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Champagne and Caviar – So You Think You Can Dance 2, 6-28-06


by Matt

We’re down to 16 dancers this week, having lost Joy and Jason last week. Most viewers probably expected Joy to go home, stumbling about in her Big Bird outfit. Jason caught an unlucky break though, being paired with a wet blanket, Aleksandra. None of the bottom three males truly deserved to go home, but this is how the cookie crumbles. Based solely on their solos, I would agree with the judges’ assessment in telling Jason to pack up his dancing shoes.

The young men and women do their usually cheesy intro on the stage as they do on every episode, introducing themselves via their 5-second freestyle solos. The only reason I bring this up is because no one can seem to figure out that Cro-Magnon’s name. This week, it’s Jaymz. Last week, it was Jamyz. Grr… screw it. From now on, I’m calling him Jughead.

On this week’s panel are Nigel Lithgoe, Mary Murphy, and duo choreographers Cicely and Olisa. And again, rather than getting on with the contest, let’s spend some time remembering the losers, shall we? Now, Cicely and Olisa weren’t even on the road with the show for the auditions, yet they still manage to have a memorable contestant in mind. Scripted much? They talk about the young lady who did an excellent job at tapping but had no facial expressions whatsoever. If you were only listening to her tap, she was fabulous, but looking at her, she was in no way an entertainer. Mary’s pick for a not-so-hot performance was the sweaty woman in a gray one-piece, carrying a cane. I think she was going for “Flashdance” but she just came across as a crazy lady in a bordello. Finally, Nigel remembers his friend from New York City, a sassy flashy gentleman who could probably trip over his own lips. After not getting the reaction he had wanted for his “fantastic-isms,” he drowned the judges with rudeness, calling Nigel “an English piece of crap.” Excuse me, Miss Thang, but you ain’t all that. *snap*

To waste more time, Kat intros to a series of clips that exhibit the dancers’ life off-stage. Ho-hum. Basic rundown? Kids hate getting up early. (Shock!) They dread Results Day. *gasp!* They loosen up a bit before every show. The dancers have a little pizza party to celebrate not losing… um, I mean, to say good-bye to the ones being sent home. They have difficulty getting used to the cameras following them everywhere, especially on the rehearsal floor. They have very busy schedules and do a lot of running around. (Awww… poor babies.) Kids love wardrobe because “it’s like shopping, but it’s free.” Dress rehearsals and live shows are nerve-wracking. Go figure. Thrilling stuff, huh? And trust me, however long it took you to read this paragraph was nowhere near as long as the clips were. Hopefully, I saved five minutes of your life. Like the cell phone commercials say, “Use your minutes wisely.”

Two-time world lindy hop champions Hop, Swing, and a Jump open the show with their energetic ‘30s swinging and dancing to Bill Elliot’s Traffic Jam. Of course, the three women are quite pretty-looking, while their three male partners all look like white-guy cornballs who need haircuts… or better hairpieces. Nevertheless, they do very well, much to the audience’s delight. I sometimes have to wonder though if this crowd full of young’ns will just scream and applaud at anything.

Has the competition started yet? Ashlee and Ben pull hip-hop out of the hat, much to Ashlee’s delight. Todd Sams, their choreographer, believes that this style is “whatever you want it to be.” Okay, well, I’m sure Ben wants it to be ‘contemporary,’ can you arrange for that? Todd sounds like a dancer’s nightmare, as he designs his routines without placing counts on any of the steps, just exclamations and sounds like “boom” and “ka!” Poor Ben, when trying to ask for help, is given the advice, “Just be pimp!” Riiight.

As I look forward to see Ben’s pimping skills, the popping rhythm of Usher’s Caught Up begins on the dance floor. I’m not sure what to say about their routine. The choreography was interesting, and whereas most couples have a problem with keeping up the energy in styles they don’t know well, Ben and Ashlee’s problem was in keeping their cool. Although Ben did not look awkward per se, he just looked like he was trying too hard. Nigel says that while Ashlee has “great style and a great look,” Ben’s look was “Rodeo Drive” instead of “street.” Mary gives him the pity vote, saying that he did a respectable job, considering he’s coming from a contemporary background. All around, I think they pulled it off.

