeous, wine colored leotard, Koine does come across as super confident, and I enjoyed that, partly because it came from such a different place than her rageful beauty queen.

Dassy and Fik-shun: Big Gigantic, “Bring the Funk Back”/Ray Leeper jazz

I’m grooving with the music and the 70s clothes (especially Dassy’s boots!) but Ray Leeper, you annoy me. How many times have you promised us a sexy routine only to have your pair dance side by side, never looking at each other? There were like three points where they were able to make eye contact in that entire routine!  Ignoring your partner is not sexy, even if you do crawl all over them for 5 other seconds.  I wish Ray would take a look at what Dave Scott did for Koine and Marko.  There was lots of unison, side-by-side dancing, but always pulled together with eye contact to reinforce their connection.  Interaction is key, dude!

This routine revealed something surprising to me: Fik-shun doesn’t really do sexy.  Fik-shun is cute.  Dassy does sexy – cute flirty like last week, and down and dirty sex like the little flashes this week.  Fik-shun can flirt, but at the last minute he shies away.  Perhaps he doesn’t take himself that seriously?  The ridiculous series of faces he made at the ending pose suggest he doesn’t. Have we really never seen him have to be sexy on the show?  Obviously not last year on the kid version, but now they have me searching my memory in vain. Was that just too far from who he was with Amy that no one ever asked them to go there?  Obviously there was “Let’s Get It On,” but that was flirty and cute, an area in which he clearly excels.

Whether or not they’re sexy, I need to see Dassy and Fik-shun get a routine that takes them to the next level, one where they can really connect instead of just dancing side by side – which is what all three of their routines have been.  I love watching dancers move in unison, but I prefer that in a large group; pairs need to interact with each other at least some of the time.

Solo: Flosstradamus and TroyBoi “SoundClash”

My favorite thing about this routine is Dassy’s bright print shirt, yellow with red and blue legs.  I think she’s wonderful, but the shirt is what I remember.

So do we assume that Dassy ended up in the bottom because of the fall?  Cruel, cruel audience.  Perhaps with so few dancers, it’s impossible forgive a mistake, and maybe that’s fair.  It makes me wonder about next week.  Will the fans lift her up, surprised at her dip into the danger zone, or will the routine fail to inspire them?

Mark and Comfort: Isak Danielson, “Ending”/Talia Favia contemporary

Whoa. Yet another truly fantastic routine.  Comfort commits to her roles – it’s one of the things I love the most about her – but this went to a whole other level.  New-ish choreographer Talia Favia (what an awesome name!) brings us a piece about a couple admitting this might be it for their relationship. Also, Talia’s back bend?  Talk about core strength!   She’s a beast. Mark and Comfort paled in comparison.   We begin with Comfort yelling silently at Mark, clad in a gold tutu with long sleeves and a high neck, buttoned up and beautiful, Mark in a loose shirt that gives us a glimpse of a Polynesian or Maori tattoo edging out of the collar onto his shoulder; when he grabs her wrist, there’s real fierce menace to it.  They throw their hands up, back away, frightened of what they might do.  They roll toward each other, a tentative reunion that turns again into such a threat that Comfort cowers into the floor from the weight of Mark’s hatred.   He reaches out, she leaps to him, he pushes her away. “Even when I’m falling back, you still believe I tried,” Danielson sings, making us feel their ambivalent anger and yearning.  She runs at him and knocks him down; she runs at him again and he dance-hits her, so fast we only see her reaction and not his action.  “Maybe we could be a symphony,” Danielson wishes, and Mark hoists Comfort up with his feet so she looks like she’s flying; then she flips over to land on her feet.  In the end, she kicks at him and he rolls away, curled up in his own hurt. It’s deeply unsettling but so, so impressive.

The normally ebullient dancers are still so deep in the piece that they’re wiped blank.  The judges gush, but they maybe don’t love on this as much as I feel it deserves.  By which I guess I mean they don’t get a standing ovation, which I think they deserve, even if Nigel lavishes them with praise, and Mary tells them their piece was special and notes that their battle was so explosive she feared they’d genuinely hurt each other.  Talia tears up in the audience.

Solo:  Ed Sheeran, “I See Fire”

Dude kills it in a mustard colored turtle neck.  He really seems to love those loose shirts, doesn’t he?  This is a pair definitely flying under the radar – witness Mark’s trip into the bottom three – but I hope that ends here.

Lex and Gaby, Bette Middler, “Miss Otis Regrets”/ Warren Carlyle, Broadway.

I loved learning that Lex went on tour as a kid in the National company of Billy Elliot.  Gaby feels pretty good about that, and I don’t blame her.  It actually took me a second viewing to see if the judges overrated this whiz-bang Warren Carlyle Broadway masterpiece; it was so fast and so furious that I couldn’t take it all in.  They didn’t.   The bit that bothered me was as usual the choreographer promising a story he didn’t deliver: namely, Lex having to pursue an uninterested Gaby.  I’m sorry, there was nothing uninterested or even coy about Gaby; she was all over Lex right from the start, even taking the menu away from him so he couldn’t hide behind it.  I’m also a little bit baffled by the costumes; why is Gaby a rich socialite out to lunch in an itty bitty flapper dress, while Lex is dressed like Jack in steerage on the Titanic?  It’s just odd, the clear class difference in their clothes.  And confusing. Once I got over looking for the missing storyline, however, I was able to enjoy the dance for what it was, which is essentially everything I love about Broadway.  Flat out dancing all the way through.  Running around, leaping everywhere – just a bang up awesome cardio fest. Poor Lex could barely talk even AFTER the very enthusiastic judging.

