So You Think You Can Dance Performance Finale Recap: Ballet Down the Law [Updated]
“You already know how this will end.” That was the refrain of the song chosen by classically trained Chehon Wespi-Tschopp for his final solo of So You Think You Can Dance Season 9, but it was also fitting commentary on the suspense level most of the show’s fans felt going into this week’s telecast. Surely, there was no way hip-hop animator Cyrus and effervescent ballerina Eliana wouldn’t become the first male/female co-champions in series history, right?
Well, maybe not. Faster than a speeding quickstep and crazier than Mary Murphy describing Stacey Tookey as a “three time Nommy-Emanated” choreographer, head judge Nigel Lythgoe pulled a last-minute switcheroo, telling Cyrus that despite his tremendous growth over the past 16 weeks — and despite his compelling personality — “I’m not gonna vote for you tonight.” Wait, British dude, aren’t you the one who’s been shouting for weeks that this is supposed to be about choosing “America’s Favorite Dancer”?
Uncle Nigel couldn’t have shocked me more had he sported an oversized, sleeveless, tangerine-colored “CHE force” t-shirt. (Not as shockingly, Sir Lythgoe rightfully praised Eliana, referring to her as his favorite dancer in SYTYCD‘s nine-year history; personally, I’m not 100 percent sure I’d go that far, but girlfriend would definitely make my Top 5.)
But here’s my question: What was Nigel’s end game? All season long, he’s avoided specific critique of Cyrus’ actual dancing, instead focusing on the guy’s can-do attitude, general magnetism, solid performance skills, willingness/quickness in picking up choreography despite a lack of formal training, and connection to the voting public. So why, suddenly, did our judge/executive producer put the magnifying glass up to Cyrus’ technique, drawing a direct comparison between the seriousness of his dancing dreams versus Chehon’s lifelong pursuit of excellence?
The cynical side of me sees a twofold reason: With his comments, Nigel tried to appease critics who’ve complained he’s been far too easy on the Season 9 street dancer, while simultaneously whipping the guy’s fan base into a speed-texting frenzy. (After all, who doesn’t enjoy participating in a backlash against Nigel?) It’s the equivalent of a politician speeding away from the scene of a car accident to go give a speech about how he’s tough on crime. The blindly trusting side of me, however, says Nigel was just speaking his mind, without any consideration to a larger agenda. (For the record, I buried my blindly trusting side under the floorboards back in mid-1997.)
Either way, there’s a chance that a pair of ballet dancers will rule the SYTYCD kingdom till (hopefully) the show returns for a 10th season next summer.
Anyhow, without further ado, here’s my ranking of the 10 pairs routines from an absolutely terrific “ferpormance nifale.”
1) Eliana & All-Star Alex: Contemporary — Here’s Exhibit A about why we don’t really need a long, convoluted explanation from the choreographer telling us the meaning of the routine we’re about to see: Eliana and Alex (who should be paired together, forever) brought so much passion to this performance about a man and woman at a crossroads in their relationship that I totally understood why it resulted in a standing ovation from the judges. Eliana’s extension was so magnificent, she practically reached through my TV screen and texted a few votes to “83676.”
2) Eliana & Tiffany: Broadway – Every professional stripper in America can pack up her pasties and go home: Eliana worked that pole like a 9-to-5, plus overtime, in a way that quite possibly redefined the genre. How she slithered upward, outward, and around the top of the prop is a mystery worthy of Popular Science, although the judges’ failure to remind voters that Eliana once worked the pole for Cirque du Soleil seemed a little dubious. Tiffany was solid on this one, too, but Eliana definitely had her beat in terms of extension and flexibility.
3) Tiffany & All-Star Will: Contemporary — Nigel’s best critique of the night was telling Tiffany that despite her diminutive size, her wonderful lines extend like a woman twice her height. Her body positioning in that final lift was so stunning, someone should paint it against a half-shell backdrop and put it in a museum. I’m squarely on #TeamEliana, but if Tiffany pulls off the win, I can’t be upset in the least.