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'So You Think You Can Dance' tour: No judges allowed

October 2, 2008 |  1:15 pm

Top10_d2y6891_2 The top 11 contestants from Season 4 of "So You Think You Can Dance" began their nationwide tour less than two weeks ago, but they have already samba-ed, waltzed, and tangoed their way through eight cities. On Wednesday night, the 11 chosen ones returned to their old stomping grounds -– Los Angeles -– for a show at the Nokia Theatre.

"Dance’s” host, Cat Deeley, and its judge/executive producer, Nigel Lythgoe, appeared in taped segments at the top of the show, but soon receded into the background. With no authority figures in sight, the dancers became playful. At one point, Thayne Jasperson attempted his best Lythgoe impersonation. From top to bottom, the dancers ran the show, even setting one another’s props and serving as makeshift emcees between numbers.

All of the season’s best-remembered dances -– Kherington Payne and Twitch Boss playing escaped convicts, Comfort Fedoke and Mark Kanemura hip-hopping their way out of detention, Will Wingfield and Katee Shean’s seamless pas de deux  -– were reprised, but the night was about more than just showcasing triumphs. It was also about accepting failures. When a dancer poked fun at Mark's and Kherington’s country two-step -– one of the most poorly reviewed performances all season -– Mark quipped, "Kherington wasn’t that bad." Thanks to a little temporal distance and a lot of fan mail, the dancers appear to have made peace with their missteps, no matter how tragic they seemed at the time.

Because all of the most popular dances were performed, golden couple Katee and Joshua Allen (the Season 4 winner) hardly left the stage. They reprised their samba, Broadway routine, Bollywood number and more. But even though he probably logged more leaps, lifts and spins than any other dancer on stage, Joshua’s energy never flagged. Although some of the dancers paced themselves for the lengthy show, Joshua danced every step like it was his last.

His relative intensity was particularly apparent in his solo. The solos are the weakest element of the TV show -– they feel like throwaways -- and the majority of the performances during the stage show proved no exception to that rule. Joshua’s solo, however, was bursting at the seams.

The show was especially significant for Comfort, a hip-hop dancer from Fort Worth. Her path on the series was tumultuous. At auditions, judge Lythgoe called Comfort "the best female hip-hop dancer we’ve had on the program," but as the weeks wore on, Comfort’s failure to adapt to different dance styles proved problematic. After many scathing critiques, Comfort was eliminated, only to be called back the next week (when Jessica King suffered an injury) and eliminated anew two weeks later.

So it was a joy to see Comfort in her element again. Throughout the show, she stuck to what she does best: hip-hop and popping. During the group number, Comfort even got to be one of the boys; she was featured in a segment with Will, Joshua and Twitch Boss. Also, during her hard-hitting partner routines with Twitch and Mark, Comfort got to be herself, her ballroom snafus a distant memory.

Between each routine, the contestants took turns chatting up the audience, cracking jokes and gushingly introducing one another. It seemed like it would be a natural gig for impossibly likable twosome Twitch and Kherington, and it was, but neither of them proved the star of the evening. Instead, Russian break-dancer Gev Manoukian was the one who left the audience in stitches. Gev’s unrequited love for dance partner Courtney Galiano was a running joke on the TV show, and Gev continued his pursuit over the course of the stage show. As always, Courtney rebuffed him.

The audience was so charmed by Gev, in fact, that Courtney’s rejection of him elicited the only boo of the evening. "How come girls always get the better looking outfits?" Gev inquired during one break. "'Cause they’re more attractive," Courtney shot back. The audience grumbled their discontent. "Gev, I think you’re sexy!" shouted one insulted fan from the audience.

The dancers seemed to enjoy their scripted banter, but they lighted up most when it came time to dance. The group Bollywood number, in particular, left them ecstatic.

The show had the celebratory, experimental feeling of kids partying when their parents go of town. Was it corny in places? Of course -- it’s "So You Think You Can Dance," after all. Was it fun? God, yes. A fan of the show would have had to work not to enjoy the evening.

-- Stephanie Lysaght