So You Think You Can Dance Season 11 – The Top 18 Perform

So, here’s my first blog post about the 11th series of the US version of So You Think You Can Dance. I’m still a relative newcomer to the show, as the recent Australian series was the first one I ever watched. I’m not usually a huge fan of reality TV, but I do like dancing (watching, not doing… well, except when I’m absolutely sure no one is watching…)

So far the US version has been very interesting, but also quite different in some significant ways. I’m not going to go over what I do and don’t like about the differences in format, that’s the sort of thing that’s down to personal opinion. In terms of the dancers, I think that the American bunch are probably more technically skilled overall, but there are no individual dancers that I love as much as I loved some of the Australian contestants. That, however, could change as the series goes on. I do have to say that I really like the judges. Nigel is fair, even-handed and knows what he’s talking about. Mary’s enthusiasm is good to see, and although her voice took a while to grow on me, she clearly knows her stuff too.

Anyway, here’s a rundown of my thoughts on the Top 18 show!

The Group Performance

Dramatic staging and decent choreography created a routine that was quite interesting but not massively impressive. I loved the costume design, but the camera work was a bit too busy, there were too many quick edits, leaving the whole thing looking a little disjointed. This is a sadly common flaw in televised dance, but usually SYTYCD has done a relatively good job, so it was particularly noticeable here. The performances seemed basically fine, but not many of them had the opportunity to shine.

Overall, good, not great.

Jacque and Zack

Both of these dancers have kind of flown under the radar for me so far, although it’s been clear that they have much potential. This routine brought them both closer to the forefront of my mind. It really worked for me; I loved the way they started on the ground, it was simple in theme and choreography, but they also displayed some true musicality. Technically it probably wasn’t the most challenging routine, but that doesn’t necessarily matter. Despite Zack’s young appearance, he carried off an air of maturity here, and Jacque was just as good.

Jourdan and Marcquet

This was quite a low key routine that I nevertheless liked a lot. I loved the way their movements ebbed and flowed with the gently pulsating soundtrack, I thought they did a great job of visually representing the music. However, I believe both of them could have brought a little more presence onto the stage, and a little more poise. They both looked slightly too heavy at times, Jourdan in particular, and Marcquet maybe looked a bit too much like he was thinking about his performance rather than being in the moment.

Even so, I found a lot to like in this one.

Jessica and Stanley

Not a particularly great routine. They didn’t really manage to pull off the flying carpet theme, as it just made them look unstable, not as if they were soaring through the sky. Jessica was decent enough, but Stanley looked fairly ordinary, except with those incredible leaps. He didn’t really have the funk that the music demanded. Ultimately quite disappointing.

Emilio and Bridget

Emilio can be a bit over the top for my taste sometimes, but at his best he probably has more charisma and showmanship than anyone else in the competition, and he was near his best in this routine. However, the surprise for me was how well Bridget not only kept up with him, but outshone him in some ways. She’s another one who had flown under my radar a bit, but she pulled this off magnificently. They both had real lightness and energy, and they were a joy to watch.

I’m kind of sick of hearing that tune, but this was still a very interesting and downright cool interpretation of it. Great stuff.

Emily and Teddy

Not a bad routine by any means, but not one that I’ll remember in a week or two. The emotion was a little overdone, I thought, and there wasn’t much that was subtle or nuanced in this one. Teddy was adequate, I thought he could have shown a little more grace and a little more personality. Emily was better, she seemed to get into the role more convincingly, and clearly she has talent. Actually, the both do, but to my mind this wasn’t the best demonstration for them.

Casey and Brooklyn

Casey demonstrated some very impressive technique here, and while he could have got a little more into the groove and shown just a bit more of the cool factor, I thought he performed really well. Brooklyn was a little overshadowed, I thought: Casey was more often the centre of attention with his spectacular pirouettes. However there was nothing wrong with her dancing, and when she got the chance to take centre stage she made the most of it. Overall it was a good routine, I’m not a fan of Michael Bublè, but the dancing didn’t suffer too much.

Valerie and Ricky

An interesting one. I’m not a fan of ballroom and I’m not a fan of that song, but I still enjoyed this a lot. I don’t think either of them looked completely comfortable in this genre, but they pulled it off with style, Valerie in particular. Ricky perhaps didn’t have the stage presence to really be the leading man, but it didn’t matter too much in the end. It’s not a genre I can really comment on intelligently, so I’ll just say that it looked pretty good to me.

Serge and Carly

I found this to be pretty disappointing, if only because it’s the sort of thing I should have really liked. They’re both great dancers, and the theme was interesting, but there was a lot wrong with it too. The costumes just looked silly to me, like the sort of thing an apathetic trick-or-treater might throw on at the last second. I thought the choreography was pretty underwhelming too, and there were only a few moments that really worked. Their performances weren’t massively impressive, I thought they could both have done a bit more with it, but ultimately I think it was mainly the choreography that let them down.

Tanisha and Rudy

I loved the old school Broadway vibe. It sat better on Tanisha, but Rudy still threw himself into it and pulled it off nicely. Their synchronisation was a bit off, they could have danced better as a couple, but individually they were both very good. They both had high energy that lasted the duration, and although I personally don’t think either of them has the greatest charisma, they put enough of themselves into the routine to create a compelling performance.

Thoughts on the eliminations

Is there no Dance For Your Life segment in this series? I’ve only watched the Australian version so I don’t know how it’s done elsewhere, but I think it’s a huge mistake to not give the bottom six a chance to perform solo before two of them are eliminated. For me it was such a crucial part of the show, and such an important opportunity to see what the dancers were all about. It really gave them a chance to showcase their individuality in terms of both performance and choreography. It’s massively disappointing not to see it here.

Anyway… on to the actually eliminations. I have to say, after the auditions, if you’d asked me to name my favourite guy and girl, I would probably have said Stanley and Jourdan. Their first auditions, Jourdan’s in particular, were very interesting. However, both of them had been a little disappointing since then. Part of that’s down to choreography, no doubt, but I have to admit that they’d also made some mistakes. Jourdan was kind of outshone in that ballet routine in the first performance week, and Stanley didn’t prove as versatile as I’d hoped.

So, I’m not too disappointed that they were eliminated. Certainly I’m glad that Emilio and Bridget stayed; they’re possibly my favourite couple at this point. Personally I might have been happier if Emily and Teddy had gone, but in all fairness they didn’t deserve to be eliminated.

