SYTYCD Dance Critic's Desk: So You Think You Can Dance, Season 8: Top 12
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.
We're back for another week of So You Think You Can Dance review and critique with Dance Critic's Desk. This week was a very interesting week, with each of the top 6 couples performing two duets and for many of them, their exhaustion from being given such a monumental task showing in their performances.
This was by far the most informative episode of the season. Why informative? Because I would say the audience learned more about the dancers this week - their strengths and especially their weaknesses - than we have in all the other episodes combined.
The judging in this round was by far the best judging we've seen all season. I've been frustrated in episodes past that the judges weren't critical enough, but tonight they satisfied me by offering both positive and negative feedback - sometimes even nuanced feedback! Sonya Tayeh carried on the "tradition" set by Travis Wall last week of giving really constructive, dancer-focused feedback on things they can improve, rather than just giving feedback that makes for good TV. And can I just say how wonderful Jesse Tyler Ferguson was?! Hilarious, adorable, sincere, fabulous, and adorable are just a few words that come to mind to describe him as a judge. He talked about what he liked and didn't like, gave the dancers helpful feedback, proposed to Clarice...yeah, he was fantastic. Best guest judge BY FAR this season, if not ever!
There were plenty of dances that stood out for being only so-so, but luckily there were also a handful that stood out for being exceptionally well choreographed and performed. Here are my top 3.
Clarice and Jess won me over with this fun and flawless Jive
Runner Up: Clarice and Jess dance a Jive by Melanie Lapatin and Tony Meredith
This piece was fast, fun, and flawlessly performed. Given how exhausting this week must have been for the dancers, Clarice and Jess never once let any sign of tiredness show performing this jive. Their kicks were sharp, precise, and on the music every time, and they never once broke character.
These two have definitely surprised me this week. I was dreading watching their hip hop routine, but I though they did a fantastic job, especially Jess, who, let's face it, you don't exactly expect to have that hip hop groove. But he did, and she did, and they were great. And then this piece came along, which they nailed, and I finally have to admit to myself that I am on board the Clarice and Jess fan train. They've both proven themselves to be strong, technical, and above all incredibly versatile dancers. There biggest weakness has been their pairing together, as their partnering work sometimes looks off because of the height difference - though I wonder if Jess will continue to struggle with this when the All-Stars join in next week? But I will be shocked if these two are not still around next week for us to find out!
Travis Wall brings out every single one of Jordan and Tadd's strengths:
Runner Up: Jordan and Tadd perform a gorgeous Travis Wall Contemporary piece
First off, let me just say that Travis Wall should visit his dark and twisty place more often, because when he does, we get incredible, dark, amazing art like this, and the world is a better place for it. Travis, whatever you tapped into to access this side of your creative self, please keep doing it!
Second, let me say the two words that tell you most of what you need to know about this piece: Jordan's extensions. They said in the pre-performance rehearsal clip that Travis played to the dancers' strengths in creating this piece, and DID HE EVER! Jordan's extensions were all over it, and each and every one was gorgeous. She has this beautiful way of extending til you think she can't anymore and then giving an extra lift right before she comes out of it that just takes your breath away.
Third, let me talk about Tadd for a second. I've been saying all season how impressively versatile our only remaining B-Boy is, and he continued to show us the breadth of his talent with this piece. I'm beginning to think there's pretty much nothing he can't do. Pure, raw talent is what Tadd has got, and I hope we keep seeing it for weeks (and years) to come.
The partnering in this piece was one of its strongest points - the amount these two have grown as partners over the course of the season is remarkable. I loved everything about this piece - the costumes, the choreography, the gorgeous music, and, obviously, how incredibly well it was danced and performed. As with my other favorites from this episode, the dancers never once broke character. I loved what Sonya Tayeh said about their "conviction" and "belief in" the piece - it was so evident that they were both totally immersed in the piece to the point that they were lost in it, and the result was magical.
This Tango is my favorite ballroom piece from this season, hands down.
