Is this it? Is this when season 12 finally starts to feel like So You Think You Can Dance? The Hot Tamale Train is back. The judges are giving out standing ovations like candy. We’ve got iconic set pieces and dancers personifying mental illness, and Cat is asking the important questions. “Who was nearly kidnapped by a serial killer, and who loves doughnuts with peanut butter?” I HAVE TO KNOW. QUICK, TO THE DANCERS…
Hailee and Jaja
Choreographer: Ray Leeper, Jazz
Song: “Endangered Species” by Dianne Reeves
We should probably have a talk about the male choreographers this season championing Strong Women™, but only when they’re in bondage or straight out of the wild. Someday. For now, let’s focus on the power couple that is “Hail-Ja.” Hailee (who is not a natural blonde) and Jaja (who is engaged!) have emerged as leaders on their respective teams, and they killed this jungle-inspired routine with the fire of a thousand pop divas. I kept expecting them to slide right into the wings, but they never did. Fierce.
Alexia and Neptune
Choreographer: Dave Scott, Hip-Hop
Song: “Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)” by Rich Homie Quan
SYTYCD loves a good set piece, and it doesn’t get much better than a padded wall. That wall is living its best life. Alexia and Neptune twerk on the wall, hang from the wall, and even hold hands while hanging on the wall. They hit hard and never quit. It’s possible that Alexia could stand to take a few of her facial expressions down a notch, but she is playing a crazy person, and it’s hard to argue with how much fun she and Neptune are having. “It was twerking at Wal-Mart,” says Paula. “Now it’s twerking at the padded wall.” Was it ever twerking at Wal-Mart, though?
Choreographers: Miriam Larici and Leonardo Barrionuevo, Argentine Tango
Song: “Duo De Amor” by Astor Piazzolla
First, the bad news: Derek hurt his back rehearsing a lift and is forced to sit out of the competition for the week. Assuming he makes it through to next week, he’ll be in the bottom six by default. Now for some good news: This might have been a breakthrough week for JJ. Sure, her “fun fact” about herself is the weakest of the bunch (she likes top knots, as if we hadn’t figured that out), but she excels in a routine that puts her way outside her own style. JJ exudes elegance and control, and her flick kicks are fast. Nigel even declares that if Mary Murphy were still here, she’d put JJ on the Hot Tamale Train for sure. Come back to us, Mary. Jason looks bored anyway.
Jim and Ariana
Choreographer: Sean Cheesman, Contemporary
Song: “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Lorde
More than any of the night’s other routines, this one feels designed to be remembered. Ariana is cast as the depression looking to rule over Jim’s world, leaving Jim to fight her—and eventually defeat her, because this is not Mia Michaels’ addiction routine; what are you talking about?—with the aid of some very cool lighting. Cat can’t concentrate on any of this because she’s caught up in Jim’s obsession with bubble baths. But the baths are working; the height Jim gets on his tour jete is almost rude. Also, why do we keep sending Ariana to the bottom six? What more do we want from her? Maybe the judges should stop acting like they’re surprised when she “holds her own.” It’s not a surprise anymore.
Gaby and Virgil
Choreographer: Al Blackstone, Broadway
Song: “Where or When” by Sammy Davis, Jr.
Travis comments in the rehearsal footage that this might be Gaby’s week, which is surprising; hasn’t every week been Gaby’s week? But he’s right. This is Gaby’s week. Without even realizing it, I was holding a little something against her for the way the judges fawn over her versatility, and I’m done now. She’s that appealing. Gaby and Virgil—actual Broadway dancer and, apparently, lead vocalist in a jazz band—are the perfect pair to take on this classy routine, and their little bit with the glasses at the end actually makes me laugh. Nigel takes the opportunity to act like he has always thought Broadway is the bee’s knees. (He’s just trying to impress Sammy Davis, Jr.’s son.)
NEXT: Good eats[pagebreak]
Kate and Asaf
Choreographer: Sean Cheesman, Jazz
Song: “Braveheart” by Neon Jungle
In news that will surprise no one, the “doughnuts and peanut butter” blind item was about Asaf. “I really love the feeling of gratitude and regret at the same time,” he explains, speaking to something real in all of us. He even threatens to overshadow Kate’s obviously superior story: When she was four, a serial killer plotted to kidnap her to get revenge on her dad, who put him in jail. She had to spend a little time in FBI protection, but it’s all good now. Anyway, should we talk about the dance? It’s not that exciting; I can’t be sure, but it’s possible that they even cut a lift before the final performance, because Kate should not be in more danger from Asaf than she was from a serial killer. It’s clear that the judges have run out of things to say to Asaf—but to be fair, he has improved from last week.
Marissa and Yorelis
Choreographer: Christopher Scott, Hip-Hop
Song: “Let Go” by Kezwik feat. Mimi Page
Marissa used to be a power tumbler, and she puts it to good use in this routine, flipping all over the place as a hypnotized Team Street convert. It’s always a good day when this show lets women do hip-hop together. Jason says that he wanted them to be “bigger,” but he also calls every woman on this show “love” when he offers critiques, which I think should invalidate his comments. I thought they nailed it.
Megz and Edson
Choreographer: Talia Favia, Contemporary
Song: “You There” by Aquilo
MEGZ, guys. She’s a revelation. The depression routine might be the more recognizable of tonight’s contemporary pieces, but I actually found this one more affecting, and so did Megz, who felt so strongly that this piece was meant for her that she almost started crying at rehearsal. It’s a simple, raw number about the power of temptation, but really it’s about Megz, Edson, and their t-shirts. “It was like the Scream painting mixed with a Calvin Klein campaign,” says Cat. And when Nigel says that this feels like the first time a shirt has come off in a routine for a good reason, our Emmy-nominated host shoots back, “So you say.”
Song: “Commas” by Future
Luam frames this routine as a chance to separate the hustlers from the HUSTLERS—a kind of “every man for himself” mentality that’s a far cry from the teamwork of past group routines. It shows; there’s not a lot of interaction between the dancers, and while they’re all good, no one pops. Live together or die alone, Team Street.
Choreographer: Travis Wall
Song: “Beautiful Friends” by Helen Money
Travis describes this routine as “the ghosts of theaters past,” and it’s already my favorite routine that has probably ever been choreographed. It’s like the Haunted Mansion meets SYTYCD. The concept behind the routine is the ghost light that lives on stage at night, which keeps watch over the stage and gives ghosts a safe space to dance. All of the dancers are given their own lights, passing the metaphorical torch as they appear onstage. With everyone’s hair sprayed white, it’s hard to even recognize them, which adds to the routine’s unsettling charm—though the lights do make it more obvious when their arms aren’t all doing the same thing. I’m sorry I said that. I didn’t mean to critique my new favorite routine of all time.
“I see dead people… in a good way,” says Cat. As if there were any other way.
BOTTOM SIX: Derek, Ariana, Asaf, Marissa, JJ, Kate
SAVED BY TWITTER: JJ and Derek
ELIMINATED: Marissa and Asaf.
I really thought this could be Marissa’s breakout week, but I’m glad to see Kate stick around. And at least Asaf went out talking about doughnuts.
FINAL COUNT: 14 dancers, one padded wall, 378 pairs of Megz’ shoes. See you next week, America.