Damn, this season’s top six girls are a phenomenal bunch. Mary Murphy says they’re the strongest in the show’s history, and I’m inclined to agree after tonight’s episode. The evening’s final group routine by Stacey Tookey is a celebration of the strength of these female dancers, and it’s clear from the start it is going to be an emotional elimination no matter who goes home. (For the guys, not so much.) Malece has been dealt a bum hand this entire competition; she was dropped on her head in Vegas and paired with inadequate animator Jade once she made it to the top 20. Her shining moment was her Sonya Tayeh contemporary routine with All-Star Marko, but her luck didn’t last once Alan became her partner. The ballroom dancer has the charisma of cardboard and doesn’t meet Malece’s level of technical quality, dragging her down when they take the stage.
Every girl in the top six is a beautiful dancer, and the chemistry between partners is going to become more important as the competition continues. This episode the dancers show how strong their partnerships have become over the past five weeks, and couples that have been together for the entire competition have a huge advantage. Alan and Malece have only been together for two weeks and haven’t built a great connection during that time, so they really need to step it up when they find themselves in the bottom with Tucker and Amy, two halves of couples the judges adore. Their chemistry doesn’t have room to grow in Mandy Moore’s bland jazz routine, which uses “old Hollywood” as code for boring. The generic choreography limits them in terms of character, and they end up giving the evening's most lackluster performance before being sent home.
Alan has been on the chopping block for more of the season, so it’s a given that he will be going home, even with Tucker sitting this week out because of a knee infection. (Male injuries: four. Female injuries: zero.) Malece has the misfortune of dancing against Amy, who truly dances for her life with her solo. Malece shows off a lot of technical spectacle but ends up overstuffing her routine while Amy makes sure to sell all her emotion, giving her number a breathless momentum. There is a need that comes through in her solo, showing the judges just how desperately she wants to stay in the competition. Amy also has an outstanding connection with her partner, and her chemistry with Fik-Shun compensates for any technical problems in their Viennese waltz by Jean-Marc Généreux. It’s easier to look past errors when the relationship of the dancers is so strong, and the joy they share when dancing together shines through in Jean-Marc’s piece.
Jenna is the female dancer saved from elimination at the start of the episode, and she shows why in her Jean-Marc paso doble with All-Star Alex Wong. Her movement is so forceful and specific, and she gets a head start on next week’s challenge by proving she can create quick chemistry with a new dance partner. Jenna isn’t the only person demonstrating that skill this week as Hayley and Nico dance together for the first time in an incredibly difficult Sean Cheeseman Broadway routine, starting the couple performances with a standing ovation from the judges. The lifts in this number are some of the coolest tricks this show has ever pulled off, particularly the lift that has Nico grabbing Hayley’s leg and throwing her over his shoulder. Hayley is amazing in that moment, taking massive impact that she lands on one leg and rolls backward with the momentum of the throat. She’s the only female contestant who has never been in the bottom three, and she all but guarantees her safety next week with her performance tonight. The routine is also the strongest Nico has looked as a dancer, and he’ll likely only improve once he is partnered with an All-Star.
The evening’s second standing ovation goes to Paul and Makenzie, who finally get to dance knowing that they are both safe from elimination. Makenzie is figuring out how to change her screen persona, and the montage of her making ugly faces during the video package shows her softer, fun-loving side. They have no difficulty with Mandy Moore’s contemporary routine, bringing all the passion that was missing from Malece and Alan’s number. Their chemistry is so palpable that I’m beginning to think these two are falling for each other hard. Makenzie is obsessed with James Franco and Paul is totally the lost ethnic Franco brother, and a few episodes ago Paul was sketching his partner. Sure, that was probably staged, but I like to think that Paul and Makenzie have begun this glorious summer romance where they just dance and pose for drawings and appear on national TV together all the time. I wouldn’t be surprised given how honest their performance is tonight. They play two lovers that have to sneak around to be together and there’s a wonderful sense of intimacy when they dance. You get the feeling their shared emotional connection is the fuel for their performance, pushing them further as their affections intensify.
Paul and Makenzie are outstanding, but they are going to have a lot of trouble overpowering juggernauts Aaron and Jasmine. They bring down the house with NappyTabs’ Wild West hip-hop routine, which casts Jasmine as a super freaky saloon wench who takes advantage of the bandit that walks into her bar. Jasmine is a revelation in this number, exhibiting raw, uninhibited movement that radiates sexuality. The passion of Paul and Makenzie is that of two young people making love in secret, and all their attention is focused on the other person. Aaron and Jasmine have the passion of two strangers that fuck on the floor of an empty bar, bringing a sexual energy that is less voyeuristic and more exhibitionist.
It’s crazy that Aaron wasn’t supposed to be in the top 20 and now he’s the first tapper to make it to the top 10. He hasn’t been in the bottom yet, and it doesn’t look like he’ll end up there next week. He’s the highlight of NappyTabs’ male group routine, bringing a masculine presence to the stage that doesn’t feel forced or artificial. The natural power is going to help immensely when he’s paired with an All-Star, and he’s consistently shown a level of professionalism that is a good omen for things to come. It will be sad to see his partnership with Jasmine end, but it’s the perfect time for the All-Stars to show up and push these dancers even further.
- The Bollywood opening number is a lot of fun, but clearly the lowest priority dance for the contestants. They know they’re not being judged on it, so it’s not as sharp as the other numbers.
- Kenny Ortega is the guest judge this week and he’s the strongest we’ve had since Paula Abdul, offering lots of praise but also some legitimate criticism. I’d still like to see a guest judge come on the show and not sugar coat the critiques, though.
- With roaring ’20s and Wild West-inspired hip-hop numbers, this season is all about getting buck in period garb.
- “He’s A Pirate” (Ship Ahoy Tribal Remix) by Chris Joss and Klaus Badelt is a horrible piece of music that almost ruins that paso doble routine. It sounds like Gob Bluth entrance music.
- Confirmed All-Stars: tWitch (S4), Witney (S9), Lauren (S7), Neil (S3), Allison (S2), Mark (S4), Kathryn McCormick (S6), Robert (S7), Alex (S7), and Dominic (S3).