Nigel Lythgoe has spent the last year making a variety of changes to So You Think You Can Dance. Some were dictated by the network (a fall season), others were apparently his own choice (that huge stage, the reduced number of contestants, the inclusion of all-stars, etc.). Some proved terrible ideas (a fall season, that huge stage) and others may be successes though it's probably too soon to know (reduced number of contestants, the inclusion of all-stars), but by far the best change he's come up with is the showcase performances.
It used to be that we started off a season knowing some contestants very well as their journeys through the audition and Las Vegas process had been well documented, but not knowing others at all because their arrival into the top 20 was the first we ever saw of them. And then they were immediately thrown into competition and usually asked to dance in an unfamiliar style at which they may not immediately excel and we voted them off not understanding exactly how talented they really were. It put some dancers at an inherent advantage over others.
But for the past two seasons Nigel and Co. have given us the showcase performances that serve to introduce us to all of the contestants and give them routines in their own styles so that we can see exactly how good they are at what they do before we see how well they acclimate to other genres. It levels the playing field. Plus, there's no pressure on the dancers to beg for votes so we just get to see them enjoy what they're doing.
Last night they incorporated not just the contestants but also the All-Stars and we got some truly outstanding numbers that were a joy and a half to watch.
Group Performance - Pop Jazz (I think, they didn't specify and with Wade and Amanda Robson, sometimes it's hard to tell)
It was this garden party/high tea concoction that started with the All-Stars on the lawn being genius and then the contestants popped up from behind the hedges and the all-stars split and the newbies came out and did their thing and then the all-stars came back and folded in and there was this huge stage set with shrubbery and a lawn and 23 dancers and it was a whole lot of awesomeness to start a season that's already been pretty great just by virtue of them getting to the meat of it with so little silly filler.
Kent and Laura - Contemporary (Travis Wall), with Mark and Kathryn
It's very '20s in Paris (as he mentioned it was supposed to be) and a kind of cross between the "vagabond cabaret" Wade did in the third season and Moulin Rouge with just the tiniest dash of Mary Poppins thrown in for good measure. To be honest, my love for Mark was always going to make it tough for me not to watch him in this, but dressing in in the most stand-out costume didn't really help that situation. That said, Kent was able to draw my eye back onto him several times because he was fantastic. I had a harder time really focusing on the girls but they seemed to be fairly equally terrific which is high praise indeed for Lauren.
Alexie and Melinda - Broadway (Tyce DiOrio), with Lauren and Allison
Let's not pretend that a Broadway piece by Tyce is going to blow the doors off of anything. It was ok. The girls danced it very well. My eye was not drawn to anyone in particular (surprising since I love Lauren so much), but I did notice a few instances where Melinda didn't seem quite up to the same level as the other three. Her kicks weren't quite as high, her lines weren't quite as pretty, and the effort showed just a little. Also, I didn't get quite the same "performance" from her that I got from the other three, I think that can be seen even in the picture above.
Jose - Hip Hop (Tabitha and Napoleon), with Comfort, Twitch and Dominic
I love me some Dominic! It speaks very well of Jose that he held his own against Twitch and Dominic (I've never been wowed by Comfort's dancing, even in her own genre, and I didn't really notice her much here either). I wasn't in love with the choreography on the whole but I thought it was smart of NappyTabs and the wardrobe czar to create a routine that purposely made the contestant stand out from the "crowd" so that we didn't fall into the trap of watching only our old faves. Though, I did still divert my attention Dom's way on occasion, I was mostly able to watch Jose and see that his dancing is just as good as his personality.
Cristina - Samba (Jason Gilkison), with Anya and Pasha
Holy balls is Pasha hot! I mean, if you were able to pay close attention to Cristina during this dance then you are obviously not a straight woman or a gay man because he's like a slice of perfection in every possible way. When I forced myself to watch the performance as a whole, I was put off, again, by the innate creepiness of the three person ballroom routine. I agreed with Nigel that Cristina's feet seemed a little lazy, her legs not quite as snappy as they could be but I don't know if I'd have noticed that if she had danced with Pasha alone. It was only seeing her right next to Anya - who is PERFECT (even as a blond - I'm not a fan of that change, btw) - that it made her shortcomings apparent to me. It also hurt her a bit that Anya and Pasha have been dancing together for so long and have a steaming, smoldering connection built in because the constant partner swapping in the routine left only seconds for Cristina and Pasha to connect and they never really did for me. It was all about Pasha and Anya. Mostly Pasha.
Grade: B+ for Cristina (A+ for Pasha and Anya. Poor Gilkison who did the best he could under the circumstances)
Alex and Billy - Contemporary (Mia Michaels), with Ade
The premise here was the stages of life with Billy as the child, Alex the young man, and Ade as the old man. Billy mostly crawled around on the floor with a toy fire engine and somehow managed to be amazing. Alex mostly spun and flew and flung his legs in the air. Ade stayed in one place and shook his legs. The piece was interesting and I definitely liked it on it's own, but I'm not sure it showed off the dancers talents as best it could. I mean, we're not here for Ade but it was still a thankless job that he was given. Billy was show off more than anyone. I have nothing negative to say about any of the three dancers, they were all perfect at what they were asked to do. I'm just not so sure what they were asked to do was all they are capable of.
Adechike, Ashley and Robert - Pop Jazz (Sonja Tayeh), with Neil and Courtney
I either capital-L Love Sonja's routines, or I don't get them at all. This one I Loved. First of all, much like Pasha, Neil has gotten hotter. Second, Neil was shirtless with leather pants and some leather-esque straps around his torso. Third, she really made the dancers show us what they've got. All kidding (but, you know, in a serious way) about Neil's hotness aside, I was able to focus my attention on both of the girls and on Robert pretty well. Adechike didn't seem as explosive as the other guys in the routine but that isn't to say he wasn't good. When the routine was over, Sonja went 8 kinds of bat shit and that was pretty great the best part is that her insanity brought out all this terrific personality in Robert that we hadn't yet had a chance to see. He's adorable.
It was a bit of a struggle not to watch some of these routines just for my old favorites but I believe that won't be as much an issue when the show proper begins and it is simply one contestant and one all-star on stage at a time. I also think this arrangement will make things interesting in that contestants will be dancing next to someone who is incredibly good at the style the given style, so they'll be helped by that person's expertise but they'll also need to be GREAT in order to keep from looking terrible next to their all-star.
So far, I've identified the people that bug me (I don't care for the personalities of either Melinda or Adechike) and the ones I already love (Kent, Lauren, Jose). Robert, Billy and Alexie are also pretty terrific. Man, this is going to be TOUGH!
Also tough? Walking the fine line between funny and irritating. So Dominic needs to tread lightly on the Cat flirtation front. It's amusing now (as it was 3 years ago) but if he spends too much time pulling focus from the competitors, even I will get pissed.