Make America jazzy again

By Kelly Connolly
July 26, 2016 at 05:07 AM EDT
Michael Becker / FOX

If you enjoyed last week’s shake-up, I have bad news. If you didn’t, I have GREAT news. Last week’s show gave us a taste of what the dancers could do when they stepped outside their comfort zones, but they’re firmly back inside them this week: The dancers are performing with their All-Stars in their own styles, and Jason has stolen his seat back from tWitch. Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.

Are we alternating like this for the rest of the competition? If we’re going to go easy on these kids, why can’t we just send them to Disneyland and follow the All-Stars around with cameras as they go about their days?

Jake and All-Star Jenna

Choreographers: Dmitry Chaplin and Jenya Shatilova, Samba

Song: “Hip Hip Chin Chin (Maxim Illion Mix)” by Club Des Belugas

You’re not seeing things — Danny did not shrink. This dance is just so similar to Lacey and Danny’s season 3 “Hip Hip Chin Chin” samba that Melania Trump thinks she choreographed it. Dmitry choreographed both, so good on him for making his life easier this week. It’s just impossible not to compare the two, and as good as Jake is, he’s not at that level. Ballroom routines are always going to be the hardest to translate into the Next Generation format, anyway; it’s literally illegal for Jenna and Jake to have that kind of chemistry. But he’s good. He’s solid. Paula wants to squish him. Business as usual. As for Jenna, she wants to be squished directly into the ground and left there — Jason just asked her out on national television. As Jenna dies onstage, Cat kills Jason on her behalf: “You can vote 20 times per method, which is about how many times it might take you to ask her.” Cat Deeley takes no prisoners, boys.

Tate and All-Star Kathryn

Choreographer: Brian Friedman, Contemporary

Song: “Get Here” by Oleta Adams

Tate has a lot on her plate this week, and not just because some waiter gave her a cheesecake. To tell the story of two people separated by distance and time, this routine sets a busy scene — Tate has an hourglass (very literal), two ribbons are strung across the stage (very cool), and an overexcited fog machine is here to make sure no one can see the dancers’ feet (IT’S NOT LIKE FEET MATTER). The fog machine needs to calm itself, but Tate and Kathryn shine through it anyway, and Maddie is right to point out that their connection has never been stronger. Maddie is also swiftly becoming my favorite feature in the rehearsal package; her line this week sounds like a good way to gently break up someone else’s relationship: “You guys have already found that connection. Now it’s just finding it further apart from each other.”

Nigel has already decided to label Tate “a step above everybody else on the series this year,” which is possibly unfair to a couple of the others, but she IS that good. And I’m glad she lets herself have fun in her solo this week, since she’s going to get pigeonholed into a lot of Emotional Contemporary Routines if we keep up this format. Tate is smart. Nigel asks whether she plans to go into ballet or contemporary. “I’m trying to keep my options open now,” she says. She’s 13.

Kida and All-Star Fik-Shun

Choreographer: Dave Scott, Hip-Hop

Song: “Panda” by Desiigner

Send in the puppets. Dave Scott pitches this routine like he’s the next Lin-Manuel Miranda: “It’s like Pinocchio on Broadway, but hip-hop.” That is actually the perfect description, but for simplicity’s sake, I favor Maddie’s comment: “You’re a very good puppet.” Kida might even be too good at being a puppet; I know he’s a real boy, Geppetto, but that makeup gave me doubts. (Between Kida’s hyper-realistic puppet face and Travis’ delightfully messed up “Send In the Clowns,” I think the makeup department won a bet last week.) Kida and Fik-Shun nail it, especially when Fik-Shun decides to just stop having knees, but their routine pits the judges against each other in a debate on the nature of a puppet’s existence. Jason wanted more levels to Kida’s facial expressions, but Nigel appreciates his commitment to character. Here he is, the creator of this dance competition show, offering thoughtful and relevant commentary: “Being a puppet, it’s really difficult to smile, because he’s just trying to be a boy.”

I honestly think this whole show is a dream sometimes.

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Jordan and All-Star Sasha

Choreographer: Ray Leeper, Jazz

Song: “Sax” by Fleur East

Now here’s Jordan with a routine that “has something to do with a saxophone”! The best face in this segment is a tie between Ray’s pre-routine panic face in the crowd and Jordan’s post-routine panic face when Cat asks her if she ever figured out what character she’s playing. She still doesn’t know. But listen — it has EVERYTHING to do with a saxophone, and that’s what matters. The judges all agree Jordan and Sasha lose steam toward the end, but that’s only because the rest of it is so high energy. This piece is what might happen if a Lisa Frank notebook learned jazz. Here’s a bonus: Jason looks at their black-and-white leggings and sequined high-tops and thinks, “1920s.” Oh, no.

