Top 11 Performance at a Glance
- Billy & Lauren – Broadway (Tyce)
- Christina & Mark – Pop Jazz (Sonya)
- Jose & Comfort – Hip-Hop (NappyTabs)
- Adéchiké & Kathryn – Jazz (Travis)
- Melinda & Pasha - Jive (Tony & Melanie)
- Alex & Allison – Contemporary (Sonya)
- Alexie & Twitch – Hip-Hop (NappyTabs)
- Lauren & Ade – Contemporary (Mandy Moore)
- Kent & Anya – Cha Cha (Anya)
- Ashley & Neil – Jazz (Tyce)
- Robert & Courtney – African Jazz (Sean Chessman)
A High Point: Alex & Allison’s deeply felt “Salvation” piece done to Jeff Buckely’s Hallelujah
A Low Point: No really low points – let’s say Tyce’s choreography for Ashley & Neil’s “Love” duo
- "We looked like the Muppets up here." - Mia
- "It looked like every parent’s nightmare visit to the zoo where you lose your little boy and they’re in the lion cage dancing with the lion." - Adam
- "I want her to be in love with Pasha. How difficult can that be, really?" - Melanie LaPlatin
One More Swipe at Last Season
It’s our first live performance show in SYTYCD history! Hopefully they manage better than the previous occupants of their CBS Television City studio (which is another Simon Fuller show that runs from January to May, but shall remain nameless) which regularly ran overtime due to inept directing and windbag judges. But let’s not jinx it, and just which the whole crew luck on the beginning of their seventh season.
Which, oddly enough, is starting with the exact same credit sequence as last season. Normally each season gets a revamped opening sequence that features contestants from the previous season. But I’m not seeing Russell, Jakob, Kathryn, Ashleigh or Ryan. Instead we see last summer’s lucky finalists: Jeanine, Kayla, Ade, Brandon and Evan. You know, the ones that actually got to have a tour. It seems there is just no respect for the poor Season Sixers.
The show starts with a montage of the Top 11 in audition, Vegas, and the preview show from last week. Cat promises that we will learn even more about the contestants tonight. Cat herself is resplendent in a teal toga / mini-dress with a gold brocade design going up the side. Her hair was in a “Cinderella” teased bun. She introduces the judges: Adam, Nigel and Mia.
Billy - Let's Hear It For The Boy
Billy shows us that he likes to do-it-yourself projects with his dad, the building contractor who lives in Palm Beach Florida. This week he is teamed with Tyce and Lauren. They are doing a very fast routine: Kenny Logins Footloose.
This is a frantic and not all that creative routine. The dance doesn’t try to tell any kind of story and there doesn’t seem to be much happening in the relationship between these two characters. Are they lovers? Friends? Rivals? Diroio doesn’t seem to have given them much to work with. Lauren tries to fill in some gaps and give her character some highs and lows, but Billy makes the newbie mistake of just performing it as choreographed. Without any discernable character he is reduced to being a high-energy chorus boy. The dancing itself was great; but the total package was flat.
Nigel praises Tyce on elongating the movements to flatter Billy and says that the Lauren-Billy buddy relationship worked for that number. Mia liked the choices Billy made in deemphasizing the frenetic bounciness of the movement. Adam notes that dancing is too easy for Billy, and he will need to focus on inhabiting the character. He needs to look for what is in between the steps, i.e. go beyond what the choreographer gives you.
Christina - Cold Hearted Snake
Salsa dancer Christina tells us that she once auditioned for an American Idol style singing competition in Mexico – but she got cut early. This week she will work with Sonya and Mark on a Jazz number based on snakes set to Starstruck by Santigold. “I’m her prey”, says Mark.
This is the kind of Sonya routine that fits Mark like a glove: the writhing, awkward inverted positions; the hunter and the prey; the balance between love and power. Christina does a very good job tackling the movement and the character. While none of it is beyond her, she simply doesn’t have the confidence and follow-through that Mark exudes. If there’s anything that gives away how hard she’s working to pull this off, it’s the way her predatory character sometimes drops a bit when it’s time to pull off a really difficult physical move. But overall a good effort for someone who is stretching far outside of her ballroom style.
