All-stars return to the scene for dancing and praise; strong performances abound; two more are sent home

By Meredith Hoffa
Updated August 23, 2012 at 09:25 AM EDT
Credit: Fox
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Tonight: the “unleashing” of all-stars, dancers performing outside their genres, and a soft-spoken, blue-eyed Frenchman. Welcome… to So You Think You Can Dance.

The night started with a group piece by Tyce: a jazzilicious tribute to Gene Kelly in honor of what would have been his 100th birthday. Eliana — aka Legs McGee — was front and center all glammed out and slinky and legging it up, and man did I love those nautical theme outfits on the girls. Especially Tiffany! How cute was she in the role of the jester sailor? Also, I honestly, genuinely got a thrill from seeing Tyce dance! Go Keith, go!

Listen, here’s what I’ll say about Cat’s dress. It went a little too far in the “sack” direction for my taste. But would Cat look stunning in a burlap sack? She would. And so she certainly still looked stunning in a silver sparkly sack. And what a successful, simple low bun, I thought.

Joining Nigel and Mary tonight was choreographer Benjamin Millepied, whose credits include choreographing for Black Swan, marrying Natalie Portman, and, apparently, having a resting heart rate of five. What a mellow fellow! He’s knowledgeable about dance and had intelligent comments for the dancers, and while I’d guess that he is not *hugely* familiar with these particular performers, he managed to be polite and encouraging and respectful, unlike the silly BalletBoyz of yesterweek.

Tiffany teamed up with all star Brandon for a Doriana Sanchez disco. I was happy to see this guy! In addition to having enjoyed Brandon as a dancer in season 5, I’ll always remember him as one of the people Mia Michaels was super rude to back in her ill-fated judging days. At one point, I remember Mia saying to him something like “I just don’t like you.” Like, that was her post-performance feedback for him. Put your feelings into your dances, Mia!

This disco routine was a perfect fit for Tiffany’s athleticism and energy and whole vibe. The choreography allowed her to be just the right proportions of cute and sassy and sexy and fiery. As I was discussing with a friend this week, Tiffany may not have the obvious elegance or maturity of movement of an Eliana, but it’s possible she’s the best all-around female dancer in this group (Yeah, I said it!). She’s got an abundance of cuteness, though, and sometimes her elfin, spritely qualities overshadow the beauty in her dancing. So this disco seemed like a perfect match for her. Nigel loved it and said she was a star. Mary thought she set the dance floor on fire. Benjamin said positive things in an accent that I was surprised didn’t sound Frencher. Me: That lift where she froze in a split and then got hoisted up onto Brandon’s shoulder? Holy crapballs. I loved these two cute nuggets rocking out together. It was a blood-pumping way to start off the show.

NEXT: I’d like to buy a ticket for the Hot Tamale Train please?

Witney was paired with all-star Nick Lazzarini (who I’ve just been getting to know and adore on All the Right Moves) to perform a Travis Wall jazz bit about ghosts romping around in an abandoned lounge. Loved everything about this performance, from Witney’s black getup to her waved ‘do to the mesmerizing, deeply satisfying way the two dancers lived in the music. The piece was hot stuff without being overly sexual. Mary said “LORD HAVE MURPHY, YOU WERE SMOLDERING!” Nigel said Witney translated every beat, and with work like that, she could go all the way. Then there was a shot of her mom and aunt in audience who both appeared to be 25 years old.

Next up, Cole and Anya did a cha cha to “Glad You Came,” choreographed by Dmitry Chaplin, who my eyes now interpret as a slightly handsomer version of Arie from The Bachelorette. Cole went in with high hopes; his goal was to be the first top tenner to get on the Hot Tamale train. The performance was fast and sweaty and not good for me, actually, as he made me squirmy with his put-on hamminess and Ballroom Face. But before feedback for Cole could get underway, there were several comments about Anya’s hotness and overall amazingness (which I soon realized is a matter of course for every female all-star that performs) including a vaguely leering “Glad you came” from Uncle Nigel. Stop it! But I do have to agree with Nigel that Anya’s blond hair looks rad.

