“So You Think You Can Dance,” Season 11, Episode 2 Recap: From the Frozen North to the Toasty South

The weather goes from freezing to toasty as the auditions move from Chicago to L.A., but the dancing remains sizzling hot on a new <em>So You Think You Can Dance</em>

Welcome back, City Kids! So You Think You Can Dance‘s chill Chi-Beria (aka: Chicago) auditions conclude before we relocate to toasty Los Angeles for more spectacular dancing. Resident judges Mary Murphy and Nigel Lythgoe are joined by the Joffrey Ballet’s Fabrice Calmels. Nice to have some new blood on the panel, though Nigel doesn’t always let him talk.

Several unique dancers take the stage in Chicago and make huge impressions on the judges, starting with Paul Brushaber, “The Puppet,” whose combination of popping and animation results in his own style of human puppetry. Like a freaky, fluid Petrouchka, he instantly grabs our attention, and the judges’, though it looks like it’s terrible on his knees. But of course that’s not what we’re looking for. Mary is so impressed with him that she sends him straight through to the Pasadena callbacks. That seems unfair; he’ll probably be in trouble when he gets there.

Three more women impress at the Chicago auditions. Emily James auditioned in seasons 8 and 9 but took season 10 off to go to business school, where she quickly decided that she should be dancing instead. She gives a performance that’s “solid,” as Fabrice says, with her gorgeous lines and fluid, quirky movement. Even her young cousin Kelly, clearly a skilled gymnast, gives an inspiring performance, and both ladies receive tickets to the callbacks—though Kelly is too young to actually use hers. Franchesca Bass, diagnosed with alopecia as a girl and now devoid of any hair, uses her unusual look to her advantage in her alien, animalistic contemporary choreography (interestingly, there’s also a contestant on American Ninja Warrior with alopecia). She’s gorgeous, flexible, and very long; Mary says “she’s going to be so commercial.” Ballet dancer Jenna Scaccia trained near Fabrice at Joffrey, but he doesn’t know her—yet. She shows off her Joffrey technique, and he promises to remember her. She is lovely, with strength and grace, though the music doesn’t match her movements.

Our final auditioner in Chicago is contortionist, flexer, and bopper (chicken legs) James Thomas. Sorry, but flexing is just gross. He must dislocate his shoulder in order to do what he does. While it’s entertaining to see the judges’ reactions, his dancing isn’r entertaining, it’s just nasty. Ick. The judges are impressed enough to see if he can handle choreography, but it proves too much for him and he gives up.

The lovely Christina Applegate replaces Fabrice for the Los Angeles auditions, which sees a diverse showing of contestants starting with sexy Jessica Richens’s jazz routine. She’s the whole package: entertaining, great technique, terrific choreography, great musicality, and personality. Mary and Christina agree, “She could win the show.” We’ll have to see.

Tapper Valerie Rockey, with red shoes and great rhythms, is next. She gets the audience on their feet despite a few simplistic steps. Jana “Jaya” Vankova, the fierce yet adorable student of Phillip Chbeeb, follows with her combination animation-krumping routine, and 28-year-old Kyle Taylor shows off his popping. He dances well but clearly does it more for himself and isn’t too impressive—until he gets in a dance battle with some of SYTYCD’s visiting popping and breaking champions: Cyrus, Legacy, and last season’s winner, Fik-Shun (so much fun to see him perform again). As frequently happens, dancing with these pros forces Kyle to up his game and really show what he can do, to the point where Nigel asks him to stay for choreography, even though he doesn’t make it past that point.

After 19-year-old Justine Lutz shows off her cool, angular contemporary, and we get a quick glimpse of a ballroom couple (are there fewer ballroom couples auditioning, or are we just not seeing them?), young couple Mauricio Vera and Deise Mendonca dance a gorgeous pas de deux. She’s so long and lovely with incredible extensions and great control and balance. He’s a perfect partner—meaning he doesn’t get to show off much, but the judges trust them enough to send them both through to the callbacks.

Young Tank Girl and self-proclaimed Miley Cyrus look-alike Hailee Payne gives a powerhouse jazz-funk performance. Ballet dancer and massive jumper Sebastian Serra returns again after almost making it to the Green Mile last year. Marie “Mary Poppins” Bonnevay pops and locks her way to callbacks with some help from Fik-Shun, who’s having way too much fun. But the Touching Story of the Night (TM) is 18-year-old Dani Platz, who took the last two years off from dance while she recovered from an eating disorder. You wouldn’t know from her stunning audition that she hasn’t danced the last two years.

After a rough choreography round where one poor contestant vomits (what is this, The Biggest Loser?), several more dancers (except him) go through to callbacks, including tapper Valerie. It’s frustrating that some people, like The Puppet, are sent straight through to callbacks while others, like Valerie, have to do choreography. What are they thinking?

Before we leave, Justin Bieber (who looks like he’d rather be sleeping) and Nick DeMoura return to introduce this week’s competing crews: Breaksk8, who do breaking, hip-hop, and gymnastics on roller skates (!) and Academy of Villains, a mixed-gender team that combines hip-hop with lindy hop tricks and theatrics like puppet strings. As impressive as breaking on skates sounds, it doesn’t quite fly (perhaps Starlight Express took all the cool out of skating), and Villains seems much more hip, and is winning the vote thus far. Hooray for Chloe Arnold’s Syncopated Ladies for winning last week’s battle.

What did you think, City Kids? Who were your faves? Do you think Jessica Richens could actually take the whole show? Which crew are you voting for?