It's the start of the live performances on "So You Think You Can Dance." Thank goodness! It seemed like the auditions were going on forever.
Wednesday night's episode celebrated the show's 200th live program -- the Top 20 dancers were paired off by style of dance and taught a routine by one of the show's choreographers; Jason Derulo and Snoop Dogg were the musical guests and Jason doubled as the guest judge; and of course, executive producer/head judge Nigel Lythgoe and judge Mary "Scream it out" Murphy were ready to begin. I hope everyone had their earplugs ready, especially Jason, whose right ear was often the target of Mary's exuberant vocal barrage.
The show opened with a group dance, choreographed by Sonya Tayeh. Sometimes Sonya's work is a bit too dark and brooding for me, but I really like tonight's number. And I was amazed how all of the dancers, who have only been working a short time with each other, really clicked with each other. What a great start!
Host Cat Deeley, who usually goes for outfits covered in sequins and sparkles, was clad in a tomato-red dress with a couple of rhinestone-y buttons holding flaps of material that disclosed a provocative show of skin. What a tease! And she did an admirable job of explaining what the competition's champion will win, and all about the new rules for voting by the viewing audience. Gone are the phone votes that led to speed dialing and banks of callers for favorite dancers, but it is so complicated. All voting is now done online through the show's Facebook page or the Fox Now app, and there's something called a Super Vote that spreads 20 votes out as the viewer pleases. Social media rules!
Before the 10 routines, each dancers had eight (8!) seconds each to tell the audience something about them. These were hysterical with the most bewildering and funny revelations. And it broke the ice between the dancers and the viewers. Now, about the dancing. I think this might be one of the better groups of dancers to make the Top 20. They are all so good, and there doesn't seem to be many weak links. In the end, it might all come down to if the viewers like a dancer or not, and not how well they perform, which would be too bad.
My favorite couple was Jessica Richens and Ricky Ubeda doing a contemporary number by, here she is again, Sonya Tayeh. Jessica was almost eliminated at the call-backs and had to "dance for her life," and I'm so glad she did well enough to make the top 20. Sonya explained during the rehearsal segment that the routine was about two people who needed each other to survive. The music was eerie, haunting and incredible -- perfectly matching the performance. Usually, the audience screams, cheers or applauds during the dancing, but with the exception of a peep here and there, the audience was silent, something that Nigel pointed out. And at the finish, there was an explosion of applause while the three judges gave the pair a standing ovation.
Nigel said, "It's really important that America understands that this is another level entirely that we've just witnessed," and called it one of the best routines he has ever seen. That's high praise that was echoed by Mary, and Jason recalled that he felt uncomfortable while Jessica and Ricky were dancing and then realized that he was holding his breath for the entire time. Next week, the dancers will all be paired with different partners and I wonder what will happen. Certainly make me want to watch!
I also liked the all-guy hip-hop with Teddy Coffey and Emilio Dosal. They were both excellent with their timing and their technique, and Emilio's tricks were outstanding. They both had a great attitude and seemed like they really connected in the routine by Christopher Scott. I just hope that what they did tonight will carry over to other dance styles.
As for the other couples, there were Brooklyn Fullmer and Serge Onik, who were the first couple to dance and it's always difficult to be the first ones. The routine was a fast, fast cha-cha-cha that had Serge sweating buckets. In fact, Cat remarked that he was a "bit of a sweater" when they finished. Someone get that guy a towel! Mary noted that Brooklyn was nervous, and Nigel said it was a great opening to the show, but that Brooklyn needed to "play" to her partner more (instead of the audience and judges).
Emily James and Casey Askew performed a contemporary number by Travis Wall about an arguing couple. It was typically Travis, meaning it was great choreography. Jason, who did a fairly good job as a judge, said he didn't want the dance to end and called it a "vivid" episode. Nigel noted that Emily and Casey were able to put technique with emotion and create and "superb routine." This seems to be the season of the legs, with many of the dancers showing some incredible extensions and leaps.
The tap routine by Valerie Rockey and Zack Everhart Jr. was complicated and entertaining as they went up and down a set of steps in time with the music and each other. I should have listed this dance at the top as another of my favorites, and the judges thought so, too. Nigel, a tapper himself, could only say "Wow" over and over for several minutes. And it turns out that Jason has a tap background, as well. "My hat is off to you!" he said, and Mary gave them a standing ovation.
There was another contemporary routine about a couple having an argument -- did the choreographers look at each other's notes? Bridget Whitman and Stanley Glover were terrific, but I thought the routine had a bit too much of the side by side dancing. Mary remarked that Stanley has the longest legs and shows them off well, and Jason called the dancing "effortless."
Jacque LeWarne and Jourdan Epstein performed a pas de deux en pointe, choreographed by Marat Daukayev, a Russian ballet teacher. It was a remarkable performance, and Mary said that she was very proud to see ballet on the stage. However, as the two-minute dance neared its end, it was obvious that the girls were tiring and not in sync. I wonder how the voting viewers will respond to ballet, compared to hip-hop and contemporary.
At this point in the show, Jason took to the stage for the musical number, singing and dancing and even doing some acrobatics to "Wiggle," which seems to be all about how much he appreciates his girlfriend's "big fat butt" -- his words, not mine. Snoop Dogg glided out for a bit of rap, then glided back off stage.
After a plug for National Dance Day on July 26, it was time to get back to the dancing. A samba is a dance that moves quickly and should be like a party in motion -- Malene Ostergaard and Marcquet Hill were filled with energy and did a fantastic job. Nigel called Marcquet "a force to be reckoned with," and Jason observed that it was easy to tell that both dancers were definitely in their element.
It was time for another contemporary number and this time, the couple wasn't arguing and pushing each other around. Stacey Tookey said that it was about slowing down and enjoying life, and Carly Blaney and Rudy Abreu showed that perfectly. The pair really had a connection and Mary said the "passion poured out all over the stage." While Nigel complimented Carly on her technique, he told Rudy that he was so darned likeable. I think that translates to "Rudy, you'd better work really hard to improve your technique."
There was one more couple that I haven't mentioned, the last couple. What a position to be in -- following the best one of the night! Tanisha Belnap and Nick Garcia did a great cha-cha-cha, and Mary really liked it. The couple just didn't seem to have a connection with each other, even when Tanisha kissed Nick at the end of the routine. And then the judges thought they were running out of time, so they almost babbled their comments. Mary did think it was "fun, fast and fabulous," but it will be interesting to see what happens when they each dance with someone else next week.
The dancers will all perform next week, with ballet dancer Misty Copeland as guest judge. Then, based on the voting tonight and how they dance during the show, one guy and one girl will be eliminated. See you next week -- keep dancing.