Last week's SYTYCD theme was sex. This week, it's death. What’s going on with these folks? We guess they know what sells.
The eliminations were lighter in tone than last week. We clearly weren't the only ones unhappy with last week's format. Cat Deeley, looking subdued in a classic LBD, told us that the producers listened to audience feedback and changed the format again, waiting to reveal the eliminated dancers until the end of the show rather than at the beginning. Ah, the power of the Internet.
Without much intro or fanfare, a breathtaking group number choreographed by Sonya Tayeh and Christopher Scott started the show. It featured an elaborate, spiky set piece with stairs and slides. There’s a new move du jour among the choreographers (Stacey Tookey did it last week): The women leap into the men leaving their arms and legs outstretched. Most notable in the group number, aside from the scenery, was Aaron, his tall statuesque frame breaking into gorgeous body rolls. We gasped when the first dancer threw herself backwards into the “volcano” as the lights shone red; others followed thrillingly like some strange lemming-worshipping cult.
After the number, Cat pointed out what was missing: Jade. He had a recurring injury and had to withdraw from the competition. Whew! said the two other men at the bottom this week. After a quick review of last week, Cat revealed the six dancers in jeopardy: Alexis, Jenna, Jasmine M., Curtis, BluPrint, and Jade. Of course Jade was out and the other two gents were safe, but all three women had to dance for their lives, probably to use up the extra time. But what is Jasmine M. doing there?
Guest judges Paula Abdul (formerly of American Idol) and Erin Andrews (of College Football Saturday) joined Nigel Lythgoe, who was celebrating his birthday, and Mary Murphy. We wanted to know why Erin was there, but they’ve yet to inform us of any guest judges’ dance experience, and Erin proved to be smart, perceptive, and entertaining. Paula was Paula, wearing a Big Bird samba-dancing outfit. The audience often grew quiet when she spoke. They were probably trying to figure out what in the world she was talking about.
Amy and Fik-Shun continued the death theme with their fiery “Paso War,” as dubbed by choreographer Jean Marc Genereux. A fan on the SYTYCD Facebook page asked a fitting question: Why do Pasos always look like a scene from The Matrix? It’s likely the outfits. SYTYCD’s costume designers are certainly exercising their black pleather and spandex budget this season. Despite somewhat overpowering music and clunky marching, the dancers still demanded attention and performed a nice routine. Nigel’s right that Fik-Shun needs to relax his shoulders, and the producers still need to bring back the replays; Mary complimented them on a particular step, but there was no replay to teach us what she was talking about. We did learn that Fik-Shun had worked with Paula on her short-lived show Live to Dance.
Jasmine H. played a ghost and Aaron a detective investigating her murder in Spencer Liff’s Broadway number. The brilliant Megan Hilty from Smash accompanied the number, and was instantly distracting, but the number entertained. As much as Aaron stood out in the group routine, Jasmine’s enormous talent again dwarfed him in their duet. She’s so engaging, it’s hard to take your eyes off her. Aaron certainly has his fans among the judges and as demonstrated by those freaky giant heads in the audience.
Paul and Makenzie showed a softer side of death in new choreographer Lindsay Nelko’s piece about terminal illness. While it was beautiful and touching, it could have been equally so without the depressing subtext. Another powerhouse Broadway performer accompanied the routine: Idina Menzel’s recording of “No Day But Today” from Rent, which seemed the main reason why the dance was about terminal illness. Nevertheless, Paul and Makenzie were gorgeous, strong, and moving.
Jasmine M. and Alan were royalty dying of boredom in Sean Cheesman’s quirky, fun jazz routine. We especially loved that fantastic one-legged reverse cartwheel lift from the floor. Jasmine showed more personality than Alan (looking appropriately snooty while he just looked stiff), but we agree with the judges that they both could have let lose and played with the characters more. Loved the music too, by Charlotte Martin, and will definitely be visiting iTunes for that one. Still, we don’t understand how Jasmine ended up in the bottom.
The judges thought Jenna and Tucker’s hip-hop was more like jazz, or hipster jazz, and Jenna reminded them of Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face (which in turn is reminiscent of this). With those striped pants, we expected a number about baseball. Surprisingly, after some incorrect comments online about intellectual copyright violations, we discovered that choreographers Keone and Mariel Madrid recycled an older routine. And while not specifically about murder or death, it included gunshots, and Jenna nearly threw Tucker off the stage.
Since Malece’s partner Jade had to withdraw, she danced with all-star Marko Germar from season 8. Dancing with Marko is good for Malece; the judges unanimously agreed that he allowed her to reach a new maturity. Sonya’s gothic-looking routine, with its flexed feet and that gorgeous pause with both Malece’s legs in the air, broke the run of murderous dance routines. Hayley and Curtis followed with a Jean Marc samba that seemed slow but showed lots of sexy skin, though the judges felt Curtis lacked maturity. Apparently it all went to Malece this week.
Nico and Alexis touched on the murder theme with a few chokeholds in Spencer’s spellbinding jazz routine to Nina Simone. Alexis kept up pretty well with Nico this week, but he is so sexy and strong, his turns and leaps are overwhelming. What’s with those costumes? While he wore a 19th-century style Prestige outfit, she wore black spandex hot pants. Oh, right. Sex sells.
New pairing Mariah and BluPrint provided the last bit of relief before the eliminations in an energetic hip-hop routine from Luther Brown. She shone, hitting everything strong with great personality, but he only had fun when he lifted his shirt (apparently sex sells to the dancer as well as the viewer). The judges are right: He needs to let his personality shine through and enjoy what he’s doing.
With the final moment at hand, the judges made another controversial decision and let Jasmine M. go, even after criticizing Alexis for not retaining direction. Yes, someone has to go, but how did she end up at the bottom? And was one of her finest moments really hitting her head on the hotel-room door? Oh, Jasmine.