Well, there you have it, my first blog post on the US version of SYTYCD. Hope you enjoyed reading, folks!

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Top 10 Routines of the Second Half of the Series

Top 10 Routines of the Second Half of the Series

To round off the series, I figured I’d rank my favourite routines from the second half of the series. I hope you agree with at least a couple of them!

10: Top 5 Girls

I think five is just about the ideal size for a performance like this. It allows everyone to stake their claim on the routine, but still provides ample opportunity for diversity and creativity. This routine was a good example of that; it didn’t quite blow me away, but it worked very well, every one of the girls was in great form, it was fun and sexy without being sleazy.

9: Top 8 Group Performance

This routine struck a very nice balance between highlighting individual talent and showcasing the abilities of the group as a whole. Great lighting, great performances from all the dancers, and that final section with Blond’s airflares as everyone collapses into pools of light was a great moment.

8: Ashleigh and Blond’s Contemporary (Episode 12)

You could call the harness a bit gimmicky, but it was put to good use to create a routine that was markedly different from anything that had gone before. It was a bit of a limiting factor for Blond, but that didn’t matter too much, because he provided a focal point around which Ashleigh danced with real grace and emotional intensity.

7: Ashleigh and Michael’s Jazz (Episode 13)

The website lists it as ‘jazz’, but this certainly isn’t what comes to my mind when I think of that word. The tethers were another gimmick that were used to great effect, and the theme was genuinely quite dark, which was a nice change. Jason said this routine was all about Michael, but for me this was actually one of the very few times Michael was overshadowed ever so slightly. They both danced equally well, but Ashleigh’s characterisation was, I thought, more subtle and effective. She truly looked like something out of a Marilyn Manson video.

6: Top 5 Boys

Sadly, this was to be the last time my three favourite dancers would dance together properly, but it was a great routine for Patric to go out on, as he really shone in this one. I actually want to draw attention to something he did that I think many other dancers and choreographers could learn from: when waiting to lift someone, he didn’t actually just wait, he sought out a connection with the person he was waiting on. Even if it’s only for a split second, it’s so easy to look stagnant and stationary in that instant, but by really calling in the other dancers and then transferring that energy as he let them go, Patric totally avoided that. Anyway, that’s a side point. Ultimately this was a great routine, very high in energy, that did a great job of expressing the theme of a re-captured youth.

5: Michael’s Solo

In a way I’m almost ambivalent about the response this solo got. Of course I’m happy that Michael got some worldwide recognition, and more than anything else this solo probably helped to cement his place as the winner. I just kind of resent that it took this long for some people to see how amazing he truly was. To be honest I liked his one and only Dance For Your Life just as much, and Michael had so many strengths on top of his ability to pull out some mind-bending physical tricks. But ultimately this was a fantastic, powerful, intense 40-odd seconds of dance.

4: Renelle’s Solo

As awesome as Michael’s solo was, it just didn’t bring me as much pleasure as Renelle’s. This routine was a real testament to her stagecraft and charisma. This was fun and inventive and would absolutely look at home in Cabaret or any other Bob Fosse production. I loved the music, but not as much as I loved Renelle’s bold, sassy interpretation of it.

3: Top 6 Group Routine

There’s something incredibly evocative about human beings dancing in the style of inanimate objects (which is a contradiction in terms, but that’s where the paradoxical beauty comes from). This was a courageously different routine that was also refreshingly challenging to both the dancers and the viewers. Excellent lighting, interesting costumes, elegant staging, mournful music, it all combined to create something truly memorable.

2: Ashleigh and Blond’s Swing (Episode 12)

I have seldom had as much fun watching any dance routine as I did with this one. Blond’s execution was flawless, I thought, regardless of what the judges might have said. The way he threw his limbs out with the first beat of every bar of that fantastically addictive swing rhythm while his feet flowed so smoothly over the ground, that was just a pleasure to behold. This routine, more than any other, allowed him to showcase the ‘cool’ factor that he’s honed in years of b-boy battles, where cool can be the winning factor. Ashleigh was likewise great, and this was a side of her that I hadn’t expected to see.

If I could dance, this is the sort of thing I’d want to be doing.

1: Lauren and Sam’s Contemporary (Episode 13)

Even now I can’t watch this one without tearing up. The costumes, the make-up, the lighting, the choreography, the music, the performances, everything came together to create something which, for me, was one of the most beautiful, sad, and expressive dance routines I’ve ever seen. There were moments in this so profoundly moving that even to recall them into my mind has me getting emotional as I write these words. Sam’s little shiver at the start, the way they ran into the light at the end and teetered on the edge of whatever it was they saw there… and more than anything, the impossibly tender, gentle way that Sam stroked Lauren’s face, will remain with me for a long, long time.

Some of you will be wondering what the hell I’m going on about. I’ve read the Facebook comments, the consensus seems to be that this routine was okay but not great. Ah well, I guess that just emphasises the fact that our response to dance is a deeply personal thing.

Honourable Mentions

Zoey and Jay’s Contemporary (Episode 11)

Beautiful and emotional, one of Zoey’s finest moments.

Eden and Michael’s Jazz (Episode 12)

A fun routine that highlighted Eden’s more exuberant side.

Renelle and Michael’s Contemporary (Episode 13)

An ostensibly simple, unadorned routine, laden with real depth and beauty.

Ashleigh and Jay’s Contemporary (Episode 13)

A great routine for both of them: Jay has never looked so proficient, Ashleigh has never looked so graceful.

And there you have it! Thanks again for reading, it’s been truly heartening to know how positively people have responded to my writing. Hope to catch you all around again sometime… maybe when there’s some more SYTYCD on our screens?

So You Think You Can Dance Australia: The Finale

So You Think You Can Dance Australia: The Finale

So, after the unbridled enthusiasm of my last episode review, I find that I’ve come back down to earth this time around. On the whole I was pretty disappointed with the finale, for quite a few reasons. But hey, the result was what I was hoping for, and the series in general has been excellent, so I’m not exactly upset.

The Top 4 Routine (With the other 16)

Man, I’m conflicted about this. In some ways it was very powerful and very dramatic, and highly effective. But it also did something that the show has kind of avoided up to this point: it highlighted the competitive nature of the whole thing. And I suppose that’s fine; it all adds to the drama. But almost every single viewer is going to see dancers in the background that they wish were in the top 4, and that’s kind of painful.

