July 20th was a special day. It represents a landmark moment in So You Think You Can Dance, where the contestants get to be judged for their own performances and not as a pair. At this juncture, the show came up with the brilliant plan of introducing the All Stars. Last year they used the All Stars throughout the whole competition, and idea I thought I was going to hate but ended up really enjoying. Previous years the contestants danced with each other the whole season. This way we get the best of both worlds. July 20th was special for another reason. It was your favorite dance reviewer’s Birthday. Another excuse I have for falling behind and keeping all of you hanging.
So here we are at the top ten finalists. This is the group that will be dancing on tour: Sasha Mallory, Ricky Jaime, Melanie Moore, Tadd Gadduang, Clarice Ordaz, Marko Germar, Jordan Casanova, Jesse LeProtto, Caitlynn Lawson and Mitchell Kelly. I am still mourning the loss of Ryan Ramirez, if you want my impolite honest opinion I would trade her in for Caitlynn in a heartbeat.
I have to give a little shout out to someone I actually have never mentioned but really is the one that keeps the ship afloat. I speak of our lovely MC and Amazonian princess Cat Deeley. She looked stunning in a short black and silver sequined dress. She always makes the audience feel welcome and creates a warm and positive atmosphere.
OK, back to the show. Star of How I Met Your Mother or my generation knows him as Doogie Howser MD, Neal Patrick Harris joined the panel of judges this week. I really enjoyed what he and to say. He wasn’t just complimentary of the show he gave really good advice from a performer’s perspective. He was honest in both directions and wasn’t shy about calling out a choreographer on their work. I think if the choreography isn’t up to par, it’s not fair to judge a dancer who is doing the best they can do with what they’ve got. Granted this is all a subjective grey area.
Not only did the contestants get paired with our favorite finalists from years past, but they also all had the opportunity to show off solos. Again, I am going to share my favorite moments.
Marko starts off the show dancing with All Star Chelsie Hightower (season 4) in a Jason Gilkinson Cha Cha. I thought the loss of his regular partner was going to be devastating for him, but he really rose to the challenge. Chelsea affected me the same way as when she was a contestant, much better than I though she was going to be. As a pair they were well matched and dare I say spectacular? A little note to the audience, if you are actually watching the male partner and he is performing with someone who looks like a disco ball, he is doing a fabulous job.
We had the pleasure of Sasha being the first soloist of the evening. She has this primal quality that just hits me indescribably at the core. I think it’s the way she works with the floor and transitions seamlessly into the air like an articulate frog. I find that in these circumstances the ladies generally all resort to the same old tricks to sell themselves, but Sasha breaks the mold every time.
Jordan and the exquisite Brendon Bryant (season 5) had the extraordinary opportunity to work with one of the best teams in modern dance royalty, Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson. I can’t think of a better couple to be paired with this unstoppable force. The piece, about the relentlessness of love, didn’t stop. I believe great choreography is in the details. Anyone can string steps together and use the ballet dictionary to make Dolly Dinkle dance pieces. It’s the gestures, all the little connections and transitions. For example, Jordan got lifted with both legs extended and flexed in front. Before she was put down she executed a tiny double ronde de jambe with her left leg that sent a jolt through my heart. This is what great choreography can do to you. Jordan is the kind of technician who can handle all that Desmond and Dwight dish out.
Jess dazzled us with a campy yet technically solid Broadway style solo. He can Pirouette for days and control it to slow down with the tempo of the music. He’s skilled.
The next highlight was of course my Atlanta girl Melanie. Decked out in silver, like the moon, she took my breath away with her committed movement prose. At one point she turned to land in a half
middle split and luxuriously twisted into a roll.
Ricky always reminds me of an elegant flamingo when he dances. In the interviews he comes across as young and goofy. But in his solos he becomes this long elegant figure. He dances well beyond his years.
There isn’t much I can say about some of these dancers technically. At this point it is a matter of taste. In my humble opinion, Mitchell’s solo was perfection. From his turns to how he uses his legs to every curve his body makes.
The next duet that must be mentioned is Sasha and Twitch Boss (season 4) doing a Hip Hop piece by Christopher Scott. This is a legendary pairing and the chemistry was explosive. The piece was about
reigniting the passion in an old relationship. They start at the mundane breakfast table. Then Sasha character becomes overwhelmed with passion and starts throwing plates, climbing the table and pulling off accessories. Needless to say, it wasn’t hard to convince Twitch to go along for the ride. Christopher Scott, whom I love, has disappointed me on a couple of occasions, but I think he has learned his lessons, and I’m excited to see what he produces in the future.
