One dancer's injury keeps her from performing, while others in the top 8 get gimmicky
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Think You Can Dance
Credit: Joe Viles/Fox

Does time fly or what, fellow SYTYCD fans? We’re just one week away from the finale, and from the looks of last night’s bizarre two-hour performance night, our dancers are starting to feel the pressure. Why else would they have pulled out gimmicks to stay in the competition? Jakob performed gymnastics(!) during his solo. Legacy whipped out a cell phone. And Russell inexplicably dressed like Santa Claus.

And that’s just the beginning of some of the changes we saw last night. Not only did Samantha Ronson remix some tracks for the dancers — that whole thing seemed about as necessary as a pair of leggings designed by Lindsay Lohan — but one of our contestants suffered an injury, and was banned from gracing the dance floor. Yep, after popping her shoulder out of her socket, Ashleigh was told by doctors that she couldn’t compete in last night’s show.

So will she survive the week regardless? It’s impossible to tell how America will vote these days, so I’m hesitant to make predictions. (Especially in light of such a strange show.) So, in order, here’s how our top eight dancers fared last night.

Ashleigh: Poor Ashleigh. After months of hard work, the ballroom dancer finds herself one week away from the finals, only to be sidelined by a dislocated shoulder. And it’s too bad — the blossoming dancer looked downright amazing in her rehearsal footage. She was bringing street cred to her hip-hop routine with Russell, and effervescence to the duo’s Bollywood routine. Unfortunately, we were unable to see her perform either of these numbers. Nope, Ashleigh was forced to beg for votes without nary a clip of a solo. I don’t know what made my heart break more for Ashleigh — seeing her nearly break down into tears on stage while talking about her injury with Cat, or seeing her obviously frustrated over not being able to perform in any way for the voters. Why wasn’t she allowed to at least tendu? Play the pan flute? Perform a monologue from The Towering Inferno? Though I would love for the ballroom dancer to stay another week — there are others I’d prefer to see sent packing (cough! Mollee! Cough!) — I doubt she will survive a round of voting without having taken the stage.

Ryan: Ryan is a wonderful ballroom dancer. Clearly, however, the editors would prefer us think of him as the physical manifestation of the Arm & Hammer bicep. It’s difficult for viewers like myself to really respect Ryan as a dancer when the show constantly focuses on his physical appearance rather than his undeniable strength as a ballroom partner. The shots of him in rehearsal pointing to his muscles while telling Kathryn he could support her made him look like bizarro Ivan Drago: ”I won’t break you.” (Okay, he really told Kathryn, ”You can trust me.” But still.) Also not doing Ryan any favors? The costume department, who insisted on dressing Ryan in what looked like a giant cakewreck. The glitter glued pants? The sequined top? I’m sorry to say that I have to take Nigel’s side on this one: I wouldn’t wish such horrible costuming on my worst enemy. (And that’s saying a lot, considering how much I despise my work printer.) And costuming can make or break the dancer. Though his disco was finely executed, I couldn’t walk away without feeling it was also as schmaltzy as a Wayne Newton Vegas show.

Luckily, the costume department redeemed themselves with Ryan’s Jason Gilkison cha-cha. The fedora, the heavage — for once, Ryan’s costuming matched the sheer power he brings to the floor. And it translated right into his dancing — the guy showed strength, style, and even pulled out a crowd-pleasing move. (That final upside-down lift.) The judges were indeed pleased: Adam called it one of the best ballroom routines of the show, while Mary placed Ryan and Kathryn right onto the hot tamale train. Said outburst from our kooky judge was a bit jarring, if only because it made us viewers realize how few times she whipped out the complimentary phrase this season. In years past, Mary handed out tickets to the hypothetical choo-choo like they were fruitcake. Does that mean she’s showing more restraint? Or has the dancing really been that weak this season?

Unfortunately, I’d have to say the latter point is likely true. After all, I’d like to heap more praise onto Ryan’s solo, but I can’t seem to muster up the enthusiasm. Whereas ballroom dancers of the past like Pasha had me on my feet during their solos, Ryan left me a bit cold — that is, until he began pleading with the audience to vote for the sidelined Ashleigh. As much as we can tease this crazy couple, that was a declaration of love if I ever saw one. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean Ryan will pull in enough votes to be present during the finale, but that was one freakin’ cute moment, no? Totally makes up for the sexual assault he inflicted on my eyes last week during his Chippendales-esque solo.

