So You Think You Can Dance: “Top 20 Perform, Part 2”
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So You Think You Can Dance: “Top 20 Perform, Part 2”

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So You Think You Can Dance

“Top 20 Perform, Part 2”

Season 9, Episode 8

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itneyThe big question lingering at the end of last week’s episode was how the producers were going to pull off performances and eliminations in one show, and the answer is with two of the most jam-packed hours of dance this program has ever had. The continuing evolution of this series is resulting in tighter episodes that spend more time on the thing viewers came to see: choreography. In this week’s installment, we get a hip-hop group number, routines from all 10 couples, and an electric performance from the cast of Step Up: Revolution, including previous contestants Twitch, Phillip, Tony, and Kathryn. What have been cut are the filler dancer packages before each dance, and in this episode, individual solos for the dancers in the bottom three. Hopefully the former stays absent, which will force the contestants to show their personality on the dance floor, but it seems that solos were left off this week because the judges were confident in the two dancers they wanted to save from this week’s bottom six.

Like last season, four dancers go home in the first elimination of the season, but at least it’s not because the judges were too hesitant to cut anyone like last year. Because of the number of episodes, the judges have to eliminate four in the first week in order for the show to get where it needs to be for the season finale. The episode moves so fast that it’s hard to get too attached to any of the dancers on the chopping block, and while there are definitely contestants that should be heading home instead (read: Cyrus), the elimination isn’t too painful.

From the girls, Janaya and Alexa are sent home, and while the cut is particularly painful for Alexa, who was the last person cut from last season’s Vegas week, Janaya is the contestant I’m saddest to see go. Her Sean Cheesman Broadway routine with Brandon is one of the night’s most delightful routines, and if she hadn’t been eliminated tonight, she would have surely been safe next week. She plays a smiling nympho who will do anything to mount the guy sitting next to her on a bench, and her efforts become more aggressive as he tries to slip free from her grasp. Her character work is spot on, and her bright personality is a much better fit for Cheeseman’s choreography than last week’s PSA dance. Both dancers have great facial expressions, and the dancing tells the story in much more clever way than last week’s lame Tyce Diorio Broadway routine.

Alexa and Daniel, despite being great dancers, are never able to cultivate chemistry in their dances, and they leave the judges cold after their Dee Caspary contemporary routine. They’re the only couple sent home, which is surprising because they’re two of the show’s sharpest dancers. Nick is another skilled competitor who suffers in the personality department, and there’s something disingenuous about the face he puts on for the camera, especially after his tango with Amber. She’s able to make the sultriness come from somewhere within, but Nick tries to compensate for his natural cuteness with puckered lips and squinting, shadowed eyes. It will be great to see Brandon and Amber partnered next week, and they could become this show’s power couple if they build on the momentum they individually gathered by the end of this episode.

Cyrus is shaping up to be this season’s most controversial figure, and the producers are really pushing him to the forefront despite his lack of skill. He’s the centerpiece of the opening NappyTabs group number, and while he does fine work as the ringleader of an undead circus, he just doesn’t pick up choreography all that well. His Tony Meredith and Melanie Lapatin jive with Eliana is very sloppy, and having him partnered with one of the show’s most technically polished dancers just puts the spotlight on his weaknesses. That’s a shame, because Eliana is a gorgeous dancer who deserves choreography that challenges her and gives her the chance to show off all she is capable of. Their dynamic right now is very Dancing With The Stars, with Eliana as the professional dancer and Cyrus as the contestant who is praised just for getting through a routine.

Cyrus is dancing completely out of his style with this number, but just because he’s unfamiliar with the style doesn’t mean that he should get a free pass when he performs poorly. Right now, he’s more reminiscent of season seven’s Jose rather than Twitch, but the voters like him so he could be around for a very long time. Tony and Melanie also choreograph a foxtrot for George and Tiffany, a contemporary and jazz dancer who perform a very difficult routine exquisitely. It’s great to see the kind of beautiful work Tony and Melanie can do with two capable dancers, but it makes it even sadder to see Eliana forced into lackluster choreography by her partner.

