Wednesday, July 11, 2012

SYTYCD: Top 20 Compete!

Hello, long-forgotten visitors! I have sorely neglected this blog, and was just too exhausted to recap, but now it's SYTYCD season again, and I feel the need to snark! I hope you'll join me.

We've already finished our auditions and named our top 20, none of whom I can remember since we took a week off for the All-Star Game. We open tonight with a group dance that seems to be about the enervating boredom of working in an office, set to an instrumental string piece. The only part I especially noticed were Chehon's pirouettes (although I forgot his name and called him Stefon). The intro seems to go on forever and yet I probably need to redo it just to figure out who all the contestants are. (Janaya? Did we let in a Janaya?) But nonetheless, I'm glad to be back!

Wally has joined us this evening, and is re-enacting "Tokyo Drift" as he gallops from kitchen to living room. He would like you all to know that he is a badass.

This is our first night of actual judging, after meeting all of the contestants. Cat looks super-tan--must have had a good time at her 4th of July BBQ this year!  Our judges are Mary, Nigel, and Kenny Ortega. In the past, Kenny has been a little soft-hearted, so I don't expect a lot this time. Tonight we're getting a little 9-second squib for each dancer to talk about themselves, conveniently bullet-pointed for the home viewer.

Whitney the ballroom twin is first, and we learn that she can make a "flower" with her tongue. Looks more like a W, but still, more than I can do. She is partnered with ballet dancer Chehon, who impressively gets through more than his hypenated name in the 9 seconds...but not much more. He thinks in 2 languages, but speaks in neither, alas. The two of them are doing a samba from Louis van Amstel, who wants them to "shake that money maker." This includes a hilarious demonstration from Louis of how the Brazilians basically just shake their hips and don't move their upper bodies. Chehon is concerned because his training is the exact opposite of what one needs for samba. At least he looks the part!

They begin, and Whitney is dressed in a pink scrap of nothing while the drums begin and a voice on the tape says, "Hey, nino, escuchame." Oh, I'm escuching, believe you me. Whitney is sassy and working the camera like a pro, but Chehon still looks a bit stiff. No swivel in those hips yet. Halfway through, even Whitney looks a bit flat, like she's run out of energy. Maybe she's not getting enough push from Chehon? Or maybe she's not in full SYTYCD shape yet. Either way, it lacked some of the verve I expect to see from Latin dance.

Nigel welcomes Louis back and agrees that Whitney is a star and a "firecracker," but observes that Chehon is a beautiful dancer, but not quite right for samba. He praises Chehon's ballet-trained core and tells him to loosen up. It was pretty cordial for Nigel, though. Mary also loved Louis's choreography, but was concerned about Chehon's feet--he's overcompensating by turning in and becoming bowlegged. Then Mary goes to the HTT (Hot Tamale Train) right away for Whitney, and I have to mute her. Nigel is concerned that if she's already shrieking, he'll be deaf by the end of the night. I share his concerns. Kenny calls Whitney "Marilyn Monroe, but hotter," and reiterates the need for Chehon to surrender to the choreography a bit more. All in all, generous critiques for opening night.

Our next couple is Tiffany and George, and they will be doing a Sonya Tayeh routine. I have already forgotten who Tiffany is--one of the jazz girls? She's basically wearing lingerie, FWIW. She seems kind of Jersey in her interview, and tells us she once had a pet duck. George was invisible during the audition rounds, but stunning last week, so I'm excited to see more of him. He's a George, Jr. actually, and he loves crab legs and hates camping. Fair enough!

Sonya's dance is about--wait for it--a love story. Two people finally see who they are, and discover their connection. She wants it to be very melty and flowing, which is actually unusual for Sonya. Guess she got tired of choreographing the same bird-dance she always does. There are some cool lifts and lots of interesting angles, but it's definitely more traditional than some of Sonya's stuff. Man, Tiffany is bendy! She can basically curl her spin back over itself, which is both impressive and disturbing. George is an able partner, but less eye-catching in this routine.

Mary begins, and is "breathless." She loved the choreography and how intensely they surrendered to it. She calls George one of the best dancers in the competition and tells Tiffany she made it look effortless. Kenny agrees--he also praises Sonya and loves the dancers' generosity with each other. Nigel observes that Sonya seems to be going through a romantic period, what with growing her hair out and all (ew, Nigel, stop). He loves how committed the dancers were, "right to their fingertips." He loved it. Wally agrees--he's cozied up to my laptop pretending to be a student of the dance. (Really, he wants a bite of my egg roll. Not gonna happen, fuzzface.)

