TV Time: SYTYCD Season 11 “Top 20 Perform”

I hope all of you who celebrate it are having a fun and safe Independence Day!

So begins another season of So You Think You Can Dance live shows, and I’m trilled to be writing about them once again. As a dancer and choreographer myself, no other show on television makes me smile like SYTYCD, and I can’t wait to discuss the highs and lows of each week of the competition with all of you. Until the Top 10 is selected, my recaps will be a bit more general—focusing on some thoughts about the episode as a whole as well as my favorite routine and dancers of the evening (there will also be some predictions for who’s going home after I’ve started to see who the audience is gravitating towards).

If this episode is any indication, we’re in for a real treat this season in terms of both the talent and variety of dancers we’ll be getting to see over the next several weeks. Yes, there’s still an abundance of contemporary dancers who are difficult to tell apart (but some did make a name for themselves in this episode), but I loved seeing a Top 20 episode with multiple ballroom duets, two ballerinas, two tappers, and two hip-hop dancers with very different styles. If there was one thing I was most impressed with while watching this episode, it was the variety of dance styles I saw on display.

In an episode that featured 10 dances (and one subpar group number from Sonya Tayeh), it was easy for at least a few routines to get lost in the shuffle. Despite the variety of styles presented, there were still too many contemporary routines about a couple in the middle of an argument. (Travis Wall, you can do better.) Also, the embarrassment of riches in terms of ballroom numbers meant that there was now the ability to directly compare partnerships, and the duos of Nick/Tanisha and Serge/Brooklyn didn’t have the same fire and stage presence as the dynamite pairing of Malene/Marcquet.

The dances that stood out to me more than any other in this introductory week were the ones unlike anything else we saw that night. The energy of Malene and Marcquet was unmatched. The rare treat of the female pas de deux between Jacque and Jourdan was impressive to behold, even if I did feel the choreography was a little above their abilities. (There were simply too many turns.) Teddy and Emilio’s “Night Shift” duet was an inspired blending of their two hip-hop styles. Zack and Valerie’s tap duet was as challenging as it was entertaining. And Ricky and Jessica’s breathtaking contemporary piece set them apart from their fellow contemporary dancers by showcasing a stunning combination of strength and grace.

Standout Performers: Malene, Marcquet, Teddy, Emilio, Ricky, Jessica, Valerie, Zack

Favorite Routine: If you read my SYTYCD recaps last season (or my Tweets so far this season), you know that I will readily admit to being biased towards tappers on this show. Tap is the style of dance I specialize in as a dancer and a choreographer, so it has thrilled me like little else to see the style I hold close to my heart finally getting the SYTYCD respect I felt it was denied for so many seasons. In fact, thanks to last season’s Top Four finalist Aaron Turner (and Nick Young before him), we’ve been treated to some great tap routines on this show in the last few seasons. But none of those could even hold a candle to the show Zack and Valerie put on this week.

Of course, most people will say that that best routine of the week was Ricky and Jessica’s gorgeous contemporary piece. However, we’ve seen contemporary talent like that before. What we haven’t seen before was a tap routine like Valerie and Zack’s. It was by far the most difficult tap routine in the show’s history—and not just because of the stairs. Yes, I held my breath every time they tapped up and down those steps (especially the pullbacks that took them backwards down the stairs). But the thing that most impressed me with this routine was the complexity of the rhythms they had to create throughout. Every beat in the song was matched by a beat from their tap shoes, and as Nigel said, those beats came from different parts of their shoes to create a variety of different sounds. Great tappers use the different parts of their shoes the way a drummer uses the base drum, snare drums, and cymbals, and that’s exactly what Valerie and Zack did.

More than anything else, those two dancers captured the exuberance of tap in such an enjoyable way. For being such a difficult routine, they never stopped looking like they were having fun. Tap is such a traditionally joyful style of dance (think Singin’ in the Rain), and it always puts a smile on my face to see a routine that reminds America just how purely entertaining this style of dance can be.