Heidi and Ryan, one of the bottom three last week despite Shane’s praises, randomly select the Cuban rumba. Heidi is confident in her familiarity with the style, only to find out from Alex da Silva that she has it all wrong. Neither she nor I have ever seen these steps before. “The Cuban rumba is African dance mixed with Latin influence,” explains Alex. Ryan, contrary to da Silva’s expectations, has a rough time at first, while Heidi picks up the moves quickly. Heidi and Ryan will have to rely heavily on their chemistry for this dance, something they were told they were lacking in their pop routine.

Ryan and Heidi’s rumba to Rumba Del Solar by Angelo Rodriguez was good, but I had a hard time identifying with it personally. The obvious energy was all over the place. The judges were singing their praises however. Mary gives them her typical “Woooo!” and calls them “hot, hot, hot.” Cicely and Olisa adored Alex’s choreography and the couple’s incredible chemistry. I have to say that I appreciated this routine so much more after watching it a second time. And I’m glad that da Silva’s blocking doesn’t rely solely on tricks like it seemed to last season.

After losing their partners last week, Dmitry and Aleksandra find themselves working with each other for the first time for the waltz. Ballroom is Dmitry’s specialty, and the two should excel in this style. Choreographer Heather Smith tells us that the dance is about connection and chemistry, no easy task for these two dancers who have just started working with each other. Heather designs something very smooth and flowing for them, nothing like the rigidity that Aleksandra had expected.

A bit of an odd music selection, Kenny Rogers’ If I Were A Painting starts, and Dmitry looks unsurprisingly elegant in his suit while Aleksandra looks, well, neon. I thought she did beautifully from the waist up, but some of her footwork was too quick and short. Nigel, calling her a soulless “Corpse Bride,” is right in saying that some of her turns were not as smooth as they could have been. While I don’t expect perfection, such subtle misses are incredibly noticeable in such a formal and silky dance. Olisa compliments Aleksandra on doing much better this week than last, which really doesn’t say much, and makes note of Dmitry’s “masculine elegance.” I expect them to be in danger as the curse of Aleksandra strikes again.

Allison and Ivan yank Argentine tango from the Hat of Fate, a selection neither were very enthused about. Their reaction is understandable, given their rough time with Latin dancing last time. They find themselves working with Alex da Silva again, who feels he will be able to teach them much easier now, already being familiar with their styles and mannerisms. He calls this tango “the war of the feet.” While I could understand Ivan’s concerns about where Allison’s feet were kicking and flying between his legs, any dancer can tell you bruises and pain happen. Get over it, and get through it.

Having worked together for quite a while now, you would think the couple would finally be able to work up the connection and chemistry needed for this type of dance. But while Allison’s passion was beautifully elegant during Libertango by Bond, Ivan looked barely interested in her. I thought Ivan looked a tad stiff, and I could almost hear him counting his steps through the television as he kept a closer eye on his feet rather than on his partner. Gauging from the judges’ reactions though, I don’t know what I’m talking about. Nigel calls them both incredible and “sensational,” saying that Allison gave them one of the best performances on the show ever. Mary, calling Ivan “the man,” lets out one of her joyous (and irritating) screams. I personally thought they were very good, but not worthy of the loud exclamations the judges were giving them.

Benji and Donyelle’s performance of the cha-cha last week garnered them a standing ovation from the audience, says Kat. Wait… aren’t they already standing? Whatever the case, their dancing left this humble writer speechless. Their challenge this week was “pop jazz.” Brian Friedman describes the style as very “Madonna, Paula Abdul, Britney Spears…” Well, I get the “pop” part, but what makes it “jazz”? Brian tries to create a cool, chic persona for Benji, which clashes a bit with his natural goofiness. Benji also has to get accustomed to the sexual tension that is an integral part of so many of the dances he’s experiencing now, much different from his “happy-go-lucky” swing background. However, he says “it’s very easy” to work in the sexual nature with a partner like Donyelle.

