Wednesday, November 18, 2009

So You Think You Can Dance, Season 6 - Top 14

Photo courtesy of Fox.
Welcome to the Top 14! This stage of the game is always particularly nerve-wracking, as the dancers are painfully close to getting to the Top 10 and the SYTYCD national tour. It's also when we start hearing the word "growth" in both a positive and negative way. Many of the dancers are achieving at a level unimagined a few weeks ago, while others are plateauing or fading fast. For me, last night's show was a definite step up from what we've seen in previous weeks, and I'm excited to see what happens as our favorites keep getting better and better.

Jakob and Ashleigh started off the night with a killer Nappy Tabs hip hop routine. It's no secret I am obsessed with Nappy Tabs, and this routine was no different. They always find a way to communicate a story or concept through hip hop, making it interesting and accessible. I wasn't sure about the "texting" backdrop at first, but it transformed into a pivotal element of the story. I've previously harped on the new Season 6 stage, and I still am not loving it, but it's moments like last night's text message reveal (and the incredible Bollywood sunset from the Top 18) that make me appreciate the change. As for our duo - fabulous. Jakob was phenomenal as always - his performances are always so full out and honest - and Ashleigh delivered another wonderful performance. I, like Adam Shankman, was not a believer in Ashleigh, but she has made me a believer these last two weeks. Talk about growth! She is well on her way to being a front runner in this competition. Side Note: How adorable was pudgy Kid Jakob?!

In previous seasons, Broadway has provided us with memorable pieces such as Joshua and Katee's "All for the Best", Season 4's Top 5 Guys' "5 Guys Named Moe" and Phillip and Jeanine's "Moses Supposes". Kevin and Karen's lackluster routine will not be joining that list any time soon. Their performance seemed timid and lacked the incredible chemistry that has put them on the Hot Tamale Train in previous weeks. I was so excited at the beginning of the routine, as "If My Friends Could See Me Now" is one my favorite Broadway songs (though could they have gotten the Gwen Verdon or Shirley MacLaine version? Christina Applegate pales in comparison), but it just fell flat. New choreographer Spencer Liff certainly gave them some great choreography, and us some great eye candy, but the couple failed to deliver. Kevin's chances at the Top 10 are not looking good - as I predicted last week, his previously impressive technical skills are no longer comparable to those of his competitors or previous hip-hop contestants (Joshua, Twitch, etc.). I'm hoping Karen might be able to rebound - please don't let this be typical Tyra Banks "light fading" syndrome!

Poor Russell. Not only did he have to foxtrot with Bette Midler...I mean, Melanie LaPatin...during the Top 20, but then he goes and picks it again! If only Victor had such troubles...but more on that later. Eddie Simon choreographed a Foxtrot for Noelle and Russell that allowed them to really show off what wonderful chemistry they have as a couple. Though neither of the dancers have a ballroom background, they appeared effortless and graceful. It's always great to see a couple go out and just enjoy the routine instead of labor through it (yes, I am referring back to Kevin and Karen). Noelle looked mature and grown-up in her red gown. She has certainly come a long way from Vegas week when we saw her as Mollee's BFF4EVA, and I am locking her in to my Top 10. And what more can you say about Russell? He executes difficult choreography and still maintains an ease and swagger about him. It's going to take a serious misstep on his part to keep him from the Top 4 (knock on wood). He is a true star.