Probably I’m taking it the wrong way. It was still a good routine, especially once they came back into the studio. Some of the tableaux were remarkably effective, and it was good to see the whole crew back together, even if none of them were really featured. The costumes were interesting, I was surprised how well Michael carried off the ruff (of all things!), but I’m not sure it was a good idea to give Jay a crown of thorns, something which is laden with cultural significance.

It was good, just not… great. I’d hoped for something a little more epic.

Lauren and Michael – Contemporary

An interesting one. The blindfold was a brilliant addition, visually, thematically and conceptually. It must have added quite a degree of difficulty for Michael, and of responsibility for Lauren. They both performed admirably, but Michael hasn’t quite got the subtlety of facial expression that some of the other dancers possess, and I think that was particularly evident in this routine. The same has generally been true of Lauren, actually, but it wasn’t so obvious in this case.

Also, meaning no disrespect to the genuine emotion behind the choreography, there is no possible way for Michael to effectively embody the character of an old man. I’m glad that there was no major effort to try to portray that character, but it does rob the routine of some of its poignancy.

Jay and Renelle – Ballroom

As you might know if you’ve been reading this blog regularly, ballroom really isn’t my thing. There have been a few ballroom routines that I’ve loved, but this wasn’t one of them. It was fine, there were some good moments, particularly near the end, with Jay’s angry floor-stomping and then Renelle’s slide across the floor, but there was nothing here I’ll remember in a week’s time. Renelle looked the part, but Jay doesn’t have the eye-drawing charisma that could have made me love this routine.

Also, and this is just me, I found the music rather insipid.

Lauren and Renelle – Jazz

A fundamentally good routine with a few downsides. I think it was a bad move to start in the audience. When you do that, the audience essentially becomes the backdrop to the whole thing, and most of us in the general public are pretty gormless. It made the whole intro segment look kind of awkward.

Once they got back on the stage, things definitely improved, but I still found the whole thing rather unremarkable. Kudos to Lauren for doing that flip in heels; I wouldn’t have wanted to attempt that (of course, no matter what I was wearing the result for me would be a serious skull injury). They were both good, but they’ve also both had better showcases for their skills in the past.

Michael and Jay – Contemporary

This would have to rate as one of the most disappointing routines of the entire series. I’m a big fan of samurai films and the whole Japanese aesthetic, and this should have been truly epic. Instead, it was very lacklustre. There was nothing dynamic about it; they seemed ponderous, not as if they were trying with all their might to kill each other. Even Michael, who normally puts everything he has into every performance, looked as though his heart wasn’t in it.

The Paula Tribute

It’s kind of ironic (and telling) that one of the best routines of the night didn’t feature the top 4 at all. This was a highly enjoyable routine that just made me regret the eliminations of those who left too soon, particularly Zoey, Joel, Blond, but especially Patric. That guy would be a worthy front man on any stage.

The Top 2

It was good, but not quite worthy of being the very last routine of the season. It was nice to see Michael get the chance to do something with a bit of swing, and he pulled it off quite well, but he didn’t quite match the charisma Blond brought to his swing number. I might have expected him to overshadow Lauren in something like this, but he didn’t. Lauren actually looked looser and more comfortable than I’ve seen her in a while.

I don’t quite approve of the very last move, where the two of them almost literally ‘put the boot in’ as they stood above their vanquished foes. All along this show has been about respect and admiration, and it just seemed a little out of place.

Other thoughts

So, the routines were a mixed bag at best, but there were other things that I didn’t exactly love. First and foremost, there was too much singing for me. But that’s a personal thing, I’m sure some people loved it… except, perhaps, for that Jason Derulo thing. I’ve read some of the comments, and apparently it’s created a bit of a controversy. I have to agree that it was ill-advised at best.

There were other things. Paula’s little Q&A with the competitors seemed awkward. It was obvious that the judges were shying away from saying anything negative (which, at this point, is fair enough I guess). To do another quasi-elimination at the end seemed kind of odd, since the ultimate winner had already been determined and there would be no more voting. And finally, that drumroll before Michael’s name was announced… it is absolutely impossible to do a drumroll un-ironically these days, it’s passé, it’s been done to death. I’m not going to say it ruined the moment, but it sure didn’t help.

Thoughts on the winner

Blond remains my favourite, but out of all the Top 20 I most wanted Michael to win, if only because he’s still a rising star while Blond has already had a long and successful career. The voting public didn’t do much to endear itself to me in the last few weeks, but in the end we found atonement by voting for the right dancer to win.

So, well done. Now, is a fifth series too much to hope for?

And finally… there will be one more post on this series of SYTYCD from me in coming days, as I name my ten favourite routines from the second half of the series. And after that… who knows? The American version of SYTYCD is coming back soon, maybe I’ll end up writing about that. In any case, thanks for reading, and I hope you check back from time to time!

So You Think You Can Dance Australia: The Top 6

The first thing I have to say about this episode is this: wow. Yes, my favourite dancer was voted off last week so my enthusiasm was slightly dulled, but last night’s show did a lot to rekindle the spark. Every single routine was great, some more so than others of course, but nevertheless I don’t think I’ve ever been so consistently impressed over the course of an episode. So, no scathing criticism from me now, not that that’s ever been my style!

The Top 6 Group Routine

A very interesting and highly effective stylistic choice with the costumes in this one. In the behind-the-scenes material the choreographer indicates that the routine is about mannequins, but in my view, with the red vein-like markings the dancers looked like nothing so much as skinned carcasses.

Either way, this routine was hauntingly beautiful. Whether mannequins or carcasses, there was something almost non-human about the dancers’ movements. Stripped of their identity, they became nothing more nor less than their physical selves, and the choreography, aided by the gently emotional music, used that physicality to eerie, stunning effect.

Jay and Lauren – Hip Hop

A real crowd pleaser for sure. I personally thought that it bordered on being a little too hammy, but it definitely worked. I guess if I could have changed anything I might have got rid of the little quips they sent back and forth, I found them a little too much, and a little too distracting. But if nothing else they demonstrated the acting abilities of the two of them, and Lauren really shone in that regard. It’ll never be my sort of thing, but hey, it’s a good skill to have.

