Our Favorite “So You Think You Can Dance” Routines, Continued

SYTYCD

Yesterday, Vanessa and I began our list of our favorite dances from So You Think You Can Dance. Today, we conclude that article, again alternating our choices. Get a box of tissues, but also make room to dance, because this list is pretty much an emotional roller coaster:

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Vanessa’s #6

“Gravity”
Contemporary choreo. by Mia Michaels
Performed by Kayla Radomski and Kupono Aweau

If you know anything about me, you know this is a dance that hits very close to home. Addiction comes in so many shapes, and so many people try to addict you to their expectation of what your life should be. To have no control is terrifying, then discouraging, then numbing. That numbness goes through your entire body, through your mind, through every thought you have from that point on. This is not contemporary dance to me. It is horror. For people who don’t know what that’s like, I’m eternally grateful to Mia Michaels for giving them a glimpse of it.

Gabe’s #6

“Misty Blue”
Lyrical hip hop choreo. by Christopher Scott
Performed by Sasha Mallory and Stephen “Twitch” Boss

Christopher Scott may be the most romantic choreographer of the bunch. His grasp of staging, lighting, and costuming can tell years of a story before it’s even begun. His background in tap informs his hip hop choreography in a special way – the dancers’ legs seem to hold conversations with each other while the torso and arms betray a character’s expression. There’s an incredible amount of movement. Whereas a lot of hip hop blocks its way across the stage progressively, Scott’s choreographies break and reset the dancers in entirely new places. This is the kind of dramatic blocking we usually see in theatre and television during dialogue scenes. It’s not very common in hip hop, which tends toward a radius of performance. All these staging sensibilities lend Scott the ability to tell complex stories in his choreography, complete with the sorts of power dynamics we most often attribute to contemporary.

Vanessa’s #5

“Slow Dancing in a Burning Room”
Lyrical jazz choreo. by Wade Robson
Performed by Joshua Allen and Katee Shean

“Uncontrolled control.” Nigel, one of the judges, describes the dance in these words. Those two words are a dream. Katee and Joshua are my favorite pair because they have the ability to give up control at a moment’s notice. Their choreography shapes them, not their experience being dancers and actors. They let themselves channel the dance without any mind to how it looks.

Gabe’s #5

“Too Darn Hot”
Broadway choreo. by Spencer Liff
Performed by Jakob Karr and Makenzie Dustman

I’m pretty sure Makenzie’s a superhero. Nobody has a name like Makenzie Dustman and isn’t a superhero. These are two people who have legs that go through the ceiling – I compared Jakob’s extensions to Cyd Charisse’s yesterday. When you have legs that go through the ceiling and you’re doing Broadway, the result can be mind-boggling. This was – no comparison – my favorite Broadway routine ever done on the show. It was simple, old-fashioned, and just let two talented dancers perform a style at which they were exceptional.

Vanessa’s #4

“This Bitter Earth/On the Nature of Daylight”
Contemporary choreo. by Mia Michaels
Performed by Ade Obayomi, Alex Wong, and Billy Bell

Some things speak for themselves.

Gabe’s #4

“When I Was Your Man”
Lyrical tap choreography
Performed by Aaron Turner and Melinda Sullivan

I love tap. It can hold a conversation when no one’s talking. A couple of well-timed clicks can express anything from pure joy to abject sadness. While my favorite solo tap performer on the show was Alexis Juliano, my favorite tap routine is the one Aaron Turner and Melinda Sullivan performed last year. The crucial moment of the piece hangs on two syncopated taps of the foot, surrounded just by music. Those two taps communicate an understanding, a relenting and acceptance on Aaron’s behalf that a part of his life is over. Two taps. That’s all that’s needed to describe a turning of tides that’s universal to everyone’s lives. Frustratingly, I can’t find the choreographer’s name for this.

Vanessa’s #3

“Hallelujah”
Contemporary choreo. by Sonya Tayeh
Performed by Alex Wong and Allison Holker

I never have any idea what Sonya Tayeh’s trying to say, but she always says it so very well. Is this about suffering? Triumph? Losing yourself? Finding yourself? Dying? Redemption? Your guess is as good as mine. So why does it bring me to tears?