NEXT: Lofty praise for Mollee

Kathryn: Paging Jennifer Grey! Our dear Kathryn had her own personal Baby moment during her disco with Ryan this week. During rehearsal footage, we saw the dancer struggle with a difficult lift. But once it came time for the performance, you could hardly tell the dancer had any problems. No doubt thanks to the physical strength of her partner (if only we could notice him amongst the sequin explosion), Kathryn nailed the lifts — but, to me, didn’t quite look comfortable with the majority of the routine. Though she managed to keep up the energy of the piece — something worthy of praise, since Doriana choreographs exhausting dances — her spins were the teensiest bit clumsy. Plus, at times during the number, Kathryn seemed quite unsure of herself.

Kathryn, however, found her mojo during her Jason Gilkison cha-cha. The dancer was smoldering, if a tiny bit disconnected from the whole routine. Still, the duo had me at that gripping-the-leg move. Whether Kathryn boasts enough fans to be safe tonight is still up in the air — remember, the dancer was in the bottom last week, however unjust that seemed at the time. But, thanks to her brothel-esque costuming last night, I bet she nabbed the old prospector vote. We can only hope that’s enough to get her into the finale.

Because I fear her solo might be underappreciated. Kathryn hardly uses gimmicks during her solos to gain fans, but there’s something to be said about the understated quality of her dancing. She doesn’t flip, but she’ll give us a gorgeous arabesque. She doesn’t feel herself up like she’s auditioning for Coyote Ugly, but she’ll show us incredible grace. I’m hoping the more mature SYTYCD fans notice this, and appreciate it, and pick up the phone. Unfortunately, I’m not too optimistic.

Mollee: For weeks, the judges have been trying to convince us that Mollee has transformed from a jumping Furby into a full-fledged adult. Well, great Odin’s raven! For the first time ever, I actually believed that such a milestone occurred during her Viennese waltz last night. Perhaps it was Mollee’s lovely costuming, or the curly hair, or maybe — gosh darn it — just maybe she just finally lived up to her potential during her dance with Jakob. She achieved great height during her jumps, and, for once, managed to straighten her legs during those butterflies. (Of course, perhaps her long skirt made my eyes deceive me, but — arg! Must…stop…trying to…find…excuses…not…to…like…her!)

Luckily for the jazz dancer, she continued her hot streak right into her second routine — at least in the judges’ eyes. In a Broadway routine choreographed by Joey Dowling — who has evidently taken some happy pills since last season — Mollee unveiled some seriously kick-ass leg kicks, but failed to gain control of her upper body. Her torso was flopping around like a Kermit puppet! The judges failed to notice her flawed posture, and Nigel chose to blasphemously compare the dancer to Ann Reinking. Go ahead and compare her to the Vanessa Hudgenses, the Ashley Tisdales, but to compare Mollee to a dancer as classic and refined as Ann Reinking? Puh-leeze. Plus, I’d wager that Mollee didn’t even recognize the old reference from Uncle Nigel — after all, this is the same girl who proudly told cameras during rehearsal footage that she wasn’t very smart. Was that supposed to be a selling point? If that’s what our young tween girls are looking up to these days, then we can expect a future that boasts television shows like ”Ow! My Balls!” And I’d like to avoid living a real-life version of Idiocracy at any cost, thankyouverymuch.

Yet, voters still might dial for the cutesy dancer, thanks to some tricks she pulled out in her solo. First there was the red bra, which was guaranteed to titillate all creepy mustached men who live with their mothers. Then there was that back flip that she incorporates into all her solos. But that’s pretty much all she brought to the table. After that somewhat lazy display, I’m hoping her fanbase is too busy texting about each other about Justin Bieber’s side bangs than to dial in a vote.

Jakob: Trying to find anything bad to say about Jakob is like trying to find something bad to say about a Friendly’s peanut butter cup sundae: It’s just not possible! The dancer has been as close to perfect as a SYTYCD dancer can get since he nabbed a spot in the top 20, and his work last night was no different. There was a mere second in which I feared his Viennese waltz with Mollee would be a trainwreck — thanks to some deceptive rehearsal footage — but the routine went more like a smooth ride in a Mercedes-Benz. As always, his jumps were beautiful, and he managed to make his partner look her best.

