SYTYCD: Season 8, part 3

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Running, jumping, falling, crying and spinning again, we are going to embark in So You Think You Can Dance part 3. Some of you might know that your favorite dance reviewer was in Seattle last week, trying to hone her skills at the Dance Critics Associations annual conference. It was eye opening and little bit of a blood bath but I learned a lot. I’m a little behind, so here we go…

Speaking of blood bath, Vegas week was upon us. The judges had the daunting task of whittling down the contestants from 114 to 20. We lost many of my favorites like Hiro, the cute little B-girl from Japan, the Irish step dancing champion and my favorite street dancing diva “Princess Lockaroo”. My heart is with you “Lockaroo”, I hope to see you sometime soon.

A negative trait indicative of the younger dancer emerged in the Vegas footage. The healthy young dancer is a stew of hot yummy goodness. They are beautiful, their bodies are in tip top shape, their technique has the potential of being flawless and there is endless amounts energy. The flaw lies in their focus. Many of these young dancers are still children and have to play. This was certainly the case with Chyna Smith. While she was waiting for the hip hop round she romped around, chatted, let off steam and was being a beautiful social butterfly. When it was time to dance, she froze and forgot the choreography. The judges were merciful and allowed her to come back and redo the hip hop round.

The broadway round was conducted by Tyce Diorio. The female role was sizzling hot and required them to trust their new partners 100%, which is scary when you don’t know the person you are dancing with. Fourteen more finalists were sent home, including the very talented street krumper Brian Henry. Good luck Brian! If you have developed the taste for this dance thing, take some modern classes and come back next year.

The jive choreography, directed by Jason Gilkinson, was a rough round. The sisters Natalia and Sasha Mallory were split up temporarily. Sasha moved on and Natalia, who is a larger dancer, was asked to partner up with a stronger man and perform again. She made it through. It also became clear, to me, that Alexis Mason, baby sister to season five’s winner Jeanine, needs a couple more years before she can follow in her sister’s footsteps.

I have to climb up on my soap box again and illustrate what a consummate professional dancer looks like. One of my personal favorites, Ryan Ramirez, was hobbling around because her character shoes were hurting her feet. When a dancer is present, all that junk goes away. In the moment, you don’t feel the aches and pains, you just dance. You dance with your heart as a whole, not as a bunch splintered pieces. Ryan showed America what a true dancer is all about. She is a great point of reference.

There isn’t much to say about the group round. This is where the dancers have to cooperate as an ensemble and create their own choreography. Already exhausted, they have to dance through the night in order to present their work the next day. On our side of the screen, once again, we were presented with just the good, none of the bad.

In the contemporary round, we got to follow a couple of our favorites again. Ryan is still dealing with some serious pain, this time in her tailbone. Worried she might have to go home, she goes to the hospital. Reassured, and with very little rehearsal, she returned to the stage to perform Travis Wall’s choreography. She danced as though the whole world had melted away and it was just the two partners in an intimate moment. I felt the same way about Sasha and Bryce “Professor Lock”. Natalia, Sasha’s sister, started to feel lightheaded and sick and was whisked away by an ambulance. Later we found out she’s diabetic. Worried, Sasha was still able to put it all aside and give a stunning performance that gave me chills.

A couple of my early favorites left the competition at this point. The good natured, teal haired beauty, Arielle, was stunned (as was I) when they sent her home. The street dancer DC Chapman, was sent back with a scholarship towards dance classes from the famous Debbie Allan.

55 dancers were left to perform their final solos for the judges. 24 went home, including the wild California Tinkerbell, Amber Wells. She was featured earlier on, but we didn’t get to see enough of her through Vegas week. I wish I could have experienced her audition to know why she was sent packing. All the producers let us see were two seconds of tears.

Thursday night SYTYCD changed their format a bit. In previous years they used a whole episode to reveal who the finalists were. Last year they added a show where they introduced all the contestants performing in their own styles. This year we get the best of both worlds in one episode. We found out that 20 finalists get to compete and when ten have been eliminated, the All-Stars (former favorite contestants) will be introduced to partner them. So we really get the best of all worlds.

