By Kelly Connolly
February 04, 2016 at 04:42 AM EST
David Crotty/AP
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So You Think You Can Dance is returning for its 13th season with younger contestants than ever, and while America hasn’t met them yet, it’s a safe bet that Travis Wall has.

“I teach on convention and I train younger dancers,” the SYTYCD veteran tells EW, “and I know there’s a lot of talent out there. All the contestants we ever see on So You Think — I’ve been training them since they were around 12 years old, mostly. Now that you’re going to see some of the younger ones, I know a lot of the kids who are going to audition. I’m telling you: These kids are going to be incredible.

“So if there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind that we’re not going to find incredible talent, they need to wipe that clean.”

Wall — who since his run on season 2 of So You Think You Can Dance has served as a fan-favorite All-Star, Team Stage mentor, and Emmy-winning choreographer — knows that the dance world is a small one. That’s part of what inspired him to create dance company Shaping Sound with friends Teddy Forance, Kyle Robinson, and season 1 SYTYCD winner Nick Lazzarini. The company’s latest tour wraps Monday in New York City, and Wall has been choreographing in his sleep — almost literally.

“I’m a very vivid dreamer,” he says. “I have about three nightmares a night. It’s just something I’ve always had, and I’ve always been able to remember them.” Wall built Shaping Sound’s latest show around the same idea.

“The show is about this girl, and she is in this really unfortunate, terrible, uncomfortable relationship,” says Wall. “She falls asleep, and she learns throughout her entire dream what love really is. And she realizes that what she has in her real life — that’s not love, and she deserves better. … It’s her decision at the end of the show, when she wakes up, how to act on what she learned.”

Wall compares the show — driven by music that runs the gamut from classical to pop to electronic — to a Broadway production: “It’s a story told through dance and through two acts.” For Wall, one highlight comes late in the second act: a duet he performs with Ricky Ubeda, winner of season 11 of SYTYCD. “It’s honestly my favorite piece I’ve ever danced,” Wall says of the personal number. “It’s about, for me, when I first looked at a boy in a different way and realized who I was.”

“I’ve always danced with girls growing up, and I’ve never been able to dance with a boy like this,” he says. “The type of partnering that two men can do is second to none.” Wall counts it a privilege to “have audiences open up their mind to it in every aspect, and just be like, ‘That was the most touching duet I’ve ever seen in my life.’”

Audience favorites include an all-male number to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which opens the second act with “a little bit of humor,” and the taxing first-act finale. “We are so full out it’s not even funny,” says Wall. “By the time we all get together on that last phrase, we’ve been dancing 15 straight minutes in this huge, high-energy number. The audience is just rooting us on to get us through it.”

“We’re all not 18 anymore,” Wall laughs. “The energy onstage and the energy we get from the audience really does get us through it. So we don’t feel it during the show, and then after the show we’re on the bus like, ‘Okay, we feel it.’”

Injury has shaped the show in the past: SYTYCD season 3 finalist Jaimie Goodwin, who previously performed the lead role, “just had her third reconstructive knee surgery,” says Wall. “This go-around we have Mallauri Esquibel, who’s incredible.” He says that the casting changes “keep the show fresh” — sometimes on short notice. Wall was on a flight when he got the news that Forance was in the ER with an injury to his back.

“So I’m re-choreographing the show from 35,000 feet in the air,” Wall recalls.

“There’s never a dull moment.”

Episode Recaps

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