The Secret Life of Insects

By Kelly Connolly
August 15, 2017 at 01:15 AM EDT
Tyler Golden/FOX
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Oh, hello, dance fans. Did you enjoy last week’s episode, which was so packed with big reveals and Travis Wall and NO ELIMINATIONS that we didn’t even have time for the customary intro package? That’s done now. We’ve got so much story this week — so much raw, unfiltered concept — that even Cat’s wardrobe can’t escape it. In honor of the 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Fever, the dancers open the show with a groovy disco routine choreographed by Mandy Moore and Val Chmerkovskiy. Everyone looks so shiny. This is, by far, the most I’ve ever tolerated the Bee Gees. Send a cake to the wig department.

Also, somebody’s going home, and it’s far too early in the season for me to be as sad about this one as I am. Hey, did you want this fun dance competition show to remind you that votes often end in disappointment? COOL, GOOD.

But let’s table that for a minute and get to the stories.

Mark and All-Star Comfort
Choreographer: Ray Leeper, Jazz
“Hater” by Various Production

Our concept this evening: Ray Leeper casts Mark and Comfort as a “couple who still want to be together, but it’s probably not a good idea,” otherwise known as the guiding principle behind 90 percent of SYTYCD routines. This is a “very aggressive, very sexy” number that gives Mark and Comfort plenty of opportunities to show off their fiery dynamic, but as sharp as it is, it isn’t the most technical jazz routine out there. Is it too much to ask Mark to try, like, a switch leap? Someone challenge that boy; he’s definitely got the confidence for it. (When Cat brings out the top 10, everyone else takes the opportunity to show off a big move. Mark just stands there, crosses his arms, and smiles. Rufio.)

Anyway, Mary says she couldn’t keep her eyes off Mark, and I’m with her there. I’m just waiting for the proof that he’s got the skills to back up his whole [think of me as Miranda Priestly pushing her glasses down her nose]…vibe.

Lex and All-Star Gaby
Choreographers: Miriam Larici and Leonardo Barrionuevo, Argentine Tango
“Red & Black (Rojo y Negro)” by Ryota Komatsu

Ah, the Argentine Tango. Nigel calls it “one of the most sexiest styles of dance ever” (!) and recommends it as relationship therapy, which is not his worst idea. I don’t feel like this dance gave Lex many opportunities to show off, but he used his arms as a jump rope and hopped right through ’em tonight when Cat called his name, so that gave everything he did for the rest of the night pizzazz by default. And yet this was still just an average Argentine Tango. My sentiments are best summed up by Mary, the only judge whose critiques matter after a ballroom routine: needs more steam. Some moments were spectacular (the slow lift!). Some moments were awkward (anything that involved their limbs interlocking, which is kind of the whole crux of the Argentine Tango).

As for Vanessa, whose new thing is to show everybody her shoulder like she’s making eyes at them from across the club, she tells Lex, “Keep doing your thing,” which is also what I feel like telling her sometimes. Keep doing your thing, boo.

Kiki and All-Star Jenna
Choreographer: Luther Brown, Hip-Hop
“Caroline” by Aminé

HOLY EYELINER, BATMAN, KIKI HAS A MONEY GUN AND JENNA’S IN A FUR COAT. Oh, did other things happen?

RIDICULOUS props aside, I was Not That Into this number, which turned Kiki and Jenna into his-and-hers Jared Leto Jokers (nooooooooooooo) celebrating a successful heist. The judges went wild for this one (Mary: “I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHO YOU ARE ANYMORE”), but I wish they had been a little harder on Kiki, who still needs to work on getting down in the pocket (and other hip-hop terminology). He benefited from the fact that he was playing a character with flair; if he ever actually has to get dirty, he might not fare so well.

That said, I would watch an hourlong segment about Kiki learning hip-hop routines every week with a song in my heart. He calls it “hippity-hop.” His glasses are back (and in danger). He says things like, “I hope I can tap into my inner freak.” Oh, honey. You can’t, but thanks for not sending Viola Davis any weird gifts.

Sydney and All-Star Paul
Choreographer: Jaci Royal, Contemporary
“The Letting Go” by Melissa Etheridge

Sydney, who broke up with her boyfriend to leave her small town and pursue her dreams in the big city, is playing a character this week who has to break up with her small-town boyfriend in order to pursue her dreams in the big city. Dance what you know, right?? Her work in this piece doesn’t wow me compared to the other contemporary performances we’ve seen on this show, or even this season. But this piece in general didn’t stand out — it felt like a new arrangement of moves we’ve seen 10 times before, right down to The Run — so maybe it’s unfair to hold that against Sydney. But what else can we do? Vanessa liked her control, but, like Mary, I was more drawn to the moments when Sydney “let it go.” Get it? Like the title of the song she danced to? No, not that one.

