by Kathy Laluk
I went into tonight's finale with mixed feelings. I didn't think any of these four would end up in the Top 4 at the start of the season. Some of them have grown on me, and I think ultimately deserve to be there, while others I think skated by on a largely confusing and underwhelming Season 9. Still, the finales had some absolutely incredible moments, and I wish we had gotten the chance to see more of those throughout the rest of this scatter-brained season.
The show was jam-packed with group routines, starting with one jointly choreographed by Sonya Tayeh and Christopher Scott. The number started with this season's top dancers -- the guys in trench coats, the girls in flowy navy blue and black dresses with slits up to there -- being blown, pushed, pulled and dragged through imaginary (and sometimes real) wind. Suddenly, everyone paired off, filling the stage and the guys began sharply, but succinctly, controlling the girls. It drifted toward ballet for a moment, when the girls were thrown to the floor, then simultaneously lifted them into the air and delicately set them back down on develepe. Cyrus and Cole nailed side-by-side backflips, which were followed by two other dancers (indistinguishable in the wide shot) doing side-by-side backwards grandjetes. Wonderful use of the stage, levels and cannons. I'd like to see these two pair up for choreography more often if this is the result!
Tonight also featured each of the six judges' favorite dances. On the panel tonight: Nigel and Mary, of course, as well as Lil C (damn, I thought we got rid of him), Adam Shankman, TyceDiOrio, and hot damn, the incomparable Debbie Allen!
Up first was Nigel's pick: Matthew and Audrey's "Titanic" routine. The way these two moved effortlessly on, off and around the chez lounge was incredible. The whole routine oozed chemistry. Not to mention Audrey's kicks and split-leap lifts hit the musical and emotional climaxes flawlessly. It gave me chills, same as last time. I think these two got booted from the competition too early.
Lil' C's favorite was Witney and Twitch's "swag-ography" hip-hop routine set to "My Homies Still." I missed this one the first time around, so it was cool to actually see it. Wardrobe wasn't doing Witney any favors with those pants, but regardless, girl served it up big time. Twitch was right there on every move too, but Witney was undoubtedly the star of that routine. She hit the moves hard and perfectly in-sync with Twitch and the music.
Debbie Allen is back, bitches! And none too soon. I wish we'd seen more of her this season (I don't think any of her students were contestants this year. Perhaps she's got other stuff percolating). Debbie picked Tiffany and George's first piece they danced together. I got chills again when George hoisted Tiffany into the air while on releve. Debbie praised the dancers for performing the piece with reckless abandon (agreed). The flawless technique didn't hurt, either. George easily had one of the best centers in the competition for pirouettes (three of which he did while holding his leg in sort of a half-peake in this routine).
Adam Shankman was next, and picked my favorite routine of the season: Cole and Lindsay's Paso Doble. I think this may actually be my new favorite Paso routine on this show ever (sorry Sabra, Neil, Kathryn, and Legacy!). The choreography, steps, and performance exuded simultaneous strength and grace. Cole and Lindsay OWNED that routine, and that's not easy with this style. I was impressed (again) almost beyond words.
Tasty Oreo picked Will & Amelia's "Lovecats" routine, which was certainly cute and memorable. I didn't mind seeing it again, but it did make me realize just how un-hip-hop this routine was. I'd barely give this a "hip-hop lite" rating (sorry, Nappytabs). I enjoyed this one better the first time around. Tonight, it felt more sluggish. Perhaps those two needed a cat nap.
Mary was up next and -- no surprise -- she picked one of the routines that made her cry (although let's be honest, with Mary, there's always a handful of those to choose from). She picked the suitcase routine with Chehon and All-Star Kathryn. When she was introducing it, she referenced that the characters were from the Holocaust and told they only could bring one suitcase of belongings. I didn't realize that was the setting for this routine. Not sure if I just missed it or it was poorly explained the first time around (anyone?). Seeing it through that lens, I definitely felt more connected to the piece. Chehon soared on his leaps and both dancers gave me chills when they grasped their throats in desperation and let out silent screams. I was on the verge of tears by the time Kathryn went limp at the end. Very pleased to see that routine again. I forgot just how good Chehon was in it.
Then, since the show had to fill two hours, they let the finalists pick their favorite pieces to dance again. Eliana chose the "Bang Bang" piece with All-Star Alex Wong. Stacey Tookey utilized the talent of these two powerhouse ballet dancers to its fullest. This routine wasn't in-your-face or perhaps even the kind of routine the general public would fall in love with, but it made me melt. The way Eliana stretched on that arabesque while Alex held on to the very tip of her toe to keep her from falling was stunning. And moments later he lifted her straight up and down into the air. The pair of them have legs to die for. There were "wow" moments here, but that wasn't what did it for me. The beauty of this piece was in the subtleties and quiet moments in between, the grace with which these two dancers flowed from one movement seamlessly to the next.
