So You Think You Can Dance: "Meet The Top 20"
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So You Think You Can Dance: "Meet The Top 20"

 After a relatively painless audition process, we’ve finally made it to the Top 20 dancers, and I have to applaud the producers for the changes made to the show this season. Three audition episodes, one Vegas, and one combination Top 20 reveal/performance have gotten us to the competition stage of the show quickly, and this most recent episode reveals that the SYTYCD creative team is ready to adapt to get as much dance to America as possible. There are few surprises when it comes to eliminations, with the biggest head-scratcher coming in the judge’s rushed dismissal of hip-hopper Lil’ O, who had shown a charming personality and strong technique throughout the competition. The sisters are of course torn asunder, with Sasha moving on as Natalya watches from the audience with tears of happiness (heartbreaking sadness?) streaming down her face.

Everything else is pretty much as expected, except this year the dancers are thrown right into performance after being picked for the top 20, learning three dances to perform live for a national audience: a group number in their own style, a top 10 boys/girls number, and a closing top 20 routine inspired by everyone’s favorite dance movie of last year, Black Swan. It’s a gauntlet that some dancers handle better than others, and next week we’ll start getting some real criticism from the judges (hopefully not Robin, she’s miserable), but this episode is all about getting America pumped for the top 20. Nigel and the gang shower overwhelming praise on the group, and while some of it may be unfounded, it definitely gets the job done. I’m officially excited for season eight, although the Mary/ “Woo guy” combo may drive me to the edge of sanity.

Contemporary: Stacey Tookey + Ricky, Miranda, Melanie, Sasha

Someone needs to tell Stacey Tookey that people actually like watching dancers’ feet while they’re dancing. Please turn down the fog machine, because poor little Melanie almost got swallowed up by clouds toward the end. Not the most impressive start to the performances, but when the four dancers are in unison they have great chemistry. As Ricky maneuvers through the three girls, the dance grows in intensity, but the routine just needs to have the same level of energy at the start that it does at the end. A standard contemporary routine, adequately danced, but it will take more than that once voting comes into play.

Hip-Hop: Dave Scott + Christopher, Wadi, Tadd, Robert

What a mess. The four boys are dancing together, but they don’t dance as a group, and their distinct personalities end up detracting from the routine. Robert a.k.a. “Woo guy” hams it up to the extreme with a slap-happy smile plastered on his face, Tadd gives the camera his best “sexy eyes,” Wadi’s gettin’ buck, and Christopher (Jose II) is just trying to keep up. Lil’ C gives the “impeccable recipe” for hip-hop as, “power, performance, passion, personality, precision” and this group needs more power and precision. They have the moves, the execution just feels a little sluggish.

Ballroom: Jason Gilkisin + Iveta

Fucking brilliant. Maybe the best ballroom routine I’ve ever seen on this show. This is the last year for Iveta to compete, and the 10-dance world champion (Cha-cha, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble, Jive, Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Quickstep, Vienese Waltz) tears up the dance floor as this season’s only ballroom dancer. Her routine with season three’s Pasha is lightning quick and perfectly performed, garnering her the first standing ovation of the night, and I sincerely hope America keeps Iveta around until she gets to the All-Star round, because I want more Pasha/Iveta dances.

Jazz: Sonya Tayeh + Clarice, Marko, Jordan, Missy

Mr. “I Have A Bullet Lodged Inside Me” Marko dances with this season’s sex kittens Missy and Jordan and the all-around gorgeous Clarice for a Sonya routine that starts strong but loses some precision as it goes on. Lots of standard Sonya poses (hunched postures, elevated squatting with flexed feet), but the sharp, focused movement makes me happy to have Sonya back in all her asymmetrically haired glory. The girls trying to outslut each other works in their favor, although it prompts the irritating, screeched catchphrase of Robin Antin: “Sexy!” Don’t encourage her, Tyce. And please come back, Adam. Please.