Nigel loved seeing Sonya and Mark together, but lets Christina know that she managed to stay in the number with him. Mia also noted that Mark was perfect for that style and that she would have liked to have seen a little more of the dark twisted character going on in Christina’s face. But she said that she was surprised in a positive way to see this great technique in a Salsa Girl. Adam says that he was stunned at how well she did with Sonya. No trace of a Salsa dancer – fully inhabited the character. “I think the dancing thing is working out better than the singing thing!”
Jose - Hungry Like The Wolf
Jose starts every day with yoga poses – it warms up his body and clears his head. Tabitha and Napoleon give Jose and Comfort an animalistic, predatory Hip-Hop to Beautiful Monster by Ne-Yo. However they find that this is complicated by the fact that Jose “isn’t that scary”. They try to get some different aggressive faces, but they all seem to be variations of throwing a scowl on top of his natural smile.
Dressed in skins and feathers they start the number in silhouette, Comfort on Jose’s back looking like some kind of strange animal that wandered away from The Lion King on Broadway. When the lights hit and the music starts pounding there are large sections of the choreography in unison. And while the whole thing is perfectly fine, Jose suffers in comparison to the sharp moves and fierce character that Comfort is bringing to the stage. In a way, it’s not that different from the situation with Mark and Christina right before – but there’s one important difference: this is Jose’s style. Except it isn’t really, because Jose is a B-Boy and this is Hip-Hop with character and longer form dances. But still, the expectations are different for Jose, than Christina. We expect Jose to wow us with this style, and if he is having trouble here – what the heck is he going to do when he has to perform Tango or Broadway?
Nigel points out that Jose is doing a whole slew of things that he’s never done before. Mia notes that his character was strong when he was on the floor, but when he did the more choreographic elements, he lost some of that commitment. Adam wants to see Jose continue to improve week by week, as he has been doing. He also wants to see faster, more powerful B-Boy moves.
Adéchiké – Dream Lover
Adéchiké tells us that he went to the “Fame” high school – Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts – famous for producing Desmond Richardson, Eliot Feld, Jennifer Aniston, Robert De Niro and … Tyce Diorio! As a matter of fact he takes a camera crew back with him to check out Tyce’s school record – and it’s not that good, so maybe it’s better to let that sleeping dog lie.
Fortunately, Adéchiké*isn’t working with the former LaGuardia delinquent, but with Travis Wall and Kathryn on a Jazz routine set to Addicted to Love covered by Florence + The Machine. The number is an office fantasy with Kathryn entering his daydreams as a sexy temptress. And it’s a wonderful piece. Travis has always been good at crafting moves that seem completely organic to the dancers. But he’s getting better here at structuring a story. He gives us a couple of beats to establish Adéchiké as a bored office worker before Kathryn slips in from the shadows and pulls his attention away. He moves with her around the desk, pulling off her shoes, before they sink into the floor and really dance in earnest. The constant jumps, lifts, and partnering were original and carried off with the trademark Travis Wall seamlessness.
But the burning fire in Kathryn seemed to illicit no real feeling in Adéchiké. The dancing was flawless, but the character was almost non-existent. Which is a crime because Travis and Kathryn gave Adéchiké so many opportunities to explore different experiences and motivations, (unlike Tyce who gave Billy Bell essentially a dramatically flat routine).
Cat tags Kathryn with the line from the 80’s movie Working Girl: “a head for business and a body for sin”. Nigel didn’t believe that this was Adéchiké’s fantasy; although he thought that he performed the choreography well. Mia loved Travis’s routine, but since there was so much built around sexual chemistry – the absence of said chemistry in Adéchiké was noticeable: “Stiffness, strength, and empty technique”. Adam notes that technically he was a great partner, but it was missing the extra something that only the dancer can bring. Adam then demonstrates a sexy look with Mia, that was… disturbing.
Melinda - Jive Talkin'
What don’t we know about Melinda? That she’s an actress! She played Zoey Finn on As The World Turns. (Which explains why she is now unemployed.) Melinda is paired with Pasha in a Jive routine by Tony Meredith and Melanie LaPatin. The routine is built around love, and Melanie comments “How hard can it be to fall in love with Pasha?” Hmmm.. Christina had to be a snake, but all Melanie has to do is fall in love with Pasha. Doesn’t seem fair.
