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So You Think You Can Dance mentor blog: Travis Wall on the routine we didn't get to see

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All expectations were met in the top 10’s performances. You can usually count on this episode to be the best yet: The All-Stars bring the dancers to their level and give the choreographers someone to rely on, and the contestants have to rise to the occasion. That happened on every single routine this week. That’s what was so amazing. There wasn’t a bad routine, and there wasn’t a bad critique — if there was a critique, it was constructive. So I really enjoyed this week’s show, and I definitely believe it was the best of the season. I think there were a couple of performances that will go down in the So You Think You Can Dance history books.

Hailee: The first number with Hailee and Brandon was just incredible. The energy was sizzling. That was an amazing Broadway routine by Warren Carlyle. As a dancer, I was watching it like, “I literally would have fallen out in the first half of the routine.” There was so much in it, and the stamina it took to maintain that energy at such a high level the entire time was incredible. Hailee has become a star. The minute she comes on stage, you can’t take your eyes off of her. I looked at her last night, and I said, “You just have to be so proud of yourself.” She auditioned for season 11, and she was like, “I’m really happy that I didn’t make it that season. I don’t think I was ready, and I didn’t understand it until now.” And it’s so true. Now, Hailee Payne has become Hailee Payne on So You Think You Can Dance season 12, and she’ll be remembered.

Derek: On Thursday, when I walked into the rehearsal, it was the first time I saw Derek in performance mode — not just, “Oh, I’m in the studio. I’m rehearsing with my choreographer.” And I looked at him, and I said, “When did you wake up?” He’s an incredible dancer, but sometimes we want more energy from him, and he had it right away. He was amazing this week, and Kayla — she’s incredible. So I really did enjoy that routine. I think Derek has had amazing contemporary routines on this show, but as far as energy goes, I definitely think that was his breakthrough performance.

Virgil: I absolutely loved this Chris Scott routine. It required a lot of energy, but it wasn’t screaming energy. It was just those two having a moment on stage. Comfort is incredible. It really was amazing.

Megz: Again, a high-octane number — this one was so hard to get through, and I’m so proud of both of them. The lighting was awesome, of course we love that music, and Ray Leeper’s choreography was incredible. Megz literally does everything you ask her to do. Bravo.

Edson: And then my number came up. Edson dislocated his shoulder last week during Brian Friedman’s opening number, and he had problems all week. We didn’t know if he was going to be able to dance. He got cleared on Thursday, so there was a lot of altering the choreography to figure out what worked best and was most comfortable for his shoulder. I was feeling good about the routine, but I didn’t know how well it was going to go over — and then when they performed, it was incredible watching that stage. Jaimie is just one of the most brilliant dancers I know, and I just could not be more proud of Edson. I worked with him week one on a duet, and I’m so proud of the growth I saw from him, and how much he explored his movement and his dancing and his performance. And I was super impressed with his work ethic in general.

Neptune: I mean, come on. That’s just incredible. This was a theatrical, awesome routine from Phoenix and Pharside, and there were so many moments for you to grasp on to and remember. Phoenix and Pharside had two routines this week, and they killed it.

Jim: Jim struggled a lot this week with this routine, especially in the beginning. But I was there for him. People say, “He pulled contemporary,” but contemporary means so many different things as far as style goes. Jim is a classically trained ballet dancer, so a lot of the movement was foreign on his body, but we got to a place where it was comfortable. I think Jim was really thinking about the steps this week and about executing his technique perfectly. We talked after the show, and I think he stopped thinking about the story and his connection with his partner; he was just trying to get through the routine. I think that showed a little bit, but I still think he was breathtaking. And we have something to look forward to next week, taking that constructive criticism that the judges gave him and making sure he applies it.

Jaja: It was so great to see Alex back, and I thought Jaja did an incredible job with Bollywood. All of the arm movements were so fast, and the little character that she had on — I really did enjoy that number.

Gaby: Gaby brought down the house this week. She closed out the show for a reason. To me, that was the best performance of the night for Team Stage. I was so proud of her, and like I told her, that routine can walk you straight into the finale. I’m pretty sure that she might have solidified her spot there with that routine. We just have to make sure that she keeps pulling that out every week, and I think we’re going to find Gaby in the finale.

I was also really proud of eveyone’s solos. When we first heard that we were doing the soundtrack of Empire, I was hesitant, because for all of the amazing R&B music that’s on the show, I’d consider it more street style. It’s the first time my contestants get to do their solos onstage, so I want them to be able to show themselves off the best way possible. So I was worried at first, but once we heard the music and figured out who would do what song, I was so proud of my dancers for showing who they were to that music. I was impressed by all five of them. Derek had some crazy, crazy tricks. Gaby’s tapping was so clean — and that last shot, I just thought, “Wow, she looks so pretty!” Hailee had so much energy and attack to her steps. Jim’s technique was flawless — that arabesque he held at the end was insane. And then I think Edson had a little Magic Mike audition!

And a sidenote: JJ was supposed to have contemporary with Sonya. I saw the rehearsal package. That number would have been incredible, and I’m so upset that she was hurt. She was hurt the week before — she fractured a rib, but she didn’t really say anything, because she was afraid to complain about her injury. But it got worse and worse, so she finally went to the doctor, who said, “You’ve fractured your rib. You can’t dance.” So it was really sad to see her leave the competition like that, and she didn’t get the opportunity to do that duet that Sonya choreographed for her.

And then the eliminations came, and they called Edson’s name. You can’t help what happened last week, even though he had the best performance this week. You just have to be like, “This is what this show is.” Everything has to do with what happened last week, because we don’t have two shows a week anymore. It was heartbreaking. I went up to Edson and started talking to him about his journey and how much he’s grown this entire season, and I got a little choked up. It was the first time I’d gotten choked up about an elimination this season. I care so much about the contestants, and it’s going to get harder and harder every week. 

But because of how great this week’s show was, the expectation is now even higher for the choreographers and All-Stars coming in — and for the contestants getting new genres. We have to recreate the magic we had this week and make it better.

As told to Kelly Connolly

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