Vibes on top of vibes

By Kelly Connolly
August 29, 2017 at 02:42 AM EDT
Michael Becker/FOX
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Dance fans, I’m beginning to think Vanessa took this gig as an excuse to try on different wigs, and I respect that. (“Keep doing your thing, boo.” — Vanessa Hudgens, 2017) But if she’s trying to figure out whether blondes in trench coat-inspired dresses have more fun, Cat already answered this for us in the season premiere — and because it’s Cat, we know the answer is yes. Cat always has more fun. It’s what she deserves.

Koine and All-Star Marko
Choreographer: Mandy Moore, Jazz
“HandClap” by Fitz & The Tantrums

Mandy “La La Land” Moore heard your cries, and she’s here for you: The story of this routine is (the envelope, please) no story. Koine, Marko, and most of America cheer like kids who’ve been told they’re getting out of school early: “WOOO, NO STORY!” I’m with them. A good narrative is great, but as Tay Tay said, sometimes you want to be excluded.

Sometimes you just want to dance, and Koine and Marko dance their smiley faces off in this crowd pleaser, which actually manages to do something electric with one of my biggest pet peeves/nightmares: audiences attempting to clap at once (you clap on the down beat or you don’t clap at all). Our dancers are sharp as tacks, and everybody praises Koine for infusing her performance with so much personality. She’s proof you don’t need story to have character. Cat, dusting off one of her favorite compliments, calls Marko a “good egg.” Everyone here loves everyone!

Taylor and All-Star Robert
Choreographer: Luther Brown, Hip-Hop
“Bodak Yellow” by Cardi B

This is a dance with a story, and that story has something to do with New York City and something to do with vibes. “It’s vibes on top of vibes on top of vibes on top of vibes,” Luther says, which is the sort of text I’d respond to with, “k.”

I really do like Taylor and I LOVE. VIBES. But unfortunately, every single vibe here is “HAIR” and Taylor’s ponytail is literally swallowing us all. I swear she pulled a girl-from-The-Ring and whipped that thing into my face a couple of times. The judges, who must be feeling guilty for their harsh takedown of Taylor’s samba last week, are all very hyped about Taylor here; Vanessa says she brought the fire, and Nige goes full Uncle. (“You’re like the tour guide from Sodom and Gomorrah!”) I think it’s possible Taylor had a certain swagger, but that swagger was not at all sharp (at all!) and not nearly low enough. Also, I could not see her behind her hair.

Anyway, you know who’s fun? Bob is fun.

Lex and All-Star Gaby
Choreographer: Mandy Moore, Contemporary
“Work Song” by Luke Wade

Lex, at last we meet. Lex has spent so many weeks in styles that aren’t his specialty (even if he was trained in them) that when Cat announced he would be dancing in his style tonight, my brain rejected it. I thought Lex’s whole brand was not having just one style! It’s like he was that pile of Old Taylor Swifts fighting each other in her new video. And now they’re all gone. The old Lex can’t come to the phone right now.

I’m so sorry. It’s stuck in my head.

In any case, Lex the Singular is a force of nature. I let out a “YES” 10 seconds into this routine (which is about a guy who is his own worst enemy, not that it really matters). He’s one of those dancers who never let you forget that dance is both an art form and an athletic feat: He spends a lot of this piece on just one arm, and as Mary points out, when he lands a leap, he barely makes a sound. To quote Nigel: “Your lines look like they’ve been created by an architect.” Lex is getting a lot of appreciation here, but my favorite might be Vanessa’s, if only because she goes out of her way to point out that even though everyone paints him as some sort of heartless Tin Man, Lex was all emotion tonight.

As Cat puts it, “I mean, it was no Riverdance, but it was good.”

Kaylee and All-Star Cyrus
Choreographer: Val Chmerkovskiy, Cha-Cha
“Respect” by Aretha Franklin

Ah, story, you fickle mistress. In this cha-cha, Val tells us, Cyrus plays a “domesticated househusband waiting on his wife to come home, and when she comes home, she’s too tired to show her affection for her man.” That’s her prerogative, Val! Flipping gender stereotypes sometimes just enforces them! But that’s not the point.

