So You Think You Can Dance: “Second Live Performance, Second Elimination”
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So You Think You Can Dance: “Second Live Performance, Second Elimination”

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So You Think You Can Dance

“Second Live Performance, Second Elimination”

Season 9, Episode 9

So You Think You Can Dance may be having its best season yet. Not because of the dancers or the choreography, but because of drastic changes the show has undergone since moving to a once-a-week schedule. Since combining performance and eliminations, each episode has been a stunning display of dance talent while ramping up the tension in a way that previous seasons never did. Thankfully, we only lose two dancers this week, and unlike last week, four of the bottom six dancers are given the opportunity to dance solos. So we get a surprisingly strong group routine from Tyce Diorio, eight couple routines, four solos, and a riveting all-male group performance from the prestigious Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; that’s an outstanding line-up of dance over the course of two hours. All this, plus Christina Applegate returns as a guest judge, dressed in a sleek red dress that makes her the cherry on top of this reality show sundae.

This week sees two NappyTabs hip-hop routines and two Mandy Moore routines (one contemporary, one jazz), and they all turn out stronger work than they’re typically known for. The exception is NappyTabs’ opening “Adventure in Babysitting” number, which has Tiffany and George dancing around a day-glo set trying to escape a crying baby. It’s one of the evening’s most juvenile routines, and from the story to the costumes, it comes across like a high school talent show piece. That said, Tiffany dances the hell out of it, and she is deservedly praised for her ability to get down. Christina Applegate wishes the two of them would be “soupier” during some of the lower moves, and Nigel mentions that he’d like hip hop choreography to be grungier in the future, but overall, the judges think the routine is a cute start to the night. George ends up in the bottom six, but the judges are so confident in his abilities that they don’t even ask him to dance for his life.

Cute isn’t the first word you want associated with a hip-hop number, and NappyTabs redeem themselves with their second routine, a piece for Eliana and Cyrus that impressively plays to both dancers’ strengths. Playing a jewelry box ballerina brought to life, Eliana finally gets a chance to show off the full range of her musicality and muscle control. It’s colder, darker choreography from NappyTabs, but there’s still an element of fun, recalling the duo’s fantastic “Transformers” routine for Kathryn and Russell in the season 6 finale.

Isolations are Cyrus’ forte, but Nigel points out that not only does Eliana keep up, she outshines her partner in this number. It’s a shame that Eliana ends up in the bottom six, because she’s this season’s strongest female, and hopefully this dance will show voters just how talented she is. Cyrus is clearly being groomed to be the next Twitch, and it will be interesting to see if he gets as far as the season 4 stand-out or ends up going the Phillip/Jose route, where he skates by on charisma then is cut just before the top 10 (guaranteeing a spot on the tour). Christina points out that he’s gotten very lucky that he hasn’t pulled contemporary yet, and suggests that Eliana give him some bar exercises to prepare him. If he’s smart, he’ll do exactly that over the two-week break (ugh…I know), because after tossing Cyrus an easy one this week, it’s all but guaranteed that the show is going to challenge him in the next episode.

Like Tyce Diorio with his melancholy Charlie Chaplin opening number, Mandy Moore does her best Mia Michaels impression with her two dances, beginning with a contemporary routine for Lindsay and Cole that is a variation on the “evil boy/good girl” story this show loves so much. Mandy Moore has never been one for subtlety, and in this number, Cole simply represents hatred and bad feelings while Lindsay is an aquamarine vision of optimism and joy. The clip before the dance makes it seem like the pair might be less than best friends off-stage, but they have great chemistry on stage, and they both do very strong work outside of their comfort zone. The judges had very good critiques for these two, with Nigel telling Cole that his precision has the potential to become boring, but in this instance, it’s perfectly suited for the routine. Christina wants Lindsay’s hair out of her face when she dances, but eventually just starts listening to her and let the muscles speak. It’s hoity-toity dance talk, but it’s a great description of Lindsay’s musicality. In another elimination surprise, Lindsay ends up in the bottom six, but like George, doesn’t have to dance for her life. I blame her horrible Keds from last week’s horny dentist routine.

Mandy “Boogie Shoes” Moore’s second routine of the night isn’t as strong, but is still much better than the choreographer’s usual jazz output. Will and Amelia dance a fun number that shows off their bodies in interesting ways, and the two have probably the most finely-tuned chemistry of all the couples. With Will being the tallest and Amelia the palest (both by a wide margin), the two are memorable just standing there, but when in motion, they blossom. Mary calls Will the best partner on the series, and Christina says they’re this season’s dream team. Nigel is the lone detractor, saying that he didn’t think the two really connected during the routine, but he still thinks they have the best personalities of any of the partners. That’s the most valuable thing to have on this show, and these two will be able to ride that for a while.

Eliana, Lindsay, and George are joined in the bottom six by Dareian, the final dancer to be ripped from his partner during elimination. This is the second week the judges have panned his and Janelle’s routine, but the pair’s sluggish cha-cha by season 3’s Pasha is more deserving of the criticism than last week’s hip-hop number. Pasha makes a horrible musical choice by having the two dance to “Call Me Maybe,” and the song’s slow tempo is an ill fit for the quick footwork of cha-cha choreography. Mary doesn’t think the two have chemistry and calls out their sickled-in feet, and Nigel just doesn’t think that Janelle is sexy. Nigel is always horny, so that’s a pretty big insult. Dareian ends up in the bottom, but he gives a breathtaking solo packed to the brim was crowd-pleasing dance tricks, guaranteeing that he’ll be dancing with Janelle for one more week.