As for the actual dancing, it was highly enjoyable. Maybe it was down to the characters, but I thought they both danced with a looseness and a freedom that really worked, and that I hadn’t really seen from Lauren before. They were both funky and deep in the groove. Shannon’s comment about it not necessarily being challenging enough for this point in the competition was a fair point and well made, but for Lauren at least I thought it was a good showcase for another facet of her talents. Jay, on the other hand, has already established his credentials as a bit of a goofball, but even so this was a good performance from him.

Renelle and Sam – Ballroom

I’ve always thought that Sam was capable of putting on a convincingly suave persona, and it was good to see him get some recognition from the judges this time around. He’s still not quite on the level of Michael in terms of pure physicality, but in this routine he looked like a true, natural dancer. Renelle, too, definitely looked the part, and carried off the performance with a sultry sensuousness that really worked.

There have been other ballroom performances with more grace and poise, and this wasn’t my favourite routine of the night, but it was genuinely good, and I enjoyed watching it.

Ashleigh and Michael – Jazz

Wow, I never expected to hear Marilyn Manson on SYTYCD! I must admit, this song was a bit of an anthem for my teenage angst back in the late nineties, so I was predisposed to like this routine, but even so I can safely say it was something special. Surely there hasn’t been a routine so far that’s contained so much aggression and darkness. The tethers and straitjackets were brilliant gimmicks, and used to great effect.

And what incredible performances. Michael was as brilliant as ever and embodied the character very well, but Ashleigh totally absorbed the character in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible. Michael’s darkness was a performance, but Ashleigh looked as though she was living it. And, just like last week with Blond, she proved that she can match the most technically proficient of dancers. This was a real high point for both of them.

I have to make one tiny criticism, though, because there was something that really stood out to me. I really wish they had contrived some way for them to be able to really fling themselves from the top of the wall at the end. The way they just kind of jumped down seemed a little lame after the magnificence of the routine.

Sam and Lauren – Contemporary

Looking back, there has been one person who has been as much a revelation to me as any of the dancers, and that’s choreographer Debbie Ellis. I didn’t realise it at the time, but in my list of my 10 favourite routines from a couple of weeks ago, three of the top four had been choreographed by her. And here, with this routine, she’s come up with something that might have surpassed all of them.

I’ve looked at some of the comments on social media, and it seems a lot of people didn’t quite connect with this routine. Well, I sure did. No other couples routine has made me as emotional as I became watching this one, and as I’ve said before, I’m an emotional guy at the best of times. In some ways it was a call back to Sam’s routine with Zoey in the Top 20 week, in that he was once again cast in the role of a character seeking to bring his companion back from an emotional precipice. He performed that role brilliantly then, but he reached an even higher level here.

As for Lauren, this was definitely my favourite performance from her since being split up from Patric. I criticised her for her facial expressions not all that long ago, but her sudden happiness-to-sadness transition in this routine was profoundly moving.

Overall this is definitely a contender for my favourite couples routine of all time, certainly in terms of those that have gone the emotional route. The excellent costumes and brilliant music contributed, but this was absolutely the highest point for both Sam and Lauren in recent weeks, or maybe ever.

Ashleigh and Jay – Contemporary

Another routine that can only be described as gorgeous. It didn’t quite capture me in the way that some other contemporary routines have, but it was still a delight to watch. I think the two of them worked better here as a couple than they ever did when they were paired together originally. Jay actually looked more technically proficient here than perhaps he ever has. He couldn’t quite match Ashleigh in that regard, who always looks technically proficient, but this was another great routine from both of them. Ashleigh in particular had a real grace to her movements, and a flowing softness that I haven’t often seen from her.

The music didn’t do much for me, but the rose petals were an excellent touch.

Michael and Renelle – Contemporary

And here’s another pair of dancers that worked incredibly well as a couple. Their bodies almost seemed interlocked, as if each was an extension of the other. Michael once again proved that he can meld strength and softness into a pure expression of musicality, and Renelle proved that she can pull off smooth, subtle movements as well as she can pull off the clumsy grace that made me love her in previous routines.

There’s actually not a lot else I can think to say about this one; it was just beautiful.

Lauren’s Solo

I thought she made better use of the railings and stairs surrounding the set than pretty much anyone else so far. This was a good choice of song with a strong beat that she made the most of, but I still think that Lauren has been at her best when she’s had a partner. She was great in this solo, no doubt, but it wasn’t quite exceptional.

Ashleigh’s Solo

Finally Ashleigh gets another solo! I talked about finding her solo in the auditions a little too much like an aerobics routine, and at first I thought this one might be heading in the same direction. But ultimately there was a lot more nuance to this solo, she made great use of her whole body and invested every movement with real panache.

Renelle’s Solo

Personal preference time for me again, I guess not everyone would have loved this solo, but I absolutely, positively did. Her moves were genuinely creative and highly individual, and just awesome. To start sideways on the chair… Who else could have pulled it off? Who else would have dared to try? I thought there was real brilliance here.

Sam’s Solo

Proof positive that when he’s in his element Sam can be strong, graceful and just beautiful. His balance here was sublime; even Michael would struggle to match him in that respect. There was one tiny mistake, but on the whole he showed that he can be world class.

Jay’s Solo

I still haven’t quite warmed to Jay’s particular brand of tap. I honestly think he’s better with the small, smooth, subtle moments than the larger, more ostentatious moves. There were some great moments in here, but I guess I just don’t get his style. But hey, that’s just me!

Michael’s Solo

I don’t need to say anything about this one, do I? The judges’ reaction, the audience’s reaction, that says it all a lot more eloquently than I could. However, I do want to highlight my favourite moment from this solo, and that’s the expression on Michael’s face in the instant before the final pirouettes. That is the look of a man who has channelled every muscle in his body, all of his heart and every facet of his mind and soul into his dancing. And that is why he brought the house down.

Thoughts on the eliminations

Naturally I was overjoyed (and a little surprised) that Michael made it into the finals. He has absolutely earned his place. But given how brilliantly Sam performed in this episode, I was also very sad to see him go. I’ve always rated him more highly than the judges seemed to, and I thought he’d tackled some very difficult challenges with only a few slip-ups. So he’s not the one I would have chosen to leave.

And nor is Ashleigh the girl I would have chosen to leave, not after these last few weeks anyway. I would have dearly loved to see how she handled the pressure of the final, and what other sides to her dancing abilities she might have demonstrated. But, of course, she’ll have the chance to do all that and more now she’s back in the ‘real world’.

