While we watched Chris Hardwick on Web Soup to kill 30 minutes prior to the glorious, glittery dance fest that is SYTYCD, I sat squirming on the couch, making the kinds of noises the Marlowe cat makes when he meets another cat he doesn’t like (or, more recently, makes at our other cat, Calliope, when she doesn’t have her collar on because, apparently, he can’t recognize who she is without it). Marlowe makes this lengthened, low, whining growl, which I’ve interpreted as his sign of extreme anxiety – I thought it was appropriate to make a similar sound in anticipation of So You Think You Can Dance. And all that pre-show tension (momentarily alleviated when Hardwick showed a “palate cleanser” segment which featured furry rodents nomming noms to an adorably, annoyingly catchy nomming song that I will now sing ALL THE TIME) was totally worthwhile because this first competition episode of the season already shone with moments of true brilliance. The wonderful things were truly wonderful, and even the bad things weren’t atrocious. Overall, it was a great way to start the season.
Before I talk about the dancing, though, I’d like to note that I think Mary was on something last night that might throw my scream count out of whack. I counted a total of 6 scream-like entities, but four of them were more like extended woos, so I’m not sure if I should include them in the Official Mary Murphy Scream Count for the season. I mean, the woman admitted to Botoxing the hell out of her forehead on national television last night – which on the one hand I applaud in terms of her honesty, but on the other hand I think might be the best indicator that her new happy pills are working a little too well. (Not the Botox, but the admission of its use.) I’ll not where the screams/woos occurred in my discussion of each performance – let me know in the comments if you think I should count the woos in the Official Mary Murphy Scream Count, but for now, I’m only going to count full-fledged, ouch-my-ears-are-hurting screams. (Husband Note: As you should. A woo is not a scream. Thousands of TRL teenagers could tell you that.)
I also feel the need to express my love for “occasional swing dancer” Adam Shankman, and not just because he gave us an update on the fate of Step Up 3D, but because he and I had apparently participated in a Vulcan mind meld at some point as my comments about the dances were more often than not the exact same as his. I’d say I had them first because I said them out loud while the dances were happening, but I know that honor technically belongs to him because the performances were filmed hours before the episode was even shown. Either way, Shankers and I shared some headspace last night, and it was pretty uncanny.
As far as the dancing is concerned, rather than list them in order, I’m going to separate the performances into various categories of greatness: Brilliant, Good to Very Good, Mediocre, Problematic and, just for tonight, a special category for a special dance. I will include pieces under those subheads in my order of preference.
Kayla and Max (Samba)
Choreography by Louis Van Amstrel
Music: “Jum Bah Day” by House of Gypsies
It is absolutely unbelievable that Kayla “Radomkulous” Radomsky has never danced ballroom before because she was fantastic. This couple closed the show, and it was pretty clear to me by the strength of the Official Mary Murphy Scream they received that they were the pinnacle of the evening. Barely three seconds into the dance, I wrote, “If this doesn’t get on the Hot Tamale Train, I don’t know what will.” It was hot, spicy, passionate and danced beautifully by both partners. Max’s footwork and carriage were very, very impressive and he partnered Kayla effortlessly. She was a joy to watch in that pink fringed dress, which easily trumped Randi’s blue dress for my Outfit of the Night prize. And for the record, can we all agree that the best part of the choreography in this number was when Kayla freakin’ mounted Max and grinded down on his sexy Russian junk? I’m pretty damn sure that was the best thing I’ve ever seen. My other notes for this piece, before universal judges’ praise and Mary screaming her head off basically go like this: “YEAHHHHHHHHH! HAWTT SHIZZ! SHE FUCKING RODE HIS NADS, YO! RADOMKULOUS!” It’s appropriate that Kayla and Max closed the show with this hot samba, because it was a motherfucking SHOWSTOPPER.
