Heading into last night’s Mia Michaels tribute episode of So You Think You Can Dance, I was a little worried the judges would get so caught up in praising new renditions of the choreographer’s seven most memorable routines that their actual critiques would be reduced into something of a “You get a gold star! And you get a gold star! And you get a gold star!” mess.
What I wasn’t expecting was the sight of Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy in a bad cop-bad cop routine, interrogating dancers beneath a single, swinging lightbulb to determine whether or not they’d put in enough hard work and homework to be worthy of standing at the precipice of the Top 10 — and a spot on the SYTYCD 2012 tour. (Guest judges Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt of the Ballet Boys, meanwhile, played the role of the precinct’s befuddled temporary desk clerks, relying mostly on generalities to mask their total lack of knowledge about the SYTYCD universe. Of course, maybe their role was to make Katie Holmes look competent and critical by comparison?)
The episode started out with a tremendous new Top 14 routine of Michaels’ creation featuring frizzy-haired ladies clinging to ropes that hung from the rafters, writhing men trying to get with them, and plenty of climbing, leaping, kissing, and whirring for everyone. Eliana, in particular, proved her fearlessness by clasping the ropes and leaping well out into the crowd — her face a mask of pure, joyful abandon. If she doesn’t make the finale, it’ll be a robbery so insane, it could fuel the plot of Ocean’s 15.
From there, though, it was a rollercoaster ride with rusty wheels — a creaky, unsteady affair that had its peaks and its exhilarations, but too often stalled beneath the weight of lofty expectations and comparisons to the original versions of the routines done in SYTYCD seasons past.
For the purposes of this recap, though, I’m going to try to judge each routine on its own merits — did it work, or didn’t it? — without referencing the original SYTYCD rendition, and whether it surpassed or fell short of that standard. And so without further ado…
DANCE OF THE NIGHT | Lindsay Arnold & Cole Horibe I’ve never felt so much from a contestant dancing so coldly, but as the face of addiction tormenting Lindsay’s ragdoll frame, Cole brought to life a strange, impish villain that’ll probably haunt my nightmares for weeks to come. Lindsay, for her part, completely inhabited her character without overplaying it — a stellar effort that should keep her far away from next week’s Bottom 3.
RUNNER-UP | Eliana Girard & Cyrus Spencer The judges were right that Eliana dominated the proceedings with her stunning flexibility and easy sexuality — I’m surprised the door itself didn’t turn to dust out of sheer deference — but Cyrus brought some of his own “touching the electric fence” jitteriness to the stage, too. Sometimes on SYTYCD, it seems as though the serious “issue” routines get more praise than the more lighthearted fare, so here’s hoping fans didn’t forget to vote for this crowd-pleasing intro number (or at least its female half).
BEST STORYTELLING | Witney Carson & Chehon Wespi-Tschopp I agreed with Mary that Chehon could be ever so slightly looser in his movement, but without even knowing the backstory of “the bench” routine — woman loves man; man loves woman but isn’t in love with her because he’s gay; man and woman engage in awkward non-starter courtship till he walks away — every emotion and every nuance of the tale was totally evident. I loved how Whitney completely surrendered to the movement — her leap off the bench into Chehon’s arms was the most fearless thing we’ve seen on SYTYCD since Melanie’s Tookey-ian dive in Season 8. And Chehon, for his part, may be the best pirouetter (is that a word?) in the history of the show. The Ballet Boys offering him a job at any time and any place only confirmed it.
WORST STORYTELLING| Matthew Kazmierczak & Audrey Case Even with Mia’s reminder that the piece was about reconnecting with her late father in the afterlife, all I could get from the actual execution was a pair of twee, peekaboo-playing nincompoops tip-toeing through the tulips. Nigel may have seemed way harsh when he grilled Audrey about whether she knew how old Mia was when her dad died, or pointedly asked Matthew if he knew what Mia’s dad did for a living, but I didn’t think it was unfair to delve into what intention — if any — they tried to bring to the floor. The only thing more tone-deaf was watching Audrey perkily hold up the “vote No. 5!” hand while Matthew, who clearly realized he’d been marked for elimination, appeared to suppress a world-class crying jag.
MOST QUESTIONABLE CRITIQUE | Tiffany Maher & George Lawrence II Was it just me, or did the judges completely get it wrong when they told Tiffany she’d “overperformed” her part in the gorgeous “Hometown Glory” routine. The tactility of the intro was amazing — with George and Tiffany bouncing off that invisible forcefield, and then seemingly massaging a mass of actual liquid with their hands — and my only problem with the assisted run was the surprisingly poor camera work that failed to capture it in all its glory. My suspicion is that Tiffany’s critique was less a commentary on her performance, and more a way to set up her exit at the end of next week’s hour. (Someone’s got to go, right?)
ROUTINE I NEVER REALLY LOVED | Amelia Lowe & Will Thomas I know “the Butt Dance” is an Emmy-winning piece of choregography, but to me, it’s kind of a one-trick badonkadonk, with too much “ha cha cha” miming and not enough real sexual tension. To my eyes, Will displayed a surprisingly light touch for such a big hulking guy, while Amelia danced perfectly well, without necessarily investing fully in the back end of the routine (pun intended). I hate to see this partnership end, to be honest, but we’ll always have those alley cats, yes?
MOST IMPROVED | Janelle Issis & Dareian Kujawa The judges were right that Janelle had a lot less to do than Dareian in the “Dreaming With a Broken Heart” mattress piece — she does get an A for hairography, for whatever it’s worth — but Dareian was something of a revelatio in this routie. That one-armed twist that turned the mattress into a trampoline was a jaw-dropper, and his general agility (and crazy-perfect abs) absolved him of the clunky feet the judges are always criticizing.
As for the week’s eliminations, it was pretty clear how it would play out even bfore the solos were danced. With Amelia, Janelle, and Lindsay at risk, Janelle was the obvious goner (plus, her belly dance was sexy, but just not all that different from her prior solos), and it was going to be next to impossible to eliminated the blonde ballroom baby after her awesome Addiction piece. When Amelia’s solo came across as a wee bit slow and clumsy, and Lindsay delivered a lightning fast display of 10-foot-long legs and whirling pink fringe, Nigel’s choice became even more clear, and Amelia’s journey ended. As for the guys, Matthew could’ve turned water into wine in his solo and still gone home, leaving George and Dareian dancing for the final spot in the Top 10. I actually thought the latter contestant’s solo was more compelling — his fast pirouettes and sick displays of flexibility left nothing in the tank — but George’s general consistency (and better feet, I suppose) saved him in the end.
Now, as for the next set of results, a few predictions:
SHOULD BE THE BOTTOM NEXT WEEK
WILL BE THE BOTTOM
What did you think of this week’s SYTYCD? Who was best in show? What did you think of this week’s eliminations? And who will and should be in the bottom next week? Sound off in the comments!