Logan and All-Star Allison
Choreographer: Brian Friedman, Jazz Fusion
“In the Morning” by Jaded

Here we are: a blind date set in the future. This dance is a BLIND DATE SET IN THE FUTURE. I MEAN. What keeps me coming back to SYTYCD is its capacity to deliver new art every week, and while I’m more a fan of the impressionists myself, I’m glad there’s a whole wing of this museum for jazz fusion pieces about things like blind dates set in the future, which open with intro packages in which the choreographer will say, “This piece is a blind date set in the future,” and the dancers will nod, “Got it, tell me no more,” and go do their work.

And yes, one of those dancers is Allison, who’s back from her shoulder injury and ready for a blind date set in the future, though I hope I don’t live long enough to see people wear…that. It took me a while to look past those costumes (also, I don’t know anyone who does any of that on a first date), but these two were delivering incredible tricks (or, as Vanessa would say, “moments of wow”) behind all that plastic. Logan did a flip into a side split and then pulled himself up from that split with just his legs, and it was only his third-coolest trick. The judges all agree that he can do anything. So far, the evidence says they’re right. Also? He seems sweet. (Recap continues on page 2)

DANCE BREAK: Blessin, the stepper from the Los Angeles auditions, is back! The show kept its word, and now she and her team — the Lethal Ladies — get to perform for a national audience. The All-Stars join in, but they do this every week; it’s those girls I couldn’t stop thinking about. What an opportunity. I want the very best for them. (As Cat notes, they can also be seen in the documentary STEP, which is already playing in select theaters.)

Kaylee and All-Star Cyrus
Choreographers: Phoenix and Pharside, Hip-Hop
“I’m Better” by Missy Elliot feat. Lamb

This piece is also big on concept: Kaylee and Cyrus are aliens dropped into human bodies. Judging by the costumes, those human bodies are company members in West Side Story. It’s a step in the right direction for Kaylee, who impresses the judges when she balances on Cyrus’ back using only her hands. Nigel is glad she got to be “unique” again. I’m all for uniqueness, but this is dance, Nigel! Sometimes you have to blend and adapt. We can’t all be principals for Cooper Nielson.

Taylor and All-Star Robert
Choreographer: Al Blackstone, Broadway
“The Man That Got Away” by Judy Garland

If you aren’t putty in the hands of a Broadway streetlight, get out of here. This dance is a charmer. Inspired by classic film noir, Al Blackstone casts Taylor and Robert as a pair of star-crossed lovers, and they sing — not literally, but they make me believe they could. The choreography is kicky and romantic: the perfect blend of smooth moves and snappy contractions. Taylor is, simply, a star, in the most classic Old Hollywood sense. (I was worried, based on a single one-second shot in that intro package, that she might go all Dance Face on us. Crisis averted.) Everybody’s thinking about when they discovered musical theater for the first time. Everybody’s crying. I am everybody.

Koine and All-Star Marko
Choreographer: Sean Cheesman, African Jazz
“Speaking in Tongues II” by Sheila Chandra

From the same wing of the SYTYCYD Museum that brought us “blind date in the future,” it’s “the mysterious life of an insect”! But take heart: The inspiration is much more subtle here. Sean Cheesman sucks the air out of the room with this weird, intricate, inward-looking piece, which almost feels like a spiritual successor to Hok and Jaimie’s hummingbird and flower. Koine and Marko are haunting and fierce, and they succeed at staying on the same beat, which can’t be easy for a song that barely even has a beat.

Cat gets to keep that headdress, right?

Robert and All-Star Jasmine
Choreographer: Stacey Tookey, Contemporary
“Otherside” by Perfume Genius

Judges, if you hear someone yelling “WHAT DIDN’T YOU SEE IN ROBERT?!” at you telepathically, that’s me. First of all, let’s cut to Robert crying after last week’s show: “I never thought I was good enough. I just feel like so many people can do more than they think they can achieve.” And then let’s rewatch this routine with open hearts and ready minds, because I can’t find an angle where his “inner pain” doesn’t come across.

Robert plays a “broken-down” guy who connects with Jasmine, a hotel employee who feels similarly worn down. The whole vibe of it just aches, right down to the red neon HOTEL sign glowing in the background. Jasmine is, obviously, incredible, but Robert more than holds his own; he’s graceful and strong and has a solid center when he spins. There are tears in his eyes when he finishes. What am I missing?

Dassy and All-Star Fik-Shun
Choreographer: Nakul Dev Mahajan, Bollywood
“Radha Nachegi” from Tevar (Soundtrack)

Again, what am I missing? The judges are all delighted by this Bollywood number, but for me, it was the biggest miss of the night. For such a sharp dancer, Dassy isn’t sharp or controlled here; she even slips coming out of a lift. (I’m glad she’s okay.) And her “sexy” vibe is more cute than anything. “When you smiled, it made me blush,” Vanessa says. Same, but not for the same reasons.

And now, the bad news.

BOTTOM THREE: Logan, Sydney, Robert

ELIMINATED: Robert

During Robert’s solo, I wrote, “Man, I love this guy,” in my notes, so this one goes out to Robert. Man, I loved that guy.

Episode Recaps

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