I am so glad auditions are over because the Vegas callbacks on So You Think You Can Dance are where the real magic begins. 172 dancers were brought to Vegas, and by the end of this episode, only 32 remain in the competition. Tonight, six boys and six girls will be cut, leaving us with our Top 20. This episode was rather surprising and rather brutal as I watched a few of my early favorites falter and get cut, a couple of whom were so loved by the judges that I just can’t believe they got cut at all. But that’s the difference between SYTYCD and American Idol: here, the producers’ intentions for packaging and selling a contestant mean fuck nothing if they don’t impress Mia Michaels during Vegas week. I love the bitch, but she was fucking ruthless in Vegas. To wit:
“You know me. I’m a cutter. And I will cut you.”
That coupled with her comment to the “beautiful, disastrous weirdo” last week make her my favorite person on reality television at this very moment. But great Mia Michaels moments aside, I can’t tell you how much it hurts to see great dancers get cut on this show. The Vegas callbacks are, in some ways, very much like watching a real life version of A Chorus Line, only here there are no weird songs about dancing with Indian chiefs and the entire cast of 172 that begins the show won’t be around to dance the final production number. We get to know these dancers through their movements and the producer packages, we latch on to their hopes and dreams and when those dreams are dashed? Well, that hurts quite a bit.
Vegas Week began with the contestants performing solos before the panel of Nigel, Mary Murphy, Mia Michaels, Lil C, Adam Shankman and the legendary Debbie Allen. We got to see two solos from people we hadn’t yet seen in earlier episodes: a beautiful ballet piece from Miami ballet dancer Alex Wong and a comedic hip-hop routine from the ill-named Tony Bellissimo. I adored Alex Wong and immediately was angry that we’re only getting to know him now, but Tony Bellissimo? I don’t get it. Sure, his performance was funny and cute (he put pictures of Nigel inside his props and danced to “Somebody’s Watching Me”), but I just didn’t see much dancing or technique in it. I thought: really? This late in the game you’re going to do something clever that isn’t backed by hardcore technique? Even Ryan Kasprzak knew better than that, tapping his ass off and accentuating the sounds with that whoopee cushion like Gene Kelly did with a newspaper and a squeaky floorboard in Summer Stock.
Nigel then announced after a solos montage (in which we briefly saw Megan Kinney one again) that some people would be cut after their solos, pointing out that while they were strong in their audition cities, they were not quite so when culled together with 172 of the best dancers in the country. Among the 45 cut were Chimezie Nwosa, Travis Prokop (he of the football coach father) and widow Talia Rikards, which pleased me only because I now never have to hear Cat Deeley say the phrase “widow Talia Rikards” again and I feel justified in noting that Chimezie didn’t land either of his flips properly in his audition.
TabNap in yo' face.
After those cuts, the dancers were asked to perform a hip hop routine with Tabitha and Napolean Duomo and here I witnessed my first major disappointment of the night: my beloved carney Gaby Rojas has absolutely no sense of musicality. She got woefully lost during this performance and couldn’t hit a single step on time. Fortunately for me, the judges gave her a free pass on the strength of the solo she’d performed earlier and she was allowed to continue on. 37 dancers were cut after the hip hop round, and I have to admit I found it very strange that the montage of cut dancers from this round included only African-American dancers. Was FOX trying to make a point? If so, what?
The 97 dancers who made it through the hip hop round where then asked to try their hand at ballroom, dancing a waltz with Jean-Marc Généreux and his wife, France. I got another bit of vindication during this round when a limber-limbed Phillip Chbeeb was sent through, but his far less talented partner Arielle got cut. Some featured dancers who got through this round include samba dancer Maksim Kapitanikov, Auska, Ricky Sun, Kayla Radomkulous and Priscilla Marrero. Nobuya Nagahana gets sent through, too, although I do not understand why. Maybe my issue with him is that his height makes his center look wrong, but Mary seemed to go gaga over his arm extensions, so what do I know. Maybe they were distracting enough to take away from the fact that he didn’t create good lines anywhere else. 16 dancers (including Arielle Coker) were cut from the ballroom round.
Next up, the remaining dancers were put through jazz with Sonya, and many of them injured or maimed themselves or others during the rehearsals for this piece. One fellow kicked himself in the face, noting to camera whilst holding an icepack to his temple, “This is what happens when you get kicked in the head by yourself.” Noted, sir. Noted. Because of the number of dancers that struggled with her piece, Sonya asked Natalie Reid and Brandon Bryant to perform it one last time so that everyone in the class could see what it should look like. “Hooray!,” I thought. “Brandon and Natalie are doing so well! ” But then Natalie performed, and she wasn’t as good as she was in rehearsal and a terrible, terrible thing occurred: the girl who should have had Katee’s spot last year, the girl who made Sonya cry in Denver . . . got cut. I don’t understand exactly why or how this happened, especially when people like Tony Bellissimo and Nobuya Nagahana get through. Sure, Natalie didn’t kill that piece like she killed it in rehearsal, but if they gave Gaby Rojas a chance, why not Natalie? I was shocked and deeply saddened, and so was Brandon Bryant, who lost his best friend in the competition when Natalie got cut. I told you kids this shit was brutal.
