Tag Archives: So You Think You Can Dance

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


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:

[Some browsers may require you to click through to YouTube to watch certain videos.]

Vanessa’s #6

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

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

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

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.

Vanessa and Gabe Choose Their Favorite “So You Think You Can Dance” Routines

Observe the following:

That’s on Fox. It isn’t Tom Arnold mucking his way through two weeks of ballroom training. It’s 17 dancers who have done nothing but eat, drink, and breathe dance for the vast majority of their lives, choreographed by the foremost innovator of combat jazz, Sonya Tayeh, and up-and-coming hip hop choreographer Christopher Scott.

How does something like that get on the network that has all but crowned Seth MacFarlane its creative director? It’s housed inside a competitive format, with smatterings of reality show thrown into the mix. So You Think You Can Dance is very smart about these trappings, however. Instead of seeing contestants snipe at each other in some forced under-the-same-roof drama, SYTYCD favors snappy interviews that highlight how each dancer fell in love with dance and came to be as proficient as they are now. Behind-the-scenes footage is focused on training with a choreographer, and the judges’ comments are – save for a few of the loopier guests – centered squarely on dance technique, emotional performance, partnering, and constructive criticism. It’s an anomaly of television that’s about to enjoy it’s 11th season.

Vanessa and I are both fans. Talking about the show every week probably saved our friendship at a point when things were very tenuous between us, so this is an incredibly fun opportunity for us. We each chose the top 12 partner routines that stuck in our heads. It’s influenced by what YouTube has good footage of (you’ll have to click through to YouTube to watch some of these), so don’t consider this a comprehensive list. It’s more of an encouragement to watch one of the best shows on television, as well as to remember to seek out and appreciate dance in all its forms. So You Think You Can Dance premiers this Wednesday, May 28 on Fox at 8 Eastern/7 Central, and whatever wacky time the Pacific Coast gets around to things.

Gabe’s #12

“At This Moment”
Contemporary choreo. by Dwight Rhoden, Desmond Richardson
Performed by Jakob Karr and Kathryn McCormick

I have no objectivity when it comes to either of these performers. Jakob Karr was a beast of a contemporary dancer, whose leaps and tumbles gave him the appearance of a man who just didn’t have to worry about certain bones or muscles. His extensions were legendary, approaching Cyd Charisse territory, and his ability to project emotion was broad enough to reach to the back row. Kathryn McCormick was a perfect partner with a rare emotion of body. One of the great joys of her performances lay in constantly watching her prop up performers who couldn’t adapt to the sheer variety SYTYCD threw at them. She isn’t one of the most athletically gifted women the show’s had, but she’s always been one of the most technically sound, and one of the smartest, with a choreographer’s sense of how a routine plays to the audience. In this routine, each of them finally got to perform on the show with a partner trained in contemporary. The result is a fusion of technical mastery and emotional performance.

Vanessa’s #12

“Whatcha Say”
Lyrical hip hop choreo. by Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo
Performed by Ashleigh Di Lello and Jakob Karr

This was the most mutable pairing the show ever had. “Whatcha Say” is impressive because Di Lello was a ballroom dancer, and Karr was a contemporary dancer. It demonstrates the range of performance ability every contestant must have – they also did memorable cha cha and jazz routines in other weeks. What made this pairing special is that they were so effortlessly adaptable.

Gabe’s #11

Contemporary choreo. by Mia Michaels
Performed by Hayley Erbert, Malece Miller, & Carlos Garland

As a choreographer, Mia Michaels has the ability to wreck you in the space of two minutes. It takes her those two minutes to make a terrible day suddenly important, to tell you a story through form and shape and syncopation and light that sticks in your head. She switches between overtly emotional narratives and experiments in clockwork movement. While it’s not one of her more lauded pieces, I think “Stay” is the perfect marriage between these two approaches. It’s also an interesting combination of performers – while Hayley Erbert was the more fluid dancer and complete performer, Malece Miller could stab straight through her movements in a way that took unique advantage of Michaels’s choreography.

Vanessa’s #11

“Heaven Is a Place on Earth”
Contemporary choreo. by Stacey Tookey
Performed by Kathryn McCormick and Robert Roldan

I will grudgingly admit in print that Kathryn McCormick is one of the best dancers the show has, but only if Gabe admits Robert Roldan looks smoking hot with his shirt off. [If you know our history of Kathryn McCormick discussions, you know this is a good deal. Done. – Gabe] Choreographers don’t just map movements, they direct performances. Some dancers do more than conduct emotion to the audience; they insulate the audience when the emotion becomes overwhelming. They hold a dance’s energy on the stage to keep it from flooding into the audience. It gives the impression of looking into a private moment instead of a performance.