We now go to Janaya, who appears to be a contemporary dancer (or jazz--I don't know the difference). She tells us that she hates eating orange candy, and the bullet point says, "Then don't." Fair enough! Brandon is her partner, and I think he's contempo? Or is he hip-hop? I don't remember. He loves "pizzookies," which the bullets claim are "pizza plus cookie." I still don't understand. Anyway, they're dancing a NappyTabs "hip-hop" routine about "an alcoholic who must choose between his addiction and his love." Feels like someone is hungry for an Emmy nom, and decided addiction dances were the way to go. Tabitha is super-pregnant, FYI.

They start out passing a bottle (in a brown paper bag, which feels a little sketch) back and forth, and it's the typical NappyTabs version of hip-hop--not very hard, kind of a hip hop/ contempo blend. Both of them seem decent at it, but the crowd seems unmoved. You'll be happy to know that at the end of the dance, Brandon chooses Janaya instead of the bottle.

Kenny begins, and tells NappyTabs that he loves the way hip hop is developing "a deeper language" of storytelling, which feels a little culturally elitist to me somehow, like it's only becoming an art form because it's speaking a traditional language? He tells the dancers he felt that they were conveying the story, but it wasn't as effusive as the praise for the previous two couples. Nigel also praises NT for choosing a softer style, because it didn't "expose" the dancers' weaknesses. He then makes a joke about Mary and a vodka, but I can't be bothered. Mary liked both of them, but really thought Brandon was good while Janaya wasn't quite gritty enough. Nigel jumps in to basically warn them that they weren't that great and need to get better if they want the votes. Well then!

After the break, we'll be seeing Alexa and Daniel, who are clad all in red satin. They look like a bad high school play, and I'm guessing this is a crappy Tyce Broadway number. Shall we guess if I'm right? Alexa tells us that she loves red lipstick, and the bullet says "Duh." Hee! Daniel tells us that he's an Aussie and then reels off a list of stereotypes involving boomerangs, kangaroos and shrimps on the barbie.

They're doing a jazz routine choreographed by Sean Cheesman, which means I lose my bet, but makes sense because Sean's taste level has been hit or miss in the past. There are a ton of complicated lifts and poor Alexa keeps getting dropped on her head with an audible thump. Oof! They begin atop a scaffold, and twist and turn themselves around its pipes before descending to the floor. To be honest, the whole thing feels a little...insincere? Like they're acting too much, and overthinking the lifts. Plus, Daniel is in a full-on red satin 3 piece suit and looks like an ass, which isn't helping. Somehow Alexa's red catsuit is less objectionable. Overall, didn't love it, but it wasn't the dancers' fault. We'll see what the judges think.

Nigel observes that the choreography was incredibly demanding and intricate, but he felt there were no moments of pause for the audience to process how hard it was. He felt that they were too smiley, though, and not honest. Much as it pains me to agree with Nigel, I must--that was the insincerity I felt. Mary agrees with Nigel and enjoyed it, but felt like it was so rushed that she couldn't really get to know them. Overall, exciting, though. Kenny does not buck the trend, telling us that it was extremely demanding and that he "appreciated the exercise" but didn't feel that they were as invested as they could be. He's right--they weren't emotional enough, really. Uh-oh...will Alexa fall victim to Ryan's fate from last year?

Now it's time for Amber and Nick. Amber has the Rihanna hair and loves bunny. Nick is a Latin dancer and a nerd who took too many credits last season--dude, way to connect with the audience. These two are in trouble, because they're stuck with the Viennese Waltz. Neither of them were featured standouts during the audition rounds, and even though this waltz is from Jason Gilkinson, it's all too often the kiss of death, especially on opening night. Poor guys. Nick seems to be having particular trouble, ironically because he's a ballroom dancer, but not this kind of ballroom, so Jason is being extra-hard on him.

They're dancing to a cover of "Nights in White Satin," which makes me smile and feel old at the same time. Amber's dress is very pretty and flowy with lots of chiffony layers. Nick's all in black. Between the modern-sounding cover and the very flaily choreography, this looks more like contemporary dance than a waltz. Very modern. I think there was a missed hold somewhere and Amber had to scramble for a step, but nothing major. Lots of dramatic lifts, but not much connection between them, I thought.

