Dance fans, we did it. I thought we’d never make it out of the rejected Divergent set that was the Academy, but here we are at the first round of live performances, and everything is as it should be. Our Host Cat Deeley is dressed like Sydney Bristow in the Alias pilot (SHE’S A SPY), “all-around good egg” Vanessa Hudgens got a good-egg haircut, Mary’s yellin’, and the stage has STAIRS AGAIN. THE STAGE HAS STAIRS. I love this new stage! The lighting is everywhere.
The All-Stars open the show with a gloriously well-lit routine choreographed by Mandy Moore, but someone is missing: Allison hurt her shoulder. She’s in the audience tonight with her arm in a sling and tWitch by her side; there are worse places to be, but I hope she heals like the wind, especially if Wade comes back.
Yes, that’s THE Wade. Tonight’s final group routine was choreographed by Wade and Amanda Robson and Tony Testa, and Cat wastes absolutely no time breaking the news that the genius behind “Ramalama (Bang Bang)” is in the house. (Cat on “Ramalama”: “That’s me on my average Friday night out.”) It’s like they know we’re uneasy about this All-Star-heavy format in a season that was supposed to be all about getting back to basics, and they’re trying to bribe us with new stages and Wade Robson. It’s working.
Anyway, shall we meet the top 10?
Dassy (Team Fik-Shun): We flash back to the Academy to find Fik-Shun seated in front of his final two, and may I just say that runner-up Kyle seems like such a good egg? Just as Fik-Shun is about to reveal his choice, the camera cuts back to the live stage, where Dassy jumps out from the wings. This is how every dancer in the top 10 will be introduced, and it’s jarring. Don’t deny Kyle his goodbye! After so much e-mo-tion in the Academy, we can’t start glossing over the tears now.
Logan (Team Allison): Nigel will later tell Allison that she doesn’t need to worry about Zachary; he’s in the cast of Cats now. Nige, since when did we not need to worry about the cast of Cats?
Kiki (Team Jenna): This was a SURPRISE. Jenna tore her team in half to get Kevin, and after their hot duet last week, I thought he had this in the bag. But as sad as I am for Kevin, I’m not sad to see Kiki stick around, and neither is Mary. Mary is not sad at all.
Kaylee (Team Cyrus): Torn between the man in his style and the woman not in his style, Cyrus takes a leap, sticks with his blue-haired “contemporary fusion” dancer, and sends Havoc home. Is it the right choice? [Slow, ominous zoom in on Nigel.]
Lex (Team Gaby): Evan, we hardly knew ye, but I liked ye. It was inevitable that Gaby would pick Lex, but please enjoy her attempts to lower our expectations anyway: She actually says she went with her Shaping Sound teammate in part because he “needs her more.” Ouch?
Mark (Team Comfort): Looking fine in some glittery green lipstick, Comfort sends Deja home, which isn’t much of a surprise given that I had to look up how to spell Deja’s name tonight. Sometimes bad edits happen to good dancers.
Sydney (Team Paul): I didn’t know how badly I wanted Paul to pick Sydney until he did. It’s nice that she and Sofia were so close, though.
Taylor (Team Robert): You never forget the first dancer who deigned to be on your team. Robert sends Jonathan home and sticks with his one and only, and it’s the right choice. [Gentle zoom in on Travis Wall.]
Robert (Team Jasmine): I’m going to let Howard finish (that poor guy is sobbing before Jasmine has even made her announcement), but Robert gets one of the BEST INTROS OF ALL TIME. I love this dancing sandwich.
So let’s dance already.
Dassy and All-Star Fik-Shun
Choreographer: Popin’ Pete, Hip-Hop
“Shake Your Pants” by Cameo
This routine is a cool blast of ’80s fun — it’s like vintage Michael Jackson clad in the costume of MC Skat Kat. Dassy and Fik-Shun are a perfect stylistic match; they’re sharp as tacks. “You are my poppin’ favorite, and you’re poppin’ into my heart,” Mary tells Dassy. Then Nigel makes a soul/Seoul pun and waits for his Emmy. (Dassy might just deserve an Emmy for acting like he’s the first dude in America to come up with that joke.)