[Since this is the only place we mention Stacey Tookey, I’d also like to point out that she’s one of the better choreographers at directing with the camera in mind instead of the stage. Oh, and the shifting power dynamics in this piece and the way they play with your narrative expectations are exquisite. – Gabe]

Gabe’s #10

“Let’s Get It On”
Hip hop choreo. by Christopher Scott
Performed by Amy Yakima and Fik-Shun Stegall

And now we come to that other draw of live television – when something goes horribly wrong. The great thing is that when something goes wrong with professionals, you barely see it. Amy Yakima takes a nasty spill when a prop ends up where it shouldn’t be, but she’s recovered and stepped back into the choreography in a heartbeat. Her partner, Fik-Shun, even ad libs a glowing smile, point, and wink to acknowledge the moment and work the mistake into the performance. That it’s not readily apparent as an improvisation is a testament to how communicative that partnership was and how comfortable Fik-Shun was inside of any hip hop choreography. That Amy Yakima didn’t miss a beat is mind-blowing.

Vanessa’s #10

“Gold Rush”
Lyrical hip hop choreo. by Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo
Performed by Aaron Turner and Jasmine Harper

No big intellectual reason I like this. Aaron’s a big dude who shows how much fun he’s having, Jasmine hits her moves like a cannonball, and Nappytabs killed the choreography. That’s all there is to say.

Gabe’s #9

Hip hop choreo. by Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo
Performed by Cyrus Spencer and Eliana Girard

Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo’s hardest hip hop choreographies are constructed out of details. The way Cyrus rocks back on his feet as he cranks a lever, the precise geometry and flow as the locking transfers from one dancer to the other, the little touches of contemporary to isolate and highlight the more suggestive hip hop gestures. It helps their routines construct worlds more than characters, and they can establish the choreographical language each world speaks within a few seconds. This resetting of the rules is what makes them so able to work with dancers of such varied backgrounds and incorporate non-hip hop stylistic elements that only serve to strengthen and broaden the language of hip hop. Perhaps more than any other choreographer on the show, they approach other styles with a mind toward assimilating and repurposing them.

Vanessa’s #9

“Total Eclipse”
Contemporary choreo. by Mandy Moore
Melanie Moore and Neil Haskell

Melanie is the most important performer the show ever had. She doesn’t look like a typical dancer. When I watched the show with men (present company excluded), they’d comment that she was ugly. I’d comment that they were dumped. I get it, she doesn’t fit classical standards of beauty, but that’s why I’m not watching Miss Universe. Getting off with Donald Trump is not on my list of shit to do. Look at that leap in the middle of this. She could tackle gazelles. Melanie is still the most powerful person, man or woman, to set foot on that stage, and I was proud when she won her season by the widest margin in the show’s history. Gave me some hope that enough people find talent and power beautiful as well.

Gabe’s #8

Lyrical hip hop choreo. by Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo
Adechike Torbert and Comfort Fedoke

Comfort might be the best pure hip hop dancer the show’s had. This, in comparison to “Toxic,” is also a good demonstration of the difference between hip hop and lyrical hip hop. “Fallin” is lyrical hip hop, more about unwinding into the song and telling a story – one of the judges describes it as “cinematic” and I can’t think of a better word. “Toxic” is hip hop, more about isolated movements, locking and hitting and hardness. The best description I found came from a Dance Spirit article – hip hop counts the beat as “one-two-stop,” whereas lyrical hip hop counts the beat as “one-two-ooo.” Watch this and “Toxic” back-to-back and you’ll see what they mean and how differently each piece tells their story.

Vanessa’s #8

“Fool of Me”
Contemporary choreo. by Tyce Diorio
Kent Boyd and Sasha Mallory

Each separation makes something beautiful – even the chase is exciting. These are beautiful souls apart, but when they come together, bodies pose in frozen emotional reaction. There isn’t movement or evolution as a pair, just agony. They’re two people with very much to give, but who only take from each other.

Gabe’s #7

“Machine Gun”
Contemporary choreo. by Travis Wall
Ellenore Scott and “Legacy” Perez

Ellenore Scott was one of the weirder dancers the show’s ever had, and I loved her for it. Coming from a fusion background of jazz, hip-hop, tap, and ballet, she invented her own movements and angular poses, and show choreographers began to value and find ways to incorporate her unorthodox perspective on dance. Travis Wall – much more on him in the second half of this article tomorrow – is nothing if not willing to take his choreography to a dancer’s strengths. Partnering Ellenore with Legacy Perez, arguably the best pure breakdancer the show’s had, in a contemporary piece was bound to create something unpredictable. The result remains one of the show’s most different choreographies, a mix of elements you don’t typically think of when you think dance.

Vanessa’s #7

“Adagio for Strings”
Contemporary choreography by Mia Michaels
Cole Horibe and Eliana Girard

Silence is too hard. When I didn’t know anything else, I didn’t realize how hard it was. There are a hundred voices in earshot every day that I don’t hear because people don’t know anything else but silence. Now people get shunned for it. Now people get shamed for it. Now people get shot for it. Someone please tell me what to do about that.

Vanessa and Gabe will run down their top 6 choices each tomorrow.