The Wife:

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.

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.

The Husband:

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.

The Wife:

I adore So You Think You Can Dance. It may have a cumbersome and silly name, usually reduced to SYTYCD, which is even more cumbersome, or, in my home, Dancey Dance, but I’ve yet to find a televised dancing show that better shows us the experience of dancing professionally in a variety of different ways. It shows us all of the beauty and meaning that can be created with the human body with a leap, a twist, a leg extension or the artful flex of a foot. It shows us what it’s like for a dancer to go from audition, to casting, to rehearsal and to review, and what it’s like to see choreography through from concept to rehearsal to staging. (I should note that I find many of these qualities in MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew, but not the full spectrum.) Over four seasons of SYTYCD, I have been moved to tears by the artistry in the collaborative efforts of these young dancers and veteran choreographers in ways I never expected. It doesn’t mater if it was the never-to-be-topped Paso Doble by season one’s Artem (who remains my favorite Russian ever to grace the show), Ivan and Allison’s breathtaking contemporary routine set to Annie Lenox’s “Why” from season two, Jesus and Sara’s Wade Robeson-choreographed pop jazz to “Cabaret Hoover” from Les Triplettes de Belleville that stunned me to silence with its inventiveness, or any of my favorites from season four, all of which except Sonya’s brilliant jazz piece to “The Garden” for Mark and Courtney made it into the title sequence for this year: Nikhul’s Bollywood number for the entire group, Tabatha and Napolean Duomo’s breathtaking piece set to “No Air” for Katee and Joshua, their moving, heart-stopping piece for Chelsie and Mark to Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love” and Mia Michaels’ visceral piece set to Duffy’s “Mercy” for Katee and Twitch. There are so many other memorable routines from this show that I can’t possibly list them all, but I hope those examples speak to what you’re missing if you do not watch SYTYCD. There is real, glorious inventive theatre happening on your television two nights a week, a collaboration between visionary artists who move my heart with the ways they move the human body and the skillful dancers that inhabit those roles. And you should be experiencing it.

Step right up, ya'll!

Step right up, ya'll!

I’ll be writing about every audition episode, doing my best to keep you abreast of the names and faces you may get to know very well after Vegas Week. Let’s begin in Brooklyn, NY, where Tabatha and Napolean Duomo (who helped cast ABDC two seasons ago) sat in with Nigel and Mary Murphy for auditions:

Gaby Rojas: Not five minutes into this season of Dancey Dance, and they grant my heart’s dearest wish by giving me an honest-to-God carney. One of my deepest desires is to be like this girl and learn circus arts, so I was prepared to be amazed by her flexibility and muscle control – which turned out to be all the more stellar because she suffers from rheumatoid arthritis (which is sad). She was, in a word, astounding. Her isolations were so perfectly befitting a seasoned popper, and yet she could also dance with the grace of a ballerina, the power of a contemporary dancer and the carriage of a ballroom dancer. The judges were equally impressed and gave her a ticket straight to Vegas. If she doesn’t make the Top 20, I will eat my hat. (Which will be hard, as I do not routinely wear hats.)

Hobgoblin and Shadowman-P: These guys are Brooklyn Bonecrushers who don’t really know that the kind of dancing they do is referred to in the street crew community as “bonecrushing.” They do a mix of contortions (bonecrushing) and illusions in their act that would make them right at home on America’s Best Dance Crew. They also sometimes paint their faces “schmean,” a putrid shade of green and act like zombies, going so far as to advance upon the judges table during their audition act. I love that Cat Deeley let them paint her face schmean, and that the judges let them take a turn at that day’s choreography round.

Peter Sabasino: Tappers don’t do well on this show, but this guy is the best we’ve ever seen. He’s got the old school flair of an MGM hoofer from the 30s, combined with some sweet foot action like an 80s Michael Jackson. He also has great arms, and I want to see him beautifully lift girls in ballroom numbers. He goes straight to Vegas.

Tiffany Geigel: She only has three out of seven vertebrae, making her torso very squished together. It is clear that she will not be allowed to advance simply by looking at her, but for someone with her disorder, she actually dances quite well. There’s a real grace in her arms and legs, even though she has trouble extending them fully. Nigel et al give her criticism befitting her body and skill level (that she needs to work on extending her knees and arms fully), and praise her for having the courage to audition and show that she can, in fact, dance despite her appearance. It’s a no, but she still gets a standing O and that’s very nice. I’m sure there’s a dance troupe for the disabled that would love to have her with them. She’s just so spirited that you can’t help but wish her well.

Maksim Kapitanikov: He auditions with the help of former SYTYCD contestant Faina doing a samba. The judges think he partners exceptionally well, although it was hard to take their eyes off Faina. I think he has great footwork. He goes on to the choreography round.

Nobuya Nagahana: He’s apparently so Japanese that the producers feel the need to capture with supertitles all of the dance styles he talks about in his interview package. He’s very cute and very energetic in his audition, but I really don’t think he’s quite right for the show. The judges, however, see something I don’t and send him to choreography. Maybe I’d have liked him more if he were dancing with a crew?