Randi and Evan (Jazz)
Choreography by Tyce DiOrio
Music: “I Only Have Eyes for You” by Jaime Cullum
You all know I am a Tyce complainer, but I only complain about his lesser works because pieces like this show me how absolutely great he can be. Believe me, I will get angry later about his Broadway routine, which was a total fucking disappointment, but this jazz number, like many of his past Jazz numbers (an African one for Pasha and Jessie that was so vivacious, and “Why” for Ivan and Allison in season 2 stick out) was utterly breathtaking and beautiful. I actually got a little misty about how well I could believe the passion between lovers Randi and Evan (and enjoyed the rehearsal package in which Evan said he was worried Randi’s husband might kill him if he got too into character with the married lover of unitards). And how fucking cute was Cat riffing on the prospect of Randi’s man coming from the audience to maim Evan, as well as pretending like she wasn’t a bajillion feet taller than the show’s most “vertically challenged” couple? She’s the best fucking host on television, as none of the corny stuff she pulls ever comes off as anything less than authentic, bubbly and cute as all get out. Randi’s blue dress in this piece was easily my second favorite of the night, and I apparently share part of my brain with Nigel because he also noted how much more beautiful she is when her “Pob” (that’s the Posh Spice bob, for those who have not worn it, as I did for about a year) is curly. I would never be angry with Tyce if he always choreographed this spectacularly for dancers who can dance this beautifully. I think Nigel is totally correct in his assertion that this piece will make Randi and Evan a memorable couple for whom people will pick up the phone. I know I will. (This got an extended woo from Mary, which should have been a full on scream.)
Jeanine and Phillip (Hip-Hop)
Choreography by Tabitha and Napoleon Duomo
Music: “Mad” by Ne-Yo
This was the first piece of the night and, just like last season, TabNap started us off with soulful, slow hip-hop that was a brilliant piece of storytelling. While I miss Shane Sparks a great deal and his particular, hard-hitting brand of hip-hop, I love anything Tabitha and Napoleon choreograph that is, in some small way, inspired by their marriage. Last year, they graced us with two genius pieces, “No Air” for Katee and Josh and “Bleeding Love” for Chelsie and Mark, that will forever flicker in my mind. The Duomos best work comes from their hearts and enacted in the bodies of these dancers, and “Mad” was no exception. They interpreted the lyric in their short piece about why couples shouldn’t go to bed angry, and Jeanine and Phillip executed the rise and fall of this dance very, very well. It was pretty clear to me that Phillip was much better at this than Jeanine, but she did keep up, and for that I commend her. It’s hard to dance with a man whose bones are rubber. This piece was universally loved by the “jidges,” and I think I teared up a little bit at the end of the piece where, after the couple has their fight, they lay back down in bed and Phillip spoons Jeanine with his arm draped over her. Cat Deeley referred to that as “schnoogeying,” which just made it all the more adorable. (Another extended woo from Mary Murphy that should have been a scream.)
The Bizarrely Brilliant Wade Robeson Piece
Ashley and Kupono (Jazz)
Choreography by the Bizarrely Brilliant Wade Robeson
Song: “Felt Mountain” by Goldfrapp
I am never unamazed when I see Wade’s choreography. He is always such a unique and strange storyteller, and those are probably the best two words I could use to describe this piece. He created a non-jazz-handed jazz number about two crash test dummies, exploring the idea of “living life like you’ve never been hurt.” Kupono played a broken and used crash test dummy, while Ashley played one that was younger and newer. She described keeping her fingers closed as dancing with “jazz blades,” which was pretty awesome – almost as awesome as the piece itself. The movements were simultaneously jerky and cold, but so fluid that they couldn’t be considered robotic at all. Kupono had a moment during this piece where he held his arms together in an acute angle and then proceeded to perform a very fluid shimmy from his head to his tailbone, like he was both breaking down and coming to life again, which struck me as a movement similar to those Matthew Bourne used to create his Edward Scissorhands ballet. Prior to that movement, though, he reminded me a bit of what Sheldon Cooper would be like were he a crash test dummy. This piece was fucking bananas, but I loved it. Like, I would pay to see a whole show with those characters, that’s how good it was. Freaky. Scary. Awesome. Totally Wade Robeson. My only critique is that I wish Ashley hadn’t smiled quite so much – I understand that her character needed to smile, but it was the manner in which she did it rather than the act itself.