Just so no one was left out, Cat got to pick her favorite routine. She went with Tiffany and All-Star Brandon's disco. I'm pretty sure the costumers mugged a couple of very fabulous drag queens for all the sequins there were on stage (seriously, my eyes still hurt). There were a ton of tricky sequences in this number, especially the lifts. The tricks in this routine were impressive, but I think overall it picked up and lost momentum too much. Doriana Sanchez didn't connect the dots between too well. When it was all said and done, Brandon looked beat. Can't blame him, though -- 11 lifts in about a minute and a half, and not a single one was simple. It's a minor miracle Tiffany's head wasn't spinning by the end, too.
Chehon chose his Argentine Tango with Anya. This number was on point. Precise, but smooth and sexy at the same time. Anya's a beast and Chehon paired her beautifully. I loved it when he lifted her into the air and held her there as she did stag lifts to the front, back and front again. She seemed to defy gravity. Great pick by him!
The next pick was seemingly random. Cat went on some spiel about how there was so much AMAZING hip-hop this season that they couldn't possibly pick just one routine to redo. Riiiight. When I think back to the best SYTYCD seasons based on hip-hop performances, I don't think this one would crack to Top 10 (and it's only season 9). Come to think of it, there was only ONE hip-hop dancer this season. So naturally, it was only fair to give him his own special routine! (You've picked up on my sarcasm by now, right?). Christopher Scott joined the "master animator" Cyrus along with Twitch and Comfort for a hip-hop/animation-inspired routine. My outright bitching and screaming aside, this was a pretty kick-ass number. The four started at a poker table – Christopher Scott versus Cyrus. Eventually they flipped the table and kept going in robotics mode. The hand-ography between Christopher Scott and Cyrus was pretty sick.
Still, I don't know who Nigel is trying to kid (besides himself) by fawning over Cyrus over and over. Either enough voters bought the bullshit this season (I call 'em like I see 'em) or there was some serious fixing going on here.
For her favorite routine, Tiffany picked a contemporary routine with Ade set to Celine Dion's "The Power of Love." This was a strong routine with solid technique, but I didn't find it particularly memorable. Mandy Moore numbers (this one had to be her - the bad 90's music is a dead giveaway) are hit or miss for me. I did love it when the two dancers leaped at one another then collapsed. And the routine climaxed perfectly with the music at the end with that helicopter spin.
Tonight's special guest dancers were ones that were near to the SYTYCD heart: the Dragon House dance crew, featuring Brian Gaynor, AKA the original robot guy. Brian was all decked out in gold, with the other three in silver, each with isolations more mind-boggling than the last. The group has such a musicality. My understanding is that Brian does a lot of the choreography and that is one of his greatest strengths (if you don't believe me, go back and watch his last two auditions. Brilliant).
For one week only, Nigel brought back the big musical guest for the finale: Carly Rae Jepson. She adequately performed her newest song, which might as well be called "Not Call Me Maybe." It wasn't that the performance was bad, just light and poppy, which is right up her alley. It was as if a "Tiger Beat" cover exploded on stage. Sugary and reasonably fun.
Finally, Cyrus picked his favorite routine -- he went with last week's robot routine with Twitch. How come he gets two routines, and the other dancers only got to pick one? Oh, that's right. Because Nigel has a dance hard-on for him and insists on over-praising Cyrus every time he does the same thing he did during auditions. Again, his robot style is impressive, but did anyone else notice the only routines he did during the finale were hip-hop and/or animation related (save for the two group routines that everyone did?). Just sayin'.
The last routine was a doozie: it was a Top 10/All Stars Rumble in the Jungle, y'all! The dance was a fusion of African tribal moves and hip-hop, which jived with the music (a remix of "Circle of Life" from "The Lion King"). A very appropriate ending too: all four finalists ended up conquering "Pride Rock."
Finally, it was time to crown our two winners. Unlike in past seasons, where there was just one winner regardless of gender, or where they picked a runner-up of the opposite gender, there was a guy's champion and a girl's champion.
During the montage of the two female finalists, I have to admit that although these two weren't my early favorites, I think we got the right ones. And the big reveal: Eliana the ballerina won! And then promptly collapsed in shock.She genuinely looked surprised and overwhelmed, which just made me like her even more. Good on her. She was brilliant this season and a very solid representation of ballet. I think she's our first ballerina winner on this show ever. Huzzah!
I didn't get the same sense that we ended up with the two strongest male dancers in the finale during Chehon's and Cyrus's montage. Both are talented dancers for sure, but I think there were stronger leaders in the pack this season. Ultimately, the win went to Chehon. I'm personally happy Cyrus didn't win (although it seemed he had a strong, unwavering fan base throughout the proceedings that I'm still not 100 percent convinced actually existed). Kudos for lasting so long, I suppose. He'll get an endorsement deal no doubt, and I'm sure by Nigel's constant glowing praise, a reoccurring spot on the All-Stars list for future seasons, Twitch-style. Ugh.
Overall, I think we ended up with two very deserving winners and some memorable, solid routines to add to the "So You Think You Can Dance" vault. Getting there was a bit of a hectic, disorienting challenge, but hopefully with no Olympic games to worry about next year, Nigel & Co. will be able to knock out a stronger, more cohesive 10th season.