“For a choreographer the dancers are the paint…. You used your paint really smart and really beautifully.” —Adam Shankman, wise sage.
Too often there’s a disconnect between the choreography and the dancers executing that choreography on So You Think You Can Dance. There are routines where the choreography almost overshadows the dancers—think some Mia Michaels, or possibly Doriana Sanchez’s more death-defying disco numbers—and there are lackluster routines that are buoyed by a fabulous performance. (Mark and Chelsea’s take on NappyTab’s “Bleeding Love” hip-hop from season four and Jeanine and Brandon’s performance of Laurie Ann Gibson’s “Battlefield” last season are two that spring immediately to mind.)
This is to be expected from time to time, of course, being that we’re dealing with the extraordinary circumstances of a) dancers performing outside their specialty and b) learning to do so in a very short period of time, while simultaneously learning two other routines in two other styles. (Remember, they’re also doing the group routine every week too.) But the smart choreographers work with their dancers’ different abilities rather than against them, and the lucky dancers who select them get to shine because of it. The dancers who shone brightest tonight did so thanks to some really smart painting by their choreographers. Let’s review.
Ellenore and Ryan started off with the long-dormant Lindy hop by new choreographer Carla Heiney (teehee), and while they brought good energy and execution to the fun routine, it felt a little rote. The Lindy hop is supposed to be high-energy and fun, and with a guy as big as Ryan and a girl as throwable as Ellenore, of course they’re going to pull it off. Far more exciting was Spencer Liff’s Broadway routine, which redeemed the newcomer after last week’s just-okay Sweet Charity number for Karen and Kevin. Ellenore was the star of this routine, thanks to the nice bit of weirdness Spencer injected into her character, a fame-hungry puppet controlled by Ryan’s malevolent hands. Ellenore is a strange bird in both her personality and quality of movement—that painful-looking flexed-foot kick and snap back into second position should basically be her signature move—and by tailoring his routine to that quality, Spencer ensured her “it girl” status tonight. Ryan was, as always, a great partner to her in both routines, but he’s starting to recede into the background a bit. The partner reshuffling next week could benefit him—or it could seriously hurt both of them. Either way, they’re both almost certainly safe this week.
Kathryn and Legacy drew a Sonya jazz routine to start, and lucky they did; both of her routines tonight used her dancers to their full advantage, and both they and she came out looking great because of it. (And about time, too. I love Sonya, but she seems to have been coasting a bit lately with her choreography for this show. It’s good to have her back, and without one instance of that flexed-foot, arms-around-the-stomach lift move she uses in seemingly every routine.) Legacy’s improvement in his body work should in no way be dismissed, because it is admirable, but all of the b-boy flavor Sonya threw into this number certainly helped him appear stronger in the style than he probably is. But there really isn’t a way to bring the streets to the Viennese Waltz—and if there is, I probably don’t want to see it, blech—so there was really nothing to save Legacy in Jean-Marc Généreux’s number. Grace is something that still doesn’t come easy to Legacy, and you could see his inexperience in every sloppy arm movement and shuffling foot. Luckily for him, the judges love him and his story, and his impossibly lovely partner helps him shine even in his darker moments. Kathryn is consistently stunning when she dances, and though she often gets overshadowed by Legacy’s “growth” storyline, she’s really one of the standouts this season. I’m really hoping she and Jakob, another strong and consistent performer, get paired up soon.
Karen and Victor’s tango from Tony and Melanie seemed like a no-brainer, what with Karen’s ballroom background supposed sexiness (though I’m seeing less of that each week). And while the judges applauded the chemistry in this new partnership, I was definitely not seeing it. Karen smoldered sufficiently, but her connection with Victor wasn’t believable, and he seemed proficient without being terribly engaged. (Victor is obviously a very strong dancer, but something about him always registers as slightly bored when he dances.) But at least T&M gave them something to sink their teeth into, to ground themselves in; their second dance of the night, a Laurie Ann Gibson hip-hop number, felt scattered and disconnected from both the dancers and the music. I want to like Laurie Ann Gibson, but I’m starting to suspect she doesn’t really know how to use her dancers to their best advantage—witness also the quirked-out number she gave the decidedly unquirky Mollee and Nathan last week. Karen and Viktor seemed committed, as Adam commented, but without a character or a story or even a catchy song to connect to, they flailed a bit. And their synchronization problems certainly didn’t help matters. Karen started out strong but seems to be struggling more and more lately, and Viktor hasn’t really done anything to distinguish himself yet. Expect these two in the bottom.