The Good to Very Good
Caitlin and Jason (Bollywood)
Choreography by Nikhul, whose last name I will apparently never learn
Song: “Jai Ho” by A.R. Rachman from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack
For me, Jason was spot on in this piece. He danced powerfully and gracefully with hard-hitting execution. There were sections of this where Caitlin was off a little bit, but she always managed to find her footing again rather quickly. (And I’m glad Shankers noticed she was off and commented on it, because I thought I was the only one who saw it. It’s that shared brain we have, apparently.) However, her gymnastics training came in handy during a 15-second handstand, in which she still had to dance with her feet in the air. That was probably her greatest moment in this piece, and its enough to make me forget about her weaker points. This one also got an extended woo from Mary, but not really a full-on scream. Nonetheless, it was very, very good – and I’m so happy to have Bollywood dance on this show! I look forward to the inclusion of more ethnic dancing down the line! (Truly! Let’s go global, SYTYCD!)
Melissa and Ade (Contemporary)
Choreography by Mandy Moore
Song: “Right Here Waiting” by Richard Marx
I’ve always liked Mandy Moore’s choreography, and the piece that stands out the most to me is the piece she created for Sabra and Dominic in season three, which I always remember as being like A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This piece she created for ballerina Melissa and her very, very strong partner Ade was pure loveliness. Both dancers’ lines were beautiful, they looked beautiful together and were so effortless in their performance. For me, Melissa was the standout of the pair, especially because she has amazingly strong legs. She wrapped herself around Ade like a sexy little lemur, and was most amazing when she leapt up behind him and held there for about 20 seconds, only to have him raise her up in the splits over his head and catch her in his arms again in front of his face. This piece got a real, true Mary Murphy scream – not quite of the same caliber as the one received by Kayla and Max, but a real, true scream nonetheless.
Jeanette and Brandon (Foxtrot)
Choreography by Louis Van Amstrel
Song: “Come Fly with Me” by Michael Buble
While the Foxtrot is nowhere near as horrible as the Quickstep, it’s probably one of the least well-received dances on SYTYCD. Couple after couple has fallen due to a disliked Foxtrot, but I doubt such a thing will occur to Jeanette and Brandon. They were graceful, lovely and well-paired. Jeanette’s pink dress for this number was another of my favorites for the night – it just made every single leg extension she did look more compelling and fluid. Brandon was a stellar partner for her, but I was worried about his facial expressions during the dance. I surely thought Nigel was going to call him out on pulling faces, but Nigel actually thought it showed he was dancing with character and personality rather than his usual stoicism/disingenuous smile.
Karla and Jonathan (Cha Cha)
Choreography by Tony Meredith, who got a new redheaded assistant this year – where’s Melanie?
Song: “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga
Despite my excitement for “Poker Face,” which is probably my summer anthem, there was a point where this piece started sliding a little bit downhill. Karla, former Boogie Bot, just couldn’t get her back into it correctly, and there were definite moments where I knew she wasn’t doing something right. For instance, there was one point where she leaned forward to go into a lift with Jonathan, but she bent herself in entirely the wrong shape, causing a weird lull, after which the dance picked up again when Jonathan slid between her legs, only to fall into another lull because of Karla’s lack of carriage. Shankers saw it, too, which meant I wasn’t alone. He also commented on the fact that Jonathan needs just a skotch more roll to his hips to carry of a Cha Cha properly. No one else seemed to notice, though, that the dead drop in this piece was kind of lame, probably because of Karla’s weak back. It was an okay effort by both dancers, and definitely didn’t live up to the awesomeness of the music. How many more Lady Gaga tracks do you think will hear this season, btw? I fully expect a Maria Torres disco number to “Love Game,” if only because I want to see someone actually take a ride on her partner’s “disco stick.”