Arielle Taylor: She auditioned in season three and got cut during Vegas week. I don’t remember her, but her audition this time is graceful and lovely. She gets a ticket straight to Vegas.

Thomas Martin and Amanda Clark: They claim they’re doing the Bolero, a dance we’ve not seen on SYTYCD before, but it is beyond clumsy and awkward and probably not what a Bolero should look like at all. They get a no.

Igor Zabrodin and Nina Estrina: I saw Nina’s yellow skirt flair in an amazing knee-spin during the previews, and I immediately wanted her to go straight to Vegas. It turns out that what I thought was a knee-spin is actually performed on the ball of her foot and she spots amazingly during this 30-second potstirrer. I love them. The judges send them through to choreography.

Kellen Stancil: When he appeared onstage with that umbrella, I thought the worst, but Kellen actually managed to turn in an artful, meaningful audition that was chilling and incredibly well-executed. Dancing with props is hard, and he sold me when he opened the umbrella at the end of the piece without a hitch. After telling a story about how that dance was for his recently deceased aunt, he gets a ticket straight to Vegas.

Chimezie Nwosa: He performed a dope hip hop routine, but didn’t successfully land either of his flips. The judges send him through to choreography.

At the end of the choreography round for day one, Hobgoblin and Shadowman-P quit (I know a crew you guys can join! They’re called Ringmasters and they’re in Brooklyn!), and Maksim and Nobuya earn tickets to Vegas. For day two, Igor got a ticket to Vegas, but not Nina, which I think is a fucking outrage. How do you not send someone who spots like that to Vegas? They also send Chimezie to Vegas, although I have no idea why as he completely overdid the choreography that was given to him. At the end of the New York auditions, I caught that 14 people earned tickets to Vegas on day two. I have no idea how many got Vegas tickets on day one. I have failed you all. I can tell you, however, that the Official Mary Murphy Scream Count for NYC auditions was 1, for Gaby Rojas. (Igor and Nina got an unofficial one, so I’m not counting it.)

Next up, Denver auditions in the Colorado Convention Center, which has ugly theatre seats, but a breathtaking stage. Choreographer Sonya (wearing a cute Betsey Johnson sweater) joins Nigel and Mary for judging.

Kayla Radomski: My husband immediately decided that her nickname should be “Radonkulous,” so if she makes the Top 20, that’s what we shall call her. And she might just! Her dance was brilliant, she moved between sharp isolations and unconventional hand movements that made me think she was a velociraptor to stunning extensions, leaps and lines. She is a sexy, sexy velociraptor. And I love her. She gets a ticket straight to Vegas, and her father cries because he’s so proud of her. Now I love her even more.

Misha Belfer and Mitchel K . . . something: A big deal was made about these two dudes dancing the samba together in very homoerotic costumes, rightfully summed up by Nigel as reminding him of Blades of Glory. Both were good dancers, and Sonya and I appreciated that they both integrated the traditional male and female roles into the roles for each partner because it creates an interesting take on gender identity in the dance world. However, not having someone dance the male role and the female role confused the hell out of Mary, who probably knows more gay men than I do, and yet somehow is so traditional. They go through to the choreography round, perhaps because they fell during the routine and semi-successfully played it off like they meant it to happen.

Allison Moist: She dressed like a lion and danced with lightsabers. I usually wouldn’t spend time on the disillusioned here, but there was something kind of brilliant in her inability to discern that she wasn’t very good and subsequent inability to express why she chose to perform that audition in that costume with those props. I like that Nigel tried to steer her toward being a makeup artist, though. That’s called corrective cuddling, the human equivalent of squeezing a cat that’s done something bad so hard that they’re slightly uncomfortable and mew. She got a no, and was followed by a sequence of bad auditions, the most notable of which featured a girl who could have been a dead ringer for Jennifer Love Hewitt dancing with a ventriloquist dummy.

Elias Holloway: He auditioned with the help of his 16-year-old brother, Enoch. They are the youngest of 14 children who are either dancers or swimmers. With that many children, I would have expected to hear that they all run a farm or something. Anyway, Elias is into popping and locking, and he and his brother perform a routine to some Daft Punk-ish techno that’s pretty good. It earns him a chance at choreography.

Natalie Reid: This was the girl who almost made it to the Top 20 last year instead of her roommate, Katee. I’m so happy Natalie came back because she is even better this year than I remember her. She is so good she brings Sonya to tears and earns a ticket straight to Vegas! I sincerely hope she makes the Top 20 this year because she’s brilliant. Surely they won’t deny her the chance this time.

Brandon Bryant: This guy was another favorite of mine last year, who moves in ways I didn’t think humanly possible. He was beat out for a spot in the Top 20 by Gev. I remembered him when I saw the ankh tattooed on his thigh, and every reason I loved him last year came flooding back in his audition. It was primal and graceful, muscular and liquid all at once. He moves Mary to tears and earns his ticket straight to Vegas. I would love to see him in the Top 20 this year.

After the choreography rounds, Mitch and Mischa are given nos, along with Elias. All in all, 19 people are Vegas-bound from Denver. The season is promising so far! Looking forward to Miami and Memphis auditions next week!