I think this ties with the Statue piece as my favorite of the season
Top Pick: A tie between Melanie and Mark and....Melanie and Marko
The best part of the two-dances-per-couple concept was getting to see Melanie and Marko perform two very different yet equally breathtaking dances. I simply couldn't bear not to put both of these pieces in my top 3, so I cheated and put them together to make room for them both. As Dee Caspary said, Melanie and Marko are special - they each have that ineffable quality that makes an incredible dancer into a true artist, so to have them dancing together, well it's no wonder that they are my favorites, week after week. The absolute saddest part of introducing the All Stars next week, in my opinion, will be breaking these two apart. I think they should start their own company after the show is over so they can continue to dance together for the rest of their careers...anyone with me on that one?
On to the pieces - first off, Louie Van Amstel choreographed what was, according to the judges and the dancers, an incredibly difficult Tango. We in the audience (at least those of us untrained in judging the difficulty levels of tangos) would have no idea, because frankly, they made it look easy. From the opening notes, their posture was perfect - held but not stiff - and they never once let it go. Every movement was so intentional, so articulated, and so, so sexy. (As a side note, Melanie's dress for this piece was perfect in every way.) The ending lift and flip was INCREDIBLE. Have I mentioned that I love Melanie and Marko together??
With so many of the other couples having one dance that was definitely better than the other, I had my fingers crossed for Melanie and Marko's second performance, but it turns out I didn't need to, because they were, as usual, brilliant. Let me interject here that I don't mean to imply that Melanie and Marko just show up and are brilliant without any effort. One of the things I love about these two is that they have an incredible work ethic and will work and work until they're satisfied with their performance. Reading their tweets earlier in the week, I noticed that they were doing a lot of extra practicing together outside of rehearsal time, both saying that their dances for this week were difficult. They wanted to give their fans what they expect from them at this point, so they put in the extra work they needed to deliver. And it was worth it. I know I'm not the only one who is in awe.
I loved Dee Caspary's Contemporary piece he choreographed for Melanie and Marko. The concept was simple and it really worked because it didn't detract from the dancing at all. And, oh, the dancing! Every single movement Melanie and Marko do is exquisite. And I don't think I've ever seen anyone who can articulate their feet quite like Melanie can. I've said it before and I'll say it again - these two are the two to beat. If they aren't both in the finale, I'll be shocked.
An Honorable Mention for Caitlynn and Mitchell's Jazz Performance
Kate's Top Five
My Top 5 Dancers at this stage in the competition are:
- Melanie Moore
- Marko Germar
- Tadd Gadduang
- Sasha Mallory
- Jordan Cassanova
Other Highs and Lows
Sasha and Alexander's Paso Doble was one of my least favorite performances of the night, and definitely their weakest performance so far. I thought Sasha looked tense through her shoulders and back the whole time, making her posture look off. The whole thing just looked labored. But, they turned around and gave a fantastic performance with Tyce Diorio's Broadway routine - which was by far Alexander's best performance of the season. He finally broke out of his shell and really performed.
Caitlynn and Mitchell did a decent job with their Christopher Scott hip-hop routine. The emotion of the performance was there and they had all the steps, but they struggled a bit with really getting into the style - they didn't vary the tone of the movements enough, so it was all hit and not enough suspend. I felt like this performance revealed that Caitlynn and Mitchell are not quite as versatile as some of the other dancers. Their second performance, though, a Travis Wall Jazz piece, was a contender for my top 3. It was well choreographed and very well executed. It was an unexpected piece of music (Janis Joplin's Piece of My Heart) but I LOVED what Travis did with it - both the story and the sultry choreography. It definitely showed off Caitlynn and Mitchell's strengths, but I thought they both looked just a little tired. If they had the benefit of one more day of rehearsal to polish it, I think it would've been perfect.
I'm sad to say it, because they were both early favorites of mine, but I think the time has come for Ryan and Ricky. At this point in the competition they're the only couple that still has no chemistry or even a basic connection with each other, and it makes their performances suffer. Their Broadway routine was flat and boring, and thier Cha Cha was sloppy and looked under-rehearsed. I think that Ryan Ramirez is a great dancer - she's strong, versatile, and has a great look - and she has a lot of potential for a fantastic career, but I've come to the conclusion that she's a better ensemble dancer than lead, and you know what? That's okay. The world needs good ensemble dancers. But at any rate, I wouldn't be surprised to see Ryan and Ricky not make it through to the top 10, and I wouldn't be sad if they didn't.
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