And, as if it’s any surprise, Jakob nailed his second number as well. Adam’s eyes might have been on Mollee during the duo’s Broadway number, but what a shame, eh? For Jakob’s port de bras back was something of a revelation. We know Jakob can jump, we know he can pirouette. But a little ounce of joy leaps into my heart whenever I watch the contemporary dancer whip out a technically perfect move, however simple it might be. And that port de bras alone sealed the deal for me. This boy needs to be in the top six, if not the top two. It was appropriate Jakob was wearing green during the routine — because, boy, is he money.

As far as Jakob’s solo goes, I can’t help but say I was the teensiest bit disappointed. He started strong, effortlessly falling to the ground after showing us that he can perfectly execute a pirouette à la seconde. But then he did something criminal in the eyes of this purist: he flipped. C’mon, Jakob. Don’t you know the only contemporary dancers who flip on SYTYCD are the ones desperate enough for votes to incorporate it into their routines? And Jakob shouldn’t feel desperate. The dancer has never graced the bottom, and is unlikely to tomorrow.

NEXT: Legacy’s making the call

Ellenore: Well, looks like we know what film recently graced Travis Wall’s Netflix queue. Last night, the choreographer opted to show audiences an energetic, crowd-pleasing number clearly inspired by Mr. and Mrs. Smith. And Ellenore and Legacy danced the number so well, they are one step away from shacking up and caring for six kids. Ellenore, for one, proved she has extensions that can rival Jakob’s, and a grace that is sometimes lost in those quirky, herky-jerky moves she so often favors. No doubt, it was this confidence in her movement that led to so much praise at the panel. In fact, Nigel so loved the routine that he dropped the E word while heaping adoration on Travis. (I, however, feel Travis’ beautiful, simplistic ”If It Kills Me” routine from last season is far more Emmy-worthy.)

It’s too bad the couple couldn’t perform their contemporary number last. During the rehearsal footage for her NapTab hip-hop routine with Legacy, Ellenore was, as always, lofty in her claims: ”This is going to be the strangest, most weirdest hip-hop routine.” She was right. It was weird and strange — and not in a good way. Look, I know NapTab has choreographed plenty of fantastic routines for SYTYCD. And it can’t be easy, considering how often they’re utilized during a single season of the series. But it seems to me that they simply ran out of ideas when it came to last night’s piece. An alien dance? We already saw that last season with Brian Friedman’s Caitlin-Jason pop jazz routine. Creepy masks? We already saw that way back in season two, during Shane Sparks’ Donyelle-Travis hip-hop routine. And NapTab should have done their research, because both those routines were not very well received by the judges. Not surprisingly, neither was NapTab’s last night. The duo did their dancers a huge disservice with the number, which seemed way under tempo. And, frankly, boring. Plus, the costuming didn’t help matters. The masks were disturbing and distracting, and Legacy and Ellenore’s outfits looked like a mix between shoddily made robot costumes and something worn in King Arthur’s court. But the weirdness and obnoxiousness of the number was not entirely the choreographers’ fault. At the risk of becoming incredibly unpopular with my wonderful, Ellenore-loving readers, I have to say it — Earth to Ellenore: the alien voice is neither cute, nor funny. If I wanted to hear something annoying, I would board a plane, give the baby next to me a bullhorn, and tell it to scream directly into the horn’s mouthpiece. I would not turn on SYTYCD. Moving on.

Unfortunately for Ellenore, her solo also failed to score any wow-factor. Without someone else’s choreography, or a partner at her side, the jazz dancer tends to appear to be low-energy. That didn’t change last night. Ellenore nearly fell after her first spin during her solo, and wasn’t nearly as light on her feet as she has been during her partner pieces. She still seems a definite lock for the top six, but I worry fans won’t vote her to the top unless she brings out some big moves in future solos.

Legacy: Travis did something smart with Ellenore and Legacy this week. He made like a great choreographer, and decided to work within his dancers’ limits. Instead of forcing Legacy to mold into a contemporary dancer, Travis honed the b-boy’s moves, and made then accessible to his own genre. Just look at Legacy’s impressive jump over the table! The way he kicked the sofas out of the way without sacrificing grace! The routine fit well within the two dancers’ incredibly individual styles, even if it gave us an uncomfortable glimpse into Adam’s life as a child, as evidenced by our dear judge’s strange comments following the number. (But kudos to the judge for delivering the best line of the night: ”I love any choreographer who understands how closely [related] dancing and murder are.”)

