Saturday, July 14, 2012

MercerMZ review (with videos): So You Think You Can Dance Top 20 Episode

On the judges panel tonight was Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe (who had celebrated his birthday recently, so congrats to him), ballroom expert Mary Murphy (who Cat accidently mistook for Mia Michaels), and director/choreographer Kenny Ortega.
Top 20 Performance - Opening the show was another interesting hip-hop piece from Christopher Scott. The performance featured 10 desks, with one dancer sitting at the desk, while another acts as their partner's assistant. The piece seemed to tackle the typical day in an office building, and played on some the feelings that might be going through the workers' heads, specifically frustration. The choreography relied on small, sharp, intricate movements to mimic the intricate work that a worker goes through in an office, which the dancers were great at being in sync with each other. The piece featured a small stepping solo from Brandon and a great set of pirouettes from Dareian. Overall, I think the piece was a nice way to start off the show. And between this and his baseball routine from the last show, Chris Scott could have a spectacular season if he keeps his work at this level of creativity. 

Witney/Chehon - Latin Ballroom meets Ballet in this pairing, as they teamed up to take on a Samba from Louis van Amstel. While Witney seemed to be just fine in her element, Chehon was having trouble loosening up (since ballroom is much more rhythmic than ballet). The routine itself featured a lot of partnering and it covered the stage pretty well. All 3 judges unanimously loved Witney, with Mary giving her a first class ticket on her "Hot Tamale Train".  As for Chehon, they wished he had loosened up more and enjoyed the music/lived in the performance more.

Witney put it perfectly in the rehearsal footage; Samba is a very upbeat, flirty and exciting form of dance, so a big part in pulling it off well is to enjoy it. Witney was solid from beginning to end, as she seemed to be living in the performance. Chehon, on the other hand, had a back-and-forth performance. The partnering was solid from him, and at times he seemed to be connecting with Witney. But it came time for him to dance individually, that's where problems were noticeable. Overall, it wasn't a bad performance, but for me, it was a bit forgettable by the end of the night.


Tiffany/George - Jazz meets Contemporary to take on an emotional Contemporary piece from Sonya Tayeh. The concept is that Tiffany & George are star-crossed lovers (essentially), who meet when the stars are aligned and see each other for who they really are. The piece was fluid from beginning to end, with just the right amount of emotion and technique combined together. All 3 judges loved it; they loved the choreography and they felt the dancers really got into the piece.

It's nice to see Sonya move away from her typical quirkiness and deliver something more fluid and romantic. The best part about this routine is the fact that she gave both Tiffany and George an equal amount of time to really show off their technique. And while both of them were solid, I honestly could not take my eyes off George. I have a feeling that he's a strong contender to make the Top 6 at least. Great piece all around.


Janaya/Brandon - Contemporary meets Stepping to take on an emotional Hip-Hop piece from couple Napoleon and (a very pregnant) Tabitha D'umo. The story is about an alcoholic who is forced to choose between having his girlfriend, or his addiction (a piece very similar to another routine they created for an International season, which you can watch here). The routine focused more on the character/emotion of the piece rather than the choreography, so both dancers needed to be invested in the characters. The dancers received mixed reviews; Kenny loved them both and thought they got into the character, while Mary & Nigel thought Brandon did well but Janaya needed to get more into the character.

This may not have been one of the best of the night, but it is a personal favorite. I think it's mostly because of the mix, but truthfully a good chunk of it was because Brandon did really well. Yes, I do think Janaya could have been a bit more sharper but she did well regardless. I wish this would have been called Lyrical Hip Hop since the routine is more fluid than what most would consider Hip Hop to look like. Again, I don't think I'm in the majority in saying this was really good, but I honestly don't care.

Alexa/Daniel - Contemporary and Ballet come together to take on a sexy, quirky Jazz routine from Sean Cheesman. This piece has a ton of difficult partnering and a lot of technical moves to show off the abilities of these two dancers. The judges put it perfectly when they said "It's the kind of piece where you breathe at the beginning, and you breathe again when it's over". Speaking of the judges, they gave it mixed reviews; they loved the amount of effort they brought into the routine and their execution of the moves, but Kenny & Nigel couldn't connect with the dancers.