The couple prove why they’re becoming the top dogs in this show to the addictive beat of Danii Minogue’s Put the Needle on It. Although a bit of an oddball of a pairing, they both have tons of energy, the right amount of confidence and attitude, superb showmanship, and of course, chemistry. I loved it. Although Benji is not really believable as a dj-persona, his moves and steps blended perfectly with the music and with his partner. Once again, I thought Donyelle looked stunning in her asymmetrical dress and veil. After Nigel’s comparison of this pairing to that of “champagne and caviar,” Mary remarks that she truly believes the chemistry between them, that it’s more than just playing a role. Olisa calls Donyelle a “transformer” because of her ability to transform any choreography into her own. I’ll admit, I didn’t care much for Benji at the beginning of the series because of his cheeseball factor, but considering his abilities, I may have to stop hating on him.

The judges were blown away by the onstage chemistry of Musa and Natalie’s contemporary, but the couple found themselves struggling with the amateur dancer’s Valley of Death, the quick step. Heather Smith describes the style as “high, light, and bubbly.” Musa has such a hard time that the choreographer pulls out a torture device called a ballroom training bar, a brace which holds the man’s neck, back, and arms in a proper high position. Their faith in themselves seems half-hearted though.

Dancing to Zoot Suit Riot by the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, the couple perform a dumbed-down version of the quick step. Still, the footwork was messy, and like Musa said, they often looked like horses galloping around the floor. This time, Nigel gives the pity speech, talking about how Musa gave such a great effort for something that was completely alien to him. Olisa talks about their showmanship and sexiness, and Cicely emphasizes how hard they tried. Yes, yes, yes, I agree with all that. They did give it their best. But no one should win a competition just for good effort. I think this couple belongs in the bottom three, but their popularity may keep them safe.

Out from the hat emerges contemporary for Jessica and Jughead. As with his pop jazz piece, Brian sets up a background story for this dance. He’s not exactly happy about working with this couple, emphasizing the need for real emotion from Jessica and for Jughead to lose his “competition kid” mannerisms. Jessica is sure that once the cameras are rolling, the emotional connection that is needed will come on strong.

I thought the couple’s stairway opening to Frou Frou’s Let Go was awkward, and I don’t understand why Brian worked it into the choreography. And why must the women always wear lingerie? Surely there have to be comfortable dancing clothes out there that do not look like teddies. Ah well, I suppose they did alright. It was clean. Mary, however, thought they “put the ‘W’ in ‘wonderful’,” and Olisa loved their “graceful drama.” I still believe Jessica and Jughead’s performance was nowhere near as emotive or impressive as Musa and Natalie’s of last week, but they can’t all be superb.

Another hip-hop routine works its way into the show, this time for Martha and Travis. Todd Sams says his style of hip-hop is “really just no style.” Well that’s helpful. I’m liking this guy less and less. Again, no counting, only sound affects. He has plenty of good things to say about the couple though, so we’re left hoping for great things.

These are the pitfalls that great expectations bring. Looking a bit like a hooker and her underage client, Martha and Travis dance two completely different numbers to Just Fine by Chris Brown. Nigel is spot-on: “You were two individuals tonight… You lost me because you were two different people.” They had two different styles going on. Martha was flowing and smooth; Travis was hitting the beats too hard. (And yes, Travis, we all know you’re cute, stop milking the damn camera.) Personally, I think the choreographer deserves some of the blame on this because he, as their teacher, should have recognized what was going on. Whether Martha was too soft or Travis was too hard, it was Todd’s responsibility to teach them not only the steps, but also the style. Travis whines that he’s a contemporary dancer who is unfamiliar with hip-hop style… but last week, he was a contemporary dancer who was unfamiliar with crump, and he mastered that beautifully. If your background wasn’t a hindrance before, why is it one now? Again, this is another group that I think belongs in the bottom three, but Travis’ collection of fangirls will keep him alive.

So, my ideal bottom three? Dmitry & Aleksandra, Musa & Natalie, and Travis & Martha. However, I think that Jessica & Jughead may find themselves in trouble in place of Travis & Martha, because although good, their performance was not stunning or memorable.

Looking masculine elegance mixed with Latin influence? Bring the champagne and caviar to polomex@realityshack.com.


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