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Emmys 2017
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So You Think You Can Dance recap: Just Breathe, Everybody!

The top 9 are (mostly) back in top form, leaving the judges, and the studio audience, breathless

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Billy Thhink Dance
Mathieu Young/Fox

So You Think You Can Dance

TV Show
Reality TV
run date:
Nigel Lythgoe, Cat Deeley, Mary Murphy
Current Status:
In Season

”Breathe, everybody, breathe!” That’s what Cat Deeley said just before the final recap of last night’s (mostly) stellar episode of So You Think You Can Dance, and I don’t really blame her, what with Alex’s showstopping hip-hop routine, Kent’s hungry jazz face, Jose’s apparent ability to always satisfy the judges, Billy’s apparent inability to ever satisfy the judges, Lauren’s wardrobe malfunction, Melinda’s quiet evisceration, Robert’s Starlight Express pants, Ashley’s purple hurricane, and AdéChiké’s long overdue introduction of his winning personality. [Gasps] So much [pant] happened [wheeze] last night! [Faints] [Gets up again] It was almost [puts head between legs] too much [exhales into paper bag] to take!

On the other hand, I think we could interpret Cat’s entreaty for deep breathing a bit differently. She could’ve just meant that maybe that final hip-hop routine wasn’t quite the second coming, and perhaps Billy didn’t deserve death by 1,000 nit-picks, and perchance the wardrobe department shouldn’t be looking to 1980s roller disco for inspiration. For my part, I just hope you don’t need oxygen to cope with the temporary loss of your regular SYTYCD guide Kate Ward, who I promise will return next week with her effortlessly witty dance expertise. But for now, you’re stuck with me, your old SYTYCD guide, the one without years of actual dance experience save childhood basement routines to his parents’ Anita Baker records. Miss me? Actually, don’t answer that.

So our evening began with an oddly dramatic black-and-white opening montage, explaining that the producers were planning to fill out the two hour episode this week by exploring who inspired Ameriker’s top 9 dancers, which netted everything from season 6 contestant Legacy (Billy’s surprising inspiration) to martial arts legend Bruce Lee (Jose’s less-than-surprising inspiration). But while it served as perfectly fine human interest filler, the conceit rarely did much by way of further illuminating who these dancers truly are as dancers.

One possible exception was AdéChiké, who listed as his inspiration Desmond Richardson, the impossibly lithesome dance legend, and occasional SYTYCD guest, who was young AdéChiké’s Michael Jordan growing up — it was one of the few times where I could trace that spark of inspiration to the dancer’s actual work on the show. Richardson’s example was amply evident in AdéChiké’s solo at the end of the night, which was filled with rich balletic strength and control. Of course, Richardson was nowhere to be seen in AdéChiké’s opening Dave Scott hip-hop partner routine with all-star Lauren, but that’s completely fine with me, since the kid finally — finally — unleashed his inner-charisma monster. (That smile! It could power a small house!) It helped that Scott’s choreography was so character heavy that he probably could’ve gotten away with calling it a Broadway routine; regardless, AdéChiké made the most of the steps and then some.

I’m not sure if I can say the same about Ashley. We were told that her contemporary routine, choreographed by newcomer Dee Caspary, was about a literally broken woman, that Ade would be serving as her backbone, and that the two would be dancing as one. Yeah, I didn’t really get that in the actual routine — there were several moments when Ashley was dancing on her own in what I can only describe as backbone-y movement. But that hardly made much difference, really, since her dancing was also, as Nigel rightly pointed out, a fluid mix of engrossing maturity and total abandon. I don’t think it was anywhere near one of the best female contemporary performances ever on SYTYCD, as Adam typically overpraised, but it was definitely the strongest partner routine I’ve seen from any of the women this season. Granted, that’s a little like saying Eclipse is the best of the Twilight Saga movies, but at least it’s something. (Oh, just wait, I haven’t even begun to provoke message board rage.)

Robert suffered even more from an intro package that did him no favors. Sonya Tayeh’s promise to make the world see ”how dynamically beautiful Robert is” was completely undermined by a pair of pants that, well, where to start, really? The Dickies-style high-wasted tapered cut? The asymmetrical crotch? The crisscrossing glow-tape along the left leg? Or the shiny cuffs that stopped above the ankle and looked like they’d been ripped off the outfit from an old Flash Gordon villain? The dancing itself was standard-if-well-executed Sonya weirdness, but I did appreciate the fact that it finally got Mia Michaels to silence whatever has been muffling her instinct to say things like, ”The choking was everything.” Now that is the mordantly dark Mia I’ve grown to love, and the one that’s been entirely too well behaved so far this season. Mia, sweetie, when you take over the Mary Murphy crazy chair, we expect you to rise to the occasion, not get all sensitive and polite and ending your thoughtful advice with a helpful, ”Yeah?” Yeah?

Another example: Why in the world does Mia Michaels care whether she gets booed for stating what everyone’s already thinking, that Melinda should have gone home last week instead of Cristina, if only so we would be spared the sight of the tapper desperately smiling through a salsa chocablock with awkward lifts and stilted jumps. And with Pasha, no less! See, if I was Mia, I would have no problem not-so-gently pointing out that someone as, er, curve-deprived as Melinda is already at a disadvantage in a style that was practically invented to call attention to a woman’s hips and bust, but since it’s painfully obvious that barring a voting miracle, Melinda should pack up her tap shoes tonight, I won’t go there. Anymore, anyway. I mean, even when Melinda gets credit for ably recovering from a potentially disastrous wardrobe malfunction…

NEXT PAGE: More wardrobe malfunction