"SYTYCD" Season 12 Recap: The Top 16 Perform

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The judges kept saying it last night, and it's true: We're getting to a point in this "So You Think You Can Dance" season where the remaining competitors are so talented, it's actually hard to tell who's on Team Stage and who's on Team Street. That actually makes total sense; the most versatile dancers pretty much always last longest in the "SYTYCD" world. In fact, that's been one of the coolest aspects of the show from the beginning: It starts out putting each dancer in a box—"contemporary," "hip hop," "tap"—but ends up celebrating those who can break out of their boxes. So...am I the only one wishing we could do away with the two-team formula right about now? Can't we all just get along?

Here are my top 5 highlights from what turned out to be a remarkable episode. (I'm calling it now: There are at least two, maybe three Emmy noms coming out of this one.)

1) The opening number gave us punked-out realness. The costume department was on fire last night, starting with the off-kilter kilts it whipped up for Nick Florez and RJ Durell's stompy, crazy-fun routine. There were even mohawked mannequins involved, making it feel like the Met's amazing Alexander McQueen exhibit had come to dancetastic life. And the 90s punk-vogue style proved a nice middle ground for Teams Stage and Street—neither intimidatingly technical nor overly intricate and twitchy.


2) Jim and Ariana depressed us, and we mean that in the best way. Sean Cheesman's routine felt like a distant cousin of Mia Michael's addiction piece from Season 5. Ariana, as the embodiment of depression, tormented Jim, just like Kupono's "addiction" character harassed Kayla. I got a little apprehensive when I saw the strange boob-like prop, but Cheesman actually used it to pretty powerful effect: As Ariana repeatedly pushed or pulled Jim down its slopes, we saw how battling depression can feel like a Sisyphean struggle, a series of backslides. I'm gonna go ahead and congratulate you on your Emmy nod now, Sean.


3) Virgil proved he could be Broadway's next big thing...again. The fact that Virgil has a jazz band (!)—and that he was such a sensation in After Midnight on Bway a couple years ago—made me curious to see him in one of Al Blackstone's witty musical theater routines. And holy hitchkicks, did Virgil ever come alive in Broadway mode. Nigel called it: There's some real Sammy Davis Jr.–style charisma happening there. (How cool that Davis Jr.'s son, Manny, was actually in the audience last night!) The piece was also a natural showcase for Gaby's fabulous tap skills. "You two," said Paula, "are a day at Disneyland packed into one routine." A-yup.


4) Talia Favia won the "best use of shirts" award. Favia created a routine for Edson and Megz that was all about the intrigues of temptation, with Edson playing temptation (so many dancers embodying forces last night!). That translated to Edson using super-stretchy shirts to ensnare Megz—modern nerds, were you reminded of Martha Graham's Lamentation, too?—and the technique was crazy effective. The moments when Megz' face was stuck in the shirt had a sort of horror-movie appeal; Cat likened them to The Scream. Edvard Munch, Martha Graham—all these high-art references! Love it.


5) Travis Wall DID IT AGAIN. Speaking of high-art references: It is so awesome when the "SYTYCD" choreographers bring their knowledge of the concert dance world into their work for primetime television, and that's exactly what Travis did last night. His riff on "ghost light" superstitions (read more about those here) turned the members of Team Stage into demented theater ghosts in a way that was totally TV-friendly—the dancers' light-wands played beautifully on camera. But the routine was also a sophisticated piece of choreography, with shades of Jiří Kylián and Crystal Pite. How many Emmy noms do you have now, Travis? Add another one to the count.


In the end, the Twitterverse was able to save JJ and poor injured Derek (get well soon, Derek!), but Marissa and Asaf weren't so lucky: The judges sent them home. This is getting HARD, y'all. Who else is not long for the "SYTYCD" stage? Find out next Monday—and check back here Tuesday morning for our recap!

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Photo by Joe Toreno. Hair by Marina Migliaccio and makeup by Lisa Chamberlain, both for the Rex Agency.

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