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6 thoughts on “TV Time: SYTYCD Season 11 “Top 20 Perform”

  1. Yeah for the return of SYTYCD. I not surprisingly nodded along at your assessment of this week’s episode. The group number really did lack and truth be told, I was worried for the start of the evening. My chief criticism of last season was the lack of inspired choreography we saw many weeks in spite of some wonderful dancers. The same could not be said of this past Wednesday. I thought the choreography was a minimum entertaining (yes, I am with you and expect more now from both Travis and Stacey Tookey) and at best inspired. Oh Luis Van Amstel can you stay forever? I called Marcquet as my favorite coming out of the LA rounds and Wednesday night only reinforced that with a spectacular samba routine that had great speed and wonderful musicality. However, by far my favorite routine of the night was a close tie between our tap duo and our hip hop guys. The latter was another great display of how much Christopher Scott uniquely understands the beats of a melody and combines it with innovated movement that often feels like we are watching music notes in motion. I adore the fact that Scott takes classic soul – like Night Shift and develops a style of movement that weds to it perfectly. His routines have quickly become among my favorites in recent seasons.

    Zack and Valerie’s tap duet was obviously challenging and wonderful to watch. However I do feel like Valerie suffered from the challenge of the routine. When I watched it back a second time I confirmed my original thought — when watching these two side by side, Valerie’s steps feel very labored. It doesn’t take away from the accomplishment, skill and execution she gave to the performance. But it did take away from the overall performance to me. Zack accomplished the same routine and appeared to be floating through it at points. One of the things I loved most about Aaron last year was the effortless nature to his style. It was love when he danced and Zack reminded me of that on Wednesday night. Placed side by side with Valerie, it highlighted that she was working at the routine more than he was over the two minutes. (Does that even make sense?)

    My chief criticism of the night was that the rare treat of the female pas de deux was spoiled by a routine they obviously were not up for the challenge for executing. Like you it was a dance that was clearly above their abilities. And for the novice viewer like me, they could have simplified the dance and allowed the girls to shine in their style with the audience none the wiser. Instead it was obvious when they were off and especially when they fell out of their turns. For me that was disappointing for them and didn’t help introduce them to the viewing audience.

    I am eager for partners to begin in earnest and for the time being I am firmly in the Marcquet camp!

    • I am so excited to talk about the rest of this season with you! And count me as another member of the Marcquet camp—I think he and Zack are going to be my favorites going forward. There was something effortlessly entertaining about both of them that is the hallmark of a great dancer in my eyes.

      I completely agree with your assessment of Valerie and Zack. While she was up to the challenge of the routine from a technical perspective, you could see her thinking about it the whole time. Zack, on the other hand, seemed to glide through the routine with the grace and showmanship all the great tappers have. You could tell just by looking at the way he held his upper body that he was confident in every moment of that very difficult routine.

      That lack of confidence was clearly visible in the female pas de deux. I was disappointed in the fact that the choreographer seemed to want his challenging turn sequences to take the spotlight more than the dancers. As someone who did classical ballet for years, I could barely do two pirouettes even at my best. The degree of difficulty was simply too high, and it didn’t have to be that way. A few turns would have been impressive—that routine was almost overkill.

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  3. Finally someone who isnt raving about Ricky and Jessica’s routine! I am not a fan of contemporary in general. I mean I have some favorite contemporary routines but if you have good lines and control you can make a contemporary routine look good. On the other hand Tap and ballroom are so technically superior. The degree of difficulty is unbelievable! Hip-hop needs the feel, which most contemporary dancers lack.I thought Emilio and Teddy killed it. Lastly Sonya has choreographed some good routines, but I am not a fan of her brand of dance (all her routines look almost the same). The top 20 number was pathetic in comparison to last years’s top 20 number which was outstanding (which was choreo by Sonya and Chris Scott)!

    • You make some excellent points about contemporary vs. tap and ballroom styles. Don’t get me wrong; I love contemporary and danced it for many years. Lately on SYTYCD, however, the contemporary routines are all starting to blend together. I liked Ricky and Jessica’s routine a lot (it was probably in my Top 3 for the night as a whole), but there have been so many contemporary routines on the show that were superior to that one. And the amount of hyperbole the judges heap on at least one contemporary routine every week makes me feel more than a little jaded as a viewer. I wish they spent some more time talking about just how difficult tap and ballroom are as styles. Heck, tap is so difficult that they usually can’t use it within the competition itself unless it’s with an all-star!

      Also, after you mentioned last season’s Top 20 routine, I had to go back and watch it. It’s still a thing of beauty.

  4. Pingback: TV Time: SYTYCD Season 11 “Top 20 to Top 18″ | Nerdy Girl Notes

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