So You Think You Can Dance: “Top 14 Perform/Third Elimination”
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So You Think You Can Dance: “Top 14 Perform/Third Elimination”

After a streak of jam-packed episodes showcasing spectacular dance talent, So You Think You Can Dance flies horribly off the rails with an episode that is ill-conceived on every level. For the first time, this series dedicates an entire show to the work of one choreographer with the top 14 reviving classic Mia Michaels routines. While it’s a nice idea, it’s a complete wreck in execution, with nearly every dance falling below the quality of the original numbers. Nigel tries to justify the experiment by talking about how dancers are expected to step into old choreography all the time, but real life isn’t a reality show competition. Much of this show’s appeal is in seeing young dancers tackle brand-new choreography, and when they perform old dances, the show loses the exhilarating surprise of seeing a really great routine for the first time.

That exhilaration is certainly there during Mia’s opening group routine, a new piece that makes extensive use of hanging ropes for some kinky choreography. Nigel refers to 50 Shades Of Grey when talking about it, and it’s certainly one of the more sensual routines of this season with the rope dancers kissing each other for an awkwardly long period of time. The contestants relegated to the business with the roses are pushed to the background by the rope acrobatics, and while it’s a visually stunning routine, it’s not the most cohesively choreographed. I’d like to see Mia return to choreographing more intimate duets, but after this week’s episode, I wouldn’t mind a Mia Michaels break.

The Mia Michaels tribute would have been fine for a results-show episode, but it’s an odd choice at such a pivotal moment in the competition. And when the dancer packages consist of the contestants talking about the most inspiring routines in SYTYCD history, the episode just becomes masturbatory. There are some cute bits (Lindsay’s home video recreating Travis and Benji’s “Gyrate” routine is adorable), but this isn’t a milestone episode, so why so much dwelling on past moments of greatness? And for such a self-congratulating episode, why bring on two guest judges who have never seen the show nor Mia Michaels’ work? Ballet Boyz founders Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt go out of their way to remind everyone that they don’t watch the show; they don’t know the dancers’ names or styles, and seem to not want to be there. Zooey Deschanel has some company on the list of guest judges to never invite back, and because this episode is the worst, the Ballet Boyz get to help choose which four dancers go home this week.

This series took a two-week break to avoid overlap with the Olympics, which means the judges need to cut four dancers so that The Goddamn X-Factor can come back on time. It’s an unfortunate but inevitable situation, and it results in some rough eliminations. Janelle and Dareian have been on the judges’ shit list for the last few weeks, and their overly acted/coiffed performance of Mia’s season four mattress routine for Kherington and tWitch sends them packing. The judges harp on Dareian’s floppy feet, and the Ballet Boyz are too distracted by Janelle’s hair. Janelle has been going through a breakup so she’s in a very emotional place, which translates to some intense overacting at the end of the routine. There are technical issues with the dance, but the main problem with their routine is this:

tWitch is so relaxed in that opening, its almost voyeuristic watching him sleep. Kherington’s movement is so smooth, she’s a spectral presence on that stage. These dancers appear so mature, even though they’re almost the same age as Dareian and Janelle. It’s incredibly difficult not to think about the old dances when seeing them revived, especially when they were performed at such a high caliber the first time around. These dances first appeared between seasons two through five, when this series was at the height of its popularity. Mia’s choreography was so bold when it first debuted, and that freshness invigorated the dancers to give stunning performances. As more and more Mia impersonators choreograph for the show, that style becomes less new, and the dancers lose that added momentum. It happens for Dareian and Janelle, and just about everyone else over the course of the evening.

The two big surprise eliminations of the night are dreamboat Matthew and translucent Amelia, who are victims of some incredibly unlucky voting results. Last week’s salsa showed the cracks in Matthew’s Ryan Gosling-shaped armor, and his underwhelming performance in Mia’s “Time” routine further exposed his weaknesses.

Matthew only started dancing when he was 16, and as this competition has progressed, his lack of experience has begun to show. He has a tendency to get in his head before big moments in the choreography, leading to a disconnect in his partnering and a break in the flow of the dance. The Ballet Boyz tell him he needs to learn to disguise the effort that goes into it, which is what made Neil such a fantastic performer. If there’s ever a dance that should appear effortless, it’s this playful but heartbreaking routine about Mia reconnecting with her father in the afterlife. Neil’s gymnastics background made him a fearless dancer when he was doing double backflips, so he had no problem with Mia’s choreography. Matthew is visibly concerned with where his feet are or making sure he catches the flower, and it ends up working against the story of the dance. Audrey does a great job in the routine, bringing that joy the judges are looking for, but she is a complete wreck when Matthew ends up in the bottom six and ultimately goes home. I hope this show has a grief counselor on hand, because Audrey looks devastated.

Before this episode, it seemed like Amelia’s personality would be enough to propel her to the top 10, so it’s a shock that she gets sent home. Like Matthew, she delivers an utterly forgettable, textbook-contemporary final solo that is the final nail in her coffin, but Amelia starts getting hammered when she and Will perform Randi and Evan’s “Butt Dance” from season five.

Amelia lacks Randi’s raw sensuality, and she spends so much time worrying about her butt that she forgets about her best asset: her personality. Randi had a big butt and Evan was short, so Mia gave them a routine that focused on the behind and kept Evan low to the ground. Will is the tallest contestant this season, but he’s still able to bring some weight to his performance. The original number wasn’t exquisitely danced (Evan in particular slipped up a couple times), but it had the chemistry that Will and Amelia lack. It’s possible that I was soured by their unfortunate dancer package, which spent a creepy amount of time on Amelia’s backside, including a slow-motion sequence of Will smacking her ass. When the spanking happens during the routine, Will is essentially doing a jazz hand on her butt, and it just looks bad. When Nigel starts talking about how he has Randi’s butt on his mind, the creep factor becomes overwhelming.