How GREAT is Kaylee in this routine??! Her tie is on point, her leg work is as clean as the floor Househusband just vacuumed, and she looks like she’s having a blast. The judges are excited by her confidence, and Mary sends her R-E-S-P-E-C-T on behalf of the ballroom world. “ARETHA FRANKLIN!” Mary yells. “STRONG, STRONG WOMAN.” This is how I know SYTYCD is as it should be: Mary is yelling sentence fragments, but I know exactly what she means and I agree. Also, even though it’s safe to say that Cyrus still has work to do in other styles, I appreciate that Kaylee is so supportive of him. Additionally, Val is wearing a pinstripe turtleneck. Just something to keep in mind.

Mark and All-Star Comfort
Choreographer: Spencer Liff, Broadway
“Criminal” by Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox feat. Ariana Savalas

This season’s most “destructive” couple is back for another wild fight: Comfort has Mark’s heart captive, so he’s literally tied to a chair. It’s a metaphor, you see. After a slow start that involves Mark rubbing his face on Comfort’s leg (direct quote from my notes: “He’s weird with her leg”), this routine finds a fun, jazzy groove. Mark, rocking a sweet pair of suspenders, runs away with the spotlight; he’s suave and strong, and he finally gets challenged with some actual technique. He’s up to the task. Nigel pays Mark a nice compliment about his ability to disappear into the style, and then Vanessa sighs “ooh” like a little cartoon bunny because she gets to the heart of the matter.

And no, I don’t really know what was up with these two after their critiques, but I have a feeling they made a decision to tone down their antics and then had absolutely no idea what to do in front of the camera if not antics.

Kiki and All-Star Jenna
Choreographer: Travis Wall, Jazz
“Pop Hd” by AtomTM

Travis shook off his mantle as keeper of our feelings tonight to bring us this light, colorful, pop art-inspired routine. Technically, it’s about a couple whose fight gets a jolt when Work Husband brings home a big check (we’re really leaning into that ’50s gender dynamic tonight). In actuality, it’s about how big Jenna’s eyes are and how much Kiki looks like a cartoon Schmidt from New Girl when you paint his face. There’s so much happening in this dance (face paint, strobe lights, 2-D couch, big eyes) that even after watching it twice, my take on Kiki boils down to “he’s pretty good.” And that’s a compliment. He stays in sync with Jenna, and Vanessa thinks he’s getting better at character. Good for Kiki (assuming that’s Kiki under there — could be Schmidt). (Recap continues on page 2)

Dassy and All-Star Fik-Shun
Choreographer: Jaci Royal, Contemporary
“Breathe” by Son Lux

When you hear “dreams” on So You Think You Can Dance, you think gauze and wind machines, not red lace bodysuits. Good thing Jaci Royal takes the Twin Peaks approach to dreams. As a woman who haunts Fik-Shun’s slumber, Dassy is seductive, elegant, and kinda creepy — all of which are facets of her personality that don’t involve Cute Smiles, which is why this is my favorite Dassy routine yet. She and Fik-Shun have good control in their lifts and tricks, and they’re not afraid to get weird; like Mary, I love the image of Dassy’s red gloves grabbing Fik-Shun from below. Here’s a very excited Vanessa with a critique for the ages: “Who is this she-devil?” (It’s funnier the way she says it.)

Logan and All-Star Allison
Choreographer: Christopher Scott, Lyrical Hip-Hop
“Say You Won’t Let Go” by Boyce Avenue

For one night only, Logan will be playing the role of tWitch. Allison (married with kids) and Logan (18-year-old, “so young”) are husband and wife in this routine about a married couple reliving how they met, and sure, Allison is better at playing head-over-heels romance than Logan is. But this piece is still a joyful charmer. Mary tells Logan he was born to do this; Vanessa says she saw his heart. And then Uncle Nigel brings everyone down by talking about divorce.

