So You Think You Can Dance review – Season 9: ‘The Top 14 Perform’

Courtesy of FOX

So You Think You Can Dance is back after a two-week hiatus and boy oh boy, was it ever a doozy of a comeback! An extremely exciting format change, four eliminations and a huge revelation at episode’s end made for a wonderful return.

Let’s take a closer look after the jump.

We’ve heard a lot of chatter this season about how the show is conscious about keeping things fresh and innovative. This week’s episode – a two-hour tribute to SYTYCD queen choreographer, Mia Michaels, was an amazing way to make good on that promise. This week we were treated to the Top 14 dancing Mama Mia routines from SYTYCD seasons past! And if that wasn’t jaw-dropping enough, directly after that announcement we got a brand new group routine choreographed by Michaels herself. I gotta hand it to the SYTYCD producers – this idea was ingenious. I hadn’t heard a thing about it prior to broadcast, which was surprising considering it would definitely be a draw for viewers who have wandered away from the show in recent years. Nevertheless, I was psyched.

So how did the competitors do at recreating and reinterpreting some iconic routines? Let’s break it down:

First up: the group routine. Nigel stated that it was “Fifty Shades Of Grey” inspired but honestly I didn’t see it. Ropes and harnesses don’t immediately connote poorly written “S&M mommy porn” to me (Side Note: I look forward to your angry comments). The costumes, hair and makeup were amazing, but ultimately I felt the routine probably worked better live. The camera work (which is normally quite complementary) did the piece a disservice to the grandiose routine. The editing – a  collage of close-ups, tracking shots and pans – made it feel choppy. The female dancers on harnesses spinning in sync while grasping their male counterparts would have been quite the sight if we were actually able to see the entire stage all at once for a sustained period. I appreciated some moments, but overall it was a miss for me.

Courtesy of FOX

Eliana and Cyrus were up next, tasked with doing the “door” routine previously performed by tWitch and Katee. All I remember from this routine was that it was hawt, primarily because it was the first time I’d ever seen a full out make-out session in one of the routines. And the kiss was as big a deal as I remembered (it was the primary focus in the little clip package between Eliana and Cyrus). And the pair definitely delivered. I must say – seeing Cyrus saunter around all tough and bad a*s with his hands in his pockets was a nice little treat. (Side Note: When did he get so hot? Perhaps I just like me some bad boys…) The dancing = great. – it’s no surprise that Eliana was technically perfect, and I didn’t even notice Cyrus’ lack of training. A quick note on this format: It’s incredibly hard to watch these routines when you remember how they were originally danced. The competitors definitely have a challenge in that they’ve got to honour the original, but still bring something fresh and unique to the routines. Honestly, I don’t feel that Eliana or Cyrus were able to do this, despite dancing and performing well.

Which brings me to another quick note about the guest judges this week: BalletBoyz, Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt. Nunn and Trevitt took pains to remind the audience they’d never see a US episode of SYTYCD ever. Any comments we got from them were quite enlightening because their reactions weren’t tainted by memories of the originals. I found their presence on the judging panel quite useful for this reason.

But back to Eliana or Cyrus – Prediction: I think these two will suffer the “first routine” syndrome and land in the bottom.

Courtesy of FOX

Tiffany and George were next up with the Hometown Glory routine, aka the “run” routine originally danced by Katee and Joshua. Again, I do remember this routine, but that “run” trick is what’s most engrained in my head, so there was a big build-up to that moment. Funnily enough, what I loved most about this performance was everything but the assisted run move. It was totally lackluster in comparison to the rest of the performance. I absolutely loved the opening – George and Tiffany did that gorgeous slow walk forward and backward. It was something that I didn’t recall in the original routine which made for a refreshing moment. Throughout the piece, I felt like I was watching George and Tiffany, and no memory of Katee and Joshua popped up. Truly, that’s the best compliment I can give considering this format. Also, I was surprised at how bang-on the judges were – particularly when they said it felt more like two solos rather than a partnership. As much as I loved the routine, I’m totally on board with that. I didn’t think Tiffany was as “intense” as everyone was harping about, but I definitely didn’t feel the connection between the two, either. Since I loved the routine so much, though, I don’t think it needed that connection. Prediction: Despite loving the routine and feeling like the dancers were able to break away from comparisons to the original, I think these two will be in the bottom due to how the other competitors performed in the rest of show.