Paris and Tony (Hip-Hop)
Choreography by Tabitha and Napoleon Duomo
Song: “Let the Beat Rock (Remix)” by Black Eyed Peas
This piece is how I knew Adam Shankman and I shared a brain: the minute I saw these two take the stage, I took one look at what they were wearing and couldn’t concentrate on their dancing. As such, I can’t really comment on it because I, like Shankers, found the costumes too distracting. The judges were hardly about this piece, though, complimenting Paris on the fact that she danced it well (and dance is really important to her because she crushed her leg in a car accident and thought she might never dance again), and warning Tony that it’s clear he needs serious improvement – even in his own style. Oh my god, you guys, I feel it . . . I feel it coming on . . . here it is: “We could have had two Kasprzak brothers, but instead we got this guy.” If Tony can’t even compete adequately in HIS OWN STYLE, I certainly think we’d have been better off with two Broadway Babies in the Top 20. (By the way, is anyone else with me in the fact that “Broadway” shouldn’t be a dance style, in the same way that animation is not a film genre, because anything can be animated, just like many kinds of dancing appear on Broadway? Maybe that’s an argument for another day, but after five years, and tons of bad Tyce routines, it’s starting to irk me . . . kind of like . . .)
Auska and Vitolio (Broadway)
Choreography by Tyce DiOrio
Song: The worst version of the “Hot Honey Rag” from Chicago that I have ever heard.
Oh, fuck me gently with a chainsaw. This is quite possibly my least favorite Tyce routine ever. Remember how earlier I praised his Jazz piece for its beauty and grace? Neither of those words could be used to describe this fucking debacle. In theory, I liked the concept – a sort of pastiche of Busby Berkeley and Charlie Chaplin, what with the bowlers and the minstrel show gloves and Vitolio’s unfortunate Chaplin-stache that just doesn’t look right at all on a black man from Haiti. But in execution, Tyce did nothing to make this piece anywhere near good. He squandered every opportunity he had to create something fun and interesting, something that would utilize the old-school conventions of popular Broadway dance in the 1920s and 1930s and SUBVERT them, MODERNIZE them and SAY SOMETHING through them. Furthermore, Auska and Vitolio danced it without any life or joy, although did so with great technicality, so the piece felt completely and totally inauthentic and flat. I believe Shankers also used similar words, completing our mind meld. I hated every moment of this, so much so that I wanted to punch Tyce square in the face.
I definitely think that Karla and Jonathan, Paris and Tony and Auska and Vitolio will be in the bottom three couples tonight, and that the judges will send both Karla and Jonathan home. They should send home Tony, but Nigel seems to have a great deal of faith in him, so he won’t go quite yet until he commits some totally irredeemable offense that can’t partially be blamed on the wardrobe department. So, in advance of tonight’s results show, sorry, Karla, reality dance competition programs just aren’t for you to win. Go back to the Boogie Bots and your national tours of Broadway shows – you may think that isn’t the world for you, but it is. And Jonathan, I’m sure Kenny Ortega will hire you back to work on another installment of High School Musical. I wish you both well.
Other stray thoughts:
- I thought the majority of the intro solos were kind of lame, except for Phillip Chbeeb’s and Evan Kasprzak, although I might be biased because they’re already my favorite two dancers.
- I cannot hear “You Found Me” by the Fray without thinking of the Lost promo commercials for season 5, and it makes me really sad that there won’t be more Lost until Jan. 2010.
- Cat was wearing a dress made out of glittery Greco-Roman spiderwebs and jewels. Someone should wear that to my upcoming Greco-Roman murder mystery. I’d do it myself, but I already am debuting a dress I’m very proud to have purchased one of the last of. Also, I’m not quite a bajillion feet tall like Cat Deeley, so I’m not sure I could pull that white shift off.
- Good to know that Kupono’s name technically should be pronounced with a long u, if the bar above it is any indication.
- I like that Mary gave the RoboPuppy in Wade’s piece a ride on the Hot Tamale Train, thus bringing Hot Tamale Train Tickets to 1.25 for this episode.
- The Official Mary Murphy Scream Count for the episode stands at 2, with 4 enthusiastic woos for backup.
- Jazz blades!