Film and TV

So You Think You Can Dance: The Top 20

It's some kind of unwritten law that, as the dancing gets better on SYTYCD, host Cat Deeley becomes exponentially more annoying. I'm sure there's a chart or a mathematical formula somewhere, but you can just go by anecdotal evidence, too. Last night, she could be seen squeezing in a seat between the Mallory sisters in what we can assume was an attempt to be cute but just came off as a "WTF?" gesture, doing horrible impressions of Mary Murphy and flirting with Travis Wall by noting his bow tie.

Of course, now that the competition requires her to interact more with the judges in a live setting, instead of relying on scripted narrative chunks of blah, I guess we shouldn't feel too bad for her. Besides, what would a talent-competition-reality show be without an annoying host? Who would we make fun of once all the contestants were pared down to the cream of the crop?

The top 20 were chosen last night on SYTYCD, and the dancers could be the strongest yet. Let's recap.

We were treated to the usual laughably crappy montage we see every year: contestants walking in slow motion to the "holding area" where they will wait until they find out their future on the show as clips of their auditions fade in and out of the perimeter of the TV screen. The music's full of saccharine and the dialogue heavy on echo (hearing Sasha Mallory say as Natalia's taken to the hospital "that's stupid, she's a dancer-dancer-dancer" is kind of a riot).

Then 11 contestants learn they're not coming back. Of course, instead of just giving the 11 the news straight up, they have to draw out the whole process for two hours. On the plus side, we got to watch full routines featuring the Top 20 dancers, and it was absolutely delightful to finally see beautifully choreographed, complete routines instead of the snippets we've had to slog through over the past few weeks.

The Top 20: Ricky Jaime, Miranda Mileski, Melanie Moore and Sasha Mallory were in the first group to make it. This meant Sasha had to say goodbye to the other half of her sister act, Natalia, but Natalia put on a great show of support for her sister. "She totally deserves it, she's such a hard worker," she says. Sasha then says "this sucks," then realizes what she's just said and goes back with "but it's great! It's great!"

The group, made up of mostly contemporary/modern dancers, takes on a lyrical routine choreographed by Stacy Tookey that involves a fog machine. Yep. Still, the technique is, as Nigel says, thrilling.

The next group is made up of hip hop dancers: Chris Cole, Wadi Jones, Robert Taylor Jr. (better known as the "wooooo" guy) and Tadd Gadduang. Their precision, coordination and timing are superb, and...oh holy hell, is Robert dressed like Urkel? Lil C praises their "nice dish of hip hop souffle."

There were only two ballroom dancers that made it through the Vegas callbacks, and only one of them made it to the Top 20. This was Iveta Lukosiute's last chance because of the age cutoff, and she had made it to Vegas twice before. This time, she made it to the Top 20. She dances a sexy little number with Pasha from season 3, who ripped off her skirt and used it like a matador's cape. Like I said, sexy. Mary screams "there's a party going on right now! Wooooooo!"

Jazz/modern dancers Marko Germar (a.k.a the guy who still has a bullet in his arm), Clarice Ordaz, Jordan Casanova and Missy Morelli all made it through, and their dark, brisk routine showcased the girls' power. Tyce refused to sit down and said it was "amazing!" Robin said the word "fierce" again.

Two hoofers made it to the top 20, Jess Leprotto, whose arrogance Nigel finds off-putting, and Nick Young. Their precision and charisma shine during their tap routine, which I thought was slightly confusing. Jess was dressed in evening wear and Nick in street clothes, so I guess there's a story there? In any case, Tyce said it best when he said the greatest dancers are great performers, and the boys put on a charming performance.

The final group consists of Caitlynn Lawson, Ashley Rich, Mitchell Kelly, Alexander Fost and Ryan Ramirez, who finally made it to the Top 20 after being cut last year. Their Travis Wall (hey, he was once a contestant!) routine is what Robin calls a "celebration of dance" in which the dancers frolic among fallen leaves. It sounds lame, but it was actually beautiful and moving. Even the leaves were coordinated, which was kind of crazy.

Even though we could have this all wrapped up by now, we still have three dances to go. They split up the boys and the girls into two groups to work on separate routines, then all 20 dancers will perform together. Sure, this is the most enjoyable part of the show, but I wish we had gotten to it sooner (say, by letting those 11 people know they are leaving all together).

The boys perform a classed-up routine that's described as hip hop, but it has a lot of modern and even lyrical elements to it. They all emerge from red doors set up around the stage, all dressed in black suits and red ties. It's very 1984/Matrix, and shows off the guys' versatility as well. Nigel tells them they have to bring it this season, because SYTYCD doesn't really favor boys "like other shows." Was that a dig at American Idol? Buuuuuuurn.

The girls are matched with choreographer Sonya Tayeh, who's renowned for her abstract style and for working her dancers to the last bone. At one point in rehearsal, she asks "who needs a medic?" and eight hands go up. She describes her routine as making a Geisha "dark and twisted and exciting." Okaaaaaaaay.

I thought the routine was a little meh, but I think part of it was because the costumes were so distracting: tiny kimonos and paper umbrellas in their hair? For someone so abstract, shouldn't the costumes be a little less literal? Anyway, I guess the girls brought it, because Mary yells "we're not worthy" and says we have to make room on the hot tamale train. Oh dear.

Finally, we get to see all 20 dancers together. 20 dancers. One stage. That sounds like a lot. This isn't the Radio City Music Hall stage either, it's some dinky stage made just for SYTYCD, and the dancers fill it up like human clutter. Also, the routine appears as though it was inspired by Black Swan, with the dancers fluttering around in tattered garments that look like they're made of black feathers. I realize I'm not a dancer or even really a dance critic, but isn't Black Swan kind of the last thing we want these dancers to look to for inspiration?

Next week, we've got more performances from the Top 20, and voting begins!

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.