Mollee and Nathan were probably the best example of the beneficial relationship between choreography and dancer tonight. Their first number of the night was a conceptual hip-hop number from Jamal Sims that neither had the personality to pull off. Again, I think the whole “invention of the telephone” idea may have been a little too quirky for them; instead of coming off as sort of winking and sly, which I think was Jamal’s intent, their perky demeanors and soft execution made the whole thing feel like a high-school talent-show number (or, as Nigel put it, “Dolly Dinkle’s regional hip-hop class 101”). That same perkiness, however, benefitted them greatly in their second dance, the premiere of the can-can on SYTYCD courtesy of Tasty Oreo himself. As Adam put it, they were like “hopping Energizer bunnies,” and while the can-can does have an element of sexiness to it, it has a flirtatious and youthful quality that matches Mollee and Nathan better than that salsa they mucked up a couple weeks back. This routine probably saved them tonight—and witnessing those incredible controlled turns from Nathan and Mollee’s gung-ho leaps on a bum ankle, maybe they deserve to be saved. But they’ll have Tyce to thank for it.
Russell and Noelle also benefitted from Tyce’s “clever” choreography in their second number of the night, a paint-splattered contemporary routine. This felt a little gimmicky for my tastes, but they danced it well and Russell remains a total star. They were lucky to get this audience-friendly number second, however, because their opening samba from Tony and Melanie just didn’t quite cut it. I found myself smiling during their dance, but I realized after it was because they’re both just so gosh darn likable and seem to have so much fun dancing—but, as the judges pointed out, that doesn’t necessarily translate to the samba’s down-and-dirty manner. It’s a little odd that Russell, a street dancer, can’t bring that quality to other styles; but then again, samba is not that friendly to beginners, so perhaps the fact that he looked comfortable, if not “oogy,’ as Adam put it, is impressive enough. I doubt Nigel would let Russell go before the top 10—he’s too much of a draw on the tour—but I wouldn’t be entirely shocked to see him and Noelle having to perform solos tomorrow. Not because their performances were outright bad—as I said, the contemporary was very, very well done—but because the competition is getting so tough. Competition like…
Ashleigh and Jakob. Jakob has been a lock for the top four pretty much since the beginning, but who would have seen Ashleigh coming? Credit her luck in getting to dance not only another stunning routine from Sonya, this time lyrical jazz, but also her style of choice, cha-cha. Whereas Jakob got to show off big time thanks to Sonya’s choreography, which was full of inhuman-looking bends and leaps, Ashleigh got to show what she looked like completely at ease with Jean-Marc’s cha-cha. And she looked great. But both of them benefitted from their partner as well: Ashleigh matches Jakob so well for someone trained in such a different style of movement, and Jakob softens Ashleigh considerably when they dance together. Adam proclaimed them “the couple of the night,” and I find it hard to disagree. It’ll be interesting to see them paired with new partners next week; I’d be shocked if Jakob didn’t pull off whatever was handed to him, but I’m starting to think Ashleigh might be a bit of a force to be reckoned with herself. Of course, starting next week, the styles are also going to be chosen randomly, which might make for some less-than-ideal choreographer/dancer symbiosis.
• After last week’s obscenely padded episode, it was nice to get a nice two-hour block chock-full of dancing. The judges were also on their best behavior, keeping the critiques concise and mostly helpful. Even Mary kept her screams short.
• Loved Adam’s demonstration of the different “jazz faces.” “Why are you surprised, you know the routine?”
• Mollee, in response to the tidbit about can-can dancers not wearing underwear: “I wore my underwear today.” Nigel, showing a rare bit of restraint and good taste: “And thank goodness you did, darling.”
• In case you were counting, that’s two Tyce routines tonight I didn’t hate. I did, however, hate his man scarf.
• Legacy’s crying: genuine or pandering? I’m pretty sure it’s the former, but that doesn’t make it any less off-putting.
• Not so off-putting: Legacy’s abs, which are giving Ryan a serious run for his money.
• Victor is excited to work with Karen because she’s a “two-time hot tamale train rider.” Ugh. That train needs to go off an overpass so I never have to hear about it again.
• Not sure how I felt about Cat’s dress tonight, but that color was perfection. But did she look a little, I don’t know… sleepy?