As for the final 4… they’re all worthy dancers, and I’m truly excited to see how the final plays out. There are other dancers I might have wanted to see in the top 4, but it’s still going to be a great show.

So You Think You Can Dance Australia: The Top 6 And Their ‘Journeys’ So Far

I use inverted commas around the word ‘journeys’ because I’m painfully aware that everything that I, a mere TV viewer, have seen of the top 6 dancers is heavily edited, carefully selected little snippets of their experiences over the past months. I try not to buy into the narratives we’re being sold by Channel 10, and I’m not going to comment about how much they’ve ‘grown and developed as dancers’ over the course of the show, because that’s a process that takes years, not weeks.

However, I thought now might be a good time to take a look back at how the top 6 have performed so far, and how my opinions of them have changed (or not). And this time, for once, I’m going to get off the fence and actually rank the remaining dancers in the order I’d like to see them win the competition. No offense to anyone who disagrees; and let’s be honest, it’s the heated (but respectful) arguments that make the whole thing so enjoyable!

So, here we go, starting with the dancer I would most like to see win series 4 of So You Think You Can Dance Australia.

Michael

A couple of weeks ago there were three truly outstanding male dancers left in the competition. There was Michael, who I thought had the best physicality, there was Patric, who had the best musicality, and there was Blond, who had the best combination of the two. Now, only Michael remains, and I have no hesitation in nominating him as my favourite dancer left standing.

It’s odd that Michael was virtually ignored during the whole audition process, as far as the show was concerned. He was barely mentioned at all, and I think you actually had to watch the extended episodes, available only online, to even hear his voice in the audition episodes. I’ve wondered why; did the producers want to downplay the fact that there were professional-standard dancers in the competition? Given my understanding of the Australian public’s preference for the ‘talented amateur’, that might be it. In any case, this lack of publicity has, in some ways, created a bit of a hurdle for him. He has to compete against Jay and Sam, not only as dancers, but as personalities and life stories.

I’ve read quite a few comments to the effect that Michael is arrogant. Well, he’s not. Or maybe he is. That’s the point: I don’t know, and unless you know him personally, you don’t know either. What he does have is supreme confidence in his own abilities, and if I had those abilities I’d be pretty damn confident too. I guess that’s where some people get confused, and I think it’s a pity that some people confuse confidence with arrogance. It’s this confidence that gives him his edge, in the form of his showmanship. Not only has he pulled off every style thrown his way, he’s made it all look easy. He twerked with commitment, he cha-cha’d like a seasoned pro, he’s pulled off sleaze and alcoholism with aplomb.

More than anyone else on this list, he hasn’t made a ‘journey’, because he hasn’t needed to. He started brilliantly, and he’s maintained that standard all the way through.

High point: So hard to choose, there have been so many. Actually, no, it’s not: it has to be his one and only Dance For Your Life performance. He pulled out all the stops for that one, and the result was incredible.

Low point: Also hard to choose, but this time it’s because there really haven’t been any. I guess I’d have to nominate the jazz routine with Nadiah in the Top 16 week. It was still excellent, but I thought it was one case where Michael didn’t quite pull off the characterisation.

Ashleigh

More than any other dancer, Ashleigh has grown in my estimation, especially after two magnificent performances last week. I didn’t rate her all that highly to begin with, especially in comparison with Zoey, who seemed like her closest rival in terms of style. Her routines with Jay were unspectacular but mostly quite good, especially the hip hop routine in the Top 16 week, which remains one of my favourites, but that had more to do with choreography than the performance. I still think the contemporary routine from the Top 18 week was overrated by the judges, but Ashleigh’s leap right at the start was nevertheless one of the best individual moments so far.

Then the partnership was broken up, and I really believe that Ashleigh has come into her own since then. Her routine with Maddie was massively underrated, possibly because of pre-conceived notions that that the judges and the audience brought with them. I think the same holds true for her ballroom routine the next week; it didn’t fit the mould of what the judges wanted, but it totally fit her and the partnership with Patric.

And then there was the pair of performances last week with Blond, either of which could have counted as her best moment to that point. With the swing number she had the chance to really cut loose, and with the contemporary routine she had her best chance yet to show the emotion she can bring to her dancing, and she absolutely made the most of those chances.

High point: The contemporary with Blond in the Top 8 week, no doubt. There was such a depth of feeling in there.

Low point: I could say the rumba with Jay in the Top 14 week, but I’m not sure. I’ve watched that one a few more times now, and I genuinely think the positives outweigh the negatives. Instead, and this is totally down to personal preference, I’m actually going to nominate her Top 33 audition. It really wasn’t my sort of thing; it looked more like an aerobics workout than a dance routine to me, and it was one of the reasons it took me a while to warm up to her.

Renelle

Deciding whether to put Ashleigh or Renelle at number two was the toughest decision in this list, by a long way. Renelle, like Ashleigh, has grown from a dancer I liked but didn’t love into one of my favourites to make the final. It’s not as if there was anything wrong with her earlier routines or her performances within them, it’s just that she was up against some seriously awesome competition and didn’t quite stand out. She couldn’t quite match the technique of Eden, or the long-limbed grace and poise of Zoey, Maddie and Ashleigh, and it took a while for me to see any real spark, despite some genuinely fine moments.

That changed when she had the chance to dance for her life, and put her own stamp of individuality on her dancing. As I’ve said elsewhere, she started to stand out as the dancer best able to express the simple joy of dance. Her first routine with Michael allowed her to show some darker emotions, while her next routine with Eden gave her the chance to be light and wistful. All things considered, I would not be too disappointed if she won the competition.

High point: For me, it’s probably still the Top 14 Dance For Your Life, for the aforementioned expression of joy.

Low point: Again, tough to pick, because she’s been very consistent. I guess I’d have to say the routine with Jordan in the Top 16 week, which I still really liked, but I think she went a bit overboard with the goofiness.

Lauren

And now here’s a dancer who fits a reverse pattern for me: I started off loving her, but the last few weeks haven’t been so good for Lauren in my opinion. Her partnership with Patric was phenomenal, for my money they were the best overall couple in the competition, with the possible exception of Eden and Blond… and maybe Michael and Nadiah.

