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SYTYCD Dance Critic's Desk: So You Think You Can Dance: Season 8, Top 8
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 back to another week of Dance Critic's Desk: SYTYCD! This was easily my favorite episode of the season so far - and not because of guest judges Rob Marshall and Lady Gaga, and the requisite hilarity, emotion, and craziness that ensued from the judges' table, but because of the downright incredible dancing. As the field gets narrower and narrower, the dancers are only getting stronger and stronger, and some of the pieces from the Top 8 were just magical. I'm excited to share my top 3 pieces this week, because they are all definitely making the list of my favorite performances of the season.
Melanie Moore and All-Star Neil Haskell
Runner Up: Melanie and All-Star Neil perform a Mandy Moore Contemporary Piece
I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who gushes when I talk about Melanie Moore - the judges did a lot of it after this performance. But really, it was kind of a gush-worthy piece. Flawless technique? Check. Impressive athleticism? Check. Commitment to the character? Check. Effortless grace? Check. Throwing oneself an impressive distance across the stage into one's partner's arms? CHECK! Melanie certainly has everything it takes not only to win this competition, but to have a long and impressive career in dance. I love how she completely throws (pun intended) herself into every performance. I've never once seen her look tired, under-prepared, or anything less than 100 percent present in, and committed to, her performances.
This piece definitely had the potential to lose me - Total Eclipse of the Heart is one of my favorite cheesy songs to let loose and belt out the words to, but I don't really think of it as being fodder for a gorgeous, emotionally genuine contemporary dance piece. And yet, that's what the piece was - gorgeous and emotionally genuine. Props to Mandy Moore for catching me off guard!
There were two moments in this piece that really took my breath away. In the first (at 1:17 in the video at right), Melanie's energy is suspended up and then she just falls, without looking, into Neil's arms, and fluidly continues into the next movement. It's really simple, but the trust that is evident between Melanie and Neil after only a few days of working together is remarkable - and the mark of true professionals. The second (at about 1:35 in the video) is the moment that took everyone else's breath away as well - when Melanie jumped a good eight or ten feet, throwing herself parallel to the floor toward Neil. I've watched it about twelve times now and have gotten chills every time - it's really incredible. Melanie is a true athlete and a true artist.
The Definition of Gorgeous: Marko and Allison
Runner Up: Marko and All-Star Allison perform a Sonya Tayeh Contemporary Piece
Okay, I know it probably seems like "Kate loves contemporary" day over here at Dance Critic's Desk, but I will be shocked if anyone has a favorite number from this show that's not in my top 3. This piece was spectacular. First of all, Allison Holker is one of my favorite dancers, not just from SYTYCD, but just in general. She has a quality of movement that's all her own, and I just love it - she's elegant yet really strong, and you don't even need to look at her face to feel the emotion in her dancing. Second of all, Sonya Tayeh is my favorite SYTYCD choreographer. I think that each and every piece she choreographs is an incredible work of art, and I love that she's not afraid to explore a really wide range of emotions, feelings, topics, and even movement vocabularies. And third, well, there's Marko - who also has his own gorgeous and unique quality of movement, and who has an uncanny ability to tap into the emotional side of each piece he performs like no other dancer this season can. Put all three together, and the result is pretty phenomenal. It was obviously a very heartfelt piece, evidenced by the fact that both dancers, Marko's mother, and Lady Gaga (and, I imagine, a sizable portion of the audience) were all full on crying by the time it was over. Do yourself a favor and put aside some time to watch the video of this piece several times over - it's that good.
Sonya Tayeh + Melanie + Sasha = pure artistic genius
Top Pick: Melanie and Sasha Performing a Sonya Tayeh Jazz Piece
One of the things I loved most about the All-Stars set-up of Season 7 was how, when the gender balance of the competitors got skewed, we started getting so many fantastic male-male duets. Some of the most memorable pieces from last season were male duets - Alex Wong and Twitch's now famous NappyTabs hip-hop piece, Robert and Dominic's creepy clowns, Billy Bell and Ade's Stacey Tookey piece about the homeless man, and, my personal favorite, Kent and Neil's duet by Travis Wall.
But because there were so few girls left in the competition so early on, we didn't get to see an equal representation of powerful female duets. Last night SYTYCD began making up for that, though, when they turned Sonya Tayeh loose with Melanie and Sasha to, as Sonya said, "unleash the beasts."
In a night with some pretty fantastic performances, this one definitely stood out. It was creepy, funky, technical, sharp, strong, weird, and amazing. All of the elements came together perfectly, from the music and the choreography to the costumes and the lighting to, of course, the dancing. Sasha and Melanie - the Warrior Princess and the Queen Beast - have really different movement qualities from each other, but I absolutely loved them together here. There are few dancers in the world, I would think, who could make crab walking look as good as these two did! I just loved everything about it, and this piece is definitely near, if not at, the top of my list of this season's favorites.