I had mixed feelings about this routine, but I had other grips about the routine. I think the dancing was fine; both Daniel & Alexa did well in dancing the piece. As for connecting with them, sometimes I think the dancers are given routines that are not asking for the audience to connect emotionally with the dancers; rather it's meant to show off their abilities, and on that level, I did connect with them. I think in some cases, a great performance alone can persuade the audience to vote for the dancers. My problems came in everything else; this routine felt like a mixing of random things that didn't really go together, with the scaffolding set piece to those bright red outfits to the music (which sounded more like House music, and was in fact used much better for a House piece in an International season which you can watch here starting at 0:45). None of it worked for me, so it was kind of distracting. Still the dancing was solid. 

Amber/Nick - Contemporary meets Ballroom to on a Viennese Waltz choreographed by the talented Jason Gilkinson. Jason came down on Nick pretty hard in the first rehearsal since this is Nick's genre. Amber felt it might have been a strategic thing to bring out the best performance in Nick, which I think worked since the piece did come out very fluid and effortless in the end. The judges unanimously felt it was great and that Amber did a tremendous job in picking up the style. However, Nigel was a bit worried that with a style like this, people might not vote for them since the Viennese Waltz doesn't offer a lot of standout moments.

I whole-heartedly disagree with that sentiment. While much of the piece was very flowing, there was an incredible lift in the middle where Nick had Amber swinging around him in the same flowing manner as the rest of the piece. For me, it was one of the stand out moments of the night. Plus, the partnering was strong from both of them, and they really seemed to connect with each other in this piece. And only in one or two moments did Amber seem a bit clunky in the steps. While I disagree with Nigel on his reason why people may not vote for them, I am also worried about this couple not getting votes since neither of them got very much screen time this season up until this point.

Amelia/Will - Contemporary dancers join forces to take a "Character Pop (I'll explain this later)" piece from Tabitha & Napoleon D'umo. Amelia plays a high society, sophisticated cat, and Will is a back alley "cat daddy", who meet and flirt with one another. So basically, it's a sexy, flirty feline version of "Lady and the Tramp". This is a piece that demands personality from both dancers, and there was plenty of it to be found here. The judges all loved this piece, even though they had a slight controversy about calling it Hip Hop.

For me, the dancing and the personalities were both solid from the dancers. They really sold the piece and made it enjoyable to watch. However, much like Alexa/Daniel's number, I had problems with other aspects of the routine that kept me from enjoying it more. First was the music. In many cases, the song used for the routine can make it or break it for me since it is the backbone for the entire piece. For example, with Janaya/Brandon's piece, the choreo wasn't stupendous but the music really helped that performance, and thus I was able to enjoy it more. Here, the dancing was great, but I didn't care for this song, so ultimately it took away from me enjoying it. Second is labeling this as a Hip-Hop piece. It's not. It is not hip-hop. It may have some elements of hip-hop in there, but this is more of a jazz , pop jazz, or even a Broadway piece. Frankly, I have no problem if NappyTabs wants to create something that is outside the hip-hop realm, but if I'm watching this piece asking myself "...Where's the hip-hop?", it takes away some of my enjoyment for the piece. If this was labeled a Pop Jazz routine, I would have no problem with it, but the fact that this is being labeled hip-hop by the show, it bothers me. Still, that does not take away that Amelia/Will danced this piece well.

Janelle/Dareian - Belly-dancing and Contemporary come together to take on an intense African Jazz from Sean Cheesman. The piece had the dancers representing the rhythm of the jungle, with a ton of difficult and demanding choreography to boot. The routine had the dancers covering almost every part of the stage, as the were flipping, rolling,... pretty much throwing their entire bodies everywhere.
All 3 judges thought it was memorable, it was exciting, and the dancers were fantastic.
And I pretty much agreed with the judges. It was very colorful, dynamic and intense. Plus, we finally got to see Janelle perform and it's kind of surprising how flexible she is. Dareian also had a ton of great moments and he seemed to be a bit more sharper and cleaner in executing the moves. These two compliment each other very well. 