She totally nailed all her routines with Patric, but once they were split up she seemed to lose something. Some of that was to do with the choreography, no doubt: her routine with Blond was good but destined to be fairly unspectacular due to its nature, and I don’t think the ‘Weird Science’ routine with Sam suited her very well. But she also seemed to lose some of her spark. I think the routine with Zoey was not that great from either of them. That said, she’s had enough brilliant moments and put enough of her heart and soul into her dancing that I would not be devastated if she won.

High point: The contemporary routine with Patric in the Top 14 week. For me this is still the epitome of a couple working together to astoundingly good effect, and she was an equal partner in a magnificent routine.

Low point: Probably the aforementioned ‘schoolgirl’ routine with Zoey. For a dance that was intended to capture the high energy of teenage life, it felt oddly flat to me.

Sam

Sam started with a bang, no denying that. He got some high praise during the auditions, and it was justified. His performance with Michael on Opening Night was simply fantastic, and his first couples routine the next week was also brilliant, and, I thought, underrated. At that point, I actually preferred him to Michael, because he’d so perfectly captured the nuance of that routine with Zoey.

After that, however, it became clear that, compared to Michael, Sam was lacking in some ways. Michael adapted flawlessly to every style he was given, and Sam couldn’t quite keep up. I still think the judges were strangely harsh on him at times, especially with the brutally difficult Bollywood routine and the likewise tough tango with Stephen, but ultimately much of their criticism was justified.

He’s a good dancer, he seems to have a good personality, he’ll go far. But he’s been outclassed by some of the other guys. That’s hardly an insult: there’s been some world class talent in this competition.

High point: Definitely the routine with Michael on Opening Night. In that dance, at least, he was not outclassed at all.

Low point: Possibly the ‘weird science’ routine with Lauren. Even when he was not all that comfortable outside his genre, he usually danced with flair, but this time I thought that was lacking.

Jay

Someone had to come last on this list. I want to emphasise that I do really like Jay, I’ve genuinely enjoyed watching him, and he’s had some great moments of high energy and high emotion, but I think he’s the most limited of the remaining dancers. I wasn’t a huge fan of his brand of ‘urban tap’, it looked a bit awkward and gangling to me. His routines with Ashleigh were all pretty good, but only the hip hop routine in the Top 16 week was a real standout.

I’ve said before that Patric was everything Jay is as a dancer, except better, and that was highlighted by their routine together. Jay was good, but Patric was a step or two above him in every respect. Jay has had some awesome routines, for sure, especially in recent weeks with Zoey and Renelle, and his dancing always seems heartfelt, but in those routines it was his partner and the choreography that I feel deserve more of the credit.

I can only repeat what I said for Sam: he’s a good dancer, and it’s no real reflection on his talents as a dancer to say that he’s been overshadowed by some of the other guys.

High point: It would have to be the hip hop routine in the Top 16. It was fun, it was smooth, and he really nailed it.

Low point: I guess it’d have to be the rumba, mainly because of the off-balance moments. I still think it was an appealing and deceptively difficult routine, though.

So You Think You Can Dance Australia: Top 8

So You Think You Can Dance: Top 8

I have to open by thanking everyone for the awesome comments and feedback I’ve got recently. It’s so great to know people have been reading and appreciating the stuff I’ve posted here, it’s enhanced the pleasure I get from writing and, in fact, the pleasure I get from the show itself. However, I also feel an added pressure now: given how subjective all these things are, it’s inevitable that sooner or later I’m going to write something you massively disagree with, if I haven’t already! I only hope I can be as respectful and honest as possible.

Anyway, on with the show! Don’t forget you can click on the headings to watch the performances online.

Group Routine

An excellent routine, made even more appealing by the lighting. In fact, I want to take this opportunity to say just how impressed I’ve been with the lighting over the course of the show. It hasn’t always been perfect (for example, Michael and Renelle last week), but the positives have certainly overwhelmed the negatives. There are some routines that really stand out in my memory more for the lighting than anything else.

Overall this group routine wasn’t quite up there with the best of the best, but by any measure it was great. I loved the way the geometry of the performance changed from moment to moment, from lines to squares to circles and everything in between. It was all very dynamic.

Michael and Eden – Jazz

Michael plays the bad boyfriend again, but this time with a rather more comic tone. This was another great routine from two massively talented dancers, and both of them pitched it perfectly in terms of character and humour, just raunchy and ridiculous enough to avoid any real sense of sleaze (although I think the bum slap may have been a step too far). Technically it’s hard to fault either of them, in fact I thought the level of synchronisation was particularly spot on. I also have to agree with Shannon that Eden has never looked more comfortable in her character, and that’s saying something, because she’s been one of the best at doing just that all the way through the show.

And once again we witnessed something that was kind of a borderline workplace sexual harassment incident from one of the judges. I don’t want to blow things out of proportion, but I think that was ill-advised at best.

Renelle and Jay – Contemporary

Okay, I’m not known for my negativity, so brace yourself for probably the harshest thing I’ve written so far: the music in this was, by several orders of magnitude, my least favourite music in any routine in the series so far. I’m not a fan of Amazing Grace at the best of times, it doesn’t quite fit in with my life philosophy, but this version was just… well, it really wasn’t to my taste. It’s not just that it lacked a beat, that’s fine, Zoey and Sam’s routine in the top 20 week in particular showed that a routine can be based around rather formless music and still be highly successful. But in this case the music was a huge downside to the routine.

However, that being said, I thought the dance itself was really rather good. Once again the lighting was a highlight (no pun intended, which is good, since it barely counts as one), and the dancers did a good job with what looked like some relatively undemanding material, although it seemed like Jay was off balance at the end of the pirouette. On the whole I enjoyed watching it… but not hearing it.

Ashleigh and Blond – Swing Jazz

Yes, yes, yes. I honestly didn’t think Blond could surprise me any further, but he got into the swing of things more expertly than I could have imagined. I personally disagree with Jason that Blond needed more of the ‘wet towel’ consistency, I know what he meant, but for me it was the smooth precision that made it for me. And Ashleigh, wow, dagnabbit if she wasn’t just as much in the groove as Blond, which was also something of a revelation. Last week I was concerned about how well these two would be able to match each other, but I clearly I had nothing to be worried about.