Courtesy of FOX

Will and Amelia were up next with the “butt’ routine. I completely remember this one, originally danced by Randi and Evan. It was a quirky little piece that’s quintessential Mia Michaels – completely unforgettable and original. But this new performance of it? Anything but. The pair did try very hard, but ultimately it just felt counterfeit. The dancing was there, and the moves were technically beautiful. What was missing was star quality. There were no “characters” in the piece and – in this routine – we needed characters. Amelia just didn’t seem to know what to do apart from the dancing. There was little to no performance on her part. I can’t say I’m surprised either because I’ve been griping since day one about my difficulty connecting with Amelia, despite her mad technical abilities. Unfortunately I was bored with this routine and longed for the original version I saw three years ago. Prediction: As we’ll find out later, Amelia actually gets the boot. As for next week, I don’t think Will will be able to save himself from the bottom three because of this lacklustre performance.

Courtesy of FOX

Dareian and Janelle were up next with the ‘bed” routine, originally performed by Kherington and tWitch. I don’t have vivid memories of this piece, but I do remember thinking tWitch was pretty fabulous in it (Isn’t he always?) This interpretation, however, totally fell flat. I’ve griped before about Janelle doing a disservice to Dareian and this routine continues that trend. I was completely distracted by her over-acting and wanted her to stay behind the bed for good. Seriously – is it too much to ask to get this woman a hair elastic? Why do contemporary routines always have to have hair flying all over the place? This piece is really all about the male dancer and there’s much more onus on the female dancer to make the most of her limited role. Although it was painfully obvious that Janelle was trying hard, she simply was not up to this task. I feel for Dareian because I really like him, but there was absolutely no emotion or passion in this piece whatsoever. We find out later in the show that Janelle leaves the show (huzzah!), but unfortunately Dareian suffers the same fate.

Courtesy of FOX

Audrey and Matt are up next, given the “Mia’s father” piece originally danced by Neil (swoon) and Lacey. Honestly, I didn’t think it was as bad as the judges made it out to be. Granted the piece itself is so filled with emotional intensity, I think it would be difficult to screw it up.  But Nigel went to town on poor Matt, scolding him for not properly knowing the back-story of Mia’s father and their relationship. This was incredibly awkward to watch, because clearly Matt couldn’t answer Nigel’s questions, and it’s totally not his fault. Nigel wanted him to capture the sentimentality of Mia’s “song and dance” father, which apparently Neil had injected into the role.  It wasn’t my favourite performance of the night by any stretch, but I thought it was well performed. Dancing around so many flowers couldn’t have been easy (C’mon those things are akin to banana peels!) I felt both Matt and Audrey were effortless in their movements and sold their emotions well. Were they as good as Lacey and Neil? No. But I think they did an adequate interpretation and didn’t deserve to be interrogated by Nigel. Prediction: I pretty much knew the way Matt was being treated that he would be dunzo by episode’s end. Audrey, however, made it through the elimination round this week, but I think she’s going to find herself in the bottom next week.

Courtesy of FOX

Chehon and Witney were given the impossible task of doing the famous “bench” routine. When I heard this I thought, “Good FRIGIN luck”. If you’ve never seen the original, I implore you – book it over to YouTube RIGHT NOW. Needless to say this is one of my absolute favourite routines and honestly, I can’t picture anyone doing it aside from Heidi and Travis. In my opinion, this routine IS So You Think You Can Dance. So with such an introduction, Chehon and Witney certainly had their work cut out for them. And I must say…they did very well indeed. It wasn’t as good as the original (I don’t think that it’s even possible – Heidi and Travis’ repeated attempts have paled in comparison to that magical original performance), but it was a great reinterpretation. I thought Chehon was magnificent. He didn’t have the organic quality of Wall’s movement, but he definitely brought something unique and original while still honouring the sentiment of the piece. I thought Witney could have been more vulnerable in her performance, but overall she was still amazing. Did you see the leap she did off that bench?! Not only was Witney’s jump HUGE, but Chehon caught her and set her down so effortlessly that I literally had goose bumps. Prediction: If these two aren’t safe it would be a travesty.

