Thursday, August 16, 2012

SYTYCD Recap: Oh, Solo Mia...

Great to have the show back after a two-week break for the Olympics! I feel like we've missed so much—they've launched an app, celebrated National Dance Day, and welcomed the cutest Nappy/Tabs production of them all, little London Riley D'umo. (What do you have to show for those two weeks, just watching the Olympics? Slacker.)

After a two-week hiatus I'll admit I was expecting more Fabulous Fashion Cat and less Viennese Countess Cat, but there she was, Heidi-inspired braids and all. And clearly she spent her two weeks marooned with the Swiss Family Robinson, who lent her scraps of their washcloths from which to make fringe for her sparkly pink dress, but it is what it is...

Last night, SYTYCD attempted to answer the question, "Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?" (Oh, wait, that was The Odd Couple.) In all seriousness, last night's show was dedicated solely to Mia Michaels, with the contestants performing some of her—and the show's—most memorable routines.

Sounds like a great idea, right? Well, much like we've seen on other performance shows, you cannot manufacture magical moments. Sometimes performances are transcendent not only because of exceptional talent, but because the performers are in a moment, you know? There's something special about that second, that crowd, that note or that move, that can't be duplicated. Plus, when you ask different people to recreate that same moment, it will almost always fall short.

For me, it was a night of unrealistic expectations, few inspired performances, and unfair judging from Nigel, which bordered on the interrogatory at times. And Mia didn't seem all too wowed by it either, although in an interview with, Mia mentioned that she was honored by the tribute.

But before we get started, let's introduce our...JUDGES! In addition to Mr. Nigel Lythgoe (sir) and the subdued Mary Murphy, the panel featured the "BalletBoyz," noted English dancers Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt, who apparently have never seen the show and seemed torn between Zooey Deschanel-like praise and actual constructive criticism.

The show opened with a group number to Active Child's Hanging On, which Mia said was inspired by a long-distance relationship she's been in for the last two years. It was like Cirque du Soleil-meets-50 Shades of Grey, as many of the dancers hung from ropes and did aerial acrobatics, while many of the female dancers had one arm tied to them. Interestingly enough, Cyrus and Dareian didn't do much in this number, just wandered around the stage a lot. While this was visually stunning, I'd rather watch group numbers when everyone's in sync, because it's harder to concentrate when you're watching 14 people doing different things. (Ooh, something shiny.)

As each pair was introduced, they shared their most inspiring moment from the first eight seasons of the show. First up, Cyrus and Eliana. For Cyrus, the most inspiring moment was Bryan Gaynor's Season 7 audition, especially since Bryan is an animator and apparently one of Cyrus' roommates. And Eliana chose Season 3's "Peace Dances," choreographed by Wade Robson.

The pair would be taking on "The Door," first danced in Season 4 by Katee and tWitch, to Mercy by Duffy. As Nigel will comment several times during the show, it's difficult to separate the original routines from the new ones, and I had a hard time here. First of all, I felt Cyrus barely danced; he lumbered around the stage a lot, and the most challenging moves he did in the routine were animation moves. I'm starting to tire of routines being choreographed around his lack of skill, when better dancers keep getting eliminated. Eliana was fierce and showed some passion, but it must be hard to dance with someone that doesn't have a lot of skill.

Nigel acted surprised that it was difficult to disassociate the dancers from those who originated the routines, but said that Cyrus "got to twitching" (although he cautioned him to lower his shoulders) and said that Eliana was so strong she should have ended up on the other side of the door. He also said that she demonstrates an ability to create great characters while focusing on technique. Mary loved the routine, saying Eliana was "for roaches" (ferocious) while Cyrus was an entertainer. (Not a dancer, mind you.) Michael and Billy talked about how they have never seen any of the routines so they would approach everything fresh, and then didn't say anything about the performance at all. So the non-dancing Cyrus gets a pass. Again.

George's most inspiring moment was Season 2's zombie group dance choreographed by Wade Robson, while Tiffany liked Ellen DeGeneres' hiphop tribute to Alex Wong from Season 7. This week, the pair would be dancing "Hometown Glory" to Adele's song of the same name (originally danced by Katee and Joshua in Season 4. This is an amazingly acrobatic, balletic routine, with fast and frenzied movements. I thought George danced beautifully but lacked personality, and Tiffany just seemed a little too much.

Mary wanted to call 911 because "they murdered the routine." She called George's assisted lift and the transitions flawless, and said that while Tiffany was soft and powerful, she needed to be careful of over-performing. Billy (I think) praised their fantastic energy but said that it felt as if they were watching two solos instead of a duet, because Tiffany wasn't connecting enough. Nigel told George it hasn't seemed as if they've seen the best of him all season, "but tonight we have." He commented on the pair's energy and strength, and called it an excellent job, but said Tiffany "overegged the pudding" (gross) a bit. (I guess when there are three English judges out of four and an English host, you can go for pudding humor. You can also do this when Bill Cosby is on. And I miss Jell-O Pudding Pops.)

