So You Think You Can
A special treat for our So You Think You Can Dance fix today...I'm turning the column over to the smartest SYTYCD dance critic I know, Tiffany! With only one week until the finals, it's time we got some expert commentary. Thanks a million, T...I'll choreograph you a contemporary routine anytime!
Hello, dear readers! I’m stepping in this week to help prevent our thrillingly fab author from expiring in a pile of over-worked dust. It’s lovely to see you all again, and I hope that you’ll enjoy my thoughts on tonight’s show.
And let me start by saying . . . my God. I was prepared to totally snark on Neil and Lauren because I do not believe that they should make the final four, and I am highly irritated by their continued presence on the show (for my money, Neil would have been cut at the Top 16 stage, and Lauren would have been cut at the top 12 stage). Moreover, instead of using their names, I would have used the evil nicknames created for them on the Television Without Pity board (feckless hunchback and She Who Must Not Be Named. You have to admit, the names are actually kind of brilliant!). And you know what? After watching the show, I had to throw away those notes. Neil and Lauren performed brilliantly tonight, as did everyone else on the show. I still hold to my position – I do not believe that either one of them should make the top 4, though I have a feeling that we’re going to see the stunning upset of the season on Monday night, when the results show airs (SYTYCD is preempted on Thursday because of an NFL pre-season game) – I have a bad feeling that Pasha might be going home. Neil had a really good night, and though Pasha had a great night, too, I bet a lot of casual voters at home will pick up the phone and vote for Neil. The question for tonight is whether Pasha’s devoted fan base can rescue him. I suspect that Danny will be okay (I know that I gave him an hour of voting, and I’m good and grown.), especially because he was a genius in his first routine, and his solo equaled love (plus, his fan base is pretty rabid and is convinced, week after week, that Danny is going home), but I fear that Pasha might be under the radar tonight. I guess we’ll find out next week. Anyway, as I was saying, I can’t even snark on Lauren and Neil tonight. Even though I still believe that the overall analysis supports Neil and Lauren going home, they danced so well tonight that neither one of them deserves anything other than my respect.
Moving on to the show itself, it really was a great evening, and I actually think that it was the best all-around show I’ve ever seen over the course of three seasons. Sure, there were definitely routines that could have been done better – Danny and Lauren’s disco was hard, and it showed, and the Neil/Sabra paso doble showed limitations in technique, but overall, I think that if the kinks were worked out of those two routines, it would not be inappropriate for all six of these routines to show up on the tour. I loved the show that much.
Anyway, on to the pairings and the routines.
Pasha/Lacey: hip-hop and smooth waltz
As one might have guessed from the above, Pasha and Lacey were paired together for the evening. They pulled hip-hop and a smooth waltz. The hip-hop routine was choreographed by Dave Scott (yay! Fire Karaty and keep him!) and Tony Meredith. Both routines were very well done.
Hip-hop: The characters in this routine were Pasha as a horn-rimmed glasses wearing geek, and Lacey was a mannequin (and she rocked it). During the first half of the routine, Lacey gave off a perfectly expressionless affect, which was obviously completely in tune with her role in the dance, and she did stiff, sharp, robotic movements that mimicked the different positions in which one might find a mannequin (she was even standing on a pedestal). Pasha, meanwhile, danced around her, and he was fantastic! His movements were not as precise as they should have been, but let’s be clear -- he did an absolutely wonderful job for someone whose bailiwick is Latin ballroom dancing. Without question, Pasha has turned in the best hip-hop dancing from a partner dancer that this show has seen (no, I haven’t forgotten about Benji, I just think that Pasha does better hip-hop than Benji did). Several moves in there were simply fantastic – Lacey did a characteristic booty pop (characteristic for hip-hop, that is), but it was stiff and mechanical, like you might imagine a mannequin booty popping; she also did a great chest pump which signaled her coming to life, and another chest pump which signaled her going back to lifelessness; Pasha’s manipulation of her body when he took her off of the pedestal was on point; plus, he gave great face as the dork who was thrilled that this sexy mannequin came to life for him! Now, when Lacey came to life and they actually started dancing together, there was a definite lack of synchronicity, but apart from that, I thought it was a job really well done.
