Season 9's live shows kick off with a ridiculous number of memorable routines
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Oh brother. Tonight gave me a major case of Jazz Hands.

LOVED this episode. It was our first night of competition with the shiny, new top 20, and everything in SYTYCD-land just sparkled. Not only was the evening brimming over with phenomenal dancing and choreography, but there are just so many lovable faces in this bunch. So many great smiles! So many dancers I want to smush like Play-Doh and stick in my tote bag! Plus, there was Cat looking like sunshine itself in that warm, golden-flecked dress, and Kenny Ortega, the choreographer/producer/director along for the ride as guest judge. I always forget about him but it’s possible he’s the loveliest of the bunch. No, he does not call people child, but here is a reasonable man speaking in consistently smart sentences about dance and life. I’ll take it. Plus, nobody puts baby in a corner.

The night started off with a Mad Men-esque office themed group piece by Christopher Scott. Glitch was in front which made me glad, because I’ve been prepared to get grumbly if it seemed like choreographers were planning to spend the season hiding him in the back. Dareian’s thrilling pirouettes and the piece as a whole provided an explosive kick off to the show. Christopher Scott’s is another face I want to hold in my hands.

Micro-solos! They’re back. Man, I got excited when these came on. A genuine shiver of excitement. It’s like being enveloped in a warm hug, or seeing an old friend. In the spirit of keeping it real I’ll mention here that sometimes for the These are the girlsAnd here are your guys part, my husband and I like to chassé — in our own styles — across the living room. Too much information? Well. There it is.

So before we got to the couples, Nigel announced that next week, the bottom 2 girls and the bottom 2 guys will be sent home. I appreciate the swift clip at which we’re moving! I do wish, though, that we could take a little more time to get to know the dancers, especially since personality is so important as Nigel is always reminding everyone. The Nine Second Bio from each dancer can go, as far as I’m concerned. Who cares what everyone’s favorite color is or which insect they’re afraid of? Give me 30+ seconds or give me none!

Our first couple, Witney and Chehon, “drew” a samba choreographed by Louis van Amstel. Seeing the rehearsal footage really made me nervous. Chehon claimed he couldn’t move his hips and indeed that did seem to be the case. But the piece came together tonight, largely because Witney is a dazzling meteor. She is so technically skilled and also just so watchable, like on a human being level. And I love the way she looks so alive and plugged in when she dances but never employs dance face. Chehon is a perfectly sexy drink of water and did a great job being that and looking strong and competent even though he didn’t really achieve the samba thing. Nigel’s feedback for Chehon was to relax and enjoy it more, to “give in to it,” which I think was meant to be encouraging but came off as dismissive. It’s silly, really, because it wasn’t that Chehon was being stiff; he’s just trained in a different genre and has a completely different set of physical skills. Mary put Witney on the hot tamale train — again — but this time it was a first class ticket. Champagne (or sparkling cider) and an eye mask for this child! Kenny commented that Witney was hotter than Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot. So true. She does have a Marilyn Monroe bombshell look and vibe.

NEXT: Down n’ dirty

Next Tiffany and George performed a contemporary piece from Sonya Tayeh about two people so in love it takes their breath away. Truth: I appreciated the lack of concrete story. I’m all for background and plot in dance routines, but sometimes the absence of that is a relief. And here the conceit was perfectly straightforward, and because the dancers were so committed and connected, the feeling came across loud and clear. The two delivered a weightless, ribbon-y performance that was all control underneath. It’s funny, George’s build and lines are such that in my mind he’s 11 feet tall, so it was odd to see him stand next to Cat who actually towered over him. In other news, I loved learning that Sonya screamed “Come on, babies!” from the audience. She’s always so amped up for her dancers to rock the house, isn’t she? Over at the jidging table, Kenny said that the two dancers were generous to one another, which I thought was another A+ comment, and then he goes “You spilled it!” which is a phrase I’m going to start trying to use in my daily life (I’ll let you know how it goes.). Nigel commented that Sonya’s gone from quirky to all soft and romantic, and that Tiffany and George both dance right through all the way to their fingertips. Speaking of fingertips, I’d like to tell T-Maher-Star that I have baby hands too! I’d also like to tell her to cool it with the mugging during phone number time. It’s the worst.

Janaya — whose dance jumpsuits I simply adore yet who will be gone from this show soon, I bet — and Brandon took the stage next for a NappyTabs hip hop routine about an alcoholic choosing between his ladylove and his addiction. The good news is that Tabitha is, not surprisingly, the cutest pregnant woman ever. The not as good news is this that this routine fell flat for me. There is a certain type of NappyTabs routine I love, yet this overly literal kind is not one of them. It made me feel like I was in an all-school assembly in my middle school auditorium watching a visiting dance-theatre troupe perform an educational piece about the dangers of substance abuse. I did think NappyTabs did a nice job creating a routine that was less hard-hitting and more fluid in order to fit these particular dancers, but I liked their next piece so much better. More on that one in a few, hold your horses! Anyway, Nigel commented that Janaya needs to get down and dirtier which is something he likes to say regularly, and some day if I get the time I’ll string them together into a little video montage. Nigel’s sum up: Janaya and Brandon both need to do more and stand out as stars if they’re gonna stick around. That is, he is already laying the groundwork for the first dismissals. But Brandon’s smile is so darling. I do hope we get to see more of him.