And what ho, Lex actually smiled through the entire thing, and not in a grim “I must grit my teeth and present the expected facial expression” kind of a way.  It wasn’t what my brother and I used to refer to a “toothpaste smile” when we saw Lawrence Welk dancers do it.  He clearly had fun!  This helps me return to the reason I fell in love with dance in the first place, he tells us.  His smile manifested his pure joy in movement, and that was fantastic to see.  When the dancers feel it, we feel it.

Solo: Black Coast featuring M. Maggie, “TRNDSTTER (Lucian Remix)”

This dude is amazing.  The swipe jump, the split, the point where he makes a hoop out of his arms and leaps through it?  Damn.  He ends it all with a knowing smile that I quite enjoy.

Sydney and Paul: Kyle, “Really? Yeah”/Luther Brown hip hop

Hip hop terrifies Sydney, and we’re about to see why.  She’s not bad, of course – she couldn’t possibly be bad – but it’s not her best work, either.  Luther has envisioned Miami Vice in 2025, and garbed the pair in loose bright suits, neon green for her (with a brightly colored bikini top beneath) and blue for him over a red shirt, both in high-waisted trousers.  Paul’s hair is curly, and Sydney wear a sleek black wig, a bob with bangs.  They’ve both got on sunglasses, and it’s all about swag and attitude; there are no tricks and no story, just style, which means everything has to be done perfectly and to the hilt.  She’s got attitude in spades, genuinely smiling this sly, cocky smirk and enjoying herself, but she’s not as deep in the pocket as the judges want, and her stank face – well, it’s not very stanky.   I can’t remember seeing Paul like this, tongue stuck out, laughing in the face of authority, but the judges love him and call him out in contrast to her for getting into the proper groove. Does Sydney looks higher up/outside the pocket because Paul’s shorter than she is, though?  Quite possibly.   It hurt my heart to see her silently taking the judges’ harsh critiques, a piece of her wig stuck in her eyelashes, her eyes shadowed and bruised.

Solo: Petty Booka, “Bla Bla Bla Cha Cha Cha”

The red pants are out again!  She’s so confident and so at ease here, and it’s a well choreographed, exciting ballroom solo.  It’s wonderful to see. I’m glad she got a chance to shine tonight.

I don’t know what else to say.  There’s no one I want to see in the bottom three, and her piece last week was one of my favorites.

Kaylee and Cyrus: Vito Fun and Koil, “Less Talk, More Art”/Spencer Liff jazz

I thought this stylized, Fosse-esque piece was a terrific fit for Kaylee and Cyrus.  Less talk, more Art: I like that!  Well done Spencer Liff. It allowed them to be quirky and played into Cyrus’s animation talents while still being clearly jazz.  I loved the bowler hats (there’s something about a bowler hat, isn’t there?) and was impressed how well they handled them.  It made Nigel think of Gwen Verdon (Fosse’s wife – shame on me for not knowing that!) and me think of Shirley Maclaine.  Now I can’t get “Hernando’s Hideway” and “Sweet Charity” out of my head!  Black jackets with white piping, tight black pants, black and white shirt for Cyrus with Kaylee in a black bra top which gives the same high contrast against her incredibly pale skin.  Yes, it was a lot of side by side dancing, but I enjoyed it because there was still a decent amount of eye contact and lots of synched up exaggerated motion.  Occasionally they weren’t matched properly, which was unfortunate, but that section with the deep knee bends where they flicked their feet out?  So cool.  Nigel wants to keep calling Kaylee Impavido because Kaylee just doesn’t seem unique enough to encompass her.  The misstep here was the face paint, which felt ever so slightly Minstrel-esque to me, even a little Blackface, and so a little unsettling on Cyrus.

Solo: Elliot Yamin, “Wait for You”

Black body suit, slicked back hair, fresh and funky.

Taylor and Robert, Dillon Francis and Skrillex, “Bun Up the Dance”/Jean-Marc Genereux, samba

Well, ouch.  The dance that felled a front runner!  Robert is in somber black and Taylor wears what I might consider a showgirl peacock outfit with a smaller tail.  I was kind of wincing through her inability to stick out her butt properly, but this looked a lot better on a second viewing, and I can see that a lot of what I blamed Taylor and her too-straight back for is just as much Robert’s fault with his less than perfectly squared frame.  We forget, don’t we, that the All Stars are moving outside their styles as well.  Now, they have the huge benefit of long runs on the show and intermittent work as All Stars (and whatever opportunities their time on the show has helped them gain) but they’re still outside their genres, and ballroom takes years to truly master.  Anyway, the more I watch it, the more I think it really wasn’t bad (the lifts particularly felt effortless) and just got slammed because there was so much else we saw tonight that was outstanding. The judges come close to taking back the “couple to beat” status, and basically disliked everything but the samba rolls, which the pair got props for doing impressively well for neophytes.  I am quite interested to see if they actually dip into the bottom next week.

