Dance Critic's Desk: So You Think You Can Dance Season 8 Week 2

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.

Top 20 Perform (Again!)

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

I've spent the last week going back and forth about whether I agreed with the judges' decision not to cut anyone - this is a competition, after all, and someone's got to be the first to go! But leading up to today's show, I found myself really excited to see everyone in the Top 20 perform again. And the show delivered what I think we all needed to start picking out our favorites from the crowd - a chance to see all of the dancers take on a second genre. I think judge Nigel Lythgoe was spot on when he said that last week's show was, in part, so strong because so many of the dancers were performing in the genre they're most comfortable in. Mixing it up this week revealed some dancers' promising versatility (ahem, Miranda and Tadd) and others' weak spots.

Because the judges granted themselves some leeway in the elimination round last week, I've also allowed myself a bit of wiggle room with my own rules this week and have selected a top 4 favorite dances instead of a top 3. Without further ado, here they are!

Runner Up: Caitlynn and Mitchell performing Stacey Tookey

This was the first week we actually got to see Caitlynn and Mitchell perform together, and I'm really grateful we had the opportunity, because they performed Stacey Tookey's contemporary choreography exquisitely well. I think Stacey made a wise choice in choreographing to such a beautiful and emotionally rich song (Adele's "Turning Tables") - I imagine it made it easier for the dancers to tap into the emotion they needed for the performance.

I loved the opening sequence with Caitlynn and Mitchell each in their own chair - it was such a cool concept, and the choreography here was beautiful. Caitlynn and Mitchell really looked like they were dancing with each other even though they couldn't see each other, which is a testament to the bond the two have built as partners so far - I completely agree with Mary Murphy that these two have amazing chemistry.

The piece was really well performed - the raw emotion exhibited by both dancers was really impressive. And as for technique, both Caitlynn and Mitchell are extremely strong, clean dancers and appear to be very well-trained, and Caitlynn especially has really gorgeous lines.They're both hovering on the cusp of making my list of my top dancers, but I want to wait and see more of their range as dancers - I'm hoping for hip hop for these two next week so they can show us if they've got it!

Runner Up: Melanie and Marko performing Mandy Moore

I wrote in my notes while Melanie and Marko were performing, "THESE TWO ARE THE TWO TO BEAT," and at the end of the night, I stand by that statement. Not only are they arguably the strongest individual male and female dancers at this stage of the competition, but they have the best chemistry by far of each of the top 10 pairs. At the risk of sounding repetitive, Melanie and Marko look like they've been partnering each other for years.

Mandy Moore's jazz routine was tons of fun - in fact, it's what I think every "fun" routine on this show ought to be: high energy but also technically challenging and clean. Mandy let each of the dancers really showcase their abilities with her choreography. Marko reminded me a lot of one of my current favorite dancers, Harry Shum Jr. of the LXD and Fox's Glee. There was a fluidity to his moves tonight that was unexpected and just really pleasing to watch.

I think that Melanie and Marko would be best served with a piece that's really out of their element next week, because I'm confident they'll conquer anything they're given and I'd love to see them really prove themselves with something that's really out there.

Top Pick: a NappyTabs tie! Miranda and Robert and Sasha and Alexander performing Napoleon and Tabitha

A great deal of the credit for these being my favorite performances of the night goes to the choreographers. I've always loved Napoleon and Tabitha's work and tonight reminded me why: they can take just about ANY concept and turn it into something incredible. These two pieces couldn't have been more different from each other - Miranda and Robert's was inspired by the movements of woodpeckers, and Sasha and Alexander's by soldiers returning from Afghanistan. And yet both pieces were equally captivating, each in their own way.

Miranda definitely stole the show in her performance with Robert - if you didn't know anything about them and had to guess which one of them was a hip hop dancer just by watching the routine, you'd definitely pick Miranda. Not only was every one of her movements clean, precise, and strong, the girl has got some SWAGGER! She wins the prize for me for most unexpected performance of the night.

Sasha and Alexander's performance, though, was the high point of the night. Actually, for me, the first 30 seconds of the piece - when Sasha danced the anguish, fear, anxiety, and worry of a wife whose husband is deployed, unaware of his impending return - was the high point of the night. Sasha packs more power into each movement than any other dancer on the show, and coupling that with the emotional aspect of her performance tonight, well, she gave me chills.

I thought that Alexander did an excellent job, but I worry that being paired with someone as incredible as Sasha might actually hurt him in the end - compared to Sasha, his emotion wasn't quite as wrenching and his movements not quite as precise and hard-hitting, and his posture was just every so slightly to up, and not enough forward, for hip hop. These are pretty nit-picky critiques, though, and those you generally only get when you're dancing next to someone spectacular.

Kate's Top 5

Each week I pick 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 2 of duets, my top 5 are:

  1. Melanie Moore
  2. Sasha Mallory
  3. Marko Germar
  4. Ryan Ramirez
  5. Tadd Gadduang

An Honorable Mention goes to Jordan and Tadd for their Viennese Waltz

Other Highlights

There were some other noteworthy performances tonight. Ricky and Ryan are both so technically proficient that they remain top contenders in my eyes, though I don't think tonight's piece played to their strengths - they have a little catching up to do in terms of how they perform together as partners. Missy performed really well in the Cha Cha, and by far the best judging moment of the night was when guest judge Debbie Reynolds told Wadi she was taking him home with her! I think Nick did a fantastic job with the Bollywood routine - it seems like he is a really quick study. And Jordan and Tadd's Viennese Waltz was pretty impressive - you would NEVER know that Tadd was a B-Boy watching his performance tonight! Given the range he has exhibited these past two weeks, I think he has a lot of potential to go really far in this competition, especially as long as Jordan and her gorgeous arabesque are there alongside him.

This week 4 dancers will be going home - but I think the judges shouldn't find it quite as difficult as last week to decide who those dancers will be. Be sure to check back next week, when I'll review the performances of the Top 16!

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