SYTYCD Dance Critic's Desk: So You Think You Can Dance Season 8, Top 10

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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.

*Friendcrush

Friendcrush: (noun) Someone who you really, really wish you could be friends with, often despite the fact that such a friendship is completely unrealistic. A person who you adore, admire, and fantasize about having dinner parties with.

Example: "I totally had a dream last night that we were having drinks with Neil Patrick Harris, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and their boyfriends. They are definitely my biggest celebrity friendcrushes!"

Welcome back to another week of Dance Critic's Desk! With the judges making the (wise, I think) decision to send Ryan and Alexander home last week, we found ourselves this week with the playing field cut in half as the top 10 dancers of the season performed. Getting to see each of the top 10 dance with an All Star gave the audience the chance to really focus on them as individuals, and with the added bonus of a solo from each contestant we have that much more to go off of in forming our opinions on who should stay in the competition and who ought to be eliminated.

This week Nigel and Mary were joined at the judges table by the insightful, eloquent, and adorable Neil Patrick Harris. The fact that two of my all time biggest celebrity friendcrushes* have been guest judges in back-to-back weeks makes this SYTYCD fan very happy! I'm not going to say that NPH outdan...er, I mean, outjudged JTF, but he at least proved himself to be of equally high judging caliber. (That being said, a Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Neil Patrick Harris dance-o...er, I mean, judge-off would make for some pretty excellent viewing, right?)

But I digress, because though my excitement for Neil Patrick Harris guest-judging was great, it was nothing compared to my excitement over seeing the top 10 - and specifically, certain members of the top 10 - paired up with All-Stars for some pretty fantastic dancing. Because we got to see so much of the top 10, I have a lot to say about the dancers this week, so I'll give a little in-depth analysis of their respective strengths and weaknesses below. But first (though it was the hardest week yet to pick a top 3), here are my top 3 favorite duets of the evening!

Jess and Kathryn

Runner Up: Jess and All-Star Kathryn Dance a Stacey Tookey Contemporary Piece

Perhaps I'm just a sucker for a good Christina Perri song. Perhaps I'm just a sucker for good contemporary dance, performed by good contemporary dancers. But either way, I thought this piece was everything it needed to be. It was beautifully choreographed, beautifully danced, and beautifully performed, which to me was the most surprising part because of Jess's tendency to put as much effort into his face as into his feet. It's not that his ability to act while dancing is a bad thing - I'd much rather that, than the opposite! But I think Neil Patrick Harris hit the nail on the head with his feedback to Jess - that his tendency to over-"mug" when he's dancing (and when he's talking to the camera) can sometimes detract from his dancing abilities, which he made clear tonight, if he hadn't already, are pretty impressive. I was afraid coming into this piece that I was going to wish that Stacey Tookey's choreography, and Kathryn's artistic genius, weren't wasted on a dancer that didn't match both of their strength, and I am SO glad to say that I was wrong to worry - Jess really stepped up and performed amazingly well - I loved every second of this piece.

Jordan and Brandon

Runner Up: Jordan and All-Star Brandon Dance a Dwight Rhodon and Desmond Richardson Contemporary Piece

Okay, yes, if you haven't already caught on to it, I will admit that I tend to have a bias toward the contemporary pieces. I think it's that they are usually the best at showing what the dancers can and cannot do not only technically, but performatively as well. And this is a prime example of such a piece, because it really made me question why I haven't been a bigger Jordan Cassanova fan all along.

Once again, the most important phrase to sum up what takes my breath away about this piece is "Jordan's extensions." It's not just that her legs can go wherever she wants them to, but that she has the strength to hold them there forever and - most importantly - they do exactly what an extension should - they extend! She doesn't just throw her legs up there like so many dancers with amazing flexibility do; she has energy and movement and lift flowing through and out of her legs - extended and supporting - at every moment. Her extensions are dynamic movements, not placed or held poses. And they're gorgeous.