Tap/Broadway: Christopher Scott + Jess, Nick

They did it. They somehow managed to make tap work. Nick’s version of tap integrates other styles of dance as well as crowd-pleasing acrobatics, and he outshines Broadway dancer Jess, who still struggles to appear legitimately happy when he dances. The smile’s there, but it doesn’t feel real. I have the uneasy feeling that tweens are going to fall in love with this duo, and for the first time I find myself rooting for the tapper to progress in the competition. Major props to Christopher Scott for the routine, which incorporates the best part of watching multiple tappers, the battle, into a dance with more traditional Broadway elements. A great showcase for the two dancers, and exactly what the routines this episode should do.

Contemporary: Travis Wall + Ashley, Caitlin, Mitchell, Alexander, Ryan

Anyone else get déjà vu watching this routine? Mia did the whole foliage on the dance floor thing season 3, and while this concept is much less sad, I expect something a little more outside-the-box from Travis Wall.

Mitchell and Alexander (who beats out the temper-tantrum throwing Jeremiah for the final boy spot) are overshadowed by the girls this dance, with Ryan given particular emphasis in the only colored costume of the group. Everyone has ballroom smiles on to make sure it’s 100 percent clear that they are having SO MUCH FUN playing in the leaves, but those grins start to look strained the more they throw themselves around the stage.

Top 10 Boys: Christopher Scott

Remember the Matrix-y final group number from season 7? Well Christopher Scott basically does it again with 10 guys and five doors, choreographing a hip-hop/contemporary fusion routine that requires everyone to get very serious in their blue suits and red ties. Because they’re guys and strong and masculine and stuff. Very nice direction from Nikki Parsons this number, especially when one of the doors is shut prematurely and Parsons cuts away before filming the flub. Tapper Nick surprised me most this number, showing impressive strength with his upper body while nailing both the hip-hop and contemporary choreography. Between this routine and the earlier tap number, Christopher Scott should be a positive addition to the team of choreographers.

Top 10 Girls: Sonya Tayeh

Where is Mia Michaels this season? She was absent during auditions, and no mention of her this episode. I’ll be sad if she’s been filtered out of the series, but it looks the producers are grooming Sonya to take her place as the resident slave-driver of the choreographers, pushing the girls through her sexy-geisha jazz routine. Borderline offensive and wildly entertaining, Sonya’s choreography is spiced up by a Bollywood influence, and it’s a style that is distinctly Sonya but more diverse than her earlier jazz number. It’s a strong lineup of ladies that moves well as a group, although Ryan needs to get her facial expressions under control; her grinning stands out amongst the stern expressions of the rest of the girls. 

Top 20 Dancers: Tyce Diorio

Black Swan a la Tasty Oreo. Tyce is at his best when choreographing large groups or contemporary routines to Annie Lennox, and this number combines both strengths for a closing number that gives every dancer a moment in the spotlight. The group is spot-on at the unison portions, triggering that thrill of seeing a throng of super-talented performers in perfect harmony that I’ve come to call the “So You Think You Can Dance effect.” It’s a powerful end to an impressive episode, and sets us up for an intense competition this season. Hope you haven’t gotten too attached yet, because next week, one boy and one girl are going home.

Stray Observations:

• Cat is looking chic in a lacy white minidress with red heels. Love when she dolls up for the camera.

• Of course there’s an epic choral-backed montage before the top 20 are picked.

• New, smaller stage! HALLELUJAH!

•“The worst was seeing people leave.” Great answer, Ricky.

• “Indubitably.”

• Sasha-Cat-Natalya Oreo. Yum.

• “I haven’t got the rhythm but I’ve got the legs.” Yeah you do, Cat.

• Robin Antin “judges” by rattling off positive adjectives as quickly as possible.

• Ha! The hyper-confident European doesn’t make top 20.

• Judges really appreciate world champion Iveta humbling herself by coming on the show. I think that’s pretty cool.

• Sonya’s straight hair looks great.

• Nick’s going to get the Billy Bell skincare treatment, guaranteed.

• They may introduce a ballroom/tap card into mix of dance styles. If they can do tap, they can tap. Awesome.

• This is a short group of guys; the tallest is Nick. It will be fun to see how that turns out.

• Lil’ C will keep it short by giving us an acrostic poem of Sonya’s name: S –Synergy, O – Obstacles, N – Never, Y – Yes, A – Abstract. He’s much more long-winded than that.

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