Dancers perform classic Mia Michaels routines; four are sent packing. Your Top 10, Ameriker!

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Absence makes the heart grow fonder. It’s a saying, but it may also be a fact. I do cherish the Olympics, but I’ve been missing the SYTYCD family and was hankering to get everyone back in my arms. Tonight: our reunion, replete with hair whipping around and obscuring faces, loads of open-mouthed kissing and two hours of Mia Michaels choreography. Two hours of it! Now, I am not a Mia-Michaels-the-judge fan, but I am a Mia-Michaels-the-choreographer-who-gives-me-feelings fan, so I was looking forward to seeing some of her classic dances re-created. In good ways and bad, Mia is a cat who never fails to entertain me. Plus, high stakes. By the end of tonight, an alarming four (4!) dancers would be sent home and we’d learn who would comprise the top 10, a.k.a the tour group.

So. Let’s talk about what transpired.

The Mia-choreographed group number “Hanging On” is based on her long-distance relationship and it featured swinging, flying, sliding, gliding, climbing, kissing, teased hair and God it looked fun to perform. Eliana, front and center, must have felt right at home with all that upside down dangling, Cirque du Soleil-style. I still cannot and may never get used to Mia’s Diane Keaton haircut. It’s not bad per se, it’s just that I keep expecting to see her short, blond, butch ‘do, which I rather liked, so I’m always surprised to see the bob and find it unsettling. Also unsettling to me: Mia’s gum-chewing during the live show. Naturally, right? Because she’s only being broadcast to, like, six million viewers. Maybe the gum was to announce Casual Vibe. Some movie stars do sunglasses, maybe some choreographers chew gum. To each her own.

Joining Nigel and Mary at the judging table were Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt — both formerly of the London Royal Ballet and now the creators of the BalletBoyz Dance Company — who seemed lovely as people but were maddening as guest judges. Not only had they never seen the original routines (which in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, actually), but they also apparently haven’t watched this season at all and also they quite possibly have never seen the show, ever. Which they kept repeating, like it was a badge of pride. So their comments were entirely without context, and for a show that makes a big deal about considering dancers’ style of training and their growth over the course of a season, this was problematic.

Cyrus and Eliana took the stage first with the Door Dance aka “Mercy,” which I’ve loved ever since Katee and Twitch birthed it/killed it in season four. Cyrus took to the stage with a mean swagger and brought his animation stuff to the role. Eliana was beautiful both dancewise and characterwise, as always, but watching her made me realize just how much Katee really hurled herself around the stage. With Eliana — not surprisingly, since she’s a ballet dancer — everything was a little more placed, a little more controlled. Of course I was expecting and looking forward to some reinterpretation of the routines, but I do feel that this particular one needs more reckless abandon. (And more cowbell.) The general consensus amongst the judges was that the piece was fierce and Eliana was superfierce. At the end of the piece Mia was chewing again, but this time it didn’t seem to be gum. Maybe a mint? Maybe even a cracker? Nigel commented that Cyrus needs to work on lowering his shoulders and that Eliana brought it in the getting-into-character department. Mary said something or other which was when I noticed THE BUTTERFLY RING IS BACK. Also, hello Ryan Ramirez, who was in the audience and also in rehearsal footage assisting Mia. I forgot those two are thick as thieves.

NEXT: I really need to talk to you about the assisted run

Then: a debrief on National Dance Day. Phew. I was dying to hear how it went.

Next up were Tiffany and George performing “Hometown Glory,” which Tiffany said “really hit home because it’s about the struggles of life.” Well, OK. Mia herself describes it as a piece about the juxtaposition between friendship and competition, and you can read more about the story behind this routine and all the others from tonight’s show in this EW.com interview with Mia. . Then came a ton of blather about The Assisted Run. “To re-do the assisted run, it’s just an honor,” George said, to my great confusion. The routine was fiery; these two animals deserved a meaty dance like this after the babysitter’s club hip hop one. T-Maher-Star really throws herself around! Talk about reckless abandon! I keep being surprised at how good she is. It’s as if I have amnesia and every episode am meeting her anew. Does anyone else experience this phenomenon? Who else enjoyed that sweet and tender moment when Cat fixed Tiffany’s wild hair before the judges’ critique? Deeley for the Emmy!

One thing I’ve come to love over the years is that you can always tell when Mary’s about to utter a pre-planned, pre-rehearsed exclamation because she adopts this crazy vocal modulation, a kind of monotone holler not unlike that of a third grader who is shouting her lines in a school play. “CAT, WELL, YOU’RE JUST GONNA HAVE TO CALL 911, CAT, BECAUSE WE HAVE JUST WITNESSED A MURDER ON STAGE 36!” Then in her normal voice she added that George elevated this role. Meaning he surpassed Joshua! Nigel said something about the assisted run, then said this routine was the best we’ve seen of George. He added that at times the couple “over-egged the pudding” (disgusting) and could have afforded to pull back on the emotion. Do you think we’re done talking about the assisted run? We’re not. Michael said Tiffany could have let herself use more assistance on the assisted run. Everyone quite agreed.

Unsurprisingly, Amelia and Will were assigned the Butt Dance, aka “Koop Island Blues.” Amelia seemed unsure whether her bedonk would be worthy and junky enough for this piece. You can do it! I thought. But I was underwhelmed from the moment I saw that slow, opposite of sexy dip at the beginning. Will fared better than his partner, but overall the piece lacked the cool jazz vibe it needed, and it was also missing the melty, gooey, soupiness (to borrow a term from Christina Applegate, if I may) of Randi and Evan’s performance. Amelia just wasn’t liquid enough. Maybe Mia felt same because as the piece ended, she couldn’t even be bothered to focus on applauding; instead she was busy chatting with her neighbor while clapping absently. Nigel commented that Will tried to bring character to the routine, Amelia should have been more coquettish and Randi’s butt will always really be the face of this piece. Billy said he hasn’t seen the original routine but this one was great!