Will and Amelia had the misfortune the opportunity to dance "The Butt" routine originated by Evan and Randi in Season 5. (Will's favorite moment was when Nigel was "kidnapped" during a Top 20 group dance in a season I didn't watch, and Amelia loved Melanie and Neil's contemporary dance to Total Eclipse of the Heart last season.) "The Butt" piece, danced to Koop Island Blues by Koop, is a piece of musical comic theater, where a guy is entranced by a woman's bodacious bottom. It requires not only some great dancing skills, but great personality, great energy, and great acting. I thought Amelia and Will brought all of that to this routine. They have terrific chemistry. Will had some terrific tumbling and floor moves, and Amelia's tousled hair looked great on her. Really loved it.

Apparently the judges watched a different routine. Of course, Nigel has "had Randi's butt on my mind for four years," so immediately you knew he couldn't separate the original routine from Will and Amelia's performance, and then he said the number was just "so Evan, so Randi." He said that Amelia could have brought more charm and coquettishness to the performance, and said she was staring at the floor a lot, while he said Will tried to bring more of a character to the routine. Mary liked it, although she said Will was "over the top but believable" (oxymoron much?) and that Amelia was "exquisite to watch" but looked down at the floor too much. The BalletBoyz said it was very strong, musical, and endearing, although (in beautifully understated English style) "there were moments where a little subtlety wouldn't have gone amiss." (Brilliant.)

Janelle's favorite moment was Chelsea and Mark's Season 4 dance to Bleeding Love, while Dareian's was Season 7's contemporary dance by Kent and Neil to How It Ends. (Why I love Dareian, part 12...) Last night, the pair danced "The Bed" routine to John Mayer's Dreaming with a Broken Heart, originated by Kherington and tWitch in Season 4. In her interview, Mia mentioned that this was envisioned as a follow up piece to "The Door," in that the male character was regretting breaking up with his girlfriend and dreamed of her, but they could never connect, which is why they don't ever touch in the number. Janelle revealed that the emotion of the routine hit home, because her eight-year relationship is on the rocks. Dareian was absolutely fantastic in this performance, bringing passion, vulnerability, fire, and some phenomenal moves (including a flip on the bed), and while Janelle didn't have much to do, her moments were passionate.

The Boyz called out Dareian's sickle feet (as everyone does) and said they were worried about his lines, and they said that while Janelle gave a great performance but they were distracted by her hair. (But Cyrus and Eliana got no criticism at all. Weird.) Nigel said it was the first time he saw Dareian's personality (so not true), said he had better technique than tWitch, and that he is "a great little dancer," but said it was almost a solo, since Janelle didn't have much to do and didn't stand out. Mary said she didn't feel any raw emotion in the performance, partially because she couldn't see Janelle's face, and told Dareian, "there's nothing stopping you, except those tootsies!"

Audrey's favorite moment was Season 1's disco dance from Melody and Nick, while Matthew's was Ade and Lauren's pop jazz routine from Season 7, to Oh Yeah (aka the song from Ferris Bueller's Day Off). The pair would be taking on the emotional "Time" routine to Billy Porter's song of the same name, danced originally by Lacey and Neil in Season 3. This routine represented a reunion in heaven between Mia and her father. I described this number as beautiful but not technically challenging, and Matthew and Audrey's performance lived up to that description. I thought Audrey brought a beautiful passion and light to the performance, but Matthew's lack of personality (although seriously hot) didn't help him, and he seemed almost tentative, as if he were afraid to slip on all of the flowers strewn across the stage.

An emotional Mary, who talked about how much the original performance touched her, said that Matthew and Audrey brought dignity to the routine but that she didn't feel Matthew's passion or truth. She called Audrey a shining star, however. The Boyz said Audrey nailed her first pirouette and was lovely, but said that Matthew's performance was inconsistent, as he would drop his expression just before a lift, as if he were looking for where to place his feet. Nigel was downright abusive in his critique, asking if Matthew knew who Mia's father was, what he did for a living, and asking Audrey at what age Mia lost her father. It seemed utterly ridiculous. He explained that Mia's father was a song and dance man (and apparently the original Marlboro Man?), so the original routine had his character wanting to entertain his daughter, and Matthew didn't do that, and since Mia lost her father as an adult, Audrey's almost childlike performance didn't work for Nigel. Both seemed crestfallen, Matthew more so, almost on the verge of tears.

Witney and Chehon were up next. Witney's favorite moment (which she saw "when she was 12") was Travis' fake audition as "Danielle" in Season 4, while Chehon (wearing a "Che Force" shirt) said his favorite moment was Melanie's audition in Season 8. Witney and Chehon danced "The Bench," one of Mia's most iconic routines, danced beautifully by Travis and Heidi in Season 2. The routine, to Celine Dion's Calling You, is about Mia's relationship with a gay friend, whom she loved but he wouldn't (and couldn't) reciprocate. While not a dead-on re-creation of the original routine, I thought Chehon and Witney's performance was quite lovely. Chehon's amazing technique allowed him to replicate some of Travis' signature moves without looking like imitations, and his steeliness worked in this number, but he didn't quite lose all discipline. Witney is really just a beautiful dancer, and her sweet, innocent-seeming quality made her endearing. I love this routine and Celine's version of this song from the movie Bagdad Cafe.