First up were Ricky Jaime, Miranda Maleski, Melanie Moore and Sasha Mallory doing a Stacey Tookey contemporary piece. The dancers looked like they were slowly swimming through the clouds. It was full of emotion, the technique was impeccable and it set the stage for this summer’s celebration of dance.

Choreographer Dave Scott orchestrated Chris Koehl, Wadi Jones, Tadd Gadduang and Robert Taylor Jr. in a fun hip hop routine. He was able to showcase each of their diverse personalities. America got a good feel for who these artists are. I don’t think SYTYCD has ever had this many street dancers.

The biggest surprise was Iveta Lukosiute, she was the sole ballroom dancer to make it through Vegas week. Usually ballroom is represented better, but what we lose in numbers we gain in quality. Iveta is a world champion in all the forms in her genre. She placed every step perfectly in a paso doble with All Star Pasha Kovalev.

Sonya Tayeh led her dancers Clarice Ordaz, Marko Germar, Jordan Casanova and Missy Morelli in a quirky jazz/modern piece. Sonya is known for being a jazz choreographer with a dark, rock ‘n roll, macabre edge. I think she tries too hard at times to fit the bill, but I always look forward to what she is going to do next. There isn’t much more to say about our contestants, they fit the bill perfectly, as though they were born to do Sonya’s work.

The real stand out performance of the evening was Jesse LeProtto and Nick Young battling it out in an old broadway versus street tap dance-off created by the amazing Christopher Scott. The name of the song, Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Twitter”, tells it all. The two styles worked amazingly well together, and were performed with the professional quality and precision of a real broadway show.

The whole evening was a modern dance sandwich. It started and ended with a contemporary piece. This gives us nine contemporary competitors. I’m astonished that the producers let this happen, but as I always say, “The modern dancer can do it all and will inherit the earth.” Caitlynn Lawson, Ashley Rich, Ryan Ramirez, Mitchell Kelly and Alexander Frost did not disappoint as they joyously moved through fall leaves, exquisitely executing Travis Wall’s choreography.

As though all of this wasn’t treat enough, the evening ended with three group pieces. The ten men did a CIA/Secret agent inspired work by Christopher Scott. Five giant red doors were the vehicles for entrances and exits. The dancers were dapper in “Mr. Anderson” suits (you know…The Matrix) and red ties. All the styles were blended beautifully to create a complete cohesive work with its own vocabulary. By the way, hip hop + fouetté turn = manly and hot.

I need to take a moment, and welcome Chris Scott to the show. SYTYCD brought his company, League of Extraordinary Dancers, in a couple of years ago. Their gravity defying, time splitting, hip hop movement vocabulary blew the hats right off the American audience. ‘Lil C said, “Chris Scott is the master of ceremony when it comes to mixing styles.” I know it changed me at the molecular level. You can find LXD on you tube, to see what I’m trying to describe. I cannot wait to see what Chris Scott is bringing to the table this season. SYTYCD has been able to bring in great artists to show America what the dance world is all about, today. I, for one, am grateful. Let’s get back to the show, shall we…

The women did a Sonya Tayeh piece. The ladies were painted as geishas, with short, punk rock, kimono dresses. Before the performances the audience gets a glimpse of the rehearsal process, and it was hard and brutal. It paid off because the woman of the competition were kick-ass, creepy, geisha dolls. They were quirkily prim and proper on the outside and a little bit dirty at the center. As I mentioned before, I am not always Sonya’s biggest fan but I think, throughout the years, we have been watching her come into her own as a choreographer. I couldn’t help wishing I was a decade and a half younger. Nigel described it perfectly, “…the girls this year are Beasts.”

The finale was the entire cast doing a Tyce Diorio dance. Tyce has been a steadfast contributor and choreographer since the show began. This piece, to the Annie Lennox song “Little Bird”, was reminiscent of the movie Black Swan and a dramatic way to end the night.

I believe Nigel is right when he says, “The creative process needs great dancers.” This year they have just that; a cast with incredible ability, professionalism and passion, they have choreographers who work on a high art level (even though they are limited on time) and they have a devoted audience who tune in every week and vote. This is the recipe for a mind-boggling and incredibly exciting season. Tune in and let me know what you think.

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