by Kathy Laluk
For the first time, the performances are eliminations were rolled into one show - and it was a jam-packed box of sweets. But even the best box of chocolates has a few nut clusters you've got to suffer through to enjoy the goodies.
The opening routine started out with a disturbing "Mirror, Mirror" moment, with Cyrus creepily staring down the camera. The image quickly dissolved into a quirky, creepy group routine set to "The Beautiful People" by Marilyn Manson. The dancers hit their sharp, zombie-like movements perfectly in synch. I loved when they all created a pyramid and collapsed as one dancer rose up. Very effective. The group melded together again, pulsating and sporadically spazzing out in unison. The darker, quirky number (which was pre-taped so that the dancers had time to change out of their red, black, and white costumes) was choreographed by Napoleon and Tabitha.
On the judging panel this week with Nigel and Mary was one-time "permanent" judge Adam Shankman. It didn't take long for them to pimp his new "Step Up" film (they're up to seven or eight now?). I think they managed to get in at least two references in only 90 seconds - and Adam was definitely all aboard the shameless promotion train.
The night's first routine went to Lindsay & Cole, who blew me away with their powerful Paso Doble last week. This week, they were only lukewarm. I actually double-checked my notes to make sure it was the same couple. Dancing a Christopher Scott routine to "Teeth" by Lady Gaga, the two flipped in and around a dentist chair. Cole jumped straight into character as the uber-nerdy patient. Lindsay was only middling as the saucy, sexy dentist. The piece never seemed to pick up steam, which could have had something to do with the song's slower tempo, and the pair's popping sequences were a bit off at times. So-so reviews from the judges.
Amelia & Will were supposed to be dancing as if they were carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders in the Sonya Tayeh contemporary routine. Amelia's leg extension is simply incredible, even when she leaned so far off center for her arabesque that the only thing holding her upright was Will. That's trust. Will partnered her masterfully, lifting and spinning her around like a rag doll. She flopped over, and then emerged in a stunning develope. There was a great moment when Amelia desperately tried to run forward as if she were in quicksand, as Will lunged from the stage floor after her feet. Wonderful bit of choreography. For me, Will sold it emotionally, which surprised me since his personality seems a little less mature than most. Amelia didn't seem to get the emotion of the piece until the very end, but when she got it, it was powerful. Strong reviews from the judges for both dancers and chorographer. Sonya really is growing on me, and growing as a choreographer more and more each season.
Nick lucked out again, getting a ballroom routine for a second week in a row. Nick & Amber took on a tango that was chock-full of fast, intricate footwork. Even though she was largely forgettable last week, Amber sizzled tonight. Her un gancho series was perfection and her carriage wasn't too shabby either. Nick was largely forgettable (again) in his own style, which doesn't bode well for him. He did a decent job partnering her, but that's about the best I can say for him. Amber got a glowing report from the judges again this week. She should be fine for eliminations, him not so much.
The show's producers didn't keep us waiting too long for our yummy man candy. Matthew & Audrey were barely clothed for their evil robot-inspired routine from Sonya Tayeh. She can call it what ever she wants, as long as Matthew is shirtless. The dancing matched. It was full of freezes that showed off Audrey's flexibility (she's the queen of knots in my mind) interspersed with spastic leaps from him (holy height, Batman!). The routine still had a creepy-crawly vibe too it - the two of them prowling across the stage in unison, necks cocked forward in an unsettling way. This was a huge, yet brilliant, departure from the pair's flowy, romantic "Titanic" number last week. That will probably work to their advantage, since it shows their versatility. These two are the couple to beat in my mind.
I still have mixed feelings about Dareian & Janelle's "hip-hop" routine. Choreographer Christopher Scott set it to "My Girl" by The Temptations. No doubt an iconic song, but how it relates to hip-hop, I'm still not sure. Janelle's poofy tutu of a dress and his gold starter jacket weren't doing the couple any favors either. The dancing didn't seem to fit the song. Some moments where the intricate hand movements were slowed down to match the music worked well. Dareian & Janelle milked all the chemistry out of those moments, but were left scrambling when the popping picked up its pace. Overall, the routine felt too frantic for this romantic anthem. The ending was adorable, with Janelle finding a ring in Dareian's coat pocket and the two embracing in a kiss (did I mention they were supposed to be a couple in love? That's OK, I think Christopher Scott forgot too). Adam told Janelle to make sure she lived in the small, in between moments (good advice for all the dancers). Nigel slammed Scott's choreography, calling it "uninspired." Let the claws come out, Nigel!
Apparently choreographer Sean Cheesman does Broadway now. He choreographed Janaya & Brandon's routine about a couple of love-struck bookworms on a bench. Janaya got the energy and comedy out of the routine, but the pair of them lost me in the dancing. It didn't do it for me, although there was one cool moment when Janaya hooked her foot on Brandon's shoulder, crept up backwards and did a somersault mid-air. The judges gave Cheesman a tongue bath (ugh), but only gave the dancers a lukewarm critique. I feel like the styles this season haven't been as pronounced as in seasons past. Tony and Meredith and Jason Gilkinson have carved out a niche for themselves in the ballroom realm, and Nakul's got Bollywood nailed, but the other choreographers seem to be all over the place. Jury's still out on whether that works for me.