I loved the really specific and fast unison work between Jordan and Brandon - they were spot on the whole time. I loved that extension-into-partnered-turn thing they did. I loved that you couldn't tell who was the All-Star and who was the competitor, because they were both just that good. I loved the conviction with which Jordan danced this piece. The whole thing was just exquisite.

Melanie yet again makes a piece out of her genre look effortless

Top Pick: Melanie and All-Star Pasha dance a Jason Gilkerson Viennese Waltz

I've come to the conclusion at this point in the competition that between her incredible work ethic, her raw talent, her unparalleled ability to tap into the emotion of any piece, and whatever magic something she has that makes us all adore her, there's pretty much nothing you could throw at Melanie that she couldn't do. In fact, I think there's nothing you could throw at her that she couldn't downright conquer.

This piece had the potential to be cheesy. It had the potential to be boring. It had the potential to be just really good. But it was none of those things. It was perfect. It was seamless. It flowed, and breathed, and it's a good thing it breathed because somehow every time Melanie is dancing, I forget to. Am I gushing?

Seriously, though, Melanie is a really special dancer, enough so that I'm even willing to make a Viennese Waltz my top pick because she just performed it that well. And while Pasha does have a history of making his partners look good, he doesn't have the ability to make them look like they've been doing ballroom their whole life, which is what Melanie looked like this week (and last, I might add). Her posture is always so perfect that she just looks like a ballroom dancer, not like a really good contemporary dancer who picks up ballroom quickly. I have to agree with Neil Patrick Harris here; Melanie is easily my favorite dancer of this season.

Other Favorites

I know what you're all thinking here: how did I just name my three favorites and not include Tyce Diorio's jazz routine for Ricky and Allison?! And, um, where's the requisite Marko love!? And I'll admit, I'm still asking myself the same questions. As I said earlier, this was by far the hardest week to pick my top 3 duets. I really loved Marko and Chelsie's Samba - it was flirty, fun, and flawless, everything I love about a good fast ballroom piece. And as others have said, the Ricky and Allison duet (sorry, no video available at this time) was my favorite piece of Tyce Diorio choreography I have ever seen, hands down - Tyce, I'm going to say to you what I said to Travis Wall last week: visit your dark and creepy place more often, because when you do, you make gorgeous art. I also thought Caitlynn and Pasha's tango was breathtaking and so, so sexy, and Clarice and Robert's Bollywood number was the best Bollywood the SYTYCD stage has ever seen.

But this is the time in the competition when the judges, and the critics, are going to have to start getting nit-picky. All 10 of these dancers deserve to be in the top 10, but they can't all be in the top 8, and they certainly can't all be in the top 3. So this week, I'm adding another section to my review - a little rundown of each of the dancers' strengths and weaknesses. Care to disagree with any of my thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

Kate's Top 5

We're shaking things up a (little) bit in the top 5 this week! Taking into account their entire body of work on the show thus far, my top 5 dancers at the end of this week are:

  1. Melanie Moore
  2. Marko Germar
  3. Jordan Cassanova
  4. Tadd Gadduang
  5. Clarice Ordaz

Watch the top 10 Dancers' Solos Here:

Top 10 Dancers: My Thoughts

Sasha: I think Sasha is a gorgeous dancer, and I loved her solo. She has great lift on her jumps, great musicality, and a really cool personal style. But I only *really liked* (rather than loved) her Hip Hop duet with Twitch. Here's my (minor, nit-picky) complaint: Sasha's got these long, thin, gorgeous limbs, but sometimes she has a hard time placing them where she wants to. It's like she doesn't have 100% control over them, so the lines are close to where they should be, but just not quite there. There were multiple times throughout the piece where her arms should have been at right angles and they were just a bit off, and it made the piece overall look less clean than it should have. Sasha doesn't quite have the precision that you'd expect from a SYTYCD finalist.

