Melanie and Sasha continue to battle for dominance in a special on-the-scene recap of Top 6 performance night.

By Adam B. Vary
Updated August 04, 2011 at 11:09 AM EDT
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This is going to be an unusual recap of So You Think You Can Dance. For one, I watched the whole thing unfold live and in person, sitting in the audience a few rows back from the choreographers. (If you ever noticed a bespectacled, gangly, geekish-looking guy in a striped long-sleeved polo with a reporter’s notebook tucked under his arm, that may have been me, or Christopher Gorham. Probably me. Okay, definitely me.) For another, I have not yet had the pleasure of watching the show back on television, so I may be sharing things with you that you did not see on your TV, and my impressions of the routines will be unmitigated by any trigger-happy SYTYCD camerawork — a blessing for some numbers, a curse for others. One thing I think we can all agree on, though, is that whether you were at home or in the studio, Mary Murphy’s aggressive blond bangs were an all-too-welcome distraction from her bellicose décolletage.

The evening began with what may be the first less-than-stellar Melanie routine this season. The Napoleon and Tabitha hip-hop number with All Star tWitch cashed in on the fairy-tale craze with its “Red Riding in the Hood” theme, but both dancers seemed more than a touch winded and rushed through much of it. (I also had the pleasure of watching the couple rehearse the number earlier that morning, and I can report that Mel and tWitch may have peaked at 8:10 a.m. PT instead of 8:10 p.m. ET.) The judges — including guest celeb Christina Applegate and guest choreographer Lil’ C — subsequently found themselves in a bind: criticize Melanie too pointedly, and there is an outside chance she may not make the finale, which would be like accidentally denying the sun its right to shine. So they punted, and spoke in general about how great Melanie is and only focused on how refreshing it was to see her at times Kewpie sweetness (attempt to) get down and dirty. Melanie’s solo, on the other hand, was a thing to behold. Don’t know how it came across on TV, but in person, I could feel that electric charge that can shoot through an audience when it’s witnessing something truly extraordinary. I mean, the woman did a full back bend while in splits;the fact that she apparently dreamed the whole thing up at the last minute makes me both terrified for her ligaments and hopeful about a postdancing career for her as a choreographer.

In the ad break after Mel and tWitch’s number, a relieved Napoleon took off his jacket, while an anxious Tyce Diorio began to lean closer and closer to the edge of his seat. I’d be anxious too if I knew the best routine I’d ever mounted on So You Think You Can Dance was about to start. Yes, you read that right: I was nothing less than floored by what Tyce created for Sasha and Kent, so much so that last night I posted a public (semi-)apology to Tyce for calling him “the Michael Bay of SYTYCD choreography.” It was the least I could do, really, in response to something so uncommonly graceful and powerful and tender and heartbreaking. Maybe Tyce was simply inspired by the chance to create for Sasha? “You put your finger against a wall, and you break my heart,” gushed Christina Applegate, causing Tyce to snap in affirmation in the audience; I know how they both feel. And by the way, who else thought Ms. Applegate was the most successful celeb judge the show’s had to date? She’s comfortable with dancing vocabulary like développé and port de bras. She’s funny without trying to devour the camera. She’s not afraid to give constructive criticism, and she truly cares about the dancers and the show. Is that too much to ask for in a celebrity judge on SYTYCD?

NEXT: But I digress, because I really should be singing Sasha’s praises

I have to admit, before last night, Sasha was still a clear second in my heart and mind for this season. I always thought there was something flinty and guarded about her dancing, but she stripped her soul (and practically her body) bare on that stage last night, throwing herself whole cloth into the routine. I mean, she brought Lil’ C to tears, which will always make for fabulous television. After the judges had finished and Cat began throwing to the break, Sasha grabbed her discarded shirt as she raced off stage, and covered her body with a kind of abashed modesty I’d never seen from her before. Maybe the number was a breakthrough for her, or just for my appreciation of her, but I thought Sasha’s subsequent solo rediscovered her hard-edged cool, only this time she was able to let us enjoy her talent rather than command us to regard it.

Last week, I made the case for a Marko sneak-attack victory. I still think that’s possible thanks to his final routine of the night — more on that later — but the chances of it are starting to dim. His paso doble with Janette (yay!) didn’t really grab the bull by the cojones, so to speak. Marko managed the steps mostly fine — the double “cape” lift was quite nice — but the kid just isn’t virile enough for the paso. There’s still too much boy there, and not quite enough man — all ab-tastic shirtlessness aside, I mean. That was clear in his solo as well, which was charmingly buoyant and bright — and quickly forgettable. Yikes, it sounds like I’m souring on him. I promise, I’m not; I guess I’m just a wee bit sour on the first half (and change) of his show last night.

Tadd also didn’t have the best opening number, and with his bottom two berth last week, I worry it could wind up costing him the finale altogether. I don’t know what Sonya was thinking about when she concocted the notion of dangling him and Ellenore from an 18th-century chandelier — did she take in a performance of Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity while suffering from an attack of vertigo? — but it just did not work at all, artificially hemming in the dancers and chopping their movement into halting, awkward chunks. I suspect this was especially acute watching it live, since there was just no way for the dancers to mask the awkward pauses they took securing their hands to the harness. The one time the chandelier trick did pay off — Ellenore spinning Tadd around like a punk-fop whirligig — I couldn’t help noticing Sonya leap into the air and applaud, as if she were willing the entire routine to be awesome, or maybe just thrilled that something about the number succeeded. At least Tadd’s solo had some spark. Did the televised version show him walking to the stage as an old man? He actually did that for the duration of his proud-parent video package; you gotta love a guy with that level of commitment to a 30-second solo, and the musical imagination to do it to “We No Speak Americano.”

