On paper, trying to judge Wednesday's episode of “So You Think You Can Dance” would be kind of like asking an Olympic official to give scores in a competition that involved a diver, a gymnast, a figure skater, and a synchronized swimmer. (Whoa. In the absence of your regularly scheduled “SYTYCD” recapper Adam B. Vary, welcome to my gay fever dream!)
Seriously, though, while all four of those events can be judged based on technical execution and difficulty, as well as artistic interpretation, their inherent differences make comparisons downright treacherous. And in that same vein, how do you stack up a goofy Broadway routine and the dreaded quick-step against an emotionally rich contemporary dance and a crowd-pleasing disco boogie?
Well, you do it because (like it or not) that's how this particular game of reality TV is played. And once you accept that, all you can do is take Nigel's advice not to judge the dancers based on the steps their choreographers give them, but rather, to look at how accurately and how passionately those sets of steps are executed. On that set of criteria then, perhaps it's just a coincidence that the two dancers I think should and will exit the show on Thursday — Evan and Melissa — are the ones who drew the proverbial short straws in the choreography department. But before we get to the bad news...
Let's start by sending Brandon and Kayla directly to safety, shall we? For most of the season, Melissa and Ade have been my favorite dancers on the show, but after tonight, a finale without the most technically flawless duo in the competition would have me reaching for the phone to dial 911 and report a double robbery. Honestly, as Mary noted tonight, neither Brandon nor Kayla have taken a bad step since reaching the top 20, and while they both found themselves at risk last week, I think that flirtation with elimination only fueled their inner fire tonight.
Take their Doriana Sanchez routine, set to Sylvester's ''Dance (Disco Heat),'' which Cat so amusingly declared was one of the most ''difficult disco dances to date'' (before cheekily adding ''try saying that after a cocktail!''). Watching the rehearsal footage of Brandon and Kayla's limbs going akimbo, all I could think was that the routine was looking like something out of Cirque du No-Way, and yet by the time they took the stage, they'd ironed out every wrinkle. I particularly loved the gender switcheroos Sanchez threw in, with Kayla exhibiting her strength on the his-and-hers death drops, as well as assisting Brandon with that final, dramatic flip. Brandon, not surprisingly, showed off his brawn, too, particularly during that insane lift during which Kayla's head pointed to the floor and her legs formed a V formation that would be the envy of Canadian geese everywhere.
Still, those moves were mere runners-up to Kayla and Brandon executing perfectly synchronized arm movements while she sat atop his shoulders. Cat totally stole the words from my brain when the fast and furious routine ended and she asked the breathless couple: ''Are you alive?'' (Anyone want to join me in demanding more disco, and a little less waltzing, for next season?)
Judges pile on verbose feedbackUnfortunately, Lil C. and Nigel did their best to suffocate my feelings of elation when the routine was over, the former by piling on the verbose feedback. My ears took a quick snack break when C. declared that ''being out of your comfort zone represents unfamiliarity and darkness,'' and only returned to the room when he got to that part about how dancers have to ''see with their ears.'' (Hey, my ears are a little self-centered; they do tend to pay attention when their names are called.)
But here's a thought! Maybe Lil C. can start ''speaking with his elbows,'' so his mouth will stop pouring out all those strings of unrelated therapy-words! Meanwhile, Nigel's ''spontaneous'' urge to put on his boogie shoes as a way to pay homage to Kayla and Brandon may have been twice as contrived as anything we've seen the man do all season (ponder that for a minute!) but on the other hand, I can't blame him for wanting to get out the vote for the fabulous first-time duo.
To my shock, though, I completely agreed with C. about Kayla finally getting partnered with an equal this week, something I don't think I've seen happen since she and Max nailed that amazing samba back in top 20 week. I'd argue, in fact, that Kayla might be more of a front-runner at this point had she not had Max-Kupono-Evan, and had instead spent most of her season with Brandon, Ade, and Jason. Certainly, she was tremendous as The Maligned Other Woman to Brandon's Cheating Hubby in Stacey Tookey's sizzling contemporary routine.
I don't know what Nigel was talking about when he said the duo lacked chemistry, but maybe he was talking about the beakers-and-Bunsen Burners variety? What I really loved about this routine (set to Ahn Trio's ''All I Want'') was the way it demanded such remarkable athleticism from both dancers, and yet Kayla and Brandon never lost the poetry of their movement in the face of Tookey's physical demands.
Sealing Brandon's automatic birth in the finale was a dramatic solo set to ''O Fortuna'' that drew a standing O from the judges, and rightfully so. The nearly nekkid dancer probably deserves applause on the basis of his scarily toned body alone, but the way he leapt and flew and contorted his body was like something out of “The Matrix”: The rules of gravity and human motion do not apply to Brandon!
Kayla's solo to The Fray's ''You Found Me'' was lovely and lithe and kind of disappointingly similar to what she's done in previous weeks — even her bejeweled negligee-style dress echoed the one she wore last week — and I'm wondering why a dancer with her athleticism always seems to leave something in the tank when she's dancing by her lonesome. Either way, assuming I'm right about Brandon and Kayla's inevitability...
Let's hear it for...it's Ade vs. Evan, and it's Jeanine vs. Melissa? So here's where it starts to get tough. I know all four of these very worthy dancers have pretty solid fan bases, but based on overall performances to date, I can't see how Evan belongs in the finale over Ade. And while there's something I find infinitely appealing about Melissa — her regal stature combined with her over-the-top perma-grin conjures up visions of some kind of dotty eighteenth-century duchess — I think she might have reached the end of the Hot Tamale Express Track, too.