Logan and All-Star Audrey
Choreographer: Tyce Diorio, Contemporary
“Protocol” by Leon Else
Since Allison is injured, season 9’s Audrey steps up to the plate, and she is…amazing? Our gal’s never been better. I couldn’t keep my eyes off Audrey, which isn’t great news for Logan, but he’s still a solid presence in this “Wicked Games”-esque routine, playing the toxic force in a relationship. Probably. There are no rehearsal segments tonight, which means there’s no time to hear The Story behind each piece. It feels like biking without training wheels. If Tyce gave Logan a character (and it’s Tyce, so he did!), I can’t say I saw him disappear into that space emotionally, but he’s good. I don’t have any other hot takes on Logan yet. He’s good, okay?! We’re just getting started!
I do, however, think we need to retire the “you’re so young; you’re only 18!” critique, like, yesterday. After last year’s little ones, 18 feels ancient.
Kiki and All-Star Jenna
Choreographer: Dmitry Chaplin, Ballroom
“There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” by Shawn Mendes
Our ballroom boy is in the house, and he and Jenna look great together. The concept of this routine, in my head, is “bar at Jay Gatsby’s mansion,” and I am very into Kiki in his starring role as the bartender who’s unfamiliar with buttons. But again, I’m mainly just happy for Mary, who’s making train-chugging arms in the corner of the screen. “We’ve been waiting for a Kiki on this show!” Mary yells. I especially love when she yells at Jenna about how centered she is: “THERE IS NOT A MORE GROUNDED WOMAN I HAVE EVER SEEN.”
Kaylee and All-Star Cyrus
Choreographer: Tessandra Chavez, Contemporary
“Clown” by Emeli Sandé
You have to hand it to Cyrus: He picked a contemporary fusion dancer, so he’s dancing contemporary fusion, even though it’s really not his strong point. (Mary: “You did a noble job.”) The benefit of his decision to step outside his comfort zone is that this routine is mainly designed to showcase Kaylee; the drawback is that he doesn’t elevate her. Despite all the warm-fuzzy ’90s prom flashbacks Kaylee’s velvet dress is sure to induce, this routine flounders compared to what everyone else is doing. Kaylee is, to quote Vanessa, honest and fascinating, but she doesn’t bring enough grace. Vanessa says she needs more “weightlessness and breath.” Nigel then gives Kaylee the awkward pause: “I need more from you…good luck.”
Let’s go back to Vanessa for just a sec. She threw a shoe in a fight once! Vanessa Hudgens, you zebra-printed enigma.
(Recap continues on page 2)
Lex and All-Star Gaby
Choreographer: Anthony Morigerato, Tap
“More” by Bobby Darin
Unlike Cyrus, Gaby pushes Lex by dancing in her style rather than his, which shows off how versatile he is (I mean, at the end of the day, is anything not Lex’s style?) but doesn’t give America a taste of Lex at his Lex-iest, either — unless dancing “outside his area” is Lex’s area. DOES LEX EXIST? Maybe not; Nigel asks him to “rehearse his personality” like he’s a robot. (Is this Westworld? Do WE exist??) Anyway, as Vanessa points out, being bashful and sweet counts as having a personality, and Lex is all sweet energy in this smooth Fred-and-Ginger routine. When he does a backflip, the ladies in the crowd are putty in his hands. Lex, sweetie, you’re doing amazing.
Mark and All-Star Comfort
Choreographer: Luther Brown, Hip-Hop
“REDMERCEDES” by Aminé
Mark and Comfort are all personality, and that personality is not bashful. They’re on fire in this fun routine, and their swagger is backed by talent, even if Cat has no idea how to handle how much they’re already hamming it up (“guys, this is week one!”). Also, the judges clearly spent their weekends productively: coming up with pop culture nicknames for Mark. Nigel calls him “Bruno Mars’ little brother,” which is good. Vanessa calls him Rufio, which is better. HOOK ROUTINE OR BUST.