Lex and Taylor
Choreographer: Spencer Liff, Classical Jazz
“An American in Paris” by James Levine & Chicago Symphony Orchestra 

“You’re both birds,” says Spencer — a good start to any rehearsal. (Well, technically this rehearsal starts with Lex and Taylor flirting, but that is their teenage business.) Taylor is a caged bird; Lex is a raven that flies to her window every night to see her because he’s in love. And what a fun bird Lex is! The luxe, feathery aesthetic of this routine makes it an easy one to settle into and enjoy, even if our dancers occasionally seem a little stiff. I’m not quite as smitten as the judges are. But who is? Mary throws us back by comparing Lex to Hok in the hummingbird routine (I had the same thought at the start). Vanessa, with a very Buster Bluth delivery, insists, “You were BIRDS.” And Nigel calls this “one of the best dance routines ever on So You Think You Can Dance,” which brings us to a segment I like to call “Really!?! With Seth and Amy.”

Best eyelashes, though: I wouldn’t argue with that.

Koine and Kiki
Choreographer: Val Chmerkovskiy, Salsa
“Dança Molengo” by Bonde do Rolê feat. Rizzle Kicks

Wait, hold up: #daddykiki is a thing?? Twitter, do we need to have words? Before rehearsal, Koine addresses #daddykikigate with the man himself, and he responds with a delightful soundbite: “I’m flattered, but it’s not my preferred choice of hashtags.” #rehearsalkiki is my favorite Kiki.

I only wish this routine held up when it hit the stage. The concept is fun — Koine is a traveler looking for excitement in a new country — and it looks like a vacation. Koine just seems unsteady on her feet every now and then, especially when Kiki pulls her to the ground before a spin. She does well for someone who’s never done ballroom before — she’s got personality and flair — but given how hard the judges were on Taylor’s samba last week (which, to my eye, was cleaner than this dance), it’s frustrating to see them go so soft here. Mary’s even got these two packing their bags for the Hot Tamale Train. (Cat, excited: “And there’s gonna be kissing at the station.”)

Logan and Kaylee
Choreographer: Travis Wall, Contemporary
“Shadows” by Woodkid

Live your life like you have one tenth of Travis Wall’s creativity, am I right? “I had this concept in my head about basically bringing a shadow to life,” Travis tells the camera, like that’s not an exceptionally cool and unusual thing for your brain to just happen to think about. Kaylee is cast as Logan’s shadow — and possibly inner demon — and she does well keeping up with Logan, even if “you kept up with your partner” doesn’t sound like the highest praise. The judges mean it as a real compliment: Logan is that good. Early in this piece, Kaylee moves up behind him, and he looks like he melts wherever she touches him. It’s all very weird and haunting and lovely, and I am only slightly distracted by the fact that Kaylee is dressed as Sadness from Inside Out. Free her chin from that turtleneck, please.

Dassy and Mark
Choreographer: Christopher Scott, Hip-Hop
“Tilted” by Christine and The Queens

Mark just keeps revealing new layers, doesn’t he? Our Rufio offers a mature take on adversity when he reminds Dassy that growth only comes from criticism, and he’s just as optimistic about this dance: “We’re just so happy to be alive. And we have umbrellas, so, hey.” Words to live by, honestly.

Dassy and Mark play broken mannequins thrown out in the trash, in the rain, which would be so dark if not for the fact that they’re both just so happy to be alive, and they have umbrellas. Mark takes to the prop like a duck to water; Dassy, Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains and Umbrellas, leaves at least seven of them ruined in her wake (just like me during my semester abroad in Dublin). She gets it when it counts, though, and it’s fun to hear people in the audience shout every time Mark and Dassy nail their umbrella tricks. The choreography seems a little too focused on the umbrellas and not focused enough on letting them dance, but they’re funky. Also, Dassy has to pull back her fake hair just to hear the judges, which makes me wonder how she heard the music.

In the most emotionally exhausting moment of this evening, Nigel says that watching the dancers team up makes him miss the good old days when we had a top 20.

REALLY!?!

BOTTOM THREE: Kaylee, Dassy, and Koine

ELIMINATED: Dassy

Eliminations in the top 10 really take no prisoners. I’m glad Koine is safe, but between Kaylee and Dassy, I’m torn; each has been inconsistent but promising. Dassy didn’t get to show us everything she’s got, but she went out on her best work yet, so at least there’s that. And let’s not forget that she literally moved to America because of SYTYCD. You made it, Dassy. I hope you and your red gloves get weird in everybody’s dreams.

Episode Recaps

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