Dance Critic's Desk: So You Think You Can Dance Season 8 Week 1

About the Dance Critic

Kate Spenser studied classical and contemporary ballet beginning at the age of 10 in the greater Boston area. She attended summer programs at the Briansky Saratoga Ballet Center and the American Academy of Ballet. She continued dancing, and began choreographing, while in college, taking courses in the prestigious Five College Dance Department in Western Massachusetts. She has choreographed ballet, modern, contemporary, and hip hop dance pieces on dancers with a wide range of ages and ability levels.

Welcome to Dance Critic's Desk, a weekly series in which I'll review the dancers, choreographers, and performances of So You Think You Can Dance, Season 8.

This week we saw the first duets from the Season 8 Top 20 dancers - it was our first real chance to see each of the top 20 dancers picking up choreography, partnering, and performing in pairs. Especially considering it's the first week of the competition, each of the duets this week was pretty fantastic - none stands out as being an obvious "weak link." Three pieces, however, really stood out as being exceptionally well danced.

Ricky and Ryan - pay attention to how sharp and precise their movements are.

Runner Up: Ricky and Ryan

I know I'm not the only one who has had her eye on Ryan Ramirez since last season's auditions, and I was pretty psyched when she didn't draw for a contemporary number - we already know that Ryan's a gorgeous contemporary dancer, and now, thanks to Christopher Scott's lyrical hip-hop choreography, I'm convinced Ryan's versatile and will be a force to be reckoned with this season. Long limbed, fluid dancers like Ryan often tend to flounder with hip-hop choreography, which demands incredibly sharp, precise movement, but Ryan really delivered on this count (see the opening movement sequence from the number in the video at right at 1:44 for an example of Ryan's sharp movements). Cheerleader Ricky Jaime was a great partner for Ryan in this regard, as the precision of the choreography seems to come naturally to him. His challenge for this season will be to match Ryan in both her expressiveness and in the expansiveness of her energy. Ricky's energy in this piece was very contained, but in a good way - it gave his movements that much more power. My only major critique of the piece was that, like the judges, I didn't really get why Ryan was smiling the whole time. I realize that Ryan and Ricky's characters were supposed to be having different emotional reactions to the memory of their relationship, but it almost made it feel like they had interpreted the piece differently.

Bottom line: Ricky and Ryan are both incredibly talented dancers, but they have some growing to do in terms of dancing as a pair. I'd love to see what these two would do with a really intense, hard, and sexy Sonya Tayeh routine - I hope they get paired with her soon.

Travis Wall's choreography really plays to Sasha's strengths

Runner Up: Sasha and Alexander

Speaking of powerhouse ladies, Sasha Mallory was a favorite of mine during Vegas week so I was incredibly excited to see her secure a well-deserved spot in the Top 20. And I was equally as excited that she got to work with Travis Wall this week - I wanted to see her give life to the emotionally raw and technically intricate choreography that Travis is quickly becoming well known for. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong in what Sasha - and Travis - would offer us this week. The piece was hard hitting (literally; poor Alexander got pretty beaten up during rehearsal!), sexy, and really the perfect choreography to showcase Sasha's intensity and athleticism. I'm pretty sure Sasha will be capable of doing anything the choreographers throw at her this season.

The choreography for this piece was really different - it fused elements of hip-hop, jazz, and maybe even some African dance with contemporary lines and styling. Travis is really expanding himself as a choreographer and I'm practically giddy with excitement to see what more he has in store for us this season.

I think Alexander Fost was a perfect partner for Sasha - they move so well together it's easy to forget they haven't been partnering each other for years. I do wonder if this piece will end up hurting him in terms of being a fan favorite, though - only because Sasha's performance was so strong physically and emotionally, and her character literally overpowered Alexander's, making it easy for my eye to be drawn to Sasha and away from Alexander even as I watch their performance for the umpteenth time. I hope their next piece of choreography showcases Alexander's technique more so we can really see what he has to offer.

Prepare yourself to get chills...

Top Pick: Melanie and Marko

Melanie and Marko literally took my breath away with this performance. As in, I actually stopped breathing at some point and only remembered to start again when I noticed how uncomfortable I was when the piece was over.

I've always contended that one way to spot a truly remarkable piece of dance is whether it takes your breath away. Another way, at least when you're watching So You Think You Can Dance, is to look for the pieces that make judge Mary Murphy speak instead of yell. What will probably go down in SYTYCD history as "the statue piece," choreographed by Travis Wall, accomplished both of these things. Seriously, the best way to describe Mary Murphy's reaction to the performance was reverence - she spoke about it slowly, softly, as if she were speaking in church. It was that good.

The specifics: Melanie Moore is something special. She's got a cute and quirky personality, but her dancing goes way beyond cute to being downright exquisite. Travis made a good call in this piece to showcase her lines. You wouldn't necessarily expect such gorgeous extensions from Melanie on first glance as she doesn't look like your typical sinewy, all-legs dancer, but Melanie's lines are, if you'll excuse the repetition, breathtaking. Travis Wall's choreography also allowed Melanie to show us the range of her abilities - she was at times crisp and sharp, at others, completely still, an at others, her movement so fluid and drawn out it almost seemed impossible.

Marko Germar was anything but overshadowed by Melanie - his dancing is exquisite in its own right. He's incredibly strong - I'm looking forward to seeing what crazy things he can get his body to do this season - and yet his technique is gorgeous. I have a feeling Marko will continue to impress, week after week.

I think these two were born to dance with each other - the level of trust they seemed to have for each other partnering was pretty impressive. They have chemistry, but it's more than that - they seem to just connect onstage, even when they aren't looking at each other, as if they can just sense each others' movements. Given that they've been partnering each other for oh, about one week now, I'd say they are a pretty special pair.

I already sang Travis Wall's praises above, but I want to add one thing here: given how different the two pieces he choreographed for this week's show are and how well they showcased each dancer's strengths, I think it's safe to say that not only is Travis an incredibly gifted choreographer, he's the kind that really understands his dancers - the kind that any dancer will tell you it is such a privilege to work with.

Kate's Top 5:

Each week I'll tell you who I think are the top 5 dancers of the season, taking into account the totality of their work on the show to date.


At the end of Week 1 of Duets, my Top 5 are:

  1. Melanie Moore
  2. Sasha Mallory
  3. Marko Germar
  4. Ryan Ramirez
  5. Ricky Jaime

Other Favorites

While these three were definitely my top 3 pieces this week, there were a handful of other dancers I was especially impressed with. B-boy Tadd performed Afro Jazz like a studio-trained dancer, not like a b-boy. I was surprised to see the normally sweet and adorable Caitlynn totally own Sonya Tayeh's dark and intense jazz choreography - I hope that Mitchell being injured won't mean she gets sent home, because she gave a magnificent performance. And for never having partnered before, Wadi turns out to be a pretty incredible partner, and an awesome dancer in his own right. One thing's for sure - this is a really strong group of dancers. Season 8 will almost certainly prove to be one of the best yet.

You Be The Critic

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