Was anyone else not-even-a-little-bit surprised to find out Victor was a brat as a child? Good. Me neither. Moving on - I am torn about last night's "Blackbird" piece. Tyce Diorio, despite being incredibly annoying ("They need to feed off each other"...get it? get it?! birds!), delivered some incredible jazz choreography to Victor and Channing, who in turn delivered some truly impressive dancing. The large string birdcage was interesting and well-utilized, and the concept was creative and engaging. All these things should've added up to a show stopper. The one misstep, in my opinion, was using Bobby McFerrin's version of The Beatles' "Blackbird." I mean...c'mon!! I know The Beatles are incredibly picky when it comes to use of their music, and I imagine that unless your name is "The Beatles Rock Band" you are out of luck right about now. But Bobby McFerrin?? At least use the version from Across the Universe, or even the Sarah McLachlan cover. Adam hit the nail on the head - it kept us from connecting emotionally to the piece. I would've reacted the same had it been performed in silence. Actually, silence might've been a better way to go. Despite the nails-on-a-chalkboard soundtrack, Channing once again proved her worth in this competition. She is certainly growing week to week, and her struggles with Phillip are now a mere shadow. Unfortunately, that same growth is not evident in Victor. To be sure, he is a great dancer, but he really has not been challenged outside his comfort zone yet (2 contemporary, 1 Broadway, 1 jazz). Whatever luck-of-the-draw Russell is suffering from, Victor is benefiting greatly. If he makes it to the Top 12, and I have no doubt he will, I hope he picks ballroom or hip hop so we can really see how versatile he can be.

Kathryn and Legacy suffered from the exact opposite problem as Victor and Channing. Tony Meredith choreographed a Paso Doble that was meant to be "powerful, provocative and intense." And what "Blackbird" lacked in audio drama, this piece made up for tenfold with one of my favorite Cirque du Soleil songs, "Pursuit" from . Unfortunately, I didn't feel the emotion and drama that I heard. Legacy certainly committed to his character when it came to his facial expressions, but his movement seemed uncomfortable and amateur. Meanwhile, Kathryn did not complete all her movement, taking away from the passion I wanted to feel between her and Legacy. Though the judges seemed impressed by the duo, I was left wanting so much more. On a lighter note, did anyone else notice that Kathryn talked about her family without crying and raising the pitch of her voice to glass-shattering levels? Yay!

We took a brief break from the competition to watch a montage about the Dizzy Feet Foundation and their upcoming Celebration of Dance. How can you not love this organization?! Not to mention we got to see our dear Debbie Allen and Mia Michaels - oh, how I miss them! I'm certainly considering contributing to the Dizzy Feet Foundation this year, and I wish I could go to that event!

My emotional high from the great Dizzy Feet montage kept going thanks to Ryan, Ellenore and standout choreographer Travis Wall's contemporary routine. What an emotional, powerful and honest performance. The costuming (or lack thereof in Ryan's case), music, lighting, camera angles, moments of stillness...I cannot possibly list all of the elements that came so perfectly together in this piece. Set to "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" by Stars (and, yes, I immediately purchased this song on iTunes), Ellenore and Ryan did a complete turnaround from last week's disappointing hip hop spectacle. They moved effortlessly across the stage and performed with such chemistry and connection, it was impossible to watch without being drawn in to the story of two former lovers meeting again. Though they fell out of our good graces last week, I am glad the power couple is back on track. Can't wait to see them perform this again in the finale!

If I was a SYTYCD producer, I'm not sure I would've ended the evening with Nathan and Mollee's Pop Jazz routine. I'm sure it was their way of apologizing for Nigel's bitch slap during last week's results show (which was well deserved and fantastic, if you ask me), but after Ellenore and Ryan's brilliance, the tweens just didn't compare. I didn't feel the chills like Laurie Ann Gibson wanted, although the intimidating choreographer did deliver the line of the night, and maybe of the season, when she barked, "Stay with me, Blondie!" at Mollee. Can that audio clip play every time they show Mollee, please and thank you? Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" was the perfect soundtrack for a rip-roaring finale, but the couple's movement felt very controlled. Although Pop Jazz is characterized by a lot of intricate and controlled/hard-hitting choreography, there is usually a contrast with moments of release and rebound that was missing in this routine. I, as usual, have to agree with Shankman on this one - Nathan and Mollee aren't coming anywhere close to their potential. If they make it to the Top 10, I think they will have a lot of trouble being paired with older and way-more mature dancers like Ryan or Ashleigh (wow, another compliment for Ashleigh...).

The judges all shared their concern for Karen and Kevin, and I cannot disagree. My votes this week went to Jakob/Ashleigh, Noelle/Russell and Ellenore/Ryan. We'll see tonight how the rest of America voted, and who will move on to one of the most suspenseful weeks in the competition - the "you're almost there, don't fall flat on your face and miss out on the tour" Top 12.
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