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'So You Think You Can Dance': A tale of two shows

July 23, 2009 |  8:33 am

4e9a Was I nuts? Compared to last week's episode, tonight's seemed to lack a little magic at the beginning.  But then judge Nigel Lythgoe admitted that he too thought the show was flat--that is, until the second half. There's a reason why we love Nigel--he's almost always right. 

I must confess that my feelings of mild disappointment arrived as early as the show's opening group number choreographed by Travis Wall, who did such an excellent job last week choreographing Jeanine Mason and Jason Glover.  For a dance about a "rave in the year 2300", I expected more funk, spark and danger but the dance seemed a tad slow and spread-out. At least the glow-in-the-dark costumes were cool. 

The first couple dance of the evening was performed by Janette Manrara and Evan Kasprzak, who did a Sonya Tayeh jazz routine on the eloquent theme of "shut up." The "story," mostly involving the dancers clapping their hands over each others' mouths, was a little weak but Janette sparkled onstage as usual, and she and Evan put punch in the dance.  I agree with guest judge Mia Michaels who declared Janette her "favorite favorite favorite." The judges worried that Evan was a little too cute and not gutsy enough. 

Next, Jeanine Mason and Brandon Bryant danced a Hunter Johnson waltz--I couldn't tell if it was the soporific music but I just wasn't buying Jeanine and Brandon as a couple with good chemistry in this dance.  The judges were less than delighted as well: Nigel felt the dance lacked control and Mia thought it was too much about the "birds and bunnies" that Jeanine was pretending to dream of in her faux-princess character.  Guest judge Ellen Degeneres found it fantastic  but she pretty much said this about everyone, which was a very reasonable approach for a non-expert to take.  Ellen was Ellen throughout the episode: deadpan-riffing and gracious (although personally I get more joy out of Debbie Allen). 

The "nice but not amazing" bus (since it's not the hot tamale train) rolled through again with Melissa Sandvig and Ade Obayomi dancing a cha cha cha.  It was perfectly fine but this is the time on the show where the dances either sparkle or they're not good enough and it didn't sparkle for me.  Mary felt like the dance was in slow motion and Mia called Ade's worst performance of the season, as he didn't get down and dirty enough.

Things picked up a little bit with Kayla Radomski and Jason Glover, who performed a Tyce Diorio Broadway dance about a music-minded man being tempted by a sparkling temptress.  The dancing was great but moreover I liked Jason and Kayla's characters onstage.  Nigel compared Jason to Gene Kelly and Mary tootled on a train whistle (better than the screaming) and Mia advised Kayla to learn how to sing and act so she can properly take the world by storm.  Here is where I'm going to predict that Kayla won't win this competition, as I believe the more the judges pile the praise on her, the less compelled America will feel to vote for her.

For their second dance, Janette and Evan performed a Tony Meredith and Melanie LaPatin rumba.  I think we all knew two things were going to happen with this dance: Janette would rock it and Evan would have trouble summoning the Latin spice the judges would so desire.  I was actually a little disappointed, half beacause, as Nigel put it, it's a hard song to get votes from because of its smooth dynamic, but also because Kris Allen's version of "Heartless," while great on "American Idol," is not a good song for dancing.  The judges all agreed, in the end, that Janette is great but were split on whether or not they like Evan's face.

Choreographer Laurie Ann Gibson, who typically is seen on "Making the Band," came on to deliver tough love as she showed Brandon and Janeane to dance her military-inspired pop-jazz routine.  "Heavy is the crown!" she yelled at Janeane, which may be my new motto. All the work she put them through was worth it, as all their moves were hard-hitting--I especially liked it when Brandon carried Janeane on his back.  The judges loved it, and Nigel declared that the evening was rather flat until now. 

I had read some Twitters about this next piece so I wasn't sure what to expect, since all I knew was that it made everyone cry.  Melissa and Ade were given a Tyce Diorio contemporary routine on the topic of breast cancer, which of course is going to be a tear jerker to begin with but it was set to Maxwell's "This Woman's Work," which is just simply unfair.  I had some complicated feelings about the dance. It was, of course, moving and beautiful, but the judges, who nearly all wept, all seemed more moved by Diorio's dance and the subject matter than how it was executed by Melissa and Ade. I wonder whether the other dancers secretly wished they had gotten than routine, and whether it will prove to help Melissa or Ade tomorrow night.  I am not taking anything away from their performance in any way but it's hard to compare a dance like that to something perhaps just as technically proficient but without such a powerful story behind it.

I actually enjoyed tonight's final dance the most out of all of them.  Kayla and Jason danced a Shane Sparks hip-hop routine wherein Kayla played Jason's zombie mistress.  Of course I loved Kayla's smearing makeup special effects and the fact that she could bust a hip-hop move but the dance changed how I felt about Jason. I had always liked him but not actively rooted for him but between the way he handled the genre, the way he handled his big woman and the great way he channeled a zombie (especially with his chin), I officially became a fan.  Nigel loved it, again saying that in an otherwise flat night, this stood out. Mary loved the clear pictures the dance painted and Mia declared it her favorite Shane Sparks piece on the show. 

Like last week, I am only going to mention the solos that really inspired commentary: I wish Janette had done something high-tempo, Melissa seemed like she was building towards something rockish but her solo ended before it really began, Janeane looked like she was channeling her old partner Phillip Chbeeb, Brandon's was funky, happy AND gymnastic (hence the most fun to watch) and I worry that Evan dropping his hat is a portent for him.

Who will be going home on"SYTYCD"'s gala 100th episode?  Tune in to find out as well as to find reprises of the show's Emmy-winning dances and a special performance by Katie Holmes. 

--Claire Zulkey

(art: FOX)