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Jason proves he’s got moves on ‘SYTYCD’

Season 5’s Top 10 perform a combination of solos, duos, and group dances that prove why they got this far.
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

For you, it might have been when Nigel pointed out that not only was Kayla dancing barefoot, but her partner Evan was also dancing in some pretty serious dance-shoe heels. Or when the five girls danced a delightful Bollywood routine together and demonstrated just how formidable they truly are. Or when Ade launched into a soaring back flip during his solo that appeared to land mere inches from the rear steps.

But for me — as I suspect it was for many of you — it was somewhere around the time that Jeanine punched Jason’s heart pendant into his chest while driving him backward across the stage that this season of “So You Think You Can Dance” finally, truly came into its own. It went from just a fun summer diversion to truly Must Watch TV.

Actually, re-watching “The Bench” now, I’m struck by how uncomplicated it is in comparison to some of the best numbers from this season. It makes me wonder if perhaps we’ve all been a bit too unforgiving of our favorite summer TV show this year. Or maybe it’s just that our standards are that much higher now.

Regardless, thank the dancing gods for Travis Wall, who finally shook up the show and its audience simply by, as Jason so rightly pointed out, giving us something we’d never seen before. Something else we hadn’t seen before, or at the very least this season? Sartorial restraint on the part of Cat and all three judges, from Cat’s elegant emerald woven dress to Mary’s subdued (!) black top with its intricately lattice-work collar. (Other kinds of restraint, however…well, I think we all could’ve done without Nigel placing pencils in his hair, especially since it came with a “joke” about using Ade’s magic pick to hypnotize Mary Murphy out of her clothes. Shudder.)

I wish I could also praise the dancers’ choice of raiment, but I’ll get to that bit of snarkery in a moment. First, I’ve got to figure out how exactly to structure this TV Watch, given how haphazardly last night’s show unfolded. To wit, it went top 5 women, couple, solo, couple, solo, solo, couple, solo, solo, solo, couple, solo, solo, solo, couple, solo, top 5 men. What kind of pattern is that?

Further confusing matters, the solos came roughly in the opposite order of the couples routines, emphasis on roughly, since Randi and Kupono, Evan and Kayla, and Jeanine and Jason all danced after each other, but Brandon and Melissa and Ade and Janette did not. That scattered sequence meant that you had to pay laser-sharp attention to the call-in numbers for each dancer, and that confusion could very well call into doubt what otherwise feels like the baldly obvious outcome of tonight’s results show — i.e., Kupono and Randi awkwardly paso doble’ing their way home.

Okay, it’s settled. Since the show didn’t bother to care much for coherent structure, I won’t either. I present you with the highlights and lowlights of last night’s “SYTYCD,” in completely random order:

Jason and Jeanine’s ‘Heart Pendant’ I’ve already waxed on about their choreographer, but Travis’ routine would’ve been all of a hot mess if it hadn’t been for the fierce commitment of both these dancers. Keeping a handle on that heart pendant alone was super tricky — in fact, I suspect a healthy portion of you are going to be talking in the message boards about how the pendant was too literal and too cluttered, one artistic touch too many. But I actually loved how Jason and Jeanine let it make the number a little messy, keeping the smoldering story they were telling grounded in just how confusing it would be for two long platonic friends to start up a romantic relationship.

Last week, I noted that Jason seemed like the guy with the most untapped potential, but I still had no idea he had this much expressive power packed into that (let’s be honest now) damn fine body of his. And Jeanine simply keeps getting better with every passing week; not only is her dancing simply terrific, but she’s the funniest presence in the interview packages by far. “Cue reel of lifts” — that’s some good comedy right there.

The new couples ‘picking’ each other I know we saw the female dancers pick their partners from a hat, but, um, did anyone else think most of the resulting partnerships a wee bit too on the nose to have been pure happenstance? The tallest woman picks the shortest man, and the shortest woman picks the tallest man. The two dancers whose partners went home last week get partnered up. And the most un-ironically effervescent, Midwestern girl picks the most strenuously eccentric, “exotic” (i.e. Hawaiian) man. Riiiiiiight. Totally unplanned.

Brandon and Ade’s solos The girls may have gone wild for Brandon’s solo, and understandably so, given the male front-runner’s potent compilation of structured flailing. But for the second week, Ade had the best solo of the night, and that still would’ve been the case even if he hadn’t leapt into that death-defying back flip. Ade makes me feel like a jerk, quite frankly; I’d written him off in the early going, since he’d so often been given little more to do on stage than effortlessly lift Melissa, and he gave little more in his off stage interviews than the most blandly generic of sound bites. But after his dazzling solos this week and last week, and his hip-hop work with Janette (more on that in … a bit), I find myself finally understanding Lil C’s comment from Top 18 week that Ade is the real male front-runner this season. I don’t quite buy it yet, but at least I understand it.

The true return of Melanie LaBetteMidler Or maybe it’s Melanie PattiLaPone. Either way, this week, at long last, we were privy to a decent portion of this red-headed choreographer’s special sass, be it teasing Kayla and Evan’s height disparity by dancing on her tip-toes while partner Tony Meredith crouches underneath her, or throwing withering glares at Kupono and Randi as the duo butchered her and Tony’s paso doble. And oofdah, butcher it they did, delivering probably the worst routine of the season thus far. From the unwieldy opening lift to the botched final pose, none of it worked: The bombastic music, the strobe lighting, Kupono’s puffy shirt, Randi’s hilariously wrong wig, their Blue Steel glowers, the odd false ending, and, I’m sorry Melanie, even the unfocused concept.

