BWW Recap: SYTYCD Takes Trip to Broadway with ON THE TOWN, HEDWIG's Spencer Liff (Updated with Pictures & Special Announcement)
This week's So You Think You Can Dance had a very Broadway feel to it with Josh Bergasse, the choreographer of the upcoming ON THE TOWN revival, staging a Top-20 routine to the show's anthem "New York, New York" (the one by Bernstein, Comden, and Green, not Kander and Ebb). As we learned last week, this season's winner will earn a spot in the musical's ensemble. While some people, including @Actor_Friend, don't like this idea, remember, the last network show to give away roles on Broadway brought us Laura Osnes, so let's reserve judgment, just in case a reality show brings us more Broadway royalty this time.
This week also marked the first eliminations of the season, but for the guy and girl going home this week, remember, Broadway's Ariana DeBose (BRING IT ON, MOTOWN, PIPPIN) was also eliminated from the show after the first week. So, have hope, winning the show isn't the only way to make it to Broadway.
Joining Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy on the judging panel this week was gorgeous American Ballet Theatre soloist Misty Copeland, who might have been a little too critical, but I loved the specificity in her feedback.
As a way to suck up to Fox, who is airing the Major League All-Star Game next week, the judge's panel opened the show decked out in baseball uniforms, and showed a clip of host Cat Deeley embarrassingly throwing out a first pitch at Dodger Stadium.
However, nothing was as embarrassing as Nigel quoting Winston Churchill as part of a pep-talk to the contestants. Look Nigel, you're British, we get it.
We also saw the first Dance Crew performance from SYTYCD's Bieber-led Twitter Contest, when Chloe Arnold's Syncopated Ladies took to the "live" stage. And, I think we might have had an Ashlee Simpson moment during their performance as well.
There is also a very special announcement at the end of this review, so make sure you read alllllll the way until the end!
Now onto the performances:
Choreographer: Josh Bergasse
Song: "New York, New York" by the 2014 Broadway Cast
Three-Word Review: MORE, MORE, MORE
Girls in Danger (in order of announcement)
Guys in Danger (in order of announcement)
Tanisha Belnap and Rudy Abreu
Choreographer: Sonya Tayeh
Song: "You Need" by Bengsongs
Three-Word Review: Sexy S&M Matrix
Nigel said that Sonya "has a way of bringing out the best in her dancers," but she also has a way of bringing out the freak in them as well. Rudy, the goofy boy-next-door, and Tanisha, the elegant ballroom dancer, looked like they inhabited a seedy, futuristic S&M dungeon decorated with recycled thrift store office furniture. The pair did well playing both the passionate and powerful aspects of their back-and-forth battle. The highlight came when Tanisha leapt off one the aforementioned chairs straight into Rudy's waiting arms. Strong showing for this partnership's first routine.
Cool Season 11 Addition #1:
This season has had a bunch of format changes (going back to only one winner, Bieber's Dance Crew contest, etc.), but one small one that I really like was having Sonya Tayeh quickly explain a short "jazz phrase" before a commercial break. It was a simple to continue to engage the audience with the program, and dance in general. I wonder how many little kids rewound their DVRs over and over to get the eight-count just right.
Valerie Rockey and Ricky Ubeda
Choreographer: Travis Wall
Song: "Oh Darling" by Gossling
Three-Word Review: To the Top!
This is the type of routine that turns contestants into front-runners. Ricky came out of the first Top-20 week as a favorite, while (despite being one of my early faves), Valerie seemed to be towards the bottom third of the girls. However, after tonight, they both deserve to be at the top of any dancer rankings. The first half of the routine relied heavily on Ricky's insane tricks and athleticism, but as the number progressed, Valerie seemed more and more comfortable with the fluid nature of Travis' choreography. And the highlight was the ending move where Valerie, while standing on Ricky's knees did a slow, emotional backbend all the way to the floor. A worried, "Oh my God!" might have come out of my mouth as it was happening. I didn't have as good of a view of Valerie's facials as the judge's did, but I was getting all kinds of emotion from her movements, even if they didn't see it in her face.
Bridget Whitman and Emilio Dosal
Choreographer: Luther Brown
Song: "Work" by Iggy Azalea
Three-Word Review: Sexy, but Soft
Luther said that Bridget wasn't all that comfortable with the style, and he was partially right. She definitely had the sexy swagger the piece required, but she didn't quite pull off the hard hitting that could have made this routine even better. Emilio though definitely shown in his genre. As bad as it sounds, I think his having to give up his spot in last year's Top-20 due to injury might have been the best thing that could have happened to him. He already is a hip-hop stud and it gave him an Extra year to work on his skills; and it is showing. Also it gave us one of my favorite SYTYCDers ever, Aaron Turner.
