It’s only the first week of performances and the competition on SYTYCD is already sky high. Everyone is so strong, even the couples who got lukewarm responses only looked marginally uncomfortable with their assigned style. Who knows how America will decide? We just hope viewers can figure out the complicated new voting system. It took Cat Deeley a good 10 minutes to describe it. (Not really, but it felt like it.)
We’re getting ahead of ourselves. First we were treated to an incredible group number from Tabitha and Napoleon, all done in one long, well coordinated take. Herb Alpert’s rendition of “Puttin’ On the Ritz” was fun and energetic and we did notice his cameo (we were wondering what Stan Lee was doing there). Resident judges Mary Murphy and Nigel Lythgoe joined in the fun, as did this week’s choreographers: NappyTabs, Travis Wall, Sean Cheesman, Jason Gilkison, and Christopher Scott (Sonya Tayeh and Tyce Diorio didn’t appear in the number). Talk about using your space. Starting outside in the driveway, the dancers traveled through every bit of the studio, the offices, the backstage, and finally ended up in front of the audience, changing outfits along the way. Amazing.
With the official start of the live show, we met the dancers, coupled alphabetically, and Cat introduced guest judge Wayne Brady. Cat, though still gorgeous, looked downright subdued compared to the eye-catching, quirky outfits she usually wears. Not a bit of sparkle on her. Still, she wears hot pink well.
We met each couple with a ten-second rundown and bullet-list commentary of facts, starting with krumper Mariah—because we saw almost none of her during the auditions. She paired with contemporary dancer Carlos (which Cat pronounces Car-loss) for a frenetic jive routine. The judges complimented them on their energy and performance but the routine was a little rough and the lifts labored. We also wanted to see a bit more actual jive; the footwork was certainly jive but nothing much in the partnering resembled swing. Nigel was right: Mariah did look like Debbie Harry from Blondie. They may be in some trouble this week, but we hope she sticks around. We’re curious to know what happened to her front teeth.
Travis Wall did back to back routines, one contemporary, one jazz. Alan and Not Crazy Cat Lady Jasmine M. danced the contemporary routine—while blindfolded. Are you kidding? It looked like a mesh blindfold, so perhaps they weren’t as blind as it seemed, but that was clearly challenging choreography. They did it beautifully, with lots of contact and a few exhilarating blind catches, launching their partnership with a big smooch. Malece and Jade’s jazz routine impressed the judges but didn’t thrill us. The music was repetitive and the concept got lost (we thought she was going to slit his throat at the end, a la Sweeney Todd). Malece did dance with maturity and Jade is terrific—and also a cat lover. Yay for men who love cats.
Jenna and Tucker (Team Tuna, presumably from Tucker’s childhood dream of being a merman?) danced a 1940’s style Broadway routine choreographed by Tyce. Tucker looked adorable and they both danced well, canoodling in the sheets. Nigel called them a power couple (the first of the night), and Wayne compared him to Donald O’Connor and her to both Cyd Charisse and Gwen Verdon. High praise indeed. Jenna got lipstick all over Tucker’s face, prompting Cat to send him off with her own lipstick smack on the cheek.
Ballroom Brittany finally made an impression with the striking Afro-Jazz routine she did with animator BluPrint. Sean Cheesman’s choreography was exciting and energetic, and both dancers were strong, especially considering how out of their respective wheelhouses the style was. We loved that terrific lift into the cartwheel over BluPrint’s shoulders. And Cat cracked up the judges with her own rendition of Afro-Jazz . . . which looked more like a hoedown. No wonder Wayne found it so funny. That’s going to be the new move du jour.
After a clip of Adam Shankman and Nigel hamming it up in preparation for National Dance Day (July 27), tapper and Belieber Alexis and adorable Nico struggled through Christopher Scott’s first hip-hop routine, which Mary downgraded to “pleasant-hop.” It didn’t move well on the dancers who, as Nigel said, seemed to have decided they “don’t do swag and just accepted it.” There was a good bit of mugging, and the awkward moves were played humorously, but it didn’t quite fly. (Nico pulled himself up by his groin. Bizarre.) It’s a shame, because we really want these two to stick around. Scott’s second routine suited Hayley and Curtis much better, though it took a while to get into the hip-hop part, and the concept was a little belabored. But adorable Curtis really turned on the sex appeal, which was unexpected. He may be one to watch.
Contemporary dancer Makenzie and Latin dancer Paul, who somehow had never danced ballroom before, performed Jason’s Viennese waltz choreography. Avril Lavigne’s “I’m With You” is a great waltz, but it seemed incongruous with the costumes and the silliness of the video package. Still, the dancers pulled it off with lovely effortless lifts, though that flouncy dress was hideous.
Jasmine H. and Aaron killed Sonya’s jazz routine, while Amy and Fik-Shun finished the evening with Sonya’s contemporary. Both are power couples, though the judges only awarded the title officially to Jasmine and Aaron. She was terrific, and the judges were impressed with him, but he's still an unknown. He partnered well, assisting Jasmine with those exciting across the floor kicks—to the head. The replay made them look that much more jarring. Amy and Fik-Shun had great control in the angsty contemporary routine and gave Cat her “first chills of the season.” Sonya’s move du jour was not as obvious in either number, though it was there, and Fik-Shun was reminiscent of Leroy from Fame, though it was probably the cornrows… and the shirtlessness.
After tonight’s intense but exciting competition, we’ll be sorry to see any of the couples go in next week’s first elimination.