Mary loved the performance but put Anya, a non-contestant, on the hot tamale train instead of Cole. Awkward! Mary assured Cole he was still train-adjacent though; in fact, she said he’s even on the platform at the station. Her one critique was that the routine lacked chemistry. Agreed. At this point, though, I’m convinced that Cole doesn’t do chemistry. Moves and characters, yes; chemistry no. Benjamin commented that Cole should think more about contrast in his movement so there’s more for us to look at. I like that note a lot. Merci. Nigel said to Cole “You’re performing to us without the connection to Anya first,” and to that I say amen, Uncle.

Lindsay and Jakob did a Spencer Liff Broadway number to “Dancin’ Dan (Me and My Shadow)” about shadows coming to life. Unison was absolutely required in order to make the piece work. And it really worked. This was flat out, old school jazz – yet innovative and modern and full of sophistication as well. I loved the seamless transitions as the dancers moved in and out from behind the screen. The overall effect was beautiful. All season I’ve had a profoundly neutral reaction to Lindsay, and while I cannot say tonight changed that, I was quite impressed with her side aerial in heels. When they finished the piece, my main observations were 1) Lindsay looks about as out of breath as a person who just jogged four feet, and 2) Jakob is pretty. Mary commented that Jakob is from another dance planet and then she put him on the hot tamale train, woo hoo! Mary. NO. Simmer down. Wrong dancer. Stop putting all-stars on the hot tamale train. Benjamin said there was a great crescendo element to the performance. D’accord, Benjamin. D’accord.

NEXT: Cyrus takes on contemporary

Next up, Will and Kathryn took on Bollywood routine from Nakul Dev Mahajan about a snake charmer who’s trying to lure out a sexy lady, but the sexy lady is actually a snake. In rehearsal footage, Will got on a loop talking about Kathryn’s attractiveness, and she reciprocated by acknowledging his cuteness. Let’s face it, Will is a joy to watch no matter what he does. In this routine, his spirit and personality and energy were all there, but his moves just weren’t crisp, tight or sharp enough. I’m surprised the judges didn’t mention Will’s technique at all. What they did mention is what a pleasure it is to watch him. They also mentioned how proud they are of themselves that Kathryn has turned out so great. Best part of this performance: when Cat played the microphone flute while humming doo doo doo doo doo. Second best part was the person in the audience wearing a “Will Power” muscle tee.

Q.) What’s cuter than a cuddly, smiling koala dancing? A.) A koala in a headband!

Cyrus danced with all-star Jaimie — who I’m also getting to know from Travis’ show, and who, to me, is 95% Leslie Mann — and they did a contemporary piece by Travis about life after destruction. I was very interested indeed to see how this would go. It seemed to me Cyrus would be so exposed doing a contemporary routine. But boy was it smart of the show to assign Cyrus to Travis, a choreographer whose pieces are all so visually arresting and emotionally poignant and concrete in their storylines. If anyone could help make Cyrus look good in a contemporary piece, it’d be Travis. And this piece was really gorgeous. That yellow dot of the sun trying to peek through the darkness at the beginning was dramatic. And Cyrus performed. Sure, he didn’t really dance much, but he did well with what he was given, namely lifts and partner work and compelling storytelling. Benjamin said Cyrus’ raw energy is exciting. Mary said all Cyrus has to do is merely walk and it touches us — the equivalent, if you will, of Randy Jackson’s “you could read the phonebook, dawg…” Nigel said he’s proud of the show for stretching Cyrus. “You’re brilliant,” he said to Cyrus, secretly meaning “I’m brilliant for grooming you on my brilliant show.”

I so wanted to give Jaimie a barrette.

Next up was Chehon who was paired with Lauren G for a Dave Scott hip hop number. This was another dance I felt both excited and nervous about. Chehon doing hip hop? Well, yeah, turns out it was definitely weird. He was so upright. He wasn’t “in the pocket” if I may borrow a phrase from Mary. It wasn’t a great performance. But I was jazzed that the show was throwing a challenge at him. And I was thrilled that he went for it, and thrilled that he was doing something other than a huge Nutcracker leap into a kneeling position. As he grinned and awkwardly hip hopped across the stage I thought to myself I’ve never liked him more. Nigel commented that Chehon was “warmer” than ever and that this routine was the first step of throwing the hook out there and reeling us in (towards liking him). Mary said something about a slinky groove hop and then added that the routine wasn’t great but Chehon accomplished a lot. Benjamin said his charisma came out. Yay, Chehon!

