So You Think You Can
I don't know that I'm up to recapping the entire competition this year, but I had to share my thrills ffrom last night in the first competition episode of So You Think You Can Dance. With each passing season, Dance has improved to become the gold standard of competition shows, worthy to sit alongside Survivor, The Amazing Race, and Project Runway. It's a showcase of astonishing physical talent, with excellent judges, substantial critiques and extraordinary choreographers. Drama, artistry, intrigue...not to mention the super-hot men and women, who wear very little clothing. Do I love it? I love it. I love it lots.
Last night, the Top 20 finalists began the summer elimination process in couple dances...and gave us the first opportunity to see their skills in real time. Here are my initial reactions to each:
Rayven and Jamie: Things didn't start off so well. An Alvin Ailey-trained ballerina and a ballroom guy without his usual partner, Rayven and Jamie were thrown a hip-hop routine set to one of ModFab's favorite tunes. The dancers were game, and there was a shaggy energy to their exuberance which judges Nigel and Mary seemed to respond to. But for me, it lacked edge and a necessary gravitas...what guest judge Dan Karaty called "funk." Certainly not embarrassing...or enough to eliminate them the first week.
Susie and Marquis: And welcome to our first gay contestant, Marquis! Okay, maybe that's unfair...he's young (18), and a classical dancer, so he's got a lot of gay vibe to contend with. Susie reminds of me a young, booty-shaking Shakira...except she's a schoolteacher, which is disturbing to remember when decides to skip the bra on national television. Interesting choice for them on the first go around...they danced a slow waltz brillimg with ethereal, graceful turns and languid lines. I think Marquis' youth showed through, and he's going to have to work on his feminine, swanlike arm movements, especially in pairing. (If you're new to Dance, understand this: it isn't homophobia that makes me say he needs to butch it up. In heterosexual pair dancing, there is an illusion being executed...as there is in same-sex pair dancing. In man/woman romantic dances, I need to believe that he's in love with her. And fact is...I didn't.) Susie was surprising...and honestly, I think she carried the routine. Are they safe? As you'll see, it was a surprisingly tough first night, so who knows.
Kourtni L. and Matt: Very tall, very adorable dancers (5'9" and 6'3", respectively) with evident skills, these two strike me as the definition of telegenic. Their routine featured black leather hotness, sexy turns, and Soft Cell's "Tainted Love"...and it got the first squeals from the audiences of the evening. Matt didn't pay enough attention, for me, to his partner...his training often overrode the choreography, making him seem eager to please in a routine that could have used a slouch or two. Kourtni seemed sharp to me. It's important to remember, even as I structure my thoughts here, to realize that all of these people are new to their partners; some, in fact, haven't ever partnered before. Matt's problems will be offset the first week by his cute smile, and Kourtni's positive comments from the judges should insulate her as well.
Chelsea T. and Thayne: Earlier this week, it was a soul-crushing 97 degrees here in New York. That was hot. But Chelsea and Thayne, dancing the absolute shit out of "Oye Como Va," were even hotter. HOT. HOTTT. A contemporary duo by specialty, they had a challenge set by having to quickly learn the cha-cha. They did so, and did it exquisitely, connecting with each other and the audience, clearly enjoying the sassy choreography, landing every move and executing with panache. Chelsea is unquestionably my favorite dancer of the season; if Thayne isn't the best male dancer in the competition, he's in the top three. As the one and only Kylie might say...wow wow wow WOW. Just look.
Chelsie H. and Mark: Ah, the first Mia Michaels choreography of the season. (For the newbies, Ms. Michaels is the shiznit of SYTYCD; her contemporary choreography is forward-thinking and boundary-pushing.) Mia chose one of my favorite songs about love and longing, Me'Shell NdegeOcello's mournful "Beautiful," for a dance about weddings on the rocks. It was surprising, dramatic, soul-stirring; there was an oddness that I found terribly compelling.
Kherington and Twitch: Regular viewers of the show already know hip-hop dancer Twitch...he was the last person eliminated in the Vegas semi-finals last season. This year, he's made it, and for the first partner he's partnered with a high school blonde goddess, Kherrington, with legs reach all the way to the floor, if you catch my drift. They nearly spun gold from the poorly-designed Broadway routine by Tyce Diorio (IMHO, the most erratic of the show's choreographic stable) that turned "Too Darn Hot" into a caricature of period style. But the audience and the judges loved it, so what do I know? It wasn't bad...I just hoped for more from these two. (I should admit to the fact, however, that I think the genial Twitch is the frontrunner at this point...he's got the most screen time so far, and the audience has been frequently reminded of his near-miss status last year.)
Comfort and Chris: Comfort, in the semi-finals, was called "the best female hip-hop dancer in the show's history" by the judges. Which to mean is code for: Can't Do Anything Else. So when these two Dallas auditionees took a shot at classic ballroom jive, it felt like she was being put to the test. And generally, I thought she passed with flying colors. She made the steps look easy, and shook it everywhere it needed shaking...including in the post-dance interview, where she cracked jokes with Nigel like a pro. (Code for: the Viewers Will Like Her.) Chris, by contrast, seemed a bit lanky and awkward, overextending and seeming a little earthbound. I think they'll both be fine, but Chris will need to step it up.
Katee and Joshua: Joshua was the first dancer, I thought, to have the chosen choreography (hip-hop) fit his particular specialty. He shone, in a smartly-staged heartbreak sequence set to "No Air," that found him able to balance his street skills with the (admitted) ballet training he's had. Katee -- who I must admit I don't care for, since she blithely sassed the judges in the Vegas auditions last week -- was pretty solid, game when Joshua threw her over his shoulders like a potato sack. Although there were more visually dynamic routines last night, it's solid, dependable performances like this that get you to the finals. Good job.
Jessica and Will: Let's give some bonus points for first-week difficulty; the tango is deceptively difficult, as many former contestants have learned. Will, who is a protege of Debbie Allen, is a remarkable talent...he's got style and detail in spades. Jessica was less impressive, but she seemed enthusiastic and energetic and sexy as hell. Still, the true light here shone on Will; if Thayne has any male competition this season, it'll be from Will. In fact, depending on the chosen choreography week-to-week, I can see Will leading the pack the way Danny did last year.
Courtney G. and Gev: Well, it wouldn't be a couples night on So You Think You Can Dance without the requisite disco routine. The judges slammed the dancers for a lack of enthusiasm, but I think they missed the mark. True, it wasn't very inspiring, but I think it's the choreography that was uninspired. Gev danced his heart out and Courtney spun and leapt with great passion. Adriana Sanchez is the show's resident "disco queen," but to be honest I've never thought her choreography matched up well with her other, more talented colleagues. So for me, I give them an A for Effort, an F to Sanchez....which averages to a C.
BEST OF NIGHT: Chelsea T. and Thayne
BOTTOM THREE COUPLES: Rayven and Jamie, Susie and Marquis, Courtney G. and Gev
GETTING CUT ON THURSDAY: Susie and Marquis