Jess - Jess stands out as an amazing jumper in a field of guys that are pretty much all amazing jumpers. Also, he may or may not have had a gyroscope surgically implanted in his abdomen at some point, because that's the only way I can conceive of him being able to turn like he does (see also: Ricky). In terms of his technique, there are two things that stood out to me in his solo that he could improve on - the articulation of his feet (they aren't floppy, but my eyes aren't drawn to them, which I think they should be in a good dancer), and the height of his leg in his a la second tuns (way too low).

Melanie: Melanie's solo was, like most things she does, exquisite. I loved that long arabesque into the somersault, and I think I actually gasped when she did that turn that landed somewhere between a split and second position. Her strength is really spectacular. I'm usually pretty critical of other dancers and can almost always fine something that they need to work on, but I just can't with Melanie.

Ricky: Neil Patrick Harris articulated for me what I've been feeling about Ricky and haven't been able to put into words, which is that he dances young. As soon as Neil said that, a lightbulb lit up over my head, and I finally "got" what Ricky's missing - maturity. Not just in his experience, in his emotional investment in his dancing, but in his body - he still looks really young. His solo was, as they usually are, gorgeous - it doesn't make any sense how a person can turn like that! But even though the judges thought he brought a new maturity to the piece with Allison (which he did - this was his best performance of the season so far) I still found myself wishing it was someone else - Marko, or even a 3-4 years older version of Ricky - doing this particular piece of choreography with Allison, because I think it would've been even more breathtaking. I loved it, don't get me wrong, but I think Allison and Ricky just weren't a great match in terms of the weight and depth that they brought to the piece. (I can pretty much hear the studio audience booing behind me as I type this, but it's honestly how I feel.)

Clarice: I loved her solo - it stood out from the others for its really interesting, unique choreography. I think Clarice is an incredibly strong, versatile, and highly employable dancer! I usually think Bollywood pieces end up being fun but a bit of a waste of good talent, because nobody ever seems to get them to look perfect, but Clarice and Robert did - they really looked like professionals.

Mitchell: I always love Mitchell's solos - they're so expressive, so heartfelt, that you can tell he is dancing with his entire soul. The opening turn in his solo where he gradually arches up toward the ceiling was SICK! That being said, as much as I adore Mitchell, his duet with Melody was my least favorite performance of this episode. I don't think he necessarily over-acted it as much as the judges say he did, but I do think that his facial expressions were easy to focus on because he was lacking in style. The movements were all well executed, but the whole piece just felt like execution of movements, not like a cohesive performance. Overall, I think Mitchell is the least polished of the top 10 dancers - his feet are sometimes not fully extended (from one big-footed dancer to another, Mitchell, I know this takes so much extra effort, but you've got to do it!) and his lines are occasionally off.

Jordan: What I loved about her solo in this episode is how it was so different from the usual "sexy dancing" she's known for. This solo, coupled with her duet tonight, finally convinced me that Jordan is the real deal. Though she does the whole sexy thing really well, I hope she continues to diverge from it, because I think it can distract the viewer from noticing just how exquisite of a dancer she really is. I totally agree with Nigel that America needs to wake up and keep her in the competition as long as possible!

Tadd: Tadd has such a cool, distinct style, and his solos are always so much fun to watch, as much for the CRAZY tricks he can do as for the really unique spin he puts on B-Boying. I was psyched that he was paired with Comfort this week! I loved them together, but I do think that at times, Tadd wasn't quite as sharp in his movement as Comfort (who is the queen of crisp movement, so it would be hard for anyone not used to hip hop choreography to keep up with her). That's a really minor critique, though, because I think Tadd is among the most versatile dancers I've ever seen, and I hope he sticks around for at least a couple more weeks!