Gabe’s #3

“Hometown Glory”
Contemporary choreo. by Mia Michaels
Performed by Joshua Allen and Katee Shean

In my humble opinion, Katee Shean is the best contemporary performer the show’s ever had. Maybe not the best dancer – her feet lacked some positioning, she could be a bit messy at points – but performer, certainly. Yet, there’s one moment when she spins into a fall, completely limp, rises with the arc of an arm, is lifted – coiled up – with her arm in the air and one finger pointed up. The choreography freezes for a half-second, and every ounce of energy between the pair of dancers is held in her index finger, telling us to wait. I can’t remember seeing another dancer on the show who could have pulled off that coiled energy, that lack of movement so succinctly. Part of it is the explosiveness she’s capable of – it’s reflected through her tension. I find dancers with martial arts experience incredibly intriguing. Katee can relax and explode with incredible force and quickness and, well, she’s trained in taekwondo, whose entire movement philosophy lies in finding strength through torque, extension, and retraction. Look at “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” above, too – Katee embodies that philosophy of explosiveness like the best martial artists do. This isn’t to take anything away from Mia Michaels or the incredibly emotional performance of Joshua Allen. Katee’s performance is just the one that sticks with me.

Vanessa’s #2

“Mercy”
Contemporary choreo. by Mia Michaels
Performed by Katee Shean and Stephen “Twitch” Boss

Ask any fan about the show’s most memorable dance and this is where they will guide you.

Gabe’s #2

“Wicked Game”
Contemporary choreo. by Travis Wall
Amy Yakima and Travis Wall

This is the hollowing out of a moment in time, something we’ve all done in our minds, in our memories. It’s the experience completely trapped in our heads by how much it defines us. I watch this and there’s nothing else but this piece, seeing into someone’s head, and that’s what’s becoming so special about Travis Wall’s choreography. The guy gives you moments in his memory, just uses the stage as some frozen, autobiographical refraction again and again. It’s haunting and you can rarely take good or bad away from it. It just is, because those moments that get stuck in our head, that define us, they’re removed from judgment. They exist as ideas, stripped of so many of the important details that give them context: the sights, the sounds, the smells. What we’re left with is some concept of the experience, something intangible, and there’s a bittersweetness to the idea we won’t feel it again, that we can’t touch or taste or smell it, we can only remember it in basics void of detail. That hollowed-out moment becomes more of an icon than a memory, a figurehead in our own minds to build around, an anchor out from which we construct ourselves for better or worse. That’s what Travis Wall’s beginning to capture, just beginning to, and with the psychological places choreographers like he and Sonya Tayeh are beginning to tap, I really hope this show is on the air for a long, long time to come.

Vanessa’s #1

“Medicine”
Contemporary choreography by Travis Wall
Performed by Robert Roldan and Tucker Knox

Robert and Tucker performed this a second time on the finale. They were more synchronized, but it didn’t have the first performance’s power. Their first performance was sloppier, but it was raw. They had both nearly died at different points in their lives, and Travis Wall had someone close to him he nearly lost. The result in how this is portrayed is the SYTYCD moment that stays with me the most.

Gabe’s #1

“Possibly Maybe”
Contemporary choreo. by Sonya Tayeh
Performed by Allison Holker and Cole Horibe

That there’s a dance I’m considering giving a trigger warning for is a testament to the raw ability of Sonya Tayeh to eviscerate her viewers. No dancer on the show better incorporates Tayeh’s combat jazz mechanics into contemporary like Allison Holker does. Perhaps no dancer on the show has moved like Cole Horibe has. Here’s another dancer with extensive martial arts experience – again in taekwondo – and his exquisite, otherworldly elegance and flow lends him the feeling of a nightmare, of something that doesn’t need to rush to find you. A smart choice of camera angles puts us in Allison’s shoes, so that Cole is unavoidable and imminent, much like the kind of man he plays. In a week like this, too, I feel that dances like “Possibly Maybe” and “Gravity” become even more important as commentary. In dance, we have the rare opportunity to – as Vanessa describes for “Gravity” – get a glimpse of someone else’s experience. You can ask me to describe how dance uniquely does that – transfers experience – in a way that other mediums struggle to. I don’t know. I don’t know how dance does some of the things it does. I can analyze techniques and styles and choreography, yet dance still strikes me as the closest thing we have to magic. It disarms and opens us up in a way few other things can.

So You Think You Can Dance premiers tonight, Wednesday, May 28, at 8 Eastern/7 Central.

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