My concerns with Evan and Melissa were punctuated by that Tyce Diorio Broadway number they did for their first routine. Granted, I wasn't a huge fan of the thuddingly literal feel of watching a half-dressed bride and bridegroom frantically prep for their nuptials to the tune of ''Get Me to the Church on Time.'' Nor was I loving the Fredericks of Hollywood bride drag they dumped on poor Melissa. Or Evan's sickeningly cutesy sock-garters-and-boxers get-up. But there was something underbaked about the movements — despite the routine being right in Evan's wheelhouse.
Part of my problem was the way Melissa and Evan seemed to confuse shameless mugging with getting into character. Yeah, I know, in Broadway you've got to play to the rafters, but I never got any sense of a connection between the couple in question, giving their act all the emotional resonance of biting into a double-decker ham sandwich. And when your steps aren't particularly quick or complicated, you'd darn well better deliver the performance end of your piece, no?
Don't judge dancers by choreography
The couple's ''dreaded'' quickstep was more successful, thanks in part to that extended (and super-flashy) death spiral at the end. But I agreed completely with the judges that portions of the routine were decidedly short on energy. And it's not like they'd been saddled with one of Doriana's sadistic discos.
Like Nigel said at the top of the show, you can't necessarily judge the dancers by the choreography they're given — and no, Evan and Melissa won't benefit from a pair of routines that emphasized jazz hands over gripping emotional storytelling — but after all these weeks in the competition, I'm still feeling like these two end their routines with something left in the tank (both physically and emotionally). We're not searching for America's cutest eyebrows or America's most versatile ballerina here. Or at least I don't think we are. (I guess we'll find out for sure on Thursday night.)
Likewise, Evan and Melissa's solos tonight felt like they might have been called ''Deleted Scenes from My DVR from Two Weeks Ago.'' In my mind, Evan's little number to ''Lady Is a Tramp'' was delivered with the same energy, the same moves, the same goofy grin as all his other solos. I'm not saying the dude needs to abandon his Broadway roots, but not every Broadway show is happy-happy, sunny-sunny, upbeat-upbeat, and features a cast of natty guys in ties.
If Evan has any settings on his emotional dial beyond ''cute puppy,'' why haven't we seen 'em? And if ''cute puppy'' is all he can really do well, then does he have any business making it to the finale? And Melissa, well, the woman certainly paints beautiful visuals with her body, and her routine to ''I Put a Spell on You'' was cohesive and well-planned, but (aside from last week's solo set to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) Melissa seems hesitant to break out of her predetermined repertoire when she's out alone on the stage. And with only a week left to compete, I'm sad to say her window for risk-taking may have already passed.
On the guys' side, I'd much rather see Ade in the spotlight next Wednesday, not just because he's the only guy who can give Brandon some serious competition, but because week in and week out (with tonight being no exception), he's been more versatile and more exciting than Evan. Strangely enough, I actually enjoyed Ade's samba with Jeanine, and not even a pileup of negative comments from all three judges could change my mind.
Maybe Ade and Jeanine didn't execute every step of the Louis van Amstel number with ballroom precision, but I was too busy wiping the sweat off my brow to notice. I mean, Ade in skin-tight pants, plus Jeanine covered by some strategically placed feathers, multiplied by that ''suggestive but still classy'' move where she straddled Ade's hips and pointed her head toward his ankles? Oh. Em. GAH! Not only that, I adored that flourish of synchronized footwork the duo threw in at the midway marker.
I wasn't quite as excited by the Napoleon and Tabitha ''eviction'' routine, mainly because I find literal props only serve to take away from the dancing, but I appreciated the difficulty of Ade and Jeanine shuffling across the floor with cardboard boxes stuck to their feet. For me, Ade hit a lot of his moves harder than Jeanine (although that rim of his cap covered his eyes too much, and left me feeling a little emotionally disconnected) but I agreed with the judges that the man kept his backfield in lowwww motion, and that he and Jeanine kept it good and drrrty throughout.
Neither Jeanine nor Ade scored a knockout with their solos tonight, but they were certainly respectable enough. Ade's spin during his ''18th Floor Balcony'' set went on and on and on, like the bridge in Journey's ''Don't Stop Believing.'' But Jeanine's poor use of the floor and general sluggishness during ''Feedback'' played more tired than sultry. If I could only take one of 'em into next Wednesday, I'd choose Ade, but given Melissa's recent dalliances with elimination, I suspect that kind of tough choice won't actually be necessary.
And on that note, I leave it to you guys to discuss who should/will advance to the finale. I'm curious if any of you were swayed in your voting by Sonya Tayeh's excellent group numbers. I thought all three guys pretty much nailed the ''Willy Wonka-esque'' dance to ''She Wants Revenge,'' though if I had to make a movie reference, I'd have described it as ''Beyond Thunderdome'' instead. (Three dancers enter! Two dancers leave!)
As for the ladies' superheroes routine, I agreed with Nigel that Kayla had more to do than Jeanine or Melissa, and I also noticed our dirty ballerina never really got a chance to get front and center. Still, I dug the piece as a whole, almost as much as Cat's brilliant query to Lil C.: ''Would you like to pontificate on the preferences of the population?''
All together now: ''Let's hear it for...it's Cat!''