In fact, Natalie’s departure only got more brutal when Gaby Rojas again completely failed to follow the music in any way, shape or form during her turn at Sonya’s piece. The judges asked her to dance for her life, and she whipped out an amazing solo (set to a great song about the blackness of her skin and the strength of her back, etc. etc.), earning six yeses and the chance to continue on. Natalie didn’t mess up nearly as badly as Gaby did, so for Gaby to get two chances and Natalie to get none seems slightly unfair. What I gleaned from seeing the respective failures of both of these dancers is this: Natalie might lack a little stamina, but at least she can actually learn choreography quickly. Gaby had no issues following the music during her solos, which proved to me that her issue wasn’t so much musicality as it was with muscle memory. She simply can’t learn routines in a single day. It doesn’t make her a bad dancer, it just makes her totally wrong for a show in which you basically have 2-3 days to perfect a routine. If you can’t pick up choreography quickly, you can’t be on SYTYCD. I love Gaby deeply because I desire to do what she does in the realm of circus arts, but after watching her fail, I’d rather Natalie have been given her chances.
Even Brandon Bryant got beat up on during this round. For some reason, Mia Michaels just doesn’t see how amazing he is and makes a point to tell him that she’s disappointed that he isn’t living up to his reputation. But, despite Mia’s protestations, he continues on, which is good, because I don’t know if I could have handled losing Brandon Bryant again. Eight dancers, including popper Sammy Ramirez, were cut during this round, leaving 73 contestants to fight on through the next day . . . but first . . .
Just when they’d hoped the day was over and they’d get to rest, Cat Deeley corralled all the dancers on stage and told them that they’d be put into groups and asked to choreograph a piece to a randomly drawn CD. Their dance would be performed for the judges the next morning, meaning they’d have to work through the night to get it right. While I definitely see the value in asking dancers to try their hand at choreography, I’m not entirely sure I see the value in forcing them to stay up all night to do it (same regarding the “group vocal arrangements done overnight” during Hollywood Week on Idol), other than that sleep deprivation makes good television. I just can’t imagine a situation in which staying up all night to work on something you’re going to have to do the next day actually produces good work. But that said, I like watching people attempt to choreograph for two reasons: it shows you how well the dancers work with other dancers, which indicates how well they partner and collaborate, and it also demonstrates how well a dancer can recognize the strengths and weaknesses of those he or she is working with, as well as their own, and incorporate those into a performance.
But not everyone is good at choreography, or working with others, as the first group to perform on Day 2 proved. Tapper Eric “Silky” Moore’s group just didn’t get along, with Silky himself doing the majority of the refusal to listen and collaborate, and they decided to call it a night and sleep rather than working through to make their dance not suck. I really don’t know if a few extra hours would have been much of an improvement, but, man, their piece really, really sucked. From a visual standpoint, it just didn’t make any sense. There were no formations, no repetitions and no one ever danced in unison. After being panned by the judges, cute shorthaired mystery girl Paula Van Houten cried and said she should have stepped up and been a good leader and forced her group to keep working rather than going to bed, and the judges let her continue on based on the strength of her dancing during that shitacular routine, as did some mysterious ballroom dancer we’ve never seen before but showed up in virtually every shot in this episode. Androgynous Megan something-or-other got cut, as did some other poor girl, while Silky himself was told to stick around and dance for his life at the end of the day where he would, mercifully for me, get cut.
The morning continued on with a montage of groups that failed the choreography challenge, until Branden Bryant’s group came along and produced an Alvin Ailey-esque routine to “My Life Would Suck Without You” in which the dancers started to move as a connected circle, broke apart, came back together and ultimately ended up as two pairs (Branden and some chick, and two chicks together), rejecting the other male dancer in the group. I was so refreshed that someone actually managed to tell a story and choreograph well, and so were all of the judges except Mia, who delivered the line I quoted above about cutting in Branden’s direction. Everyone in Branden’s group goes through, and the remainder of the performances we’re shown are well-choreographed and good, especially Ryan Kasprzak’s group, who dress up as nerds and call themselves Nerdography, which Ryan describes as the precise moment in which a nerd both gets up the nerve to talk to a hot chick and hears a great song. Could I be any more in love with the Brothers Kasprzak? I think not. His routine was funny, cute and brilliantly choreographed – a mix of Dan Karaty and Shane Sparks at his silliest. (See Travis and Benji’s final two routine from season two. Tranji comin’ atcha below!)