Bottom six survivor George and Tiffany dance to Katee and Joshua’s “Hometown Glory” routine, which means they’re competing against the memory of arguably the greatest couple in this show’s history. It’s a daunting task, which makes George and Tiffany’s performance all the more remarkable. Like Dareian and Janelle, they appear so much younger than the original dancers, but that youthfulness works for the routine. The piece is about two people embarking on new roads in life, a fitting metaphor for these two young dancers as they prepare to enter the professional arena. George and Tiffany hit all the steps, and while there’s not as much tension in their performance as Joshua and Katee’s, they make up for it with strong synchronization and musicality. The judges have issues with Tiffany’s overacting, but consider it George’s strongest showing on the series yet, which keeps him in the competition when combined with his breathtaking solo.

Last episode ended with George and Lindsay being saved from elimination without having to dance solos, and like George, Lindsay manages to survive the bottom six for another week. I’m not sure what the rules are for solos, but apparently it’s fine if a dancer takes choreography from this series and makes it their solo routine. Lindsay takes a lot of material from Lacey and Danny’s season three “Hip Hip Chin Chin” samba. This episode already established that Lindsay memorized SYTYCD choreography growing up, and it’s a smart move to repurpose one of the show’s most lively ballroom numbers for a solo routine. I don’t understand why Lindsay keeps ending up in the bottom three girls, especially considering what she has to deal with in the extremely dedicated Cole.

What happens when this season’s most method dancer plays an abstract role like addiction? One terrifying performance. Like an addict in withdrawal, Cole gives a very jittery performance, and while its appropriately unnerving, it gets to be a little over the top. While the judges criticize many of the other contestants for going too far, they have nothing but praise for Cole, which sends mixed signals for the dancers and the voting audience. Kupono’s interpretation of the role had an allure that made the addiction more deceptive and pervasive; Cole’s addiction is all bad from the very start, and ends with Señor Chang-like comic intensity.

What this episode does best is remind viewers of how strong season four was, with three of the seven numbers being picked from that season. (It also shows how much Mia likes choreographing for tWitch. See them both in Step Up: Revolution while it’s still in theaters. Or don’t.) It’s astonishing that Cyrus has made it as far as he has, but this show has clearly been grooming him to be the next tWitch, going so far have him and Eliana dance tWitch and Katee’s “Mercy” door routine.

I’m not sure if it was Mia’s choice to have Cyrus do those jerky body rolls or if he just can’t do a body roll, but either way it doesn’t look very good on stage. As usual, Eliana dominates the routine, although Cyrus does manage to capture some of tWitch’s signature swag. Cyrus has the attitude, but he lacks the smoothness of tWitch’s movement, and the judges finally start giving him some technical critiques like dropping his shoulder to free up the rest of his body. Eliana is rightly praised, and she brings all of Katee’s ferocity to the stage. The Ballet Boyz talk about how many ballet dancers are perceived as cold and overly technical, but Eliana is full of fiery passion. It will be very interesting to see how Cyrus fares when he loses her as a partner next week, assuming the show follows the usual format of switching partners for the top 10.

This week’s other couple that is completely safe is Witney and Chehon, who dance Travis and Heidi’s classic bench routine. Witney is at a distinct advantage here, having worshiped the dance as a kid, and the female part is much less difficult than the male’s in the number. Much of the pressure falls on Chehon, having to live up to the legacy of Travis Wall, who is not only one of this show’s strongest contestants, but has become one of its best choreographers. Chehon doesn’t have Travis’ momentum (I don’t think anyone will ever do that pirouette as flawlessly as Travis), and there’s a drowsiness to his performance that makes the dance seem like a casual encounter at a bench rather than a turning point in a relationship. Their performance is fine, but it leads to the episode’s most excruciating moment during the judges’ critiques.

Nigel wants to tell Witney and Chehon that there needs to be a repelling aura around the sunflower, but before he can do that, he needs to recount the tragic moments of Mia’s personal life in mortifying detail. “That sunflower represents Mia’s love,” Nigel begins, “and Mia fell in love with a guy who couldn’t give her his love back physically—he was gay. He loved her dearly, but he could never accept her love.” It’s such an incredibly awkward moment that from that point on, I began to look forward to the eliminations just so that this trainwreck of an episode could end. Hopefully next week’s show will be a return to form, because this week’s failed experiment forgets all the things that make this show fun to watch.

  • Stray observations:
  • I should have known once I saw the wrapping paper fringe on Cat’s dress that this would be a disastrous episode. I like her braid, though.
  • NappyTabs had their baby, and they all took a really adorable family picture. Congratulations, NappyTabs!
  • The eye makeup for the “Mercy” dance is a hot look for Elianna.
  • I thought that we wouldn’t be subjected to National Dance Day talk because it passed during the break. I WAS WRONG.
  • I love the way the Ballet Boyz refer to Dareian and Janelle as “the gentleman here” and “the young lady.” Why are they here???
  • Someone needs to create a .gif of all of Mia’s intensely displeased faces from this episode. Please.
  • The episode’s second most awkward moment is when Nigel decides to quiz Audrey and Matthew on the life story of Mia Michaels’ deceased father, and its just mortifying to watch.
  • What’s your most inspiring past SYTYCD moment? Mine is probably Katee and Joshua’s beautifully intimate Wade Robson routine to “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room.”

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