Poor Cyrus & Eliana got stuck with a jive routine this week and they didn't seem happy about it - way out of both their comfort zones. But they bucked up, dialed the energy up to about a 13, and muddled their way through it. Eliana actually fared surprisingly well. Her kicks and retractions were sharp and dead-on for a jive. Cyrus was clearly trying, but was simply out of his element. I think the choreographers may have actually toned down the footwork for him a little bit. He seemed to have the energetic spirit of the style down pat, though. Eliana got the footwork pretty well - light and over the toes -- but Cyrus was stopping short and forgot to point his feet. That's a big no-no in this style. Still, they did look like they did have fun. And they got through some very tricky partnering and hand switching sequences very smoothly. The judges were gentler with Cyrus than they should have been, but praised Eliana for the routine.
Daniel & Alexa had to redeem themselves for me after last week's bizarre jazz-in-the-box routine. This time, they started off trapped in a bathtub, but emerged, gracefully and beautifully. The pair had stunning lines that complimented each other well, but Dee Caspery's choreography didn't really go anywhere. There was no real rise and fall to the piece. There was a nice moment when they seemed to be imitating the water - very fluid - but the rest fell kind of flat for me.
Last week, it was the dreaded Paso, this week, the Foxtrot. Could the Quickstep be around the corner for one unlucky pair next week? I think Tiffany & George could nail it. They certainly nailed their Foxtrot this week, set to "I Wanna Be Loved By You" by Sinead O'Connor. The routine oozed the glamour of old Hollywood. They became a modern-day Fred and Ginger before our eyes. Their topline was the top, their partnering was near perfection, and their chemistry with one another and the audience was sublime. I was very impressed by these two, and the judges were too. They should be good for next week.
The final routine of the night was a spirited Bollywood routine from Nakul Dev Mahajan. Witney & Chehon seemed a bit overwhelmed with the intricacies in rehearsal, but they got it down in time for the performance. The routine started with a "call and answer" section - anything he could do, she could do better. That made their fast-paced hand work even more effective. And how Witney didn't manage to wrap herself into a knot in that flowy, gorgeous red and gold costume with that many knee spins, I'll never know. Adam picked on Witney's posture (yeah, I can see that), telling her to pull up in her neck and broaden her shoulders. The judges said Chehon's personality beamed and that he redeemed himself from last week's near-train wreck of a samba. Good on them.
Immediately after the critique, Cat brought all the dancers on stage for elimination. It was a very "Chorus Line" moment, all 20 contestants standing in a line, as Cat called six forward who would be in danger. This week it was Janaya, Alexa, Witney, Nick, Daniel and Chehon. I wasn't sure the judges would have enough time to weigh all their options, but apparently Nigel and the crew knew who was in the Bottom 6 going into tonight's episode. I wonder if that informed their critiques tonight. That lets the judges decide ahead of time if they need to see any of the contestants "dance for their lives." Ultimately, the judges thought they had seen enough from the six dancers in danger this week. I think it's a smart move to get rid of the mandatory "dance for your life" segment. Even though these are all tremendously talented dancers, they're not all necessarily strong choreographers too, and that made that segment unnecessarily painful sometimes.
Before we found out who would get the ax, we got a behind-the-scenes look at the film Shankman had been pimping out all night (I counted 13 references) - "Step Up: Revolution." The cast features S6's Kathryn McCormick in the lead role (get it, girl!), as well as S5 alum Phillip Chebeeb and S4's Twitch. It was a shameless promotion, but the dancing was top notch and bursting with energy. Great popping and isolock movements from Phillip in the beginning. The spectacle really picked up momentum in the middle with sharp, precise footwork and upper-body movements. The chair dance section with Kathryn was a little stripper-ish, but she really served it, and it was at least brief, so I can deal with that I suppose. The audience was definitely feeling it, and surprisingly by the end, so was I. So here it is, Shankman: "Step Up: Revolution" hits movie theaters Friday, July 27.
Right to the results - no sugar coating it. Nigel said they were all great dancers, but hey, someone's gotta go. I love how blunt this is. Ladies first, and the two girls going home were Alexa and Janaya. Boom. Done. The two guys going home were Nick and Daniel. Ultimately, there weren't really any surprises here. Both weeks, Daniel and Alexa did a so-so job with bizarre routines, Nick botched his own style in Week 1 (that's practically an automatic elimination) and Janaya had a weak week with hip-hop. I wouldn't be surprised if people confused her and Janelle (I know I did). And now we're already down to the Top 16. We'll resume next week with just eliminating two dancers, but still, this season's gonna fly by fast at this pace!