It’s amazing how in one week So You Think You Can Dance can go from feeling it like it was struggling for content to being jam-packed with dancing this week. While it was a bit jarring to have to see four dancers go home instead of two, I think the cuts that were made were fair. Carly and Serge had become one of my favorite partnerships on the show, but sometimes a pair does something so special that they simply can’t go home, which is what happened with Jessica and Casey.
It was nice to see the dancers in the bottom do their solos, but it reminded me of how generic most SYTYCD solos are. Nobody really stood out to me, which made their work in the group routines even more important. Sadly, Carly and Serge were given the dreaded quickstep, which I thought they did a great job performing, but it wasn’t going to beat what Jessica and Casey did. And Teddy and Emily have been a difficult pair for me to connect with from the start; their inability to accurately translate Bob Fosse’s signature style just made it worse.
It was sad to watch those four dancers receive their critiques from the judges because it was so obvious who they were keeping. However, I can’t blame them. What Casey, Jessica, and Travis Wall created together was stunning. There was a simple beauty to the choreography that made it my favorite Travis piece in quite some time. (I even liked it better than his small group routine for the guys this week.) Travis uses music brilliantly, and when his dancers exhibit that same musicality, it’s a match made in heaven. Both Casey and Jessica were so fluid in this piece, but Jessica’s strength is what absolutely blew me away. Her movements required incredible amounts of control, and her lines looked flawless throughout. And for two people who I’ve had trouble connecting with in terms of genuine emotion, I found myself completely buying the joy they exuded through their whole bodies.
Next week changes the format up a lot, which means I’ll be more nervous than ever that dancers I’ve come to love will be going home. I’m especially concerned about Bridget and Emilio, who were not at their best in this episode. But I think a lot of that comes from boring choreography that didn’t really convey the story it was supposed to (sorry Ray Leeper) and ugly hats that covered their expressive faces. I was also slightly disappointed in Jacque and Zack’s paso doble. They were trying hard, but they lost steam towards the end. And I’ve just seen so many more technically proficient examples of this style in the show’s past.
Although a couple of pairs left me wanting more, a couple of others made me sit up and take notice. Tanisha is a force to be reckoned with in this competition. She attacks literally every style she is given like it’s her last dance on that stage, and her commitment is so beautiful and inspiring to watch. It was also inspiring to see Rudy be there for her every step of the way in their contemporary piece. Those two have become a lovely little power couple.
The same could be said for Valerie and Ricky, who are the perfect example of what the best partnerships on this show can do. Ricky is one of the best pure dancers this show has ever had. His technical ability pushes Valerie every week to be her best, while her enthusiasm is infectious for him and her work ethic seems to inspire him, too. Their hip hop was such a pleasant surprise. I was expecting it to be a disaster, but they had me sold from the start. To see these two dancers hit everything so hard and really give themselves over to the characters they were being asked to play was a lot of fun. This was a real moment for both of them, and they’ve become a partnership I don’t want to say goodbye to next week.
The performances concluded with another pair of group routines, and I am so happy the show has been going this route more often this season. It’s allowed for some wonderful moments and some inspired choreography. What Mandy Moore created with the women was more than just a dance—it was a powerful statement on all of the ways women can be strong. And Travis’s piece with the men was a breathtaking work of art.
Standout Performers: Ricky, Valerie, Tanisha, Jessica, Casey
Favorite Routine: I have to admit this before we continue: I have an extreme bias in favor of any dance to Evanescence’s “My Immortal.” I did a contemporary routine to that song when I was 16, and it’s still one of my favorite routines I’ve ever done as a dancer. That song lends itself to emotionally-charged, powerful choreography, and that’s exactly what Mandy Moore created with her small group routine for the Top 7 women.
So many times on this show, the dialogue surrounding the female dancers is about their beauty and their grace, but this routine was about breaking free from those limits and stereotypes placed on female dancers. It was about embracing what those of us who dance (and those who genuinely appreciate dance) have always known to be true: Female dancers are tough and strong, and they’re also beautiful and graceful. I’ve talked a lot recently about the many ways women can be strong, and that’s so true for female dancers, too. There’s no one definitive right way to be a female dancer, just as there’s no one right way to be a woman. This dance celebrated that in such a glorious way. The fluidity was beautiful, but the moments of complete power were my favorites. Each dancer totally gave herself over to the emotions of this piece, letting go and revealing a rawness and vulnerability that made me cry.
I cried a lot while watching this routine. I cried because it allowed each of these talented women to show what makes them special as dancers; it encouraged them to feel comfortable with their strengths. I cried because it celebrated the way dance can speak to us on a very personal level about what we value and how we see the world. And I cried because it was a routine about the strength inherent in getting back up after you fall, in trusting the women around you to have your back, and in being vulnerable and open with your emotions. Everyone will take something different away from this dance, but what I took away was a deep sense of pride for being a female dancer (and also just a female) who has always wanted to believe grace and strength aren’t mutually exclusive.
I could read a book of your writing about dance. It contains the perfect balance of educated critique with unabashed love and admiration. I finally got to watch the full episode and there isn’t a point you make that I didn’t nod along with as you broke down the episode. I love the small group numbers because of the expressive storytelling they a lot for while giving the individual dancers a moment to shine. Both this week were spectacular and it must be said Travis had a great night. His routine with the guys was so visually stunning and I couldn’t get over the way he was able to create depth perception with the dancers through a TV screen. It was especially vivid in the opening moments. And for as spectacular as the bucket toss was, for me the sequence that transitioned Ricky above the boys and into the drag across stage was most impressive. I also adored the women’s piece and I tend to be easily bored by Mandy Moore’s choreography. However that cave in circle towards the back third of the routine that bursts out like a firecracker in the sky was breathtaking.
I am eager for next week because I love all-stars and it is a fun group coming back. I am thrilled and excited to see Lauren and Ricky dance together. It is probably my favorite pairing with Jessica and Twitch being a close second. I agree with you that I worry for Bridget because of a weak routine and the unenviable position of going first this past week. However the pairing I am most interested to see is Valerie and Ade. Ade is a favorite of mine and a really strong partner. And much like Lacey and Melanie lifted up their partners I want to see what Valerie can do without Ricky. However, hands down she had the coolest move of the night.
I have to say, I adore when Christina Applegate comes to the show. Her love and knowledge of dance is so sincere and I loved her just a little bit more when she talked about why she loves coming to the show. It’s true, in the mundane that can be life, SYTYCD brings beauty. It brings art that has life into an evening in front of the TV and that is indeed magical.
Thanks so much for the nice words! Sometimes I get super emotional when I talk/write about dance, so I always worry that it might read like I’m rambling. It’s good to know I make sense. 😉
After watching Travis’s group routine another five times this weekend, I echo your thoughts on his ability to create depth the way he did. It was truly stunning choreography.
Like you, I’m also really excited to see what Valerie does with Ade. But I’m most enthusiastic about Ricky and Lauren. They have the potential to be absolutely magical together.
And Christina Applegate has always been one of my favorite guest judges. Her love for dance comes through in everything she says, and her emotional reactions to pieces that move her always feel genuine.
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