Sidenote: Lauren’s dancer/therapist outfit.

Additional sidenote: Dave Scott’s teeth!

NEXT: Stop pushing me away with your mustache

George and Allison learned a Tyce routine about a guy who misses his train because he gets distracted by a woman; then they go wild in Paris all night long. “To him, I’m worth missing that train,” Allison explained in a voice that made me feel she was auditioning to be a spokesperson for something.

Here’s the thing about George. I’ve liked him ever since he shared his story about being a track star and switching to dance and trying to get his family on board with it. I also love what his body can do; his technique is lovely. But I have never *cared* about George. Perhaps the the mustache is partially to blame. Maybe it’s distancing. But George is a perfect example of a skilled dancer who I just don’t connect with, and apparently America feels the same, if his regular presence in the bottom for results is any indication.

Mary loved it. Benjamin called it “exceptional” and said George attacked every step. But Nigel had to bring some truthiness. He said the technique was good but he didn’t believe the character. So. Immediately it seemed clear that George would be in danger come results time.

Eliana got to dance with ALEX F. WONG tonight because it was time for her to finally dance with an actual partner, and what partner could possibly be a dreamier, better fit for her than the AFW? Stacey Tookie choreographed a contemporary piece to Nancy Sinatra’s cover of “Bang Bang” about an on again off again relationship. This quiet, still and powerful piece rocked and was my favorite of the night. What about that shoulder stand Eliana did on AFW’s shoulders! And what about the burnt-looking, reddish stage populated by lonely, leafless trees? Perfectly haunting. There was a standing O amongst our resident judges and then, eventually, Monsieur Millepied as well. Nigel said Eliana is his favorite girl of the competition. Mary said the routine was by far her favorite of the night and that it had “so many layers like the perfect tiramisu.” Benjamin said the performance was driven by passion. Bonjour. In any case, this performance confirmed what we all suspected: with an actual partner, this girl is unstoppable. In other news, Stacey makes me want to cut my hair into a cute bob.

Last up was Audrey, who was paired with tWitch for a Dave Scott hip hop routine about a 400 year old couple who love and hate each other. I really got the love and hate from them, and I really got the 400 years old from the way they crawled out of a coffin. It was good. Audrey was no hard-hitting T-Maher-Star, but she was solid. The judges were lukewarm, though. Benjamin essentially said Audrey was carried by tWitch, while Nigel said the dancing was good, but he wanted to see more character from Audrey along the lines of Helena Bonham Carter. For God’s sake. That was the most nonsense comment of the night and made it clear Audrey must be in danger. Oh, and then Nigel added that he’s so proud of this show for creating tWitch.

Results time, y’all!

NEXT: My thoughts on the new format

Why the results portion of the show had to get moving so quickly when we still had 30 minutes to fill, I don’t know. But poor Audrey had barely caught her breath when the dancers were lined up by Mama Cat for the terror portion of the evening – and wouldn’t you know it: bottom two girls were Witney and Audrey, the bottom two guys Chehon and George. Would you like to see everyone do their solos? Yes, you would, because we still need to fill 25 minutes of show. Solos happened. Then we were treated (?) to the L.A. Dance Project with a piece choreographed by Benjamin that was just the worst. The sleepy music, the grey, drab hues of the set and the dancers’ clothing. Speaking of the dancers’ clothing, did they have to wear American Apparel sweats? Could they not have sprung for just a simple costume to mark the fact that they’re performing on national television? C’est dommage. Sorry je hated your dance.

But back to results.The judges saved Witney and Chehon, and while no one likes an I-told-you-so moment, I told myself so. Audrey and George are out. I will miss Audrey, but I won’t miss her baby voice. I prefer George to Chehon, but the guy has shown up in the bottom, votes-wise, so many times now, perhaps it was his time to go. That sounds like “die” when I put it that way – but obviously I just mean “go” in SYTYCD terms.

And now. A word about the new format:

Clearly it’s not working so hot.

It’s not all bad though. There are some positive things. Let’s start with those.