In other news, I yelled “YES” multiple times during Jordan’s solo. That last drop to the floor added five years to my life.

NEXT: He knows about that life already

Sheaden and All-Star Marko

Choreographer: Luther Brown, Hip-Hop

Song: “Down in the DM” by Yo Gotti

I’m sad. Sheaden makes me happy. He’s a performer! Look at his face! I want to spend much more time with this kid, but if he has to go (and, spoiler alert, he does), at least he goes out on this super-cool routine. Luther describes it as “two fly brothers showing off,” then marvels at Sheaden in rehearsals: “How do you know about that life already?!” He was born into that life. Nigel accurately, if creepily, describes this strut-filled number as “the old-man swag, the pacemaker pulse.” Paula echoes him, calling Sheaden an old soul. I don’t want to agree with this, but I DO. I feel like he could wear a grandpa sweater and pull it off. Is this what Macklemore has wrought? Jason does everyone a kindness and brings it back to something more age appropriate, pointing out that it takes a lot to be this cool. He loves an underdog. Ugh, same.

Ruby and All-Star Paul

Choreographers: Miriam and Leonardo, Argentine Tango

Song: “Malevo” by Electro Dub Tango

I’m really into the look of this piece, which imagines Paul as an older brother trying to pass along the legacy of the Argentine Tango to his sister. (Now that’s how you de-creep the age difference.) Ruby and Paul look like siblings at a backyard party on a summer night, right down to the ribbon in her hair; the concept even makes room for Ruby to slip up here and there, not that she does. Once or twice, her face gives away the fear of kicking Paul’s ankles out from under him, but other than that, she’s cool under pressure. Which is good, because Jason just got back from Singapore, and apparently it was too hot to enjoy his vacation, or something.

Tahani and All-Star Comfort

Choreographer: Laure Courtellemont, Dancehall

Song: “Get Busy” by Sean Paul

Keep the sibling pieces coming — anything that makes the age difference make sense is okay by me. This routine, which imagines Tahani as Comfort’s eager little sister, is SYTYCD’s first attempt at dancehall, and I can’t think of two better people to tackle it. Tahani goes from jumping on Comfort’s back to doing her own backbend like it’s nothing. She’s never been as sharp as Comfort is, but Tahani is fun to watch, and she has the confidence to come out attacking this new style like she’s been doing it all her life. Jason, meanwhile, is confident that singer Sean Paul did a great job choreographing this number. The mix-up is awkward, but he makes up for it when Nigel, who obviously wasn’t watching the rehearsal package, says he saw a touch of African influence in the dance. “Not African at all,” corrects Jason, who literally just got done celebrating dancehall’s Jamaican roots. Tell him.

J.T. and All-Star Robert

Choreographer: Travis Wall, Contemporary

Song: “The Mirror” by Alexandre Desplat

First, some big news: Travis has a beard. Second, and more importantly: Leave it to Travis Wall to find the most creative use of age difference yet. Robert plays a guy who feels like he doesn’t have a purpose in life; when he looks in the mirror, he sees a reflection of his younger self. Anyone else already crying? The choreography makes good use of J.T.’s size, pulling him through the mirror frame and hanging him on Robert’s arm. J.T. is showing a lot more maturity than I expected from him, which probably has a lot to do with his relationship with Robert. Nigel calls them his favorite pairing of the season. Paula one-ups him: “Applause, I believe, was created for moments like that.” I just want to know how they switched the empty mirror frame with an actual mirror so quickly. Was it Sheaden’s magic? Maybe he can stay on as magic consultant.

Emma and All-Star Gaby

Choreographer: Chloe Arnold, Tap

Song: “Salute” by Little Mix

New idea for Emma: Every week, her routines should get less “cute.” By the end, I want Emma and Kida tearing it up. I want Luther Brown wondering how she knows about that life. It’s not going to be easy — even this week, as she tries to trade cute for fierce, she lands on some kind of cute-fierce hybrid. But that’s okay! It’s a good place to be. Emma and Gaby are the perfect match for this tap routine, which is all about empowering women to know their voices matter (KEEP THIS COMING). Their taps are clean, that salute is in perfect time, and I’m feeling unexpectedly patriotic about this whole thing.

Here’s what I’m not feeling good about: eliminations. Watching kids’ dreams die on national television is not a happy way to spend a Monday night.

BOTTOM TWO: Sheaden and Ruby

ELIMINATED: Sheaden

As soon as the bottom two were announced, this was easy to see coming — we just lost a ballroom girl last week. But why didn’t audiences connect with Sheaden, who is so good at connecting with audiences? This is not change I can believe in.

I’ll leave you with Tate’s crack political advice: “The only wall that should be shared between Canada and the United States should be Travis Wall.”

Until next week, America.

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