Mary starts us off and says the dance was "dreamy." She loved the flow, the transitions, and praises Amber for surviving in her strappy high heels, which she never dances in. She just calls Nick phenomenal. Kenny loved the fluidity, loved the choreography and interestingly, praises the Steadicam operator! I like that--it reminds us that it must look a little odd to the audience, because there's a dude strapped to a camera circling the dancers all the time. But where? Now I really want a "behind the scenes" ep to explain it all. Nigel calls out Jason for being mean and calls him an "Abby Lee Miller" from "Dance Moms." (Mrrow!) Then he tells Nick they expect him to be brilliant in his own style, and warns him not to make such worried faces on TV. Amber was good because of her lyrical training, but tended to lose her core. Nigel says they both deserve to go through, but observes that the waltz routine was a tough one because there were no big moments to get the audience going.

Wally has his head stuffed in my empty won ton soup container. He's going to lick up a scallion and really surprise himself in a minute.

Time for Amelia and Will. Amelia's dad is a tattoo artist, and she's named after Amelia Earhart. Will loves the color orange, says something about the Lion King, and then just says "Um" over and over until time runs out. He panicked. The two of them are getting a NappyTabs routine that Napoleon calls "a character pop." A wha? I refuse to believe that's an actual term. Amelia is playing a "sophisticated housecat" while Will is "a back alley cat daddy." So they're dancing the Aristocats? Will is very smiley and giggly, to the point where it's getting annoying.

Wow, they have an actual dumpster onstage! Amelia's in a leopard leotard and hot pants, while Will's in the traditional hoodie and jeans (although his sleeves are leopard print). I would like this better if it wasn't supposedly "hip hop." Because I don't think it is--but I do think they're doing a good job at...whatever it is. Lots of ass-dancing from Amelia. The whole thing ends with them in the dumpster. The audience cheers, but I wasn't that impressed. NappyTabs seems happy, though.

Kenny starts us off with a rather questionable line about playing with Amelia's kitty, and I'm not gonna touch it. He liked the pairing with Will, and he liked the stylistic mashup that NappyTabs created. Nigel's joke isn't much better, but does add to it by observing that they're standing with Cat. I give him a mild "heh" for that. He also says the routine was full of personality, even though he's not sure it was hip-hop. Mary goes for the requisite "purr-fect" joke and says the routine made her happy. She calls Amelia a "quirky little vixen" and Will "crazy" and loves them both. I wasn't as blown away, but it was cute. I will like Amelia if they stop trying to ram her down my throat.

It's time for our belly dancer, Janelle! She loves cooking and roller coasters (presumably not simultaneously). She's paired with Dareian, the charming Hawaiian with bricks for feet. Dareian left home to join the circus and can talk like Donald Duck. (Was that his circus act?) They have a Sean Cheesman African jazz routine. I assume this will not be done in a satin suit. I hope it won't be in loincloths. Janelle looks like she gets bent the wrong way in rehearsal at one point, but it doesn't appear to be fatal.

Uh-oh. Not loincloths, exactly, but fringe and bathing suits, with body paint. Also in red--I guess Sean has a signature color. There are some fun flips, but I don't feel like this routine is really showing them off that well. A lot of it just looks like enthusiastic club dancing. Sean, don't you dare get my lovely Janelle sent home prematurely!

Nigel begins by thanking heaven that Janelle's even here, given her string of injuries. If you saw her in the final auditions, you saw her whack her head on the door when she returned victorious--turns out she needed five stitches after that! And then she was injured again on the intro night. Nigel tells her she could do very well on this show if she survives rehearsals. He then praises Dareian, and points out something I got wrong at the top of this recap--it wasn't Chehon doing the pirouettes in the opening "Mad Men" group dance--that was Dareian! Well done, dude. Mary agrees, and found it very exciting--she thinks they both came out as winners. Kenny tells Sean that he loved the piece's cross-culture nature, and found it "primitive and universal." He says nothing about the dancers. Focus, Kenny!

Now we take a break to plug "National Dance Day," which is on July 28. I will be at the Romance Writers of America convention in Anaheim, so I'm unlikely to be dancing. How will you be celebrating?

Ready for more dancing? It's time for Eliana, our saucy ballerina. She hates raisins and loves "True Blood." (The bullet asks, "The show or the drink?") She's paired with Cyrus, our home-taught "animator." I guess that's what we call "dude who does the robot" now? His nickname is "Glitch" and he's addicted to shoes. They're the ones who get stuck with Tyce, and they're doing a number from "Hairspray." Shouldn't this be an Adam Shankman number, then?