NEXT: Hot kitty in the city

Alexa and Daniel got a Sean Cheesman jazz routine, but first came the couples’ combined 18 seconds of bio, which involved poor Alexa trying really hard to be the bubbly girl the judges have told her to be and Daniel being disarmingly funny in his I’m-an-Aussie bit. Perhaps we have a dancer-comedian in our midst!? In rehearsal, the partnering did look really hard and it made me worried. But come performance time, there were a lot of things I loved: the red suits, Alexa’s straight hair whipping around, the two dancers rolling and skulking around inside the scaffolding. I was glad Nigel made a point to remind the audience how difficult the routine was. Kenny said that Alexa and Daniel conquered the piece as an exercise but not as a performance. I think I agree with that, but I’m trying to be careful to keep issues of dancing and choreography separate, since I hate it when the dancers take the flak for choreography that falls short in one way or another or just doesn’t gel with someone’s taste. Not every piece can be — or tries to be — a gut-wrenching Travis Wall piece.

Next, Amber and Nick took on a Jason Gilkison Viennese Waltz, but not before we learned that Amber loves bunnies (?) and Nick’s dad works at the Playboy mansion. What’s that, sir? Tell me more about that! But we can’t hear more about that, he only has .2 seconds left. Meanwhile, expectations for Nick were high since he was dancing in his own genre, and Jason even lost his cool at one point and yelled and it was surprising only because it was so un-Hugh Grant, and later Nigel brought it up and called him Abby Lee Miller. Snap! Maybe Jason should have yelled at these two a little more, though, because as it turned out, the chemistry between them was zero or possibly sub-zero, and to add insult to injury, Nick was making the most terrible musical theater faces throughout the entire performance. Thankfully Nigel called him out on it, referring to Nick’s face as “anxious,” which I really enjoyed. Aside from these matters, the piece was floaty, flowy and melty just the way it was supposed to be. But I predict that Amber — and maybe Nick — will be toast sooner rather than later.

Amelia and Will got a NappyTabs hip hop/jazz routine about a sophisticated lady housecat and the back alley cat-daddy who tries to get in her cat pants. Amelia was positively feline in this playful, whimsical and flat out delightful routine. Kenny said to Amelia “If we had a kitty like you we would play with you all day long,” so Nigel wouldn’t have to, and was there ever any question that Mary would declare the performance “purrrfect?” She did. Tonight I saw in Amelia Renée Zellweger (of the Jerry Maguire era – anyone else with me?), and I don’t know what it means that Will believes he is Simba but I like The Lion King and I like Will and I accept.

NEXT: TyceKeith has a moment

Dareian and Janelle performed a Sean Cheesman African jazz routine about an African jungle coming to life. It was fierce. There was body paint. Janelle’s limbs were nearly pulled from their sockets but she remained intact. At the end I thought I detected The Cheesman do a little shrug. Anyone else see that? Kenny said he felt like he was watching two flames dance across the stage. Exactly.

Eliana and Cyrus took on a TyceKeith Broadway routine to “Run and Tell That” from Hairspray. At first, a person might think uh-oh. TyceKeith + Broadway + an Animator = ? But it was glorious. Eliana was pure joy. Glitch was pure joy. He took on the (rather basic) choreography with competence and had stage presence while doing so. But the best part of the thing was TyceKeith’s mania when the piece ended. He was like a proud papa bear out of his mind. He stood up from his seat — pointing, grinning, jib-jabbing his finger, fist bumping the air, doing stationary dance moves — and would not sit down. He embodied verklempt. It was most genuine, and, frankly, most adorable. I know that in the morning I’ll regret writing this, but in that moment, yes, I loved TyceKeith.


Anyway, Kenny said he could see it as a whole number on Broadway. TyceKeith swooned. Nigel said Cyrus immerses himself in the entire process of the dance. He also said something about how the routine didn’t really show how brilliant a dancer Eliana is because it was full of energy and fun, but I discard that nonsense. She rocked. He did embed a compliment in there, though, which is basically that Eliana sets the bar for the girls this season. So.

Audrey and Matt performed a Travis Wall contemporary piece set in “the 1900s” aboard the Titanic. The music was “Unchained Melody” and all the movement took place on and around a chaise lounge and it was phenomenal. It was so acrobatic yet so intimate, so musical, and, as Nigel said, so mature; it’s hard to believe Travis is just 24. The judges gave the performance a standing O. Nigel declared the piece his favorite of the night. It was perfect, pure Travis Wall with two dancers who took the material and danced the crap out of it.

The last slot of the night went to Lindsay and Cole and their Jason Gilkison paso doble. I’m actually really interested in the fact that Lindsay’s given someone stitches, and that Cole is descended from a Samurai, but no time for that right now. The piece — intense, physical, smoldering — showed Cole’s strength and agility and a Lindsay’s ferocity and sexiness, and it brought the house down. Or up, rather. There was a standing O from the judges and and all sorts of whooping in the audience. Kenny called it “mesmerizing” and said Cole and Lindsay delivered two of the best performances he’s ever seen on the show. Mary loved it so much she was angry. Nigel called it the best paso doble he’s ever seen any boy do on SYTYCD. Big Deal! Cole: another deeply lovely little face. What a smile! Am I right?

So. What did you all think of tonight’s episode? In a night full of memorable performances, which were your favorites? Who do you think could be in danger for next week? Did anyone else appreciate Kenny Ortega as much as I did? And who thinks Audrey is going to combust of happiness before the season’s over? Discuss!

Episode Recaps

So You Think You Can Dance
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