This was my favourite routine of the night (with Blond and Ashleigh’s other routine being the only other contender), and one of my favourite routines from the entire series. It was one of Blond’s best moments, and absolutely one of, if not THE best moments from Ashleigh. I loved the music, I loved the style, this routine would have looked at home in a Frank Sinatra or Gene Kelly movie.

EDIT: Okay, a day later, I’ve watched this routine quite a few more times (actually, a LOT more times), and I’m prepared to say that this was actually my favourite ever performance by Blond, and that’s saying something, obviously. Every. Single. Move! in his performance just oozed with pure dancecraft. He exuded cool and charm like a nuclear reactor of suave. Forgive my effusive praise, as always this is just my opinion, but DAMN. I loved this one.

Sam and Lauren – Contemporary

It had moments that were quite lovely, but on the whole it didn’t do a lot for me. The mist was a little too much, especially for a routine that had so many elements low to the ground. It was competently performed, but neither of them had the chance to really shine. Personally speaking I’ve preferred Sam’s performances where he’s been more challenged, despite the mistakes he’s made in such routines.

Lauren, I thought, was the stand out in this one, but again I think she’s had quite a few better routines to show off her skills. Also, if I was going to level a criticism at Lauren, it would be that her smile has always seemed more awkward and less natural than the other dancers.

Jay and Renelle – Paso Doble

Naturally this routine is going to draw some comparisons to Blond and Eden’s paso doble from several weeks ago. I think this one was better in some ways, and inferior in others. Firstly, I much preferred the choice of music in this one, and I loved the use of the red cloth as a skirt and a matador’s cloak. The difference in heights of the two dancers was a bonus, and Jay’s build and strong physicality was well suited to the role. He did an admirable job, especially with the poses, but he can’t match Blond’s elegance and economy of movement. Also, he was almost gurning throughout (apparently ‘gurning’ isn’t a commonly used word in some parts of the world; it basically means making unpleasant faces). It’s not entirely fair to compare, though, and on the whole he did a good job.

Renelle was excellent, she certainly took on the character and made it her own. She worked very well with the skirt, and melded elegance with passion. I don’t think, as Jason did, that she over-danced, but I seem to generally be a little more tolerant of her fairly extravagant emotional expression than some people.

Overall it was a good routine, I thought it could have been a little faster paced, a little sharper, but on the whole it worked.

Eden and Michael – Foxtrot

I don’t think I will ever be able to completely embrace this style of dance. The way the dancers’ heads are inclined away from each other, as if they’re doing everything they can to avoid making eye contact, just seems awkward to me, and at odds with whole point of dancing with a partner. Fortunately, however, that was only a minor element of this routine, and they both performed with the absolute professionalism I’d expect from these two.

The beginning was highly effective, the way they circled around each other, drawing slowly closer, and after that the way they flowed effortlessly across the floor was a credit to both of them, and to the brilliant partnership they’ve created in a small space of time. They both looked almost weightless, something that Eden hasn’t often had the chance to demonstrate, and she was magnificent here. Michael’s lifts were also highly effective, and I particularly loved the final moments of the routine, with Eden’s feet gliding inches above the ground. It really emphasised the lightness of the whole thing.

Sam and Lauren – Hip Hop

Yes, I STILL think the judges are being too harsh on Sam, compared to how generous they’ve been to some of the others. However, I definitely don’t think this was his best routine. There was just a certain sheen lacking from his movements, and in this one he looked less like a professional dancer and more like a talented amateur busting out some moves at the local disco (or whatever the cool kids are doing these days). I think he did a pretty good job of injecting some nerdiness without going too far, and did it really matter about the glasses? I don’t think so.

Lauren was better, but still not quite spectacular. I don’t think she’s really had a chance to shine in the couples routines since the brilliant partnership with Patric was broken up. All in all, not my favourite routine of the night, but still basically okay.

Ashleigh and Blond – Contemporary

Absolutely gorgeous. Everything about this routine worked. Did I say that Ashleigh’s previous routine was my favourite moment from her? Well, it was, but it only held the top spot for half an hour, up to the moment I saw this routine. She was the real focus of the emotion in this piece, and her performance was one of the best expressions of emotion that I’ve seen on the show so far, and that’s saying something.

Blond, of course, was fantastic. Now, I have no idea how difficult that wire work was, I suspect Jason might have been a little enthusiastic in his praise as it wasn’t really the most elaborate of performances, but it was nevertheless amazing to watch and almost flawless in execution. And Blond perfectly captured the feeling of ethereal longing and detachment that the routine required.

And apart from the performances, the choreography was particularly brilliant and effective. There were actually only a few moments of unity; for the most part they were either dancing at different moments or in different spaces, and that perfectly portrayed the notion of a lost love while also highlighting the brief instants where they were reunited. Few routines have so effectively portrayed their theme.

Thoughts On The Eliminations

When two of the best dancers, Zoey and Patric, went home after the first elimination totally decided by the public, it didn’t bode well for the future. And now the public has sent home two of the best once again. Of course I’m somewhat biased in Blond’s favour, but I am absolutely sure that there is no objective measure by which he was not one of the most deserving dancers in the top 8. In Eden’s case it’s a little closer, because I can see many positives for each of the remaining girls, but even so I’d say she was probably the most deserving to stay.

Is this surprising? Sadly, no. I’ve written before about why I doubted Blond had any real chance, and why I don’t think the public vote would necessarily have any correlation to pure dancing ability. But it’s disheartening, and it’s not doing much to alleviate the cynicism I usually feel about the world in general. However, I try to keep things in proportion. This is, after all, reality TV. It doesn’t bear any relation to the real world of dance, and I can’t feel any real anger that the audience doesn’t necessarily watch and engage in the same way that I do.

Still, it’s disappointing. There aren’t many dancers left that I think are truly deserving of one hundred thousand dollars. From my perspective, I feel deprived of the performances that Blond would have given in the closing weeks of the show, but I’m not actually too devastated on his behalf. As I’ll never tire of pointing out, he’s had a long and massively successful career in b-boying, not only rising to the top of the ultra-competitive South Korean b-boy scene but helping to build up b-boy culture in South Korea and around the world.

His stated aim in SYTYCD was, in his words, to show Australia ‘what b-boy is, and what myself is’. And he has absolutely, positively succeeded in doing that. The votes might have said otherwise, but Australia embraced him. Just look at the way the audience responded, look at the way the judges were moved to tears. And look at how, like Patric, he was actually overjoyed to be eliminated instead of Michael. Classy, classy, classy.