What is Will doing clinging to my wine rack?[/caption]

NEXT: You’re a great little dancer

Janelle and Dareian were assigned the piece I would have bet $100 plus all the candy I have in the house that they’d get: the Bed Dance, aka “Dreaming with a Broken Heart,” aka the piece featuring very little technical dancing, especially for the girl. Janelle said she could relate to the piece because her relationship is on edge at this very minute, and it was then that I realized I must not be super into Janelle, because I didn’t want to hear more. “Tell your story!” Mia said. With your body, she meant, because the segment was over.

Indeed, it wasn’t the most technical piece in the world, but it still let us see Janelle actually dance more than we have to date. Still, though, she was largely invisible, which was a theme that ran through the judges’ feedback. Nigel said it was the first time we’ve seen Dareian’s personality. “You’re a great little dancer,” he said to Dareian, as if he was a Keebler elf. Michael said he’d never seen this piece before but Janelle’s flowing hair sometimes stole focus from her dancing, and what’s with Dareian’s sickled feet? Billy said “Whoever this Titch guy is, he’s responsible for some great movement,” and the end goodbye.

I loved how sweet Audrey and Matthew were during rehearsals, the way they were really fretting about doing “Time” justice and making Mia happy. These guys definitely embody two little animals, though I’m not sure which species. Tiny badgers? I don’t know. Something furry and kind.

It’s nice to see a father daughter piece in the midst of all these lover-y pieces — angry lovers, loving lovers, breakfast-eating lovers, feline lovers — but this routine is just dreadful. I didn’t even take pleasure in the cheerful, colorful flowers being tossed whimsically in the air and strewn all over each other’s faces. Ugh. Nigel said a smart thing, which is that Matthew missed the “song and dance man” aspect of Mia’s dad that Neil had been able to capture. That’s so true. Mary had a full-on crying jag and when she was done said she didn’t feel passion from Matthew, but Audrey is a shining star. Billy said that Matthew drops out from time to time, like when he’s prepping for a lift. By this point, Matthew looked utterly devastated and like he might be on the edge of some kind of sadness-induced collapse. These comments may have been true, but also true: the expression on Matthew’s face at the very beginning of the routine when Audrey waved to him made me crumble into weepy bits.

Witney and Chehon, a couple I’m sloooowly starting to root for more and more, got the Bench Dance, aka “Calling You.” I loved hearing Chehon talk about how Melanie’s solo — her stillness, in particular — affected him last season. The performance was beautiful and Mia seemed over the moon about it. I always detect a certain emotional coldness in Chehon’s dancing, but in this piece, possibly because of the story, it was less noticeable. The dancers said they knew the background story to this routine, but Nigel retold it anyway in a lovely fashion and it was beautiful to hear. Mary said Chehon could afford to let go a little and be less controlled. Michael said Chehon’s always got a job with BalletBoyz! If he wants it!

NEXT: Nearly a third of the dancers get the axe

It turns out Cole is friends with Mark Kanemura because they dance at the same studio in Hawaii, and turns out Lindsay loved that Travis and Benji routine from season two so much that at age 12, she and a friend learned the choreography, got in costume, filmed themselves performing it, and put it on the internet. I love this so much, especially in light of the insanely low production values of her video (Did you catch the piano?). Mary said that not only is this is Mia’s best routine but it was the best routine of the night and it was the best routine for both of the dancers — or at least that’s what she seemed to be saying. Nigel said these two came out on top of everyone and that Cole scared the sh*t out of him with his “psychotically mental” performance. Yeah. Thank God Cole didn’t insist on staying in character for the judges’ feedback tonight.

Results time, yo.

This was disheartening. We had to go back to performances from three weeks ago, which seemed ludicrous. Four dancers would be eliminated, which also seemed ludicrous. And all this was just a reminder to again wonder whether tonight’s performances really mattered at all, and, if so, how much.

The bottom three guys were George, Dareian and Matthew. The bottom three girls were Amelia, Janelle and Lindsay. Amelia and Lindsay seemed particularly shaken, while Matthew seemed to have recovered a bit from earlier.

When Nigel said he wanted all six to dance solos, they seemed relieved and happy. George’s solo stood out, not just for his movement but also because of his music from Explosions in the Sky, the band that does all that moody, stirring, Texas-scape music for Friday Night Lights. Amelia and Matthew were just OK for me. Damien Rice puts me to sleep, so sue me. Dareian’s solo was explosive but characteristically manic. Janelle and Lindsay’s solos were thrilling in their respective specialties, and Lindsay’s pink fringed dress was the biggest star of all. Though, of course, one can’t help but wonder while watching these solos whether they actually have any practical purpose at all.

The two saved dancers: George and Lindsay. I’m satisfied with this decision. I don’t think Amelia should be sent home, but I supposed that’s what happens when you have to cut four.

For a quick moment I got excited at the prospect that Audrey and Will would be paired — interspecies coupling! — until I remembered the all-stars begin next week and all the couples will be split apart anyway.

Onward, then.

So, what did you think of tonight, in particular the contestants performing choreography that other dancers had already made their own? Did you think it put the dancers at a disadvantage, or do you agree with Nigel’s point that this is a fitting challenge since professional dancers are often asked to jump into roles that others have originated? What did you make of tonight’s eliminations? What’s your take on the new format? And, who caught Will’s sweet forehead kiss for Amelia during the end-of-show Awkward Jam? Do you think Nappytabs will put London Riley in the crib they used for last ep’s hip hop piece?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. And — welcome back!

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