“So You Think You Can Dance” Season 10, Episode 12 Recap: In Which We Meet Judges Mary Murphy and Nigel Lythgoe

Guest judge Anna Kendrick lightens things up as another foreseeable elimination brings the Top 14 down to 12.

Welcome back, City Kids! We took an extra long hiatus from the SYTYCD recaps last week, missing the slightly surprising departure of Mariah and BluPrint. This week, as an added bonus, we went to the studio and spoke to the dancers, the choreographers, and judges Mary Murphy and Nigel Lythgoe.

After a thrilling contemporary and Paso Doble group number choreographed by Sonya Tayeh and Dmitry Chaplin—the opening tableau alone was breathtaking—Cat Deeley introduced Nigel and Mary along with guest judge Anna Kendrick. She turned out to be a terrific judge: smart, funny, and adorable with insightful things to say. Much more useful than last week’s Carly Rae Jepsen, but that’s not saying much.

Cat revealed the unfortunate news that another dancer is out (at least for the evening) because of injury. Curtis couldn’t dance because of a torn rotator cuff and was ultimately eliminated, though they didn’t reveal that until the end of the show. Alexis was eventually let go too, making for an unsurprising yet disappointing elimination as two tappers bit the dust. What was surprising was how both Makenzie—again!—and Jasmine were in danger, along with Alan and Nico. The judges saved Makenzie straight away. Alan probably sighed in relief to learn Curtis was injured, securing Alan another week without having to dance for his life.

Jenna and Tucker first shared their early dance performances (disturbingly, Jenna already had the “sex kitten” thing down as a young child), then kicked off the night with an underwhelming Luther Brown hip-hop number. The giant set ultimately accomplished nothing, and the frequent booty shaking made us long for the lyrical hip-hop of NappyTabs, who deserves more of a presence this season. Nigel called the performance “unconvincing” and “unmemorable.” Mary complimented the dancers for attacking it with gusto and said Jenna was “ratchet,” and Anna coyly complimented them for being so loveable.

Ratchet’s like Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj fighting on American Idol,” explained Tucker when we spoke to them. Jenna concurred: “That’s what [Luther] told us it was, so that got us in the right zone.” Yeah, that clears things up. Thanks.

Alexis and Nico danced a slightly prophetic Sonya Tayeh routine as a couple whose relationship is ending with Nico moving on Alexis not being able to accept it. The choreography did wonders for Alexis, who looked great and showed a new side of her ability. She doesn’t have the confidence with other styles that she has with tap but this routine came close.

Because Curtis couldn’t dance, Hayley performed the Argentine Tango with co-choreographer Leonardo Barrionuevo. He and Miriam Larici created an exciting routine with plenty of actual tango as well as lifts, slides, and tricks; no heavy concept necessary. The frenetic ganchos (the kicks between your partner’s legs) were thrilling, and Hayley’s beautiful feet and legs carried her to a stunning conclusion. How exciting to dance with the choreographer, who in this case supported and spotlighted the contestant, unlike the later group number where Spencer Liff inadvertently showed up the other male contestants. Awesome Anna said she felt she could solve world hunger if she could have Hayley’s body for one day, and Nigel’s “bad boy” face was less sexy and smoldering and more hysterical-laughter inducing.

Makenzie and Paul also danced a Sonya routine, immediately showing Sonya’s move du jour: the extended sideways leg grab. Both danced wonderfully, dumbfounding the judges (and us) as to why Makenzie would be in the bottom again. Mary suggested that perhaps the screaming women who vote for Paul are jealous of Makenzie, who looked a bit like Angelina Jolie tonight (yeah, that’ll help her case). Nigel also said Paul was well on his way to winning this competition, as he did with Armenian SYTYCD.

Jasmine and Aaron danced a contemporary routine based on Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. Nigel reminded us that the story is actually a happy one, where the tree wants to give all it has to the boy; Justin Giles’s commonly shared interpretation is more melancholy. As lovely and inventive as the routine was with the apple in constant motion, here’s another routine where the woman plays a not-quite human entity (a tree, a ghost, a mannequin) but the man remains a person. They’re similar in some ways to routines where a healthy man is supporting, or inhibiting, an afflicted woman (ie: Jenna and Tucker’s contemporary “Velcro” piece from last week, or Mia Michael’s brilliant “Addiction” from Season 5). Why is this convention so frequently used? Is there possibility for role reversal? Perhaps the choreographers feel the movement must be locked into traditional pas de deux roles.

Unlike Jenna and Tucker’s hip-hop routine, Amy and Fik-Shun’s was memorable. Though we groaned when Christopher Scott first explained his concept of Amy being Fik-Shun’s “catch of the day,” he choreographed an adorable, fun, flirty number distinctly lacking in overly sexual booty shakes.

“The hard part about hip-hop is there’s so many different styles,” he explained afterward. “You can do locking, popping, house dancing, all these different genres in hip-hop and booty shaking is one of them. It’s just not really what I do, so I stick with what I do and what I love.”

The stage was a veritable jungle of props, and one of them caught Amy: she slipped on her napkin and knocked over her chair but recovered beautifully. Nigel is right, however, that they’ve been playing the same kinds of characters from week to week.

Malece and Alan finished the duets with Jonathan Platero’s weightless “roller-coaster” salsa full of crazy lifts. We were concerned there wouldn’t be any actual salsa in the routine, but there was, and the initial big drop was thrilling: the audience let out an audible gasp. The flashy split-flip excited too, but later lifts felt slow and careful, if not downright awkward, and the dancers steadily lost energy—understandably so. Fortunately the producers showed the slo-mo replay, but they played back a different set of lifts from the one Nigel discussed. Despite an assumption that lifts are such a part of partner dancing that any ballroom dancer will have done many, Alan confessed, “there’re rules in competition where you’re not allowed to lift, so I’m not really trained in lifts.”

Two additional group numbers closed the show, one by Spencer Liff, the other by Bonnie Story of High School Musical. Spencer’s 1950s-inspired pool hall number featured Spencer himself, filling in for Curtis, to the detriment of the other male dancers. It was wonderful to see him dance; too wonderful, because he upstaged the others though Nico held his own. (We have a soft spot for Nico, and can’t wait to see what he’ll do next week with a strong, solid partner like Hayley at his side). Spencer confessed to us how exhausted he was and how grueling the schedule is. “My body hurts, I’m tired,” he says. “These kids are conditioned. We ran this number 5 or 6 times today full out, and they’re doing all these other pieces. I have a new sympathy for how difficult this show is on the dancers.”

Bonnie’s routine took on the socially conscious and relevant subject of bullying, one that is extremely important to the judges. “It is devastating that people are getting killed and kids are committing suicide over it, and that we’re losing a lot of people over just some ugliness. I just wish it would stop,” explained Mary. “The bullying goes on at all levels. My brother was savagely attacked at his work [in construction], and for no real reason. To think that there are adults doing this kind of stuff too, you think you grow up past that. We have to bring awareness that it’s happening at every age.”

We’re amazed this topic hasn’t been addressed in dance before, at least not on the show. Though at times heavy-handed or too literal, Bonnie’s choreography was beautiful, giving Amy and Fik-Shun a chance to show a different side. Anna expressed a common sentiment, thanking SYTYCD for giving dance a platform. Indeed. It deserves every Emmy nomination it receives.