Nothing extinguishes my enthusiasm for a new season of SYTYCD like actual competition episodes!
Nigel actually gives some solid comments to the dancers, though Mary, especially when faced with a non-ballroom performance, apparently prefers to to transform into another useless appendage flapping lamely from the palsied body that is the judging panel (to balance the guest judge, I suppose?), its emissions of empty platitudes unable to mask the critical rot sausaged within.
Or else she's become an unprincipled telemarketing avatar through which the highest paying bidder is allowed to advertise itself through her shrillhole.
Witney and Chehon - Samba (Louis van Intensité)
Chehon's stiff, especially in his back, so he doesn't look grounded -- if he pulls another Latin number (much less a hip hop), he's going to have trouble with it unless he quickly limbers it up. As for Witney, I didn't start off this season as a fan of hers (nor her partner-in-all-but-name, Lindsay), and she doesn't win me over -- in truth, a Latin number isn't likely to do that for me anyway.
George and Tiffany - Contemporary (Sonya Tayeh)
I'm normally not vigilant about examples of gross heteronormativity, but the contemporary numbers on this show routinely turn me into a militant radical gender-theory critic. (More accurately, they turn me into someone who's incredibly bored and unaffected and who suddenly has better things to think about.) NEXT.
Brandon and Janaya - Hip Hop (NappyTabs)
A nothing sandwich. Also.
Alexa and Daniel - Jazz (Sean Cheeseman)
I'm tickled by how hacky Kenny Ortega proves himself to be -- he likes the "exercise" of this routine? Is Mary ventriloquizing him, or is he actually unable to think of the word "athleticism"? Perhaps that's why he's a film producer and not someone with creative talents. (And having checked Wikipedia, I see that he's got choreography credits on his CV (also, director's), but honestly, would any of us have figured that out based solely on his contributions as a judge and without the benefit of the internet?)
Something about the dancers... something about the dancers... Uh, good on Daniel for taking the piss out of the "Nine Seconds" intro
packages by embracing every known Aussie stereotype this side of playing Knifey Spooney.
Amber and Nick - Viennese Waltz (Jason Gilkison)
The SYTYCD truism for certain smooth dances is that they tend not to prompt viewers to dial in for their performers (in my experience, the Viennese, which offers the grace and elegance of American waltz at breakneck speed, can be thrilling in person), so to test out its validity I conducted a very SCIENTISTIC SURVEY of TWO Youtubes, here and here, which I chose because they represent two ends of the spectrum: one a reality tv performance, the other a showdance by professionals (any excuse to link an Iveta video, eh?), and my INITIAL SUSPICIONS ARE CONFIRMED: the smooth choreography on SYTYCD is paler than Amelia beneath a full moon. The bulk of the DWTS number is comprised of patterns straight out of a studio syllabus (i.e. the lifts aside, nothing incredibly advanced), but the execution is wonderful and JR's rise and fall is exquisite, creating the exact dreamy quality that, in my opinion, SYTYCD so often fails to achieve. (And kudos to Karina for choreography that lets JR show off his rise and fall -- basics, done well, can look amazing.) Iveta and Gherman's doesn't stick so closely to syllabus patterns, but the rise and fall is still there and they likewise dance gorgeously. I believe that what happens on SYTYCD then is that its choreographers shy away from meat-and-potatoes patterns, which in turn reduces the chance to exhibit rise and fall and other requisite Viennese characteristics, in favor of flashy lifts and lots and lots extensions (read: contemporary in disguise). (These shortcomings are compounded by the camerawork's tendency to leave the dancers' feet out of the frame.)
But wow, hair and makeup did a stunning job on Amber. She's always pretty, even when she's allegedly ugly (ahem, Nigel), but here she's absolutely beautiful.
Go her indeed.
Amelia and Will - I Can't Believe They're Calling This Hip Hop (NappyTabs)
Why did NappyTabs call make up such an execrable syllogism to label this style -- "character hop"? (puke) -- when they could've just described it for what it actually is: Jazz. That way, we could've saved our eyes from rolling and avoided another point in the debate about hip hop getting sandpapered into a funkless form that's safe for grandma.
All that said, this routine charms the hell out of me, and is one of the best jazz numbers on this show in a long while, and certainly one of its most endearing ever, like a sexier version of Mandy's SHOES! routine for Billy Bell and Lauren Frogurtman.
I also clearly have to reassess tagging Will as the next JAROSZ. The kid has as much self-consciousness about being on camera as a cartoon dog.
I'm expecting some comparisons of Amelia to beasts in the upcoming weeks, too:
Dareian and Janelle - African Jazz (Sean Cheeseman)
Both of them look far too worried about not falling behind the music that their extensions don't go far enough, especially Janelle's arms at times. Dareian does get to show how powerful he is, though, and how short he is afterwards:
Eliana and Cyrus - Broadway (Tasty Oreo)
Cyrus has trouble with transitions in the first half of this routine, which also happens to be the most technique-heavy portion of the choreography, especially with the lifts; you can see him thinking through to the next move he's supposed to do, which means he doesn't completely dance through his current move. Eliana doesn't get to shine much, either, because Tasty Oreo.
Matthew and Audrey - Contemporary (Travis Wall, SYTYCD Golden Boy)
In which Matthew and Audrey overdance from beginning to end -- even in the quiet moments at the start, the two kids (21 and 18, respectively) invest so much angsty bombast into each move of a routine by a choreographer already prone to grand gestures (Travis: "Music crescendos? Dance crescendos!") that the performance becomes wearisome long before we get to the climax -- a shame, because the Big Leap really is impressive.
Cole and Lindsay - Paso Doble (Jason Gilkison)
Talking with my dance teacher about this performance -- Cole has good carriage, but Lindsay looks occasionally tentative (I
cracked up when Cole does a hip-thrust right in Lindsay's face) -- I complained that I'd been finding the Paso (or, as it's spelled in ballroom contexts, pasodoble) rather formulaic, especially on SYTYCD, where it's Boy-Stomps-Around-In-Puddles-Of-His-Own-Testosterone-And-Occasionally-Strikes-Poses-Cribbed-From-Frank-Frazetta-Fantasy-Art, Girl-Swings-Around-Him-Like-A-Rebooted-Spider-Man. In response, my teacher proceeded to completely blow my mind: pasodoble in the US is exclusively a competition dance (as opposed to a social dance like salsa) that's heavily regimented. That is, pasodobles are often set to, as Wikipedia puts it, "variants of España Cañi" (an iconic Spanish song that most of us Americans think of as the bullfighting song), they have only a handful of moves permitted in competition (and, unless I'm mistaken, they're also mandatory), and the choreography must be tailored to the specific and discrete sections of the music. (Incidentally, competitive Viennese also restricts the number of permissible patterns.) So pasodoble is formulaic by design, which gives me the impression that it's something of an esoteric art form that is only appreciated at its most pure (Cole's back handspring would've gotten a big fat FAIL from dancesport judges) by fanatics deeply submerged in the culture.
^^^ About sums up my reaction.
I do get the sense that Cole is easily impressed.
And here's a choreographer's circle jerk:
Kind of redundant on this show, I realize.
 Nigel's neuroses about hip hop show no signs of abating, however. Saying that Cyrus isn't a great dancer is true only if you're invested in disseminating a myopic conception of dance that belittles the obvious time and effort that Cyrus put into his art form because he didn't learn them in a studio -- his extensions are crooked and he doesn't point his toes (and Dareian has trouble with the latter), but who among this batch of kids can isolate and pop like he can?
 What's confirmation bias?