So You Think You Can Dance can split the dancers into teams and throw a Twitter save into the mix and design a stage that might one day require a blood sacrifice, but it can’t change one thing: Cat Deeley. Our fearless host was the true star of the night, introducing the “jidges” for old times’ sake and then ribbing them all night long. Sometimes I think all eight of this show’s Emmy nominations should be for Cat. (Nooooo, everyone’s great. But I’m glad one of them is for her.)
Happy 10th birthday, SYTYCD. It’s time to mix up those Stage and Street dancers and get down to our first elimination.
Hailee, Darion, and Yorelis
Choreographers: Oksana Dmytrenko and Jonathan Platero, Salsa
Song: “Blucutu” by Saamara
Houston, we already have a problem. Travis noticed in rehearsals that Darion was sleepwalking his way through this routine, and if there’s one thing a dancer can’t sleep through, it’s a salsa trio with death-defying lifts. Something goes wrong mid-routine, and Hailee is left hanging — literally. She pulls through with a combination of professionalism and superhuman ab strength, and the routine continues without issue, but Darion still can’t rise to his partners’ performance level. Nigel calls the ladies “spicy” and Darion “yogurt.” I never knew yogurt could be such an effective put-down.
Derek and Ariana
Choreographer: Ray Leeper, Jazz
Song: “Cry Me A River” by Michael Buble
Just on a purely aesthetic note, if you’re going to do a routine about “two people who’ve come together to share in the pain of losing a loved one,” maybe don’t dress them like Oompa Loompas. Derek and Ariana overcome a truly unfortunate suspender/ turtleneck combo to make the best out of a routine that feels like it was designed by a committee. The look and sound of the piece never really blend, which might explain why both dancers could use a little more light behind their eyes. That being said, they look good together, and Ariana “shocks” Nigel. (Everything Nigel says to the Street team is a little bit backhanded, isn’t it?) He also praises Ariana for her reaches. Remember when he hated reaches, like, last week?
Alexia, Megz, and Virgil
Choreographer: Dee Caspary, Contemporary
Song: “Until We Go Down” by Ruelle
This is the small group routine of the night for me, despite the fact that Caspary tells Virgil he’s going to be dominated this week and is thus “not going to be the man.” I’m not even going to think about those implications. Let’s focus on how GOOD everyone is. Megz, who felt sloppy last week in her own style, excels outside of it; she and Virgil look like they belong in this contemporary routine. But it’s Alexia who really impresses me, stepping outside her Little Ball of Energy box to do something much more raw and mature with this piece. I also love how genuinely proud she is of the Street dancers on stage with her. To quote Cat, “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh.” They did it.
Lily, Burim, Edson, and Gaby
Choreographer: Nakul Dev Mahajan, Bollywood
Song: “Dhol Baaje,” Ek Paheli Leela (Soundtrack)
Edson calls this routine a “celebration of life.” The dancers and team captains are really feeling this one in rehearsal, but they don’t light up the big stage with quite as much energy as they could, except where their costumes are concerned. Nigel shrugs that he didn’t really learn anything new about the dancers, which just about sums it up. Gaby is as graceful as ever; Burim keeps up with a new style; Edson is sharp (he’s got a cheerleading background); Lily’s arms could be sharper, but she’s got the personality to almost make up for it. Really, the best part of the segment is when Jason repeats Gaby and calls their “Slap the booty” move by the wrong name. Emmy-nominated host Cat Deeley, earning her Emmy nomination: “You know how to do that, Jason.”
Kate, Neptune, and Asaf
Choreographer: Spencer Liff, Broadway
Song: “All About That Bass” by Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox feat. Kate Davis
Now that we’ve got our Twitter save, where’s our “You had to listen to the worst song on repeat all week” save? These three all deserve it. I was really expecting to get a little Guys and Dolls action out of those suits, but once I set aside that disappointment, I was all in for this routine. Neptune is as smooth as any Nathan Detroit out there. The judges still feel like Kate is holding something back, but I don’t see it — for the second week in a row, she’s left standing up there with a pasted-on smile, nodding at critiques and wondering how she ended up here. As for Asaf, he manages to keep up, even though he struggled with the choreography in rehearsals again. Paula tells him to get used to it. He has to look back on how far he’s already come and make the struggle his friend: “Enjoy the process. You’ll never have anything like this ever again.” She’s talking about dance, but I think she’s also talking about life.
NEXT: Maybe next time he’ll dance before he cheats[pagebreak]
Jim and Jaja
Choreographer: Chris Scott, Hip-Hop
Song: “No Woman, No Cry (Live Version)” by Bob Marley & the Wailers
Jim’s been fielding comparisons to Alex Freaking Wong from the start, and the show doesn’t waste any time putting him to the ultimate AFW test: a hip-hop routine with a Street dancer. Subtle, show. The rehearsal package has me worried for him (even as it further endears me to Jaja, who’s insulted that the show keeps subtitling everything she says), but Jim manages to get into just the right groove for this routine. He and Jaja are in perfect sync with one another. There’s no reason for their chemistry to be as good as it is — it just is. The judges reward them with a standing ovation, and Nigel gets emotional comparing them to charges on a battery. How romantic.
Marissa, Moises, and JJ
Choreographer: Ray Leeper, Jazz
Song: “I’m So Sorry” by Imagine Dragons
Leeper’s second piece of the night casts Moises as a cheater and Marissa and JJ as scorned lovers out for vengeance. This routine is a blast, and only Paula gets it. Jason and Nigel complain that the ladies look like they’re having too much fun, and Paula, speaking for women everywhere, reminds them that getting revenge on a cheater is actually kind of fun. Paula is the only judge on that panel saying anything of substance tonight. While the men offer vague critiques about the girls’ emotions, Paula gets specific: They need to raise their chins. Now there’s a critique they can work with.
Team Street Top 10
Choreographers: Christopher Scott and Phillip Chebeeb
Song: “Time” by Nathan Lanier
Shut it down — we’ve found the best prop. It’s the see-saw (or, as Neptune calls it, the teeter-totter). How better to combine childhood memories with possible career-ending injury? And it’s fitting that it’s set to “Time,” because this routine is as precise as a clock. For all of the judges’ (well, Nigel’s) talk about how “technique” belongs to Team Stage, this is a highly technical number. One wrong move, and everything is thrown off. Thankfully, no one makes a wrong move, and playground nostalgia lives to see another day — as does my awe at Team Street’s fearlessness.
Team Stage Top 10
Choreographer: Travis Wall
Song: “Stabat Mater” by Woodkid
Is this routine secretly the Xena reboot? I think yes. Travis responds to last week’s show-stopping Team Street group routine with a powerful, “explosive” number that literally throws itself across (and above) the stage. There are some impressive acrobatics at play here, but what’s even more impressive is the team’s coordination. Even when they’re rolling on the floor, they’re moving as one. All they’re missing is Lucy Lawless. The judges call this one a win for Team Stage.
Unfortunately, the night can’t be a win for everyone.
BOTTOM SIX: Neptune, Derek, Darion, Moises, Lily, and Ariana
SAVED BY TWITTER: Moises and Neptune
ELIMINATED: Darion and Lily
The first eliminations are always hard to process; on the one hand, we never knew these dancers enough to get attached to them, but on the other, that’s kind of its own tragedy. Darion sealed his fate when he fumbled that lift, but Lily seemed like she had more to show. The first Street dancer to go is a woman. Who saw that coming?
FINAL COUNT: 18 dancers, one yogurt, zero Guys and Dolls songs, and eight Emmys. See you next week, America.