So You Think You Can Dance just keeps better and better. Don’t get me wrong it has its foibles (The pre-dancing packages can get too sappy, some of the guest judges are woefully inane – Carly Rae, anyone? – and Mary Murphy can be…well, Mary Murphy) and the new dance crew bit this season flies by too quick in over-edited packages narrated by a bored Justin Bieber. But, if you can look past these little things, it’s one helluva show. Each year the dancers get better, each year the choreography is fun and emotional and mature. In a summer landscape filled with America’s Got Talent (with, surprisingly hasn’t featured any real talent since the second season), SYTYCD is a breath of fresh air.
Like I said last week, while I could talk about everyone (and will once we get to the live shows), today I’m just going to talk about my top five auditions for the premiere:
Paul “The Puppet” Brushaber
When Paul walked on stage, I feared we were destined for a bad audition. Not quite Sex bad, but not great either. But luckily SYTYCD is one of the few reality shows to focus on good auditions and luckily Paul is a crazy amazing dancer. His style, which he calls puppeting, is a surreal form of animation that turns the dancer into a human, stringless marionette. With an amazing amount of physical control and a wonderfully magnetic, creepy persona, his act just blew me away…and made my want to rub some Bengay into my shoulders. It’s not a shocker that Paul didn’t make it to LA – one trick ponies don’t get far on Dance no matter how amazing their one trick is – but at least he delivered an incredibly memorable audition.
There’s really not a ton to say about Justine other than she is just tailor made for SYTYCD. There was an incredible yet subtle beauty and sadness and triumph in her flowing contemporary solo. She’s one to watch out for when it comes to the Top 20.
Deise Mendonca and Mauricio Vera
Real-life couple Deise and Mauricio performed a pitch-perfect ballet routine that was both technically sound but also really emotionally moving, which can be usual for the more rigid dance style of ballet. Everything in their routine was just gorgeous – the amazing extension of her legs! The tenderness and love each time they touched! The underwater-like fluidity! While I’m probably in the majority of people who spent most of the routine fixated on Deise, both of them are just superb dancers.
Last summer, I watched SYTYCD with my friend Heather who was prone to calling the show Shut Up And Dance. She didn’t care if the dancer was in a bad car accident or if his dad didn’t accept his homosexuality or whatever hardships he/she went through, all that matters is what happened on stage. While that can sound a bit harsh I generally agree (and had a similar opinion when it came to X Factor’s Rion Page), far too often reality shows use such devices to make us like a performer more for their past than their actual talent-level. (I’m a bad person, I know, or at least a cynical one with far too many hours of reality TV watching under his belt).
This is basically a long way of saying I was a bit skeptical of Dani’s audition, ‘cause it had all the hallmarks of a sappy, heart-string-tugging audience. You see, Dani quit dancing for two year while she was in treatment for an eating disorder. But, you know what, despite what I said in the last jaded paragraph, if the dancing is that good, I don’t give a hoot. Against the backdrop of a beautiful instrumental track, Dani’s solo brilliantly inhabited the teen’s pain and resilience. No, her technique wasn’t as perfect or polished as some of the others, but she’s the whole package. A brilliant, beautiful dancer who dances not just because she wants to but because she needs to.
My favorite audition of the night was Franchesca’s. This highly talented and ultra quirky dancer had moves that were eerie and alien-like but also beautiful and moving. Striking but wonderfully simple, it was the best solo I’ve seen so far this season and one of the most memorable contemporary auditions since Melanie Moore’s. And see, I didn’t even need to mention her alopecia.
Others who auditioned were: Emily James (While I loved her full, mature movement, I wasn’t as thrilled with her somewhat unengaging performance style); Jenna Scaccia (Had beautiful ballet technique, but her sunny performance didn’t mesh with the ominous, eerie music); James Thomas (Owwww! Make it stop!); Jessica Richens (who just missed the top five, oozed sexuality and sensuality out of every pore of her body during her gorgeous solo); Valerie Rockey (who brought a fun, youthful and feminine side to tap dance); Jana “Jaja” Vankova (Another dancer who almost made this list, Jaja’s robotic style brought great, fun flair to the krump style); Kyle Taylor (is the type of dancer who would be the life of a party and super popular at a club but just isn’t up to SYTYCD standards. That being said, he was a great sport to put up with a fantastically fun dance battle with Fik-shun, Cyrus and Legacy); Hailee Payne (While Hailee’s style wasn’t my cup of tea, you can tell she’s a very talented dancer that Sonya would just adore; Sebastian Serra (who got cut last season right before the green mile and delivered a technically brilliant but slightly underperformed routine; and Marie Poppins (who was just so much freakin’ fun).