Mary said Chehon has "the strongest center" of anyone on the show, but he needs to "just let it go a little more," pointing to his stiff slide off the bench (which Travis did so fluidly). She called Witney remarkable and fearless. Nigel re-explained the story behind the dance and said the couple pulled it off, while The Boyz praised Witney's home of Salt Lake City (random) and told Chehon he'd always have a job with them.

The final routine of the night was Lindsay and Cole's take on Kayla and Kupono's brilliant "Addiction" routine from Season 5, set to Sara Bareilles' Gravity. (Lest I forget, Cole's favorite moment was when Mark Kanemura—a friend from Hawaii—made it into the top 20 in Season 4, while Lindsay loved Travis and Benji's hiphop routine from Season 2. Lindsay watched it "when she was 12" and she and a friend even re-created the number on film.) Next to "The Bench," this may be my favorite routine of Mia's. From the second the performance began, I was absolutely mesmerized by Cole, who looked like Edward Scissorhands or another of Johnny Depp's Tim Burton-directed characters. Cole brought a creepy twist to Kupono's sinister portrayal, and truly took hold of Lindsay and the performance. Lindsay was emotional (though a little more restrained than Kayla's initial performance) and threw herself across the stage. Seriously, Cole should win this competition, but more and more I'm fearing Cyrus might.

The Boyz were very impressed and said they couldn't even tell what genre were Cole and Lindsay's specialties. Mary said she loved the pair the best of anyone last night, saying Cole's "quirky role" really worked for him, and of Lindsay, "My God, was she good tonight?" Nigel, too, said the couple gave the best performance of the night, and said that Cole "scared the s--t" out of him with his "psychotically brilliant, spine chilling" performance. He called Lindsay "stunning."

Then it was time to reveal the bottom three guys and girls. For the first time this season, Cat revealed the result by couple, but since people vote individually, the whole thing didn't work as well. The bottom three girls were Amelia (what?), Janelle (no surprise there), and Lindsay (the voters just don't like her for some reason). The bottom three guys were George (again), Dareian (again, no surprise), and Matthew. Someone explain to me how Cyrus escaped the bottom three again, and why Audrey—who was just as weak as Matthew in their salsa—didn't wind up in the bottom three either. Nigel decided that all of the contestants should dance solos.

Amelia's solo to Falling Slowly from the movie Once was beautiful but boring; Janelle did a good, if not showy enough, belly dance to Elie Attieh's Inta Omri, and Lindsay dominated the solos with a fiery routine to one of my favorite songs, Hip Hip Chin Chin by Club des Belugas, in a fierce pink dress with fringe which really showed how long her legs are.

For the guys, George danced another beautiful but passionless solo to So Long Lonesome by Explosions in the Sky, although he did show he could point his toes. (Take that, Dareian.) Dareian went full-bore again in his solo, dancing this time to Joshua Ledet's version of It's A Man's Man's Man's World, throwing in a fabulous pirouette series and lots of other moves. And Matthew's solo to Damien Rice's Delicate was nice to look at but boring.

After some fake consideration, Nigel revealed that because of her performance last night, the judges chose to save Lindsay, thus eliminating Amelia and Janelle. Janelle seemed unsurprised but Amelia was overcome with emotion. He then told Matthew he was a great dancer but needed to find a way to connect with the audience, and called Dareian a "great, tricky dancer" from whom they never knew what to expect, but he needed to learn how to point his feet. And then he revealed that for the second week in a row, the judges chose to save George. (Yawn.)

Next week comes the all-stars, and I hope they're strong. Because I'm all about the eye candy strong dancers, I'd love to see the return of Mark, Neil, Kent, and how about Jakob?

People, it's time for Cyrus to go—now. He's not a good dancer, period. Even though I didn't think Russell deserved to win in Season 6 as Jakob was the far superior dancer, Russell at least gave it his all and danced quite well. Cyrus has been getting a pass from the judges and the choreographers, week after week. It's so aggravating. And at what point do Nigel and company realize that if George winds up in the bottom three every week, he's clearly not connecting with the audience, so he's not succeeding like they think he is?

Because there was time to kill at the end of the show, we got to watch the awkward, sad segment where all of the contestants hug each other and the judges. Saw lots of weird interpersonal dynamics, but also saw Mia basically smother Dareian with kisses and tell him how fabulous she thought he was. (I haven't quite thawed on her treatment of Brandon in Season 5 or her rolling over AdéChiké in Season 7, but I'm getting there.)

One note of gratitude: although Shankman was in the audience, we were spared any cuts to his overly emotional visage after each performance. Bless you, camera gods.

See you next week!

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