If only NapTab followed Travis’ lead. Rather than playing to their dancers’ strengths during the hip-hop routine, NapTab said in rehearsal that they were hoping Legacy would incorporate more quirk into his dancing style. Ellenore, they hoped, would adapt more to the hip-hop genre. This was probably the choreographers’ biggest mistake. Oftentimes when dancers pair up, their styles will naturally bleed into one another. If you force it, success likely will not come. But since Legacy has shined so much in the past, here’s hoping viewers give him a get-out-of-jail-free card this time around. After all, can you imagine a finale without the guy?

But as much as I love Legacy, the b-boy lost me a bit last night was during his solo. He started out his 30 seconds by showing us the crazy-cool moves we’ve come to expect from him, but inexplicably cut his dancing short in order to pull out a cell phone. ”It’s America,” he told Cat after finishing the number. Huh? What does that even mean? I mean, I would understand if he was calling BANK of America — in this fast-moving day and age, you gotta learn to multitask. Or if Zach Morris was on the line, giving Legacy a step-by-step on how to do ”the sprain.” Because, really, who has a cell phone that size anymore? But the whole scene was incredibly disappointing, because Legacy’s at his best during his solos. Why sacrifice a few extra seconds of dancing for a silly gimmick?

NEXT: Russell’s gone Bollywood

Russell: Things that I have learned in my 24 years of life: Don’t walk under a ladder, don’t go breaking any mirrors, and don’t, whatever you do, decide to ever dance with Russell. I’m beginning to think our krumper is bad luck. First Noelle gets sidelined after rehearsing with Russell during week one, then Ashleigh? Either way, Shane Sparks’ assistant — who stepped in for Ashleigh — made it work with our krumper, even if she looked a bit like Saturday Night Live’s Melanie Hutsell in junior high jazz dance camp. Of course, we’re not supposed to judge her work in the hip-hop number, but she did manage to do Russell a major favor: She made him look amazing, rather than just buck. As the judges mentioned, Russell hit his moves hard, and even managed to master some Tiffany-esque hand dancing (which, by the way, should totally be a genre next season. Take note, Nigel!) Not that we didn’t expect it. Russell succeeding in hip-hop is as sure of a thing as Vivian Ward, so of course we knew he would nail it.

But who would have guessed he would nail Bollywood? Well, again, we all did, since we know Russell nails things like a regular Ty Pennington. First off, let me say that I adored the krumper in his final dance of the night. He showed off great balance in his leg lifts, and, as Adam mentioned, he ”blew joy.” (I guess joy quite the fun night!) So why am I not as enthusiastic as I should be? Russell has been a favorite of mine since day one, but I fear his consistency might be hurting him. The guy has yet to be defeated by any dance style, and it’s oftentimes hard to back a reality show contestant who hasn’t had to jump back from failure. (And unlike Jakob, we’ve been watching Russell succeed since the auditions.) I still hope the guy nabs a spot in the top three, but is it possible that he’s been too solid to encourage fans to vote?

Of course, my guess is that some might consider the krumper’s solo a failure. Others will likely see it as a festive 30 seconds of fun. I have no idea what to think of it. For a minute, as soon as he ran on stage wearing a Santa costume, I started to look around for Tim Allen, because, surely, this had to be a trailer for a cheesy Disney Christmas flick, right? Right? No? He’s actually dancing in this outfit? With a gift bag? Which held a bear in sunglasses? Even Thomas Pynchon isn’t this confusing! It might have worked better had the krumper not lost a shoe, and curiously opted to put it back on before sitting on a chair. (Dancers are never supposed to break character, right?) Yet it made the crowd laugh — and that’s probably all he was hoping to accomplish.

Your turn, fellow SYTYCD fans: Am I being too negative about the show last night? Who do you think will go home? Will Ashleigh survive despite her injury? Did you enjoy any of the gimmicks used during the performances? What the heck was Russell up to? And are you sad that we’re robbed of an extra week this season? (I am!)

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So You Think You Can Dance

Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, and the viewers at home crown America’s Favorite Dancer.

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