NEXT: The slow, sad decline of Ricky, and Lil’ C breaks out the comment of the night

At this point, I don’t even know what to write about Ricky anymore. It’s like watching a nature show in which we’re all aware the gawky wildebeest is gonna get ripped to shreds by the pride of lions waiting in the tall grass; you just want the poor thing to be put out of its misery already, but you don’t really want to watch it happen, either. I mean, the show did just about everything it could to usher Ricky to the shelterless watering hole door, right? All three of his performances fell in the middle of the show, where they’re most likely to muddle together in people’s memories. His final number was in an obscure genre, waacking, in which there was practically no chance of him hitting the home run he desperately needs to make an impression with voters. (More on this weirdness in just a bit.) And for his Dee Caspary contemporary routine with Jaime, Ricky was instructed to dance the entire thing while holding sticks in his hands. Sorry, batons. Because he was conducting Jaime, see, which only drew our attention to her, not to him. As for his solo, it made such an impression, I just realized the only notes I took on it were about the “big hugs” his weepy mother sent him in his video package — and now I feel like a jackass for ragging on the guy, because I am nothing if not a sucker for weepy moms. (Jess! Your mom should’ve cried more!)

Which brings us to the perky gazelle grazing in the savanna just over the ad break, also known as Caitlynn. Her Dmitri Chaplin samba with Pasha consisted of a lot of sexy posing and vigorous rump-shaking, and therefore made 100 percent more of an impact than Ricky’s first routine, which makes it 100 percent more unfortunate since Caitlynn is 100 percent guaranteed not to make the finale. At least her performance evoked maybe my favorite judge comment this season, from Lil’ C: “As far as sexy is concerned, you want to swan-dive in it, and not cannonball.” That could be a T-shirt. It’s too bad she danced her solo before hearing these words of wisdom, what with her odd insistence of repeatedly throwing her hair asunder and her head between her legs — which, in hindsight, could just be her way of drying her hair after a shower? (Odd on-the-scene anecdote: During certain routines, like Caitlynn’s solo, Nigel is prone to letting his hands “dance” along with the performance.)

For the final three routines of the night, the three locks for the finale — Sasha, Melanie, and Marko, a.k.a. the Beasts — were paired up with the three dancers who, should any of them make it to the finale, would occupy the honorary Courtney Galiano/Neil Haskell slot — Ricky, Tadd, and Caitlynn, a.k.a. the Stranded Baby Antelopes. Sasha and Ricky went first, tackling the aforementioned genre of waacking in a routine that came off like a killer Old Navy ad circa 2003. My eyes basically never left Sasha except when my sense of professional duty called upon me to flick my gaze over to Ricky, about whom I will just say this: It is entirely unfair to tell Ricky to “man it up” and then have him dance in Day-Glo prep clothes to a Beyoncé dance track. Then again, choreographer Kumari Sulaj was bedecked in that most haute of couture, Grandmother’s Couch Goes to the Royal Wedding, so I suppose things could have been worse.

NEXT: A captivating Broadway routine, and Caitlynn makes her closing argument

I worry I may lose some of you while discussing Melanie and Tadd‘s Broadway number by Spencer Liff, for the simple reason that I suspect the adorable Mr. Liff created the number more for the studio audience than the television one. (Contrast that with Dmitri’s samba, which often put the dancers’ backs to the audience as they played to the camera.) Because, good grief, did that routine bowl me over, from the concept to the set design to the execution. I don’t think we needed Spencer’s wordy download of the story, either; Melanie and Tadd effortlessly and elegantly brought it across. I felt their connection the entire time, and I was as keyed into what Tadd was doing as I was with Melanie. Nigel, Tadd did much more than “not suck” — he very well may have danced his way into the finale.

Marko also redeemed his earlier too-tame paso doble with a ferocious performance in his Sonya Tayeh routine with Caitlynn. It’s as if he absorbed his old partner Melanie’s trusting fearlessness; he raced into the dance with zero hesitation and total commitment — that somersault flip over Caitlynn’s body caused me to audibly “woop!” — and I wasn’t alone. The revelation of the routine, though, was Marko’s partner, who danced like she really did understand it was almost certainly the last time she would perform with a partner as a contestant on So You Think You Can Dance. If the other two women on the show weren’t such powerhouses, I’d happily make the same case for Caitlynn that I just did for Tadd. As it stands, I’m just happy she can look back on her time on the show and know she went out at her very best.

Think I’m being too premature in singing Caitlynn’s funeral dirge? Did Tadd do enough to make the finale, or could Ricky miraculously gallop his way there? Or does Ricky’s relatively low-key showing put him at any risk? (And, to be clear, the judges will not have a say in the results tonight — in a kinda charming plea to the studio audience after the show to be sure to vote, Nigel made it plain that the male and female dancer with the lowest votes are the ones who are going home.) Who gave the most ##buck performance last night? Did you catch Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan and Star Trek: The Next Generation actress Marina Sirtis in the audience? And who else wants to draft a petition to the UN to sanction those presumptuous physicists at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, for horning in on National Dance Day? The Swiss — always looking to cause a ruckus.

Follow Adam on Twitter @adambvary

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So You Think You Can Dance

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