Courtesy of FOX

Next up: my most favourite SYTYCD routine ever (yes, even more than the “bench” routine): The “addiction routine” originally danced by Kayla and Kupono. This routine is so emotionally stirring, I’m always affected no matter how many times I watch it. Considering how the rest of the night shaped up, I was extremely nervous about seeing a new version of this dance. Lindsay and Cole were given the task, and the result was a routine that was quite different from the original. This is primarily due to Cole, who decided to flex his acting skills once more and play the role of the “addiction” as a completely stoic and emotionless being. Personally, I loved Kupono’s original take on the character: sinister with a devilish grin. He was also much more fluid in his movements which gave the piece a lovely nuance. At times I felt Cole’s rendition was a bit over-the-top as he was visually straining to stay as stiff and austere as possible. Lindsay’s performance was much the same as Kayla’s and while she did it well, it wasn’t nearly as effective as Kayla. It ended up coming off more like a good imitation. Ultimately, because of Cole’s new interpretation, I thought this performance was successful. I don’t think it was fair to compare it to the original, but it felt like one of the few fresh takes of the evening. Prediction: These two are safe.

Courtesy of FOX

In terms of eliminations, Janelle, Amelia and Lindsay were the bottom girls, while George (NOOO!), Dareian and Matt made up the bottom guys. The girls’ solos were all “just okay” but George and Dareian’s efforts were both quite strong. Matt didn’t even compare to these two. If it were based on solos alone, I would say Dareian get’s first prize as he truly embodied the meaning of “dance for your life”. The musicality and number of tricks in his quick solo were just amazing – it had me shaking my fist at Janelle wishing he had had a better partner from day one. Lindsay is saved (likely based on her performance this week), and George is given a pass, likely due to his consistency. As much as I love him, George has got to connect more with the audience (for the record, he’s connecting FINE with me, but needs more of a quirky personality to avoid the bottom). Looking forward to next week, both Lindsay and George have been in the bottom twice now (and have been saved twice) so they’re pretty much on their last strike.

Other observations:

  • After the top 10 was announced, we got a huge surprise: Next week all the couples will be broken up and the top 10 will be paired with…wait for it… the All Stars! They’re BAAAAACK! Just when I thought we wouldn’t get any more surprises, another delightful bomb is dropped.
  •  It seems as though Mary is continuing with the rhinestone-encrusted insect colony on her fingers. Unfortunate.

So what did you think Dance fans? Did you like the Mia Michaels tribute episode? Any other choreographers you’re hoping will get the same treatment in seasons to come? What about the All Stars?! Any predictions on who we’ll see? Chime in our comments section below.

So You Think You Dance airs Wednesdays at 8:00pm EST on FOX

About tvangie

Angie is a TV addict currently pursuing a PhD in media studies. A freelance researcher and writer on the side – she really misses talking about her favourite shows because none of her friends watch them. Help her out.

4 thoughts on “So You Think You Can Dance review – Season 9: ‘The Top 14 Perform’

  1. Is it just me or does rehashing old (beautiful) choreography seem like a bit of a cop out? They had three weeks so I was expecting some amazing new dances, but maybe they were sucked into the Olympic vortex like the rest of us haha.

    • I did wonder why with all that time, no new routines were being developed. Not to say there wasn’t some hard work going on to mount this episode. Perhaps it was a way to ease everyone back into it after such a long break? Overall I thought it was a good exercise to see them change up the format. Could you image a Wade Robson homage? Fingers crossed!

  2. Why would those choreographers want to spend their whole Olympic Season creating and teaching Choreography, right? Well, perhaps everything could have been planned better than this cop out. The dances are made to help the strengths of each dancer, and advantage these poor kids didn’t get this time. Since I can watch commercial free now with Auto Hop on my PrimeTime Anytime recordings, I get the show viewed in 1.3 hours rather than the boring two hours with commercials, which would make me late for working at Dish. So I watched the show yesterday morning because I just couldn’t wait until I normally watch with my wife. I could make this a habit very easily.

  3. Thanks for this review! I was disappointed to see the AV Club pan the idea & execution so thoroughly. While I wasn’t so sure about the concept, and it wasn’t without some weaknesses, I loved seeing all the dancers perform works by a single choreographer. (I might have felt differently if it had been a Tyce retrospective….) I think the biggest misstep was the butt dance, which was designed to highlight a Broadway performer, and took advantage of Randi’s powerful backside. I suspect someone thought that Amelia’s quirkiness would fit into the dance, but I think they overlooked the fact that the guy gets to be quirky while the girl is a sex object, based on something Amelia utterly lacked. Ugh. I really hated that dance the first (and second) time around, although the dancers did a nice job with it.

    I suppose at the end of the day, I have really mixed feelings about the episode, but my love for Mia and (most of) her dances elevated it for me.

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