Solo: Tsar B, “Escalate”

Love the black bodysuit with cut outs (same vein as Koine’s burgundy one only Tay’s is full body), love the quirky style.  It looks like a number Danny Kaye might have been in; very 50s/60s, with those little hand flips.  Very cool and in nice contrast to both her ballroom and to last week’s floatier solo.

Kiki and Jenna: George Michael, “The First Time Ever I saw Your Face”/Mandy Moore contemporary

Wow.  Oh my wow.  If Taylor and Robert are the couple to beat, then Kiki and Jenna are more than dark horses to beat them, and I’m not just saying that because ballroom revealed a deep weakness in Taylor’s versatility.  Let me start by saying that Mandy Moore totally cracked me up with her explanation of the romantic piece, which is that Jenna is a glass of wine that Kiki just has to drink.  At first, I thought that was a hilarious terrible metaphor for love (is wine really more obvious than lust? I’ve never been more attracted to a drink than a person) but I did eventually see what she was getting at and it wasn’t just Jenna’s wine colored gown.  You don’t chug wine, you sip it.  You savor it.  (I mean, I don’t, but people who like wine do.)  You experience it.  And that’s what Jenna and Kiki do; they move slowly, touch deliberately, alive with the wonder of the moment, fading in and out of each other’s arms.  His extension is so impressive, and those lifts flow like water; I think Jenna is in the air for half the piece.

One thing you have to say about ballroom dancers: the men know how to partner. Throughout the show, I couldn’t help noticing labored lifts, but with Kiki it’s so smooth and effortless looking.  Mary contends that this is the best contemporary a male ballroom dancer has ever done.  (She has said this before.  Or perhaps noted something as the best ballroom done by a contemporary dancer?  I just know I’ve heard this before. She may be right, though.) Nigel rightly contends that in Academy Week Kiki was rubbish at both contemporary and hip hop (fair at least for the latter), yet look what he’s been able to achieve on the show!  It further cracked me up that master-level giggle-talker Vanessa (dressed as a kind of mermaid Elvira) could barely gasp out a response to this.  I can only imagine how sexy it must have been in person with the two all up in each other’s business, rolling together once, pulling back for a tender, disbelieving gaze; when Kiki drags Jenna back down to him, it looks like real life set to music.

In case you, like me, were not in the know, Jenna apparently has an on and off romance with Val Chmerkovsky which may be threatened because she actually planted one on Kiki (who then indiscreetly shared the fact with Cat and the rest of the country).  A little research reveals that Val was proclaiming his love for Jenna in the press just a few days ago.  Is Nigel bringing that up to drum up a tabloid scandal for the ratings bump? I feel creepy and too personal just talking about this, but it’s interesting to wonder where creative couples who’re paid to be sexy with other people draw the line.  I think I’d rather give Mandy props for her excellent taste in 70s ballad covers, and her rehearsal technique, constantly ranking on (and ranking) the flexibility challenged Kiki for his ability to achieve the positions she wanted, because that also had me in convulsions during their rehearsal package: “That was 42% right.” “56%.” “98%.  Now if only some of the other moves were near that…”

Solo: The Coasters, “Love Potion Number 9”

Black pants, plain white long sleeved t tucked into them, swiveling hips, and even his wispy beard starts to look okay to me.

The Bottom Three:

This group makes a certain amount of sense to me: Dassy because she fell, Mark because he went first, and poor Sydney because, well, Sydney.  I wonder if despite the bravura performance she gave last week people punished her for being kept at Robert’s expense?  It was 100% clear after her less-than-standout hip hop who would be going home.

I hope Mark doesn’t have to worry.  There are only so many dancers, and when you go first sometimes even if you’re amazing you can’t pack the same emotional punch to viewer’s memories as later dancers do.  But this week was just amazing!  And rather unexpected from the class clown, too.  Dassy, though – I don’t know.  Unless fans feel bad that she ended up in the bottom and vote extra for her, I’m not sure this week’s piece was exciting enough to be memorable.

So there we are!  My favorite routine of this fantastic night for cover songs and sampling were “The First Time,” “You Don’t Own Me” and “Ending,” with “Miss Otis Regrets” a close fourth.  What about you guys?  What did you like?  What partnerships are working best for you now, and which ones are showing some strain?

3 comments on “So You Think You Can Dance: Top 9, Season 14

  1. Sonia says:

    I’m obsessed with Kiki and Jenna. I have been since they “accidentally kissed” at the Academy. I feel like a 13-year-old admitting that, but there you have it.

    • E says:

      It took me longer than that, but their hip hop and then this week? They’re amazing. Just, wow.

    • E says:

      PS – I feel like a 13 year old wondering how she can have chemistry like this with Kiki but be with Val! But maybe she dances like this with everyone?? Because she and Kevin were amazing too. Mysteries.

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