By contrast, with the help of some creative footwear, Kayla and Evan were able to overcome their ill-matched pairing and deliver Melanie and Tony’s perfectly charming waltz, whether it was classically Viennese or not. That spark that I’d been missing from Evan for weeks now finally returned, and Kayla managed to dance as if she was wearing heels even though she was barefoot. I agree with Debbie Allen: I don’t really care whether it was from Vienna or Venice Beach, I enjoyed it. (It’s not a perfect parallel, but the “American Idol” judges didn’t penalize Kris Allen when he turned “She Works Hard for the Money” into a light rock song during Disco Week, did they?) Speaking of Ms. Allen…

Honey child, the long overdue return of Debbie Allen! I actually don’t have much more to say here, other than, Debbie Allen, honey child, we’ve missed you, what with your undaunted pronouncements about Jason and Jeanine “evangelizing dance,” your incisive critique that Kupono and Randi were lacking fundamental trust in each other, and your telling Evan “you handled your big woman.” Full diva snaps to you, and come back soon!

Janette missteps for the first time, but just slightly It had to happen eventually, I suppose. Cast as a woman with no funk in a NapTab (I don’t care if they do have a clothing line called Nappy Tab, I refuse to call them that) hip-hop number, Janette embodied her character a dash too well, not hitting as hard as she should have, and at times even looking slightly lost.

Here’s the interesting thing: I still could not stop watching her. On a show that keeps asserting that it’s looking for bona fide stars, I can think of no better praise for Janette than that I had to rewind the DVR simply so I could pay attention to Ade’s superior nimble-limbed dancing. I guess that’s also why the judges willfully ignored Janette’s evident mistakes, but at least her solo — her first on the show — was smokin’ sexy and solid dancing, not easy for a genre not designed for non-partnered movement.

Brandon upstages Melissa Perhaps it’s because Ade is more polite, or Brandon’s more of a showman, but either way, Melissa was so out-danced by her new partner last night that it exposed the dulling caution that’s been sneaking into her dancing all season. She was dancing great when Tyce Diorio’s Broadway routine from the musical “Hair” resembled a classic contemporary routine more than a number from the peace-love-and-hippie-swaying stage musical. (I could feign shock that that kind of thing would come from Tyce, but who am I kidding?)

Once those Twyla Tharp touches started, however, Brandon was off to the races, and Melissa just could not keep up. Her solo was also too careful, as if she’d capitulated to dancing a watered-down version of true, hard-core ballet, to music that yet again came off as too youthfully hip by half. If Randi’s popularity continues into the Top 10 and wrests her from the paso doble’s clutches (remember, only Randi, Evan, Janette and Brandon have escaped the bottom three), I suspect Melissa’s number could be up.

Most of the solos fizzle out To be fair to Melissa, she was hardly the only soloist who failed to make any lasting impression. All I can recall about Randi’s solo is her overly frilly ivory silk top. (What, no unitard?) Kayla certainly topped her last non-starter of a solo two weeks ago, but that’s not really saying all that much. And I wish I liked Evan’s solo more — his choice of Rufus Wainwright singing “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” showed him to have exquisite taste in music, for one thing — but the Broadway kid was off his music for the first half of the solo, and he really needs to insist on outfits that don’t make him look like an adorable 9-year-old in his older brother’s senior prom tux.

Kupono’s outfits There is such a thing as trying too hard, and then there is wearing an opening solo-ette outfit that makes you look like an East German avant-garde lederhosen model, and then wearing a full solo outfit that makes you look like your a vacationing 21st century Egyptian pharaoh with a thing for Mr. T.

The guys get shown up by the girls Nigel is right: African dance choreographer Jeffrey Page is completely mean, especially if he knew his exhausting marathon routine would be the final number of the night. All five guy dancers lost steam well before the end, and Evan, Kupono and Jason couldn’t completely shake off the tidy, placed poise of their western training. I do have to give all the guys credit for taking the routine’s intricate choreography seriously, rather than dismissing it as some exotic folk dance genre that they’ll never attempt again. But it was telling that the judges did not proclaim the guys the best top 5 men in the show’s history like they rightly singled out the women for that praise after their seemingly flawless Bollywood routine.

Mary’s silent scream I haven’t been watching Conan for a while, so for those of you who have, has the new “The Tonight Show” host been on a Mary Murphy kick of late? Or did our favorite daffy “SYTYCD” judge confuse Conan O’Brien and his daily network late night talk show with Joel McHale and his weekly basic cable prime time clip show? One thing’s for sure: Mary Murphy’s silent scream is destined for a prime spot on this week’s “The Soup.”

Okay, dear readers, what did you think of last night’s show? Were you as perplexed by its tortured configuration as I was? Did Travis Wall’s routine get your motor running? Are you beginning to foresee a Brandon, Janette, Ade and Jeanine final four? And do you think Nigel seriously needs to let the whole Russian Folk Dancing thing go already? And don’t forget to log your picks for which dancers are going home this week (coughKuponocoughRandicoughcough) at’s SYTYCD Prediction Challenge! From Cat Deeley on this week’s look.