Before I get to the routine, I can't believe they showed Jessica's shoulder popping out of place during their rehearsal. That was gross! Ok, after you get that visual out of your head, I felt that the pair was a bit timid coming in and out of their transitions and somewhat strained on the lifts. However, they showed great connection and seemed to thrive when the choreography wasn't so West Coast Swing-specific. As Mary and Nigel pointed out, it is a difficult style, even for a ballroom dancer like Nick, but I don't know that those caveats will save them from danger next week.
I know it was probably just a penny-pinching maneuver from Nigel to have Sonya choreograph multiple routines this week, but it couldn't have been more successful from an artistic standpoint; heck, I would be ok with one week being all Sonya routines. She's that brilliant! I was shocked by how natural Serge looked outside of his ballroom genre. He was a very strong and fluid dancer throughout the number. It did seem like Carly telegraphed some of her bigger moves, but it didn't really matter, because this pair moved beautifully together.
Emily James and Teddy Coffey
Choreographer: Dave Scott
Song: "Don't" by Ed Sheeran
Three-Word Review: It's Just Aight
Since this routine wasn't choreographed by Sonya, it probably is going to be forced to the middle of tonight's pecking order. It was fun and had a few cool visuals. However, Teddy didn't seem to have the flexibility and speed of movement that his partner did, but he was completely in character throughout. Emily surprised me though, I thought she was equally mesmerizing in both the routine's more staccato and swinging moments.
This was a weird number for me. It seemed like Spencer choreographed all of the heavy-lifting for Stanley, while Malene seemed to rely exclusively on the fact that she is strikingly gorgeous. As Misty pointed out, it appeared that they were doing completely different routines, and the few times they were supposed to be in unison, it always seemed like Malene was half a beat behind. Broadway is always a tricky style on this show, and Spencer's choreography didn't do these two any favors.
Other than a free-standing door, there is no more powerful SYTYCD prop than a table. However, don't think Sean's choreography utilized it nearly well enough. In fact, I felt like I saw a completely different routine than the judges, who were overall very positive. I felt like the two were out of control on nearly every move, and were hardly ever properly synchronized. It looked like their tricks were uncharacteristically slow, and I think Marcquet came up short on a backflip. After being completely underwhelming in her genre last week, I will be shocked if Jourdan lasts long after this routine.
I know that the Tango is the dance of love, and there's a thin line between love and hate, and all the other clichés I can throw in here, but I just didn't feel any of the passion that this style is supposed to elicit. That being said, the technique seemed to be pretty on point. I don't know much (ok, anything) about the Argentine tango, but this seemed to be more of an exercise in the movements, rather than in the emotions.
Jacque LeWarne and Zack Everhart
Choreographer: Sean Cheesman
Genre: African Jazz
Song: "Dibiza (Kick *ss Mix)" by Danny Tenaglia
Three-Word Review: "We Are Africa"
Ok, I will admit it, when Cat said that the night's final routine was going to be an African Dance number, I might have audibly said, "Oh lord." But I have to admit, that was a pretty great way to finish the night. The pair had a very powerful subtlety and purpose of movement. Those repeated "neck lifts" that they opened the number with were striking. I loved the costumes, the hair, the makeup, and everything about this number. They both rebounded well after sub-par opening weeks, in my opinion.
Dance Crew #1: Chloe Arnold's Syncopated Ladies
Song: "***Flawless" by Beyonce featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Three-Word Review: Un-Syncopated Sound Effects
As I said when they originally appeared in the first audition episode, I don't get this group. I found the routine uninspired, and I swear they were "tap-syncing" to piped-in tapping noises.
Not Cool Season 11 Subtraction #1:
Wait, we are going to have eliminations without giving the contestants a chance to perform their solos? This isn't as bad as them revealing the elimination at the beginning of the first episode last year, but this feels really unsatisfying. Hopefully they find time to let the dancers in danger have their moments in coming weeks.
Should be Bottom-Three Boys
Should be Bottom-Three Girls
Should be Eliminated
Best of the Night
Valerie Rockey and Ricky Ubeda
So, what do you think about our first eliminations? What was your favorite routine of the night? How great was that ON THE TOWN number? Let me know what you think in the comments below, or on Twitter @BWWMatt.
Also, I won't be able to watch SYTYCD next week, so I have enlisted the help of the extremely capable Natalie Weiss to fill in for me! If you doubt this Broadway vet's ability to critique performances, check out her latest BREAKING DOWN THE RIFFS, featuring a special guest who was also mentioned in this column! Also, you can get a sneak peek of her critique as she "live"-tweets this week's SYTYCD @Natalie_Weiss.