Before I talk about Jordan’s solo, I have to discuss a pet peeve of mine. I absolutely hate what the girls are wearing these days. I think a bra belongs under a shirt, and from the auditions to the solos, I’m sick of seeing them. I want the girls to step it up and be classier with their costumes. Ms. Cassanova has been one of the worst. After having said this, when she came out in the classic “little black dress”, I felt proud of her. It matched her great technique, and I was able to take her seriously, really for the first time. This costuming choice took her from the teenager she is to a professional performer. This was reinforced by the multiple Fouetté turns into a Sauté à la Seconde ending in a roll to the floor.
Our little Broadway baby Jess was paired up with Kathryn McCormick (season 6) in a Stacy Tookey contemporary piece about a woman who can’t see the love that is right before her eyes. There was no eye contact and Kathryn just doesn’t see him and sadly neither did I, which is very uncharacteristic of Jess’s dancing. The piece was well choreographed and danced but it brings up the question was he great because was such a good support, or not so great because he didn’t draw our attention?
I still believe Tadd is a serious contender. His solo had quality, nuance and humor. I think it is imperative to have interesting music and I always vibe with his choices. Plus, he walks on his hands like an insect. Who doesn’t love that.
Melanie and Pasha (season 3) glided across in a Viennese Waltz. If I would describe this waltz, it would be the Ballet of Ballroom. Choreographer Jason Gilkinson had the dancers glide across the floor, the steps floated seamlessly into lifts. My oldest daughter, Lady H, said Melanie looked like an Angel.
There really isn’t anything better than one of your favorite songs being coupled with excellent movement. It doesn’t happen often for me, because I’m a movement inspired person and, no offense, the music is secondary. Tyce Diorio gave me this connection with his contemporary piece, My Worst Nightmare, with Ricky and Allison Holker (season 2). Ricky was able to transcend his gazelle like quality and it was a stretch in character. I happy to say he rose to the challenge. He tucked his pretty dance style into his pocket meeting Allison at a much more sophisticated level of performing, .
Realizing there was a lot I liked in this episode, I am going to try and wrap this up.
Marko’s solo was well done. I think he proved that he hasn’t just been riding on Melanie’s coat tails. He is spectacular standing alone. I’m not into tricks, except for the B-boys because that is what they do, but Marko executed the most flawless and beautiful back flip.
The show ended with a glittery and fast Bollywood number performed by Clarice and Robert (season 7). Nakul Dev Mahajan created complicated, fast and bouncy choreography that put the dancers on the same playing field. The dancers were well matched and no one outshone the other.
We can’t just ignore Thurs. It’s only going to get harder from this point on, folks. The biggest perk to results, is that we get to see this remarkable group of artists perform together. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, they are a dream company. This Josh Bergasse piece could have been transplanted right onto Broadway.
We also get the pleasure of watching guest artists. This week we had Daniil Simkin ,from the American Ballet Theater (ABT), perform Les Bourgeois. It was truly a professional performance. So
You Think You Can Dance is super saturated with modern and jazz dancers this year, which I love, but I have to admit it was refreshing to see a true ballet dancer. The piece was dramatic, funny, well performed and Daniil told a great story with a couple of wowzer leaps towards the end.
OK here is the bad news. Mitchell, Clarice, Ricky and Jordan were all on the chopping block. It is interesting that the one person I would have sent home wasn’t in danger at all. I have to admit Clarice’s solo was a little boring and she resorted to all the same tricks and the dancing in between didn’t move me at all. Mitchell was solid as always. He used a scarf that was completely unnecessary. Useless props tend to bug me, but his off-center attitude turns were lovely. Jordan played with different qualities, and didn’t fall back on her sexy vixen persona. Stretching her repertoire, she worked with a balance between soft and strong dynamics. I’m thrilled to say she became a woman this week. Finally, Ricky experimented with aggressive movement and as hypothesized it was a success. He became a man this week.
At this point all the dancers will be in the 2011 tour, so they are actually going home winners and employed. The two dancers sent home were Mitchell and Clarice. Good job guys and I can wait to see you when you pass through Atlanta.