Thoughts on the Top 8 Dancers
Sasha: I thought Sasha really held her own this week. Her quickstep with Pasha was very well executed, but I do think that while her posture was spot on, she did seem a little stiff. And there were a couple of very brief moments during her duet with Melanie where I thought she didn't have quite as much control over her movement as her partner. But overall, I think Sasha's a pretty amazing dancer - I love how strong and powerful she is.
Caitlynn: The last time Caitlynn did Hip Hop it was a bit of a disaster, so I was happy to see her performing at a much higher level this week. That being said, this is the second time the dancers have been tasked with performing two duets and the second time that I felt Caitlynn looked tired during her second performance, a ballroom number she did with Tadd. I think Tadd out-danced her in their piece, which is especially notable given that Tadd is not trained in learning choreography the way Caitlynn is. If she's in the bottom two this week, I wouldn't be surprised if Caitlynn is the next girl to be eliminated.
Honorable Mention: Jordan & Ade
Jordan: I really loved Jordan and Ade's jazz piece (choreographed by Tyce Diorio). Guest judge Rob Marshall commented on how Jordan really dances with a sense of abandon, and I think that's really what's so great about her: her body can do a lot of amazing things and she just lets it. She's strong and technically proficient enough that she can let go a bit while she's dancing. However, I was really not wild about her ballroom duet with Jess. I don't necessarily think it was anything she did wrong, just that the piece itself felt kind of uninspired. I thought Jordan did an excellent job performing it, though - her stage presence and acting ability are fantastic.
Melanie: I've already discussed both of Melanie's performances, so let me just say this: I think it's telling that most of the judges said she was their favorite. This girl is something special, and if she's not in the finale I will be shocked.
Ricky: I loved Ricky's duet with Marko, and only just liked his duet with Anya. Which is fitting, because I've decided that I have a love-like relationship with Ricky's dancing - sometimes I love it, other times, I just like it. I love that he can turn for days and his jumps seem to keep him off the ground longer than should be physically possible, and I love how long and lean he is. But I think what he's missing is what I've said I love in other dancers - that they can just let go and abandon themselves to the performance. He definitely didn't let go at all dancing with Anya, which I think was good because there was one (what appeared to be) flubbed lift that could've been dangerous had he not been entirely focused on its execution. And even dancing Hip Hop alongside Marko, it was clear that Marko was really inhabiting the movement while Ricky was simply executing it. He executes it well, but there's something in terms of his performance quality that Ricky still needs to work on. I love him, but I personally think this week is his week to be eliminated.
Jess: I'll confess that I find myself trying to find flaws in Jess. I think I scrutinize him more than the other dancers because I keep not expecting him to be as good as he is. Yet, there he is, week after week, proving to me and other critics that he is actually quite the talented dancer. I initially thought that pairing him with Lauren Gottlieb would be his downfall, yet - just like last week, when he danced with All-Star Kathryn - he stepped up and gave a pretty fantastic performance. As I said earlier, I didn't like his duet with Jordan, but not because they danced poorly (they didn't) but because I just didn't like it. While I don't think Jess has the emotional range that Tadd and Marko possess, he's clearly earned his spot among the top male dancers.
Honorable Mention: Tadd and Lauren Froderman
Tadd: Tadd earns my vote for most versatile dancer of the season. Week after week, the judges say "we have to remember that you're a B-Boy!" and while hearing it gets old, it's true that it's pretty easy to forget that Tadd's not a "trained" dancer. He just pulls it off, week after week. His jazz duet with All-Star Lauren Froderman was another of my favorites - it showed not only his technical abilities but his fantastic performing abilities as well. And as I said, I think he outdanced Caitlynn in their ballroom number.
Marko: Just as it's hard to remember that Tadd's a B-Boy, I had a hard time remembering during Marko and Ricky's duet that Marko's not a Hip Hop dancer. I thought he was fantastic! It's really impressive that he could transition from the contemporary piece with Allison into this piece so seamlessly, when they could barely be any more different movement vocabularies. Marko might just have to tie Tadd for most versatile dancer!
Kate's Top 5
At the end of this week of the competition, my top 5 favorite dancers are:
- Melanie Moore
- Marko Germar
- Tadd Gadduang
- Jordan Casanova
- Sasha Mallory
Your Chance to Weigh In!
So what do you think about my picks for best performances and best dancers? Do you agree? Disagree? Who are your top 5 dancers? Which piece was your favorite? Your least favorite? Who do you think should go home this week? Who do you think will go home? Were these the best guest judges yet? Vote in the poll and leave your opinions in the comments below!