I am not a big fan of reality competitions, but I have to admit that I love this show. For me, it ranks just above America’s Best Dance Crew, and is head and tails above Dancing With The Stars. I love watching talented dancers being put through their paces, and unlike ABDC, the dances here are more approachable for someone of my generation. With So You Think You Can Dance, I don’t have to have my children around to explain the steps or the meaning of the judges’ critiques. I have had enough classical, ballroom, jazz and theater experience to know what the judges may be looking for, and thanks to Shane Sparks and ABDC, I think I know the basics of how the hip-hop routines are supposed to go.
This is not to say that I do not sometimes get it wrong. My favorites are not always the judges’ favorites and sometimes I am stumped as to why America chooses some couples over others. But, I can always count on the show to keep me entertained and Wednesday night’s episode was no exception.
My favorite number of the night, and possibly of the whole season, was a contemporary piece choreographed by the incomparable Mia Michaels and expertly danced by Kayla and Kupono. The dance was a lyrical interpretation of the horror and desperation of addiction and was full of raw, powerful emotion. I have always been struck by the power of Kayla and Kupono’s dancing, as well as the connection the two seem to have as a couple – synchronized to the point where after doing a leap or complicated jump, their feet always touch the ground on the same beat.
I had to disagree with Nigel’s comment that Kayla’s hair was in her face too much for him to see the passion of her dancing. For me, the passion of the piece was inherent in the muscles of her arms and legs, and even in the extension of the fingers in her outstretched hand as she reached for freedom from her addiction, malevolently embodied by an unforgiving and grasping Kupono. Prior to dancing, we heard an emotional Kupono discussing how addiction had touched his life and family, and his reluctance to represent addiction in the dance, yet he superbly filled the role. Their dancing combined with Mia Michael’s choreography made for an unforgettable piece that brought tears to my eyes. Bravo!
After dancing this moving story of addiction, I was eagerly anticipating Kayla and Kupono’s second number. However, I was sadly disappointed with it. The dance was supposed to represent a couple struck with love at first sight and was set to the music of Leonard Bernstein’s “Dance at the Gym” from West Side Story. The choreography had enough elements paying tribute to the original choreographer, Jerome Robbins, but like the current Broadway production, the dancers lacked the raw quality of the street element and jazzed feelings of the time that West Side Story is supposed to represent. I thought the judges’ comments were spot on in directing the dancers to get more grounded to the floor and embody the contraction and release inherent in Robbins’s original choreography.
Perhaps the SYTYCD choreographers are erring in tackling iconic dances from past Broadway shows and movies. In previous weeks, the dancers seemed to stumble with such well-known pieces like the “Moses Supposes” number from Singing in the Rain and “Rich Man’s Frug” from Sweet Charity. The best that I can say about these numbers is that they were ok. It’s great to hear familiar music, but when you are doing a dance that is etched into our consciousness by such greats as Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Ann Reinking, and Ben Vereen, we expect more from the dancers — we expect them to be the same as the originals. Personally, I would have loved to see the "Moses" number tap-danced by Evan and his brother (who will be appearing in season six) – there would have been a better chance of recreating the original. And Evan’s attempt at the Fosse-style from Charity was admirable but disappointing.
The biggest surprises of last night’s episode were the two dances performed by Janette and Brandon. Janette has never been one of my favorite dancers, but last night changed my mind. Their first dance they did was an Argentine tango that completely sizzled. I did not think it was perfect, but the judges did. I thought the flicks and kicks could have been faster and sharper, but the dance was a joy to watch anyway. Argentine tango is a very sexy and sensual dance, while Brandon’s performance was hot, Janette commanded the stage with her Latin sensuality.
Janette and Brandon’s second number was out of this world entertaining and unexpected. Dancing to a song written by Róisín Murphy and choreographed by Wade Robson, the two dancers stood out as they amused and amazed with their precision, their use of the entire set, and their technical prowess in a dance that has not been matched in inventiveness this season. With their gloves and bowlers, I was reminded of Fosse doing an understated strut across the stage, but this dance was unique in its comedic and lighthearted aura, with a technical difficulty that the dancers made look effortless. It was just plain fun!
The biggest disappointment of the evening was a Russian folk-dance performed by Phillip and Jeanine. Phillip is one of America’s favorites, and as a hip-hop dancer I think he is amazing. Unfortunately, he does not always shine in other genres. Jeanine outshone Phillip by miles in this dance. I thought the dance choreography itself was disappointing and I don’t know if the choreographers made the dance easy because they doubted Phillip’s ability, or if this was their original intent. At this point in the competition, it was an unfortunate choice for the unlucky couple.
Luckily, Phillip had a chance to redeem himself with a jive routine near the end of the evening. Despite a slip in the dance, Phillip did remarkably well with the jive, even managing to put more of an entertainment value in his performance than Evan did in his jive a few weeks back. Jeanine sparkled in this number too, delivering a pert, entertaining performance that had the judges predicting that she would be part of the top 10.
I have to applaud the judges, Nigel Lythgoe; Mary Murphy; and last night, Tyce Diorio. Theirs is not an easy task. I think it would be easier for me to pick the one dancer I liked the least than the best dancer. Each contestant brings something to the table that is unique, and I predict that whatever their fates on the show, their professional dance careers will be assured. Even Mary Murphy’s screaming "hot tamale train" is no longer annoying, now that I have come to see how that recognition and assurance is valued and sought by the dancers. I enjoy watching the interaction between the judges and last night found myself amused when Mary called Nigel an English muffin. It’s all in good fun and adds to, rather than detracts from, the entertainment value of the show.
I also have to commend the host, Cat Deeley, who is adorable and fills her role as cheerleader for the dancers admirably. I greatly anticipate her wardrobe choices for each show, and this season has not come up with any clunkers. She has a unique and enjoyable personal style. She is witty and entertaining in her interactions with the judges and is always comforting and compassionate towards the dancers. Cat’s presence must be a blessing to them as they wait nervously to hear their fate for the following week’s show.
Watch FOX tonight for the live results show at 9:00PM, two more dancers will be eliminated from the So You Think You Can Dance roster, revealing the Top 10 dancers. Those 10 will continue in the competition and go on tour beginning in September. Info on the tour and the new Dizzy Feet Foundation dance scholarship and accreditation program can be found at FOX's website.