Eliana/Glitch - Ballet meets Animation Popping to perform a high energy Broadway routine from Tyce Diorio. The piece comes straight out of the musical Hairspray, set inside a classroom with the dancers having a good time with one another. In Broadway, character is ESSENTIAL; it is key. If the dancers are not performing, it does not look good. So mix character with some high energy choreography, and you've got the recipe a fun, memorable Broadway piece, and that's how it turned out here. All 3 judges loved the routine and commended Glitch for bringing such a big personality to the routine.

It's a bit unfortunate for Eliana seeing as how Glitch was the center of attention for much of the judging process because she did a fantastic job here. True, as many fans have pointed out, the choreography here wasn't terribly difficult and Eliana did do a lot more than Glitch. However, like I said above, character is key, so to me, it doesn't matter how difficult the choreography is; If you are not performing this piece, you are not doing it right, and in that regard, both of them deserve the high praise they got. Plus, it made their choreographer giddy, so I guess they did something right.

Audrey/Matthew - Jazz meets Contemporary to take on another emotional and romantic Contemporary routine from Travis Wall (SYTYCD Season 2 Runner Up). The piece is Travis's take on the Rose/Jack love story from the blockbuster film "Titanic". Travis was looking for the dancers to make a very strong connection with each other in order to sell the emotion of this piece. They captured it so well, and danced the routine so brilliantly, it got a standing ovation from the audience and the judges, with Nigel declaring it the best of the night.

It was a well deserved standing ovation. This was probably the most near-perfect routine of the night, because not only did they have great chemistry with one another, but the musicality in their dancing was spot on. They were in sync with one another and the music so perfectly. These two have a great chance at being the underdog couple to go on and do well on the show, which would help Matthew since he was barely covered during the first few episodes.

Lindsay/Cole - Latin Ballroom meets Martial Arts Fusion(as strange as it sounds) for the final routine of the night; an intense, fiery and dramatic Paso Doble from Jason Gilkinson. Lindsay plays a poison that is keeping Cole from doing all the things he wants to do and he is fighting against her. Typically in a lot of ballroom styles, the woman is in the forefront but the Paso Doble requires a strong masculine performance from the man, so the pressure was on Cole to deliver a strong performance. This piece did so well it also received a standing ovation from the judges, with Nigel saying it was worth putting into Jason's hit show "Burn the Floor".

This was probably the biggest surprise of the night, and one of the most exciting pieces as well. They really seemed like the strangest couple and yet, the two of them worked well together. Lindsay shined because she was in her element, but Cole was the biggest surprise in how well he performed. Unlike Chehon, who seemed to be too stiff throughout the majority of his Samba, Cole loosened up got the technique down as well as the character he was portraying. It was a fantastic performance, and I personally am hoping that this performance will be on the tour.

So overall, how did this first week fair to weeks before? About the same, actually. The first week performances aren't known for having standout performances since the dancers are just warming up to the competition. Though the first week performances are not always vey tight, but this season, the dancers for the most part all delivered average to above average performances. So the question becomes, who do I think is in danger for elimination next week? It's tough to decide this season. Many of the dancers are strong individually and there was a lot of role-reversing after these performances (standouts from the first few episodes may have under-performed, while others did very well).

Ultimately, while writing this recap/review, I found my opinion on the routines changing, so I decided to base this on a mix of the judges’ comments, their performance, and screen time (because whether fans want to admit it or not, it does in fact affect how we feel about certain dancers). So with all that taken into account, I think the following couples could be in trouble for next week:

Girls: Tiffany, Janaya, Amber and Alexa
Guys: Chehon, Brandon, Daniel and Nick

Keep in mind, the public vote is not the ultimate deciding factor this season, as the judges will also include their input before choosing the Bottom 3 next week. Plus, the dancers will perform one more routine next week, so if they under performed this week, they could change the judges' minds next week.

So, did you have any favorite routines? Did your favorite dancers do well? Let me know what you think. Thanks for reading, and be sure to tune in next Wed. night at 8pm EST on FOX for the next show!
Click here to return to the first page and to leave comments. Thanks again MercerMZ!