Caitlynn: Caitlynn dances her solos hard - maybe it's just from being in the bottom early on, but every time she performs, she's dancing for her life, and I really admire that she puts so much into her performances. I thought her Tango with Pasha was really, really, really good. Which is as close as you can get to amazing without quiiiiiite getting there. My one complaint was that her posture wasn't quite right - it looked like she was carrying too much tension in her shoulders, so that the posture looked a little stiff. Otherwise, though, it was great, and I especially loved all the lifts.

Marko: I have no complaints about Marko, either. Like Melanie, he is just an incredibly special dancer with just the right mix of characteristics that make him perfect to watch, every time he dances. I loved his solo - all I wrote in my notes as he was dancing was "He moves so..." because I just couldn't find the words.

And really, aren't those the best dancers, and the best performances, the ones that make words fail us? Because as dancers, that's why we dance - to express the emotions, the stories, the sentiments, the connections, that words can't adequately express, the ones that we can only tell about by using our entire bodies.

You Be The Critic!

Which Top 10 Dancer and All-Star Performed Best?

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Comments 4 comments

sanjomaz 5 years ago

I'm just wondering... why do people like Melanie so much? Is it her modesty, her quirky personality, her charisma on the dance floor? Why is it that she is overshadowing all the other dancers, when we also have powerhouses like Sasha and amazing transformations like Tadd and Jess?

Don't get me wrong, I love Melanie, too. I'm one of her biggest fans when it comes to contemporary and lyrical hip hop, and I can tell she works hard to get other genres right. But I do think the choreographers have played the cards to her favor, a bit... especially after seeing other contemporary dancers do actual Hip Hop, intense Ballroom pieces that involve more than lifts... and Bollywood! Fricken' Bollywood! Melanie, I've noticed, also has the biggest number of Twitter followers, which maybe keeps her from getting voted to the bottom.

I'm just wondering if you'd vote for her because she's Melanie (as in, you'd vote for her even if she wore a potato sack and did the Chicken Dance for 2minutes), or if it's because she actually dances best of all the dancers for an episode?

She's very talented, but when it comes to versatility, I think Jordan and Tadd have upped their game and shown the best flow in other genres.

Regardless, I have a feeling Melanie will win.


Kate Spenser profile image

Kate Spenser 5 years ago from Austin, TX Author

Hi Sanjomaz,

Thanks for your thoughts! I agree that Melanie has definitely been "lucky" in terms of the selection of genres she's gotten, but I honestly think she'd master Bollywood, or straight hip hop... I just think that there is something about the quality of her movement that is really different - it's like she puts absolutely *everything* into each and every movement. I think the reason that some people seem to think Melanie could do anything and they'd love it is that she works so hard to make everything she dances something special.

While she's my favorite, I think there are some other really impressive dancers in the top 10 (now top 8) - Marko, who I think is right up there with Melanie in terms of his talent, and Jordan (who I was SHOCKED to see in the bottom tonight), and Tadd, who I definitely agree has been one of the huge success stories of this season - he is SO versatile and SO talented. I think Melanie has the best shot at winning right now, but honestly, I think any of those 4 has the talent to win.


sanjomaz 5 years ago

Thanks for your input as well! I do want to say that Sasha and Caitlynn have also been huge shockers for me lately, it makes the voting process even harder!

But I do think that Melanie came in with the most raw talent and that sparkle in her eyes. If she wins, it won't be luck of the draw. She's a joy to watch, so i hope she keeps up with the competition!


Kate Spenser profile image

Kate Spenser 5 years ago from Austin, TX Author

Sanjomaz, I agree that Caitlynn was a total shocker for me this season - I don't remember which week it was but watching her, I was suddenly like "who IS this girl??" That being said, I was kind of surprised that Jordan was in the bottom last night rather than Caitlynn, just because I think of Jordan as more of a a fan favorite. I've had my eye on Sasha since Las Vegas, and have had her in my top 5 every week until now, but even though I think she's incredible I think she still has a little more growth to do technically than some of the other girls. Hope you'll come back and "chat" with me next week!

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