They are dancing to L.O.V.E. by VV Brown. Of course, as a tap dancer this is far from her style. But truth be told, it isn’t Pasha’s style either. His forte is Latin ballroom. Here in the Jive he seems to be working a little too hard, particularly throwing faces, while Melinda’s character and attitude are more natural feel closer to the “in love” theme of the dance. She handles the choreography well, although at times there almost seems to be a bit of clunkiness in the footwork. Pasha seems to be trying to pull her up by being bigger and sharper, when being a bit looser would make for a better match. Overall, not bad at all for Melinda, considering that this is probably the biggest departure she will have to make from her own genre.
Nigel noted that the style didn’t suit her and she had to watch her footwork – her legs turned out and got a bit wide and uncomfortable. He suggested she break out the tap shoes because she may not be safe tomorrow night. Mia went the opposite direction and said that Melinda looked pigeon-toed and it robbed the movement of the sexy quality it should have. So who was right? Were her feet turned out or in? These are the moments that I really miss Mary on the panel. Ballroom is foreign to me; I depended on Mary to tell me what worked and what didn’t. Adam observed that Melinda used her acting to mask the deficiencies in the dancing. Not a bad thing – but she needs to finish her extensions, particularly in her hands. Melinda takes the criticism in stride and promises to incorporate those comments into her future dances. (Fingers crossed.)
Alex – Hallelujah Chorus
Alex wants us to know that he loves to play piano and sing. He will be partnering Allison in a Contemporary number by Sonya about looking for salvation. They dance to the classic version of Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley. And the number is … perfection. Sonya has both characters mixing strong restrained movements, with wild uncontrolled steps. This is a struggle from within, rather than between the characters. They battle alongside each other – each supporting the other when they are weak. Alex’s technique is a given – but here he digs deep and finds an inner source for each step. This is a wonderful performance – he is every bit Alison’s equal, and she’s pretty amazing here as well.
“I believe you have just set a new standard for So You Think You Can Dance”, Nigel begins. “We get caught up in the architecture of dance, the technique; we forget the poetry of dance… That was mega light years ahead of everybody else!” Well. Where can it go from there? Mia? “That was THE best piece of work danced on the So You Think You Can Dance stage anywhere in the world to date!” Poor Alex is breaking down in tears. Adam says that this time the dancers made the choreographer even better than usual. Oh, boy – haven’t these people learned what happens when they praise a dancer to the skies on this show? Leave ballet boy alone!b
Alexi – Come to my Window
Guess what! This is not the first time Alexi has been judged by Adam Shankman – he judged her on Star Search back in 1991! Young Adam with dark hair is definitely a look we haven’t seen. She and Twitch will do a NappyTabs Hip-Hop number about “after hours” love to Butterfly by Jason Mraz . Alexi asks “Is this dance suitable for children? Let’s hope not!” Actually, I think a five year old could see this and they would want to get up and dance with them. Twitch knocks at her window; she lets him in; they dance around; then she ushers him out. If steamy sensuality was the goal – then I think they missed it. But even so it was a delight to watch. It was flirty and fun and… safe. But that’s a direction Tabitha and Napoleon often go in and this was fun without becoming saccharine.
Nigel remarks that Twitch, like Alexie, tried out for the show two or three times before he made it and he was very successful. He cautions that she must not let the “cute factor” go over the top. He also says that she sometimes misses the tension in the movement. Mia felt the cute was definitely too much, and that there was no street swagger at all. Adam was still obsessed with the old Star Search clip of him sitting at the judges table “giving a full on Blue Steele” face. But once Nigel and Mia start to rag on him, he quickly comes back to Alexie and challenges her to mimic Tabitha who “dances with all the sensuality of a woman and all the power of a guy”.
Lauren – Smooth Operator
Lauren is a kindergarten teacher. Tonight Mandy Moore will send Lauren on a “first date” with Ade in a Jazz number done to Oh Yeah by Yello. (Sorry, I cannot get Ferris Bueller out of my head when I hear that song.) In rehearsal she seemed to be channeling Mollee from last season – adorable, but not sexy. The routine starts with Ade and Lauren on the sofa, and quickly evolves to Ade pursuing Lauren, and a very smitten Lauren not really putting up much resistance. The movement alternates between languid extensions, and sharp percussive (almost mechanical) movements. It’s fun, and well done – but Lauren has something of a generic chorus girl vibe. She dances well, but doesn’t really bring much to the piece.