This week’s new couple, Amber and Brandon, finds itself in the bottom despite a promising routine, but given the choice between getting rid of a new partnership and ripping apart two established couples, the judges made the right decision in sending the two home. Their Ray Leeper jazz routine is one of the more risqué numbers SYTYCD has put on stage, but that’s mostly due to those steamy garters Amber is wearing. In the vein of last season’s “Misty Blue” (which Cat mentions), Leeper gives us a domestic sex dance to Aretha Franklin’s “Dr. Feelgood (Love Is A Serious Business), except instead of baby-making at breakfast, it goes down when the man gets home from work.

The two have chemistry in this number that was missing from their previous partnerships, and Brandon steps up (I got one in!) when dancing outside his usual style. Amber shines in her comfort zone, and the judges shower her with praise, which is reiterated when they send her home after a beautiful solo. Brandon’s solo is the first time we’ve ever seen him do a full step routine on this show, and it’s an interesting hybrid of styles that, like tap, doesn’t translate that well when done solo with music and televised. Nigel mentions in passing that Fox originally only gave them a top 16, but he convinced them to give them a top 20 so that more dancers could be spotlighted, and Brandon is one of them. That puts last week’s four-person elimination in perspective, although this show’s two-week break makes me think that we’re going to get another quadruple cut in the future.

The episode’s remaining couples are dancers that I predict will all get to the top 10, although both pairs give performances of drastically differing quality. Matthew and Audrey have their first misstep of the competition with their Liza Lira salsa, and it’s the evening’s other “high school talent show” number. The pre-dance clip reveals that Matthew has only been dancing since he was 16 (he used to be a golfer), and there’s a studiousness in his performance that feels very amateur. He’s hitting the steps, but you can see the process as he’s dancing. I see a lot of theater for my day job, and it’s something I notice in a lot of young actors; you can almost see the lines scrolling through their head, and they end up acting the part instead of living the part.

Mary points out Matthew’s uncomfortable connections; those transitions become smooth when the dancer isn’t performing, but living the piece. It’s the reason why ballroom can be so cheesy yet still completely captivating: the dancers are so committed to the exaggeration that it becomes natural. Audrey is stronger, but ballroom is so reliant on partnering that there’s only so much she can do without Matthew’s support. These two are audience favorites so they’re sure to be safe, but it’s nice to see them pushed out of their comfort zone and confronted with failure. The judges don’t spend much time criticizing the two, and their negative comments are usually preceded by telling them that they’re one of the show’s best couples. There are going to be obstacles on the way to the top, and a big part of this show’s appeal is seeing these dancers grow and overcome each new challenge.  

The judge’s favorite routine of the night comes courtesy of the two dancers saved last week, a Stacey Tookey contemporary number that has Witney and Chehon dancing to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” Is it a cheap move to choreograph a dance to the most recognizable song by a recently, tragically deceased pop star? Yes. Does it work? Yes. Christina calls it one of the most beautiful things she’s seen in her life. The judges go wild over the piece, with Mary describing the lift in the middle as the best moment of the season, despite the awkward camerawork diminishing the move’s impact for the at-home audience. Another impressive lift ends the dance, although it’s an awkward conclusion to the number; awkward endings have been a recurring theme in the dances this season, and hopefully the choreographers fix that in future routines. The routine is stronger during the opening a cappella bit, but the two are clearly growing as partners, and after being safe this week, their success tonight should take them to the top 10.

While the judges deliberate after the solos, we’re treated to a performance by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, an intense piece with some of the most intimate male-male partnering this show has ever seen. Wearing skirt versions of those high-waisted pants from Sonya’s top 10 boys number, the six dancers charge across the stage with an aggression and passion that we just don’t see very often on this series. In what seems like a deliberate response to Nigel’s feelings about male-male ballroom pairings, the number sees the men break into three couples as they move across the stage in ballroom formation, and the piece shows how male-male partnering can be just as versatile as male-female. I’m incredibly pleased to see that this show is keeping the guest dancers, which helps to alleviate some of the tension before the eliminations, and they have been some real nail-biters this season. With a two-week break, these dancers should come back to this show sharper than ever, and it will be exciting to see if the show can top the last few weeks of spectacular dance and reality TV drama.

Stray observations:

  • Cat looks beautiful this week in a black dress with silver embellishment on the sleeves, and her wavy Veronica Lake hair minimizes those pesky flyaways that usually surround her HD face. And a round of applause for her second Emmy nomination!
  • Dancer packages return this week as the couples share an unknown fact about their partners. Best facts: At his first track meet, George peed his pants at the sound of the starting pistol; Chehon puts OJ on his cereal; Eliana raises birds, killed one when she rolled over on him in her sleep; Cyrus’ belly button looks like a power sign. Worst facts: Janelle raps; Amelia applies sunblock; Audrey has a retainer.
  • It’s kinda awkward when that robot ballerina gets eaten out in the air.
  • NappyTabs are expecting, which means we’re about to get an incredibly sappy pregnancy routine at some point this season.
  • Mandy Moore’s crush on Will is super creepy. Do not want.
  • “I don't know what kind of cereal these two have had this morning, because there was definitely some SOUL IN THAT BOWL!!!!!!”
  • “You’re both on the damn train, get out of here.”
  • “Remember America, you could have kept them safe.” Cat ends the episode by making America feel guilty.