Smooth waltz: Truthfully, I noticed the lack of extension in Lacey’s wrists and hands before Nigel called it out, but other than that, I thought it was absolutely beautiful. First of all, hats off to Pasha. As a Latin dancer, he does not specialize in the kind of movement in which smooth dancers excel (though I believe he was trained in dancesport, which basically means that he has learned all of the ballroom competition dances before this show, including smooth waltz). Nevertheless, he was gorgeous tonight in a way that I did not necessarily expect. He has the best rise and fall that I recall seeing on this show (I don’t remember Artem getting a chance to waltz during Season 1, and for my money, Pasha was better at it than Dmitry from Season 2), and the move that Mary described (which I failed to write down when I was taking notes – sorry, folks) really was beautiful. Plus, his frame was so strong, and the way that he lifted Lacey over his back on several different occasions (one of those lifts was especially lyrical because it literally slowed down in the middle, in pace with the music, but still managed to maintain its flow) was the stuff of which dreams are made. Pasha has made me want to waltz, and I can’t stand that damned dance! Lacey did a nice job, too – she just didn’t stand out the way that Pasha did. Great job overall.
Danny/Lauren: contemporary and disco
Danny and Lauren performed a Mia Michaels contemporary and a Doriana Sanchez disco.
Contemporary: Holy Mary, mother of God. I think that this was my favorite routine of the season. Mia wanted them to use unnatural movement that she described as being alien-like, and that was the extent of the exposition that she gave. This was a dance that celebrated technique, and either you got it and appreciated it, you got it and didn’t appreciate it, or you didn’t get it and probably didn’t appreciate it. Many people online disliked this routine because it seemed like a bunch of running around the stage and flailing. Moreover, they disliked the lack of narrative tying the movements together. I say boo to both sets of comments – this routine was absolutely stunning. It featured so much beautiful movement and control – the hand-in-hand “step of the cat” (I can’t spell the proper ballet French term, but that is its translation) leading into Danny’s round-the-head kick over Lauren, the strength and power of Danny’s movements, Lauren’s run across the stage and backwards leap into Danny’s arms, the use of the stage, the dancing with the staircase – an it left me open-mouthed. Danny, of course, danced like a god, but Lauren was incredibly good, too – probably the best I’ve seen her all season. She really did rise to the occasion, and totally brought her A game to the table. Moreover, I was pleasantly surprised by Danny, too. Typically, he employs his “flows like honey” movements when he dances, but he was extremely sharp and precise, and the movement was notably Mia’s movement, not his. I respected his ability to lose himself in the choreographer’s vision, and not insist on his own, while simultaneously making his dancing unique enough that you know it’s him when you see him dancing. For the first time, I could see why Dwight Rhoden hired him to dance for Complexions – it makes complete sense to me now. And can I just give a quick shout-out to Danny’s mother, Denise Wall? There is a special place in heaven for that woman. Danny was 8 years old when he discovered her studio, and as a very young child, he was taking multiple buses and walking two-plus miles in order to get from home to the studio (because his mother wouldn’t or couldn’t take him herself). Danny was doing all of this – and not complaining about it, or even discussing it – because he simply needed to dance. It didn’t stop until some of the other mothers from the studio realized what was going on (two of these mothers went online recently to recount these stories). He was doing this in the suburbs of Norfolk, VA, where public transportation isn’t exactly readily available, so you know how much it meant to him. If you have that kind of discipline and drive at such a young age, you’re either running away from something or running toward something, and I suspect that in Danny’s case, it was a lot of both. Whatever, I’m not here to armchair psychoanalyze, I’m just here to wonder at him. At twelve, Denise adopted him, and honest to goodness, thank God that she did. Can you imagine if his gift had been left unshaped because of poverty and neglect? Christ almighty, Danny takes my breath away.
Disco: Okay, I won’t rave about this, lol! It was fun, but it was hard, and unfortunately, it showed. I saw a few hustle basics in there, and while Lauren’s footwork looked pretty good, Danny’s footwork, on occasion, was a little bit all over the place. Moreover, a few of the lifts didn’t look very sharp, and the double death drop looked like a single (but what do I know?). Overall, though, I thought that they looked like they had fun, and since disco is all about cheesy fun, I basically liked the routine.
Sabra/Neil: jazz and paso doble
The jazz routine was choreographed by Mandy Moore and the paso doble was choreographed by Tony Meredith.