The dancers who passed the choreography challenge were then put through one of the most brutal tests a dancer can endure: a contemporary routine by Mia Michaels. The dancers had no problem telling us how difficult Mia’s work is, as though fans of the show were not already aware. That Tony Bellissimo fellow I’m not fond of was asked to perform Mia’s choreography again, as he was not quite in time with the music, but probably hit the moves better than many others in his group did, which was pretty surprising. Amanda Kirby Whose Dad Has MS got cut, as did Nobuya Nagahana. Megan Kinney got through, but her sister Caitlin had a lot of trouble with Mia’s choreography and was asked to dance for her life, after which she received enough votes to go through. Former Miss Washington Paris Torres, the token Latino kid whose name I don’t know, Phillip Chbeeb and that Tony Bellissimo fellow also got through.
With all the emphasis on the Kasprzak brothers and the Kinney sisters, as well as the other sets of siblings during auditions, it became pretty clear to me that SYTYCD was going to have a set of siblings competing against one another in the Top 20. The Brothers Kasprzak seem to be aware of this, too, and the producers put together an adorable little package of them discussing the epic battle that could be between them, laid over a sweet ska track (because I guess Ryan’s sweater vest and driver’s cap equal ska? Whatever, he is having a good time). Both Brothers Kasprzak did Mia’s choreography beautifully, and I shared no more a joyous and exciting moment all night when Mia asked Evan to move on in the competition by doing a round of flea hops across and off the stage. Flea hop! Flea hop! Flea hop! HE IS SO GODDAMNED ADORABLE!
By the end of the Mia Michaels round, there were 54 dancers remaining, and they returned the next morning to perform a Tyce Diorio Broadway routine. For the first time, the dancers were split into groups by gender to perform two separate pieces from West Side Story. The ladies, clearly, performed “America,” while the gentlemen were asked to perform “Cool.” I can’t fault Tyce for his work on these, because he was basically doing justice to the original Robbins choreography (and, really, that’s just kind of how you do West Side Story – it’s wrong to do it any other way). I also have to give Tyce props for asserting that something is very wrong with you if you’re a dancer and you don’t know West Side Story and Jerome Robbins. That’s like being a model and not knowing who Twiggy is. (Looking at you, Salome!) We saw a number of girls get cut during the West Side Story number, including Bianca Revels the “best female tapper,” who needs to realize that when she was told she was the “best female tapper,” it meant that the male tappers were much better than she was. Also cut were Megan Kinney, Priscilla Morerro and, not-so-sadly, carney Gaby Rojas. I had pretty high expectations for professional/semi-professional dancers to be able to accurately do the Jerome Robbins choreography for West Side Story because I know for a fact that the current Anita on Broadway, In the Heights‘ Karen Olivo, is not a dancer, and she worked her fucking culo off to be able to do that choreography and do it well enough to be nominated for a fucking Tony award. (You go, Karen! I’m rooting for you this Sunday, even though you’ll probably lose to Haydn Gwynne for Billy Elliot.) If Karen Olivo can do that choreography (and you can check her out below), a professional dancer should be able to.
After the boys did their performance of “Cool” in which Branden Bryant and the Kasprzak brothers totally shined, 16 boys and 16 girls remained to take the long walk onto that stage tomorrow night. All I can say is that I better have Branden Bryant and both Kasprzaks in the Top 20, and I will power vote my little heart out for the three of them as long as they remain in the competition.
I hate to say this, but Natalie was cut because she wasn’t as hot as many of the other female dancers. Nigel really likes to fill the show with female dancers who are both great performers and are ridiculously hot. (Who you define as hot in previous seasons is, of course, entirely subjective, but I know that each of you male viewers has a good half-dozen in your head right now, contestants who, if you saw them on the street, you’d drop your Frappucino and run to them just to get a better look and maybe, just maybe, ask them out for yoga followed by a light lunch.) Nigel’s insistence as the show’s creator and executive producer is, of course, pretty much just the way Hollywood is, and sometimes we lose an even better dancer just because she’s not model hot. And, as Nigel declared before this season started that the Top 10 “girls” this season were the most beautiful the show has had, I unfortunately knew that Natalie was a goner. (Don’t worry – the principle is the same for male dancers, but far less so.)
And as a major fan of West Side Story, I can tell you (if I hadn’t already) that in my first post-high-school-graduate summer, I was in CCCT’s production of West Side Story, and those 16 performances over the July and August weekends before moving onto college was probably the most exhilarating experience of my life. But no, we didn’t really stick to Robbins’ choreography (it was, after all, a community theatre production), but I am also glad that our version of “Cool” wasn’t even close to as difficult as what Tyce prepared. Rough stuff, I tells ya.