The “So You Think You Can Dance” Top 10: By definition, that’s a pretty rarefied crowd. At this point in the competition there are no obvious weak links in the contestant lineup, so eliminations are starting to feel…weird. We’re invested in all the remaining dancers, which means, to horribly misquote Sheryl Crow, now every cut is the deepest.
The good news? None of these dancers are going down without a fight—and last night’s episode included some of the best dancing we’ve seen this season. Here are my top five highlights from the show.
1. The opening number made “neon cowboys” a thing. I was a tad confused, initially, by Jamal Sims’ concept. The dancers were supposed to be “getting a drink at the Last Chance Saloon”—but the Last Chance Saloon is a place where everyone wears highlighter-hued crop tops and carries parasols? Once the whole updated-take-on-the-Wild-West thing clicked, though, the piece was good cheesy fun. I especially liked that it gave each contestant a moment in the sun—even the tappers, who frequently get shafted in group pieces like this. (And Mr. Sims: Props to you, sir, for wearing a neon suit in solidarity with your dancers.)
2. Nappytabs absolutely dominated. Tabitha and Napoleon’s absence so far this season had created a gaping hole in my heart—a hole they promptly filled last night with two fantabulous hip-hop routines. First we had Emilio as an Egyptian king alongside Jasmine as a slinky pet snake with royal asp-iriations. I swooned for Emilio’s tutting at the opening of the piece—and I love Nappytabs for never being afraid to go on-the-nose literal in the best way possible (tutting for King Tut, naturally!). Next up, the dynamic duo gave us tWitch as an old-fart creeper creepin’ on pinup girl Jessica, and my mind pretty much exploded. #grandpatwitch forever. (Maybe the “bench test” should be a way to determine choreographic personality? I.e., give Mia Michaels a bench and she makes this; give Tabitha and Napoleon a bench and they make the world’s greatest dirty old man jokes.)
3. #TeamBallroom. I think I have a ballroom problem, you guys, and “SYTYCD” is not helping. Tanisha smoldered in her Argentine tango with Ryan; the two of them nailed all of the routine’s leg-flicking intricacies. And the lifts that choreographers Leonardo Barrioneuvo and Miriam Larici incorporated? Mind-boggling. (At one point Tanisha balanced on Ryan’s neck. His neck!) I was thoroughly impressed by Rudy’s ballroom skills in his cha cha with Jenna, too. I’ll put it this way: When Jenna is wearing a super-naked hot pink dress trimmed with feathers and yet your eyes still occasionally flicker to Rudy, Rudy is doing a darn good job.
4. Travis Wall made the show’s first-ever contemporary ballet piece, and…don’t hate me, but I’m feeling conflicted about it. On the one hand, I’m a ballet freak and a half—in my eyes, anything ballet is always a DO. On the other, much as I love Travis (and think that his routine for the Top 7 guys last week will go down as one of the greatest in “SYT” history), why not choose a choreographer who specializes in contemporary ballet? Where’s someone like Dwight Rhoden, whose company literally has “Contemporary Ballet” in its name, when you need him? The piece was successful in some ways; Jacque and Chehon were utterly committed, and I loved the super-dramatic lighting. But I’m not sure what pointe shoes added to the overall picture. This wasn’t just a one-off experiment for TWall—he’s made work for the Los Angeles Ballet, too—and it’s exciting to see his curiosity leading him down different dance paths. My official verdict? Let’s all keep a close eye on Ballet Travis.
5. Sonya Tayeh dug deep. Sonya began the rehearsal process by telling Zack and Amy that their routine was a tribute to a friend of hers who’d passed away suddenly—and right away, I knew we were in for a teary ride. The resulting work was intense and moving, thanks in part to the beautiful, atmospheric music by Max Richter. While I was touched by how involved Zack and Amy became in the story, I have to admit that the choreography didn’t scream “Sonya” to me. It felt strangely…generic. But I think I must just be a grump, because everyone in the audience gave it a big old standing O. And excuse me—Sonya’s making a piece for the Martha Graham Dance Company? Now that I can’t wait to see.
Ultimately, we were forced to say a painful goodbye to Emilio and Bridget. Our consolation prize? Next week’s show will celebrate the work of—ahem—Michael Jackson. Color me verrrry intrigued. ‘Til then!