Blond, I salute you, Australia salutes you. Thank you.

And Finally…

A tiny bit of self-promotion, I hope you can forgive me!

I’ve decided to merge some of my creative writing ventures into this blog. To that end, I’ve added some new pages, one for flash fiction (essentially very short, unrelated snippets of writing), one for short stories, and one for my ongoing fantasy novel, currently being released in instalments. You can access the different pages through the links on the menu bar at the top of the page. The pages will grow as more stuff is added. As always, I’d love to know what people think!

SYTYCD is drawing to a close, but this blog will still be here, and I’ll still be filling it with reviews and opinions and random stuff, plus some of my fiction. Hope you guys check back every now and then to see what’s happening!

Oh, and I made a gif of my favourite moment from the show…

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So You Think You Can Dance Australia: My Top 10 Dance For Your Lifes

Top 10 Dance For Your Lifes

Dance For Your Lifes? That looks weird. Dance For Your Lives? Dances For Your Life? Y’know what, I’m just going to call them DFYLs. And now that they’ve been sadly made redundant in the show, I figured I’d rank my top 10 Dance For… uh, DFYLs!

It’s a real shame we won’t be seeing any more of these. I just hope this week’s show gives the dancers a chance to do something solo. There’s something particularly great about seeing a lone dancer as the sole focus of a routine they’ve crafted themselves.

10: Thabang (Top 20)

Yes, he fell over, but the recovery was lightning fast. He was impossibly light on his feet and his legs were like liquid. It’s a shame (though understandable) that he was eliminated so soon, I would really have liked to have seen what he could have done in the following weeks.

9: Nadiah (Top 20)

Such an energetic style, and so different from everything else in the competition. This was the sort of thing that made me love Nadiah, and made me sorry to see her go.

8: Blond (Top 12)

This routine was a tour de force of power moves, including Blond’s signature slow motion airflare (or is that an airtrack? Not 100% sure of the difference). He was as clean as he’s ever been, but what made this routine special was the amped-up aggression and energy, emphasised by the hard rock backing track and symbolised brilliantly by the casting aside of his trademark cap. I think he really put his heart into this one, and I wasn’t surprised to see that he became genuinely emotional once the eliminations were announced.

7: Jay (Top 14)

I had been waiting for something like this from Jay. Obviously his good natured goofiness is one of his greatest strengths, but it was so good to see some real anger from him. Anger can be a positive thing, when channelled in the right way, and what could be a better channel than dance? In that respect this performance was similar to Blond’s routine mentioned above, but it was even more remarkable and significant coming from Jay.

6: Maddie (Top 14)

Continuing the theme of dancers who showed a new side to themselves, this routine from Maddie injected a much-needed hint of darkness into her repertoire. She’s always so light and beautiful and nice, it was great to see the way that the music and the makeup combined with the choreography to create something with real nuance and depth. Now, I do want to be careful here: I think ‘nice’ is a highly admirable and generally underrated thing to be. But it’s always a bonus if a dancer can express other things as well.

5: Renelle (Top 14)

I would have liked to have included Renelle’s other DFYLs here, but it’s amazing how limiting a Top 10 list is when you try to actually fit in all your favourites. I’ve written briefly about this one before, so I won’t go into too much detail, but for me this was Renelle’s defining moment, as it allowed us to see the pure joy and passion she finds in dancing, and it is always an honour and a privilege to witness another human being’s joy.

4: Yukino (Top 18)

From a personal point of view, this was very much my sort of thing. I loved the Asian influences in the costume and the music, and I loved the robot-like movements, with the sudden stops and beautifully odd angles. It was serene, and elegant, and yet so strong. Her musicality shone through as well, with every movement matching the beat perfectly.

3: Patric (Top 12)

I’ve said a few times that I consider Patric to be the most versatile guy in the competition (although I should have written ‘have been’ in that sentence, accursed past tense!). But I’ve been arguing with a friend about this (a completely friendly argument!) and maybe this assertion needs more of an explanation. You could argue: have not Michael and Blond also seamlessly adapted themselves to a wide range of styles? Yes, they have, but here’s the difference in my eyes: in everything those two have done, be it urban or contemporary or ballroom, they’ve danced like Michael and Blond dancing urban or contemporary or ballroom. Patric, on the other hand, danced every routine like a completely different person, and that’s a rare gift. For sure, he has his own style, that appealing combination of goofiness and masculinity, but he was also able to totally leave that style behind when it was required.

This routine, so simple and happy, so light and yet so beautiful and heartfelt, was one of the best examples of that versatility.

2: Blond (Top 14)

This 30 seconds of b-boying had everything: style, power, musicality, and humour, he was precise but also smooth enough to flow seamlessly between moves, and he absolutely killed the beat.

But again I’m going to get a bit personal here. As I’ve said, I’ve been a fan of Blond for quite a few years, and he was the main reason I became so invested in this show. Since starting watching, naturally, I’ve come to love all of the dancers, but Blond remains my personal favourite. So when he was in the bottom 3, and up against two awesome and popular dancers in the form of Jay and Chris, I was deeply concerned. But then he pulled out this performance, and when the judges rose to their feet, and I knew he was safe, I became more emotional than I have ever become while watching a TV program. And that’s saying something: I’m an emotional kind of guy. I was fist pumping like I was Tiger Woods winning all four majors with a single putt. And I never fist pump.

Incidentally, I am keenly aware that for Blond to survive, Chris had to leave, and it’s impossible to imagine a nicer and more deserving guy than Chris. In some ways shows like this are cruel; I take some comfort in the fact that it is, after all, just a show, that all the competitors went into it willingly and with full knowledge of how it would play out, and that all these dancers have real lives in the real world, and ultimately it doesn’t matter too much who leaves and when.

1: Michael (Top 16)

Nope. There’s nothing to be said about this one. Words are futile; if you’ve watched it, you know why it’s at number 1.

Honourable Mentions

Chris (Top 18)

I had to think long and hard before cutting this one out of the top 10. Like Renelle’s DFYLs, this one just showed Chris’s capacity for joy in dance.

Renelle (Top 12)

One of my all-time favourite tunes, which she totally embodied with real humour and personality.

Yukino (Top 16)

Loved the music, loved the moves, and I particularly loved the shift to a higher, more energetic gear halfway through.