Nigel liked the confidence in the jumps, but found it sterile. Mia said Lauren was technically flawless, but missing any interest on the inside. Adam felt that Lauren was all about presentation, but she missed the cat and mouse drama.
Kent – Walk Like a Man
Kent lets us know that he was crowned homecoming king. (Footnote – there were only 14 guys in his class.) Tonight he works with Tony Meredith and Melanie LaPatin on a Cha Cha to the song Lady Marmalade by Diva Invasion with his partner, Anya. “Kent has never met anyone like Anya”, says Melanie. Kent is hoping that he comes across as older – like maybe 19. Way to set realistic expectations there, Kent.
The number just rips across the stage – and Kent does raise his maturity to 19. But he makes it work in a “cougar seduces the farm boy” kind of way. His dancing is very good. Not quite the into-the-floor and hip action that makes a great cha cha – but close enough; and his footwork is quite close to where it should be. But more importantly, he found the character and the joy and threw himself into it – it was just a hoot to watch.
Nigel loved the performance, except for a few mincing steps. (Oh, Nigel.) “You committed to everything!” beamed Mia. Adam compared Kent to Dominic and Gev, who had the same “I’m going to master this style if it kills me” attitude.
Ashley – Lost in Love
Ashley’s secret is that she does crazy voices. (Not going to win a lot of votes with that info, honey.) Tonight she gets to dance with Neil (lucky girl!) to a Tyce Jazz number about LOVE. (I’m hoping it gets more specific than that.) The music is the Donny Hathaway / Roberta Flack version of the classic For All We Know.
The routine is lovely – the song is so simple, and there are leaps and extensions, and partner moves, and… nothing we haven’t seen a million times before on this show. I swear I saw almost this exact same routine in Season Two. Tyce has filled the stage with lovely movement, but no content. Neil tries valiantly to add character. But Ashley is playing everything very straight and all on the same emotional note. I really have to ding Tyce here – the only way this could work would be for Neil and Ashley to try to overlay some kind of emotional story arc on top of this bland choreography.
Nigel is just about to pronounce that the dance was beyond Ashley’s emotional ken, until she pipes up that she is currently very much in love. Awkward! Changing tack, Nigel encourages Ashley to use those feelings more in her performance. Mia also felt the emotion was not all there, although “You are a very special little bunny”. (I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with that piece of dance jargon. Anyone?) Adam notices that as a whole, the dancers this year are all technically complete, but not yet emotionally complete. He says that she needs to make herself more vulnerable on stage.
Robert – Ooh, I Wan'na be Just Like You
Robert’s first goal was to become a baseball player. Sean Cheesman will work with Robert and Courtney on an African Jazz routine about two mystical creatures that become human. The song is Norweg from Cirque de Soliel’s Saltimbanaco soundtrack.
Sean gives us our third animale number of the evening; one that emphasizes a strong connection to the earth in crouching moves. Even the lifts are low as Courtney seems to naturally flow around Robert’s body and circle his leg sliding to the floor. And there is a story arc, as they start on the ground, gradually walk and dance upright in the green morning jungle light, and then recede slinking back into the night at the end. Robert handles everything well – the movement, his character, his connection to Courtney. I would call this a completely successful piece.
Nigel praised Sean’s routine and Robert. Mia loves his quirkiness, beauty, and athleticism. She ends up growling at him. (I’m not sure what that means. “See you after the show”?) Adam notes that the All-Star partnership worked so well for Robert, although the bad news is that the Courtney partnership is now gone and it’s on to the next thing. Adam disagrees with Mia, who said that Robert was a dark horse. Adam thinks Robert is the best contemporary dancer ever on the show. (Hmm.. I think Jacob Karr, William Wingfield, Danny Tidwell, and even Alex and Billy may have something to say about that.)
So that's it for our first week. Who did you vote for? Who is over-hyped? Are the All-Stars working out for you?