NappyTabs burn themselves out on the opening number (one of their best routines in recent memory), but their spirit lives on in the choreography of Christopher Scott, who embodies the duo’s best and worst aspects in his two numbers. The first, a sexy dentist/nerdy Asian routine for Lindsay and Cole, gets bogged down in the concept to the point where the dancing takes a backseat to the story. Cole has apparently been doing his best Daniel Day-Lewis impression and has been in his nerd character for the last few days, and keeps the mask up when talking to the judges; Adam Shankman is unnerved by Cole’s dedication, but his work shows on the dance floor. Lindsay has more trouble with her seductive role, and the judges want to see maturity in her dancing, although it’s damn near impossible to be sexy while wearing Keds.

Scott’s second routine is a cutesy proposal number for Dareian and Janelle set to “My Girl,” an adorable, well-danced piece that the judges shit all over. I really didn’t understand any of their many criticisms, especially regarding the lack of chemistry between the two. Their storytelling is clear, and even though the dance is on the corny side, at least it’s not about two cats having sex in a dumpster. Their movement is tight, the relationship between the characters is well defined, and they make it look effortless. But it’s somehow one of the most heavily panned routines of the night. This judging segment also includes Shankman giving a fake kiss to Nigel, so it’s a good time to lay on the fast forward button.

In the review of the Top 20 performance episode, I expressed a desire to see Sonya Tayeh explore new areas in her choreography, and she’s shown impressive growth with her routines over the last two weeks. Her first number is a lyrical, delicate piece for Amelia and Will that is a complete shift from their dumpster-cat routine last week, and this couple continues to be one to watch. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that these two have become close friends off-stage, because there’s a sense of comfort in their partnering that can’t be manufactured. Sonya’s other routine of the evening is a much more in her classic style, with thumping electronic music, quick angular movement, and sinister sexuality. Matthew and Audrey nail the routine, and while it’s a much different piece than their gentle Travis Wall number last week, the choreography is still in a style they’re both comfortable in. They’ve shown that they can slip into very different characters and tones, but I can’t wait to see how they fare with vastly different choreography like ballroom or hip-hop.

Witney and Chehon are the dancers that are pushed furthest out of their comfort zone with their exhilarating Bollywood number, and their performance saves them from elimination at the end of the episode. Witney is a lot like season seven’s Kathryn in the way that she transforms while dancing. She has the mature sexiness that fellow ballroom blonde Lindsay lacks, and it makes her pop in Nakul Dev Mahajan’s routine. That doesn’t mean she’s not having fun, and despite the quick, precise choreography, both dancers look like they’re having a great time on stage. Chehon in particular blossoms during this routine, losing his ballet stiffness and embracing the playful energy of the dance. Faced with a tough decision at elimination, the judges’ decision to save Witney and Chehon is a smart one, and they show the most promise for growth in the future.

Just like the dancers, this season sees SYTYCD growing in new and exciting ways, and this week’s episode answers the final questions regarding this season’s major shake-ups. The new format means more dancing and less filler, and with such an impressive lineup of contestants, this season is shaping up to be one of the series’ best. Some very good dancers were lost tonight, but they each got significant time in the spotlight. And losing four tonight means its going to sting a lot less when only two dancers go home next week.

Stray observations:

  • The Step Up: Revolution routine is fantastic, and I hope that there will be guest performers during the second half of every episode. I’m also legitimately excited to see the new Step Up, but that’s because I’m a huge Kathryn McCormick fanboy. It actually looks like a hell of a lot of fun, like an episode of SYTYCD on a huge screen with longer routines.
  • We don’t have time for your commemorative stamps, Nigel!
  • I wish the audience was told not to cheer during the quiet routines, because that can get very distracting.
  • There are so many gorgeous people being extremely active in not very much clothing on this show. How is it not a ratings juggernaut?
  • Cole The Method Actor might become a problem when he gets his dogs humping a fire hydrant NappyTabs routine.
  • Adam Shankman’s truly shameless Step Up plugs go from cute to irritating very quickly.
  • Bathtub sex to Yanni is never a good idea.
  • Phillip Chbeeb’s ass is all up in Nigel’s face during the Step Up routine, his way of saying “Fuck you for giving me Russian folk dance.”
  •  “You’re like a big sexy tomato.”
  • “She cray cray.”

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