I like the way the show’s gotten all scrappy in trying to make the most of the hand it was dealt. No, producers haven’t hit on the right solution yet. But it was FOX that made the decision to eliminate the results show, and, ever since that announcement, Nigel and Co have been putting a positive spin on the situation and trying to find a format that works. Their attitude seems to be if this is what it takes to keep the show on the air, we’ll work with it, and for that resourcefulness, I’m happy. All is best, obviously, but some is better than none and I want as much SYTYCD as I can get.

Also, I appreciate that results aren’t dragged out for an hour. How Cat ever managed to fill all that airtime I don’t know (I do know. She is Two-Time Emmy Nominee Cat Deeley and we are going to have our sleepover soon!). And, agree or don’t with the judges’ elimination decisions but overall I think it’s a good thing that they have time to make their decision in a non-rushed way.

NEXT: More thoughts on the new format (almost done)

Related to that, the best thing to come of this new format is the idea that choreographers should now be consulted in the process. I don’t know to what degree this is currently happening, but it’s the right thinking. They *should* have a voice. Was the dancer conscientious and game and kind? Generous to his or her partner? Or did he have a holier-than-thou, arrogant attitude and yes, Daniel the Aussie, I’m talking to you. Seems to me it’d be useful to know whether a dancer overcame huge hurdles on the choreography day, say, or whether she took to the material seamlessly yet still openly embraced the process- or whathaveyou. If I was the judging panel, I’d want to know these things.

Other aspects of the new format aren’t working quite as well.

One obvious problem has been the quadruple eliminations which are flat out alarming and soul-deflating and a decision that I bet Uncle Nigel also regrets and won’t try again in subsequent seasons. Combine events on the calendar — July 4th, the Olympics — with the show starting from a top 20 rather than a top 16, and when you do the math, the mass eliminations are a foregone conclusion. Four dancers dismissed at once means that inevitably some top contenders get booted. Someone might get lower votes one week for any number of flukey reasons, and in previous years that person could be saved. Not necessarily so with the four-person eliminations. Frankly, this seems against the spirit of the show, especially when it happens on a big night, like last week’s show that set the top 10.

As for the “new rules” themselves: If they really played out the way Nigel advertised — where dancers in the bottom six would *actually* be assessed in part based on their current week’s performance and any DANCE FOR YOUR LIFE! solos ordered up — then I could get behind it. Theoretically it sounds fair, and seems like as good a plan as any for solving the problem created by the lack of results show.

But in practice, this isn’t happening. The judges seem to have made up their minds in advance about who will go home, and neither the current week’s performance nor the solo (i.e. filler) seem to actually factor in. Look at last week’s joint goodbye video to Amelia and Janelle, which had their footage woven in together. As one of the commenters smartly pointed this out last week, it’s not like that had been thrown together during a commercial break. And just look at the correlation between the feedback the judges’ give and the dancers who get sent home at the end of the night? It’s hard not to notice the forecasting/justifying. It’s maddening for viewers at home to see a great performance that they can’t vote for. (Truthfully, though, I’m not concerned with the fact that dancers have to learn and perform a new routine when they’re actually already off the show but just don’t know it yet; they’re getting one more chance to showcase their talents in front of millions of people including potential employers, and to me that seems like a pretty valuable opportunity. With the old format, this dancer would have been cut six days prior and would not have had that opportunity.) So, as I see it, the most glaring problem with the new format is the disconnect between what the show states it’s doing and what it actually is doing.

What we’re stuck with now is a process that feels way too compressed. In previous seasons, dancers got to enjoy a post-show celebration feeling. I always loved their after-show rock-out-on stage time! As it is now, the contestants don’t get any time to bask, any time to take a deep breath. It’s all abrupt announcements and terrified dancer-faces. It seems to me there must be a happy medium out there somewhere. I just hope the show is granted the opportunity to stick around long enough that Nigel et al can find it. Thank you and good night.

(Oh – one other small regret? We’ve lost an opportunity to see new fashions from Cat. Two frocks per week, I was accustomed to. One is paltry.)

So – what did you think of tonight’s routines? Which were your favorites? Were you pleased to see the all-stars? What did you think of eliminations? If Cyrus was ever voted into the bottom, do you think the judges would save him or not? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Episode Recaps

So You Think You Can Dance

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