There's a blackboard, and they're dancing to "Run & Tell That." Eliana has polka dot knee pads. Heh. They're dressed all '50s-cute, but the opening to this dance is dull. It perks up at the chorus a bit, when they bust out a little running man and some fun flips. The whole thing feels a little too slow, or a little low energy? Something about the number isn't showing off either of their skills as much as I'd like. Tyce is grinning and drooling like a Samoyed, though, so I guess they did well.

The crowd is going nuts as Mary starts off, and she just says, "There's no need to be worried here, is there?" But I think that's about the crowd love for these two personalities rather than the dance. She then says that "people are just gonna Google you up." Er...OK? But she says they loved the joy and the life they brought to the routine. Guess I just missed it, then. Kenny says to Tyce that "I could imagine an entire number staged around that routine." Um, isn't there one? I thought the point was that this was a routine from Hairspray? Kenny also loved the dancers, and says they "kicked it all the way to the back wall." Nigel admires Cyrus's bow tie, and loves his commitment to the dance, which overcomes his training limitations. He tells Eliana that it didn't show off what a brilliant dancer she is, but says that she's the benchmark all the other girls must meet. That was nice, anyway.

Now we're up to Audrey (neck-fart girl) and Matthew. Audrey collects elephants and reminds us of the neck farting. Matthew has six tattoos and is afraid of sharks. Ironically, they're dancing a Travis Wall piece set on the Titanic. Travis has his own TV show coming up on Oxygen, so I wonder if we'll get overlapping cameras at any point.

They're dancing to "Unchained Melody" (yawn) and referencing the "naked sketch" scene from the movie. But with a little less nudity--c'mon, people, this isn't cable! There's lots of stretching and flailing and some very dramatic LEAPS!, but it's also sexy. I think they do a good job with the connection, and this is the first time that Matt's seemed like a man instead of a boy. Plus, the enormous chaise longue looks luxurious. Well done, prop master!

The judges give us our first standing O of the season, and Kenny says, "Exquisitely choreographed, beautifully danced." Nigel says he enjoyed it "more than anything this evening." He praises the connection between the music's crescendos and the rise and fall of the dance. It's true, that was very well timed--and Nigel also says that the dancers were brilliant, and thus made Travis look good. Mary says Travis must have felt like he "won the lottery" when he got these two, and she loved them both. I wasn't as over the moon as the judges, but it was pretty.

At last, we're down to our final couple--Lindsey and Cole. Lindsey doesn't like tomatoes, and looks just like Maureen McCormick. Cole calls himself a "walking cliche" because he's "an Asian male who's ninja." They'll be doing a Jason Gilkinson paso doble, but instead of Lindsey being the cape, she's a poison that's trying to conquer Cole. There are lots of tumbles in rehearsal, but they seem enthusiastic.

They open in this awesome hold, where Cole is standing onstage with Lindsey wrapped around him like a belt, perfectly still. I can't even imagine how strong you have to be to hold that pose. They're both in black, and she's in these killer knee boots. I really like this routine! It's one of the few ballroom "story" routines that I think is genuinely telling that story, but still preserves the core of the  dance's style. They finish, and Cat calls them "Blue Steel," which is pretty apt.

We go right to Kenny, who doesn't mince words: "Mesmerizing...electrifying...two of the most fantastic performances I've ever seen on this show." Yeah, it was pretty awesome! Mary is shrieking and gibbering like a crazy person, but love-love-loves it. Nigel agrees--he asks Cole what training he's had, and then says it's the best paso doble he's ever seen a guy do on the show. He also tells Lindsey that she absolutely rose to the challenge, matched Cole, and is no longer being overshadowed by Whitney. They really were sexy and well-matched. That was a good routine.

Whew! I need to get my recapping muscles back. That was a long one. But it was good to see everything...and we'll find out who's going home at the beginning of next week!


Carole said...

Completely forgot that the 'real deal' began last night. Must see whether I can catch it somewhere. Glad you're back with the blog -- watching the show isn't nearly as much fun unless you're offering up your astute observations. And how nice that Wally is participating this season. ~~Carole

Abby said...

Thanks for reading, Carole! I should have asked Wally to weigh in on Amelia's cat routine. Maybe next week he'll give us ratings :).

Carole Thieme said...

I watched and will admit that I could barely keep up! First of all, everyone looked pretty darn good to me, so I'm going to have to wait until the eliminations get them whittled down to a number that I can manage.

Has Nigel added more pomp and pouf on top of his head? Or maybe he just borrowed some of Mary's extensions. Cat as lovely as ever.