Koine and All-Star Marko
Choreographer: Stacey Tookey, Contemporary
“Memories” by Alex Somers
No one turns a So You Think You Can Dance partnership into a Meg Ryan rom-com quite like Marko. He and Koine infuse this piece with unforced joy, and the judges reward them with a standing ovation. Mary gives it up for the lighting department (same), and then everybody uses the word “ethereal.” I don’t know who bought everyone on this team the same Word of the Day calendar, but it’s true: Marko and Koine are ethereal. And even though Nigel goes a little too far when he jokes, “Please, tell us when you name the day,” I…kind of see where he’s coming from. (I just wish he didn’t ruin it by jabbing, “No hope for you, Mary.” Nigel, NO.)
Sydney and All-Star Paul
Choreographer: Val Chmerkovskiy
“All Stars” by Martin Solveig feat. Alma
Okay, Sydney is a human disco ball, and she has legs for days. Vanessa probably spent this whole routine regretting that she already used up all of her daily allotted compliments about “shining.” At one or two points throughout this routine, Sydney and Paul’s timing seems just a little bit off, but hey: It’s “week one,” guys. Vanessa requests more “oomph” from Sydney (I’ll spare you Nigel’s leering response), and Mary compliments Sydney’s ankles. I love it when this show finds great ballroom people, and we’ve got two this season, but hoo boy are ballroom critiques the weirdest.
Taylor and All-Star Robert
Choreographer: Travis Wall, Contemporary
“Change Is Everything (A Capella Version)” by Son Lux
Thanks to Travis Wall, Taylor literally just started head and shoulders above the competition. (Sorry.) It’s almost unfair to compare what she did — what she was given the opportunity to do — with what everyone else did on that stage. But Taylor is so breathtakingly good here that I can’t do anything other than applaud, and then rewind this routine again and again. This piece, as all of the best Travis Wall pieces do, pulls something raw out of Taylor; it’s like she feels her feelings at a higher level than the rest of us and expresses those feelings by falling to the ground from Robert’s shoulders, artfully and with only minor bruising. Mary says this will be a piece we remember in 10 years; she even goes so far as to put it in her all-time top 10. I love watching dancers’ lives change.
Robert and All-Star Jasmine
Choreographer: Chris Scott, Hip-Hop
“Perm” by Bruno Mars
It’s an entrance only Robert could make: While everyone else ran onto the stage to say hello before their dances, Robert starts in position — in a barber’s chair, back to the audience. Cat calls his name, Jasmine spins him around, and the crowd goes wild. Robert, your people love you! (Am I going to have to call All-Star Robert “All-Star Robert” every time now?)
I have a few questions about what’s really in those hairspray cans because Robert and Jasmine are inhaling clouds of it and that’s dangerous, but aside from the potential toxicity, this routine is, as they say, lit. I just want to be Robert’s best friend. That’s his vibe. He dances like he’s giving the world a bear hug. Everybody’s into it, even Cat’s little boy(!!). Mary calls Robert the best entertainer of the night. Nigel tells Jasmine that she’s come back from Beyoncé’s tour “a beautiful woman.” She was beautiful already, Nige. That’s like the whole point of Beyoncé.
Top 10 and All-Stars
Choreographers: Wade and Amanda Robson, Tony Testa
“This Time” by Son Lux
Wade Robson just gave us a sneak peek at Stranger Things season 2, and it is great. Robert has a stick lantern. The All-Stars are eating flashlights. The newbies are wrapping themselves in tulle skirts. My favorite thing about this and every Wade Robson piece is that it plays like it was inspired by a contour line drawing of the face you saw watching you from the trees on a camping trip when you were 7.
And that’s your top 10 for season 14, America. What did you think of THE STAGE (and the dancers)? Who stays? Who goes? Who will Travis Wall bless next?
CAT DEELEY-ISM OF THE DAY: “He’s a mover, a shaker, the show’s caretaker, and with Mary back, he’s got a new pacemaker.”