Jazz: Holy crap, that routine was outstanding!!!!! Set to the Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” Neil and Sabra were doing a business negotiation over a table, and it was arguably the best of the night. (I say “arguably” because I preferred Mia’s routine, but that is because I simply loved Danny and Lauren’s technique and performance, and I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. In terms of choreographic completeness, though – difficulty of technique, narrative coherence, and performance – I have to give the edge to the Mandy Moore routine.) They used their movements, as well as the brilliant prop of the table, to demonstrate a hard-fought business negotiation, and some of the moves that they did were absolutely outstanding. At one point, Neil lifted Sabra, and while at the top of the lift, she did a split that literally *popped* in his hands; at another point, Neil did a gymnast movement (a planche), where he swung his body in horizontal parallel formation over Sabra, who was lying back across the table. Toward the end of the routine, they shook hands under the table, symbolizing a deal done “under the table,” and their movements away from the table – I presume, in celebration of the art of the deal --were completely in sync. It was absolutely brilliant, and easily one of the best of the season (if not the best – it just depends on what you like, and a great argument can be made in favor of calling it the best routine of the season).
Paso doble: They did a nice job with it, though ballroom experts will likely be displeased. Neil’s form was not as proud and overbearing as a proper matador’s should have been, but this fact notwithstanding, I think that they did a perfectly adequate job with the routine. The donut drop at the end was quite awkward, though, and if you want to see it done right, go back to Benji and Heidi’s “Black Mambo” routine. They do it at the very start of the routine, and boy does it make you gasp! For two beginners who had never done the drop before (Benji and Heidi had done it lots of times in the past, and if I recall correctly, had used the move in competition, too), Sabra and Neil did a more than passable job.
As for the solos, I don’t have much to add except for the following:
Lacey - Lacey’s solo, while not great (Heidi would have wiped the floor with her), was infinitely better than last week’s non-event. It was interesting to see the way that she incorporated some jazz movements into her basic cha cha technique, and overall, I enjoyed it.
Pasha - Pasha danced around a mannequin, and I believe that the mannequin was wearing one of Anya’s dresses (from the foxtrot, perhaps? I don’t recall.). In any event, the execution was rather odd and dull (it was a little too jazzy for a ballroom specialist), but I understood the idea, and appreciated the thought that he put into it. As a partner dancing, he’s always going to be best when dancing with someone else, but this show denies him the opportunity to do so when it forces him to dance solo (duh!), so by using the stand-in and dancing around her, he sort of communicated his desire to play off of someone else, the way that he is used to doing. Or maybe I’m over-thinking the whole damned thing, lol! It was just okay.
Lauren - Lauren’s solo, while not great, was probably the best of the girls. Unfortunately, I saw her bobble out of one of her turns (she does that frequently – bobble, I mean), but still, she has demonstrated increased musicality and growth. Nice job.
Neil - Neil, I think, has shown tremendous growth. He still does too many gymnastic tricks, and he hunches his shoulders terribly when he dances, but he is learning how to dance, and I mean dance, between the tricks. In fact, his last movement was a beautiful leap, and at the height of the leap, when his toe was extended in the air, at the very end of the point, he accentuated the “so” in “so you think you can dance, dance, dance.” That was extremely good musicality from Neil, so bravo to him.
Danny - Danny = love. Sorry, I know he doesn’t give a rat’s behind for my girl parts, but boy does he bring out the fangirl in me! Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be talking about his solo! I really did love his solo tonight (and for the record, I don’t always love them). I thought that he actually tried to do things other than his typical movements – his dancing was more precise, more squared-off (he even incorporated a very interesting flexed foot movement at one point that I had never seen him do – it was subtle, but surprising, and therefore, I appreciated it.). Beyond that, I absolutely adored the way he did that controlled fall/backwards extension over the end of the stage toward the end of his thirty seconds. I think that this might be my favorite Danny solo of the season.
Sabra - I don’t really have anything of use to say about Sabra’s solo. It was fine, but not earth shattering. As much as I love her, her limitations occasionally show, especially when you see that she isn’t finishing all of her movements in the way that that a more seasoned technician (e.g., Jaime) would have done. Still, nice enough job.
All in all, I think that this was, hands down, the best show of the season, and for my money, the best overall performance show that I have seen in three years of watching. Typically, there is at least one performance that massively lets me down, and I did not experience that tonight. Moreover, there were three routines tonight that left me screaming for joy, a fourth that left me incredibly pleased, and two more that made me smile (even if I could see that more work was necessary). Great job to all of them.
So who do I predict is going home? Since we haven’t had the Daughtry shock yet this season, I’m going to predict Pasha and Lauren. Who should be going home? Lauren and Neil, and that is based on an overall, season-long assessment, not an assessment of tonight. Every single person on the stage showed that they were worthy of their spots of the top six, even if they didn’t all earn their spots in the top six based on an overall analysis of the season. Whoever goes home should hold his or head proudly because they all did phenomenally well.