Film and TV

So You Think You Can Dance: The Top 20 Perform

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This is the first week of voting, which means America gets to decide who stays and who goes. It also means the judges' comments are more or less moot, so to spice things up, the brought in Megan Mullally. Great! Now we have two overly-energetic, high-pitched women on the panel! Actually, Mullally's a great personality, she loves the show and she has a background in ballet and Broadway, so she knows what she's talking about. She's also pretty subdued, balancing out Mary Murphy, who was Starbucks Doubleshot off-the-wall this week.

ANYWAY, before the performances begin, we're informed that only 19 of the Top 20 dancers will perform, as Mitchell injured his elbow during rehearsal and was advised by his doctors to rest. He's still up for elimination, though, which sucks for him and his partner, who will have to carry the success of their act alone (well, she got some help from a fill-in, but still).

First to perform are Tadd and Jordan, who worked with choreographer Sean Cheesman on an African jazz routine Cheesman says was inspired by the movement of hot lava. Jordan admits she wasn't familiar with the style and thought Afro-jazz was people in Afros dancing in jazz unitards. And...OMG did she just say "amplode?"

She and hip hop dancer Tadd pull off the movements, their jumps mimicking short bursts of lava, the way they gather up on each other mimicking its movement. The judges love Jordan, but Nigel is impressed by how fast Tadd picked up the new style. Ohe yeah, and this is where he makes the "lava erupting" remark.

Sasha and Alexander are up next with a contemporary piece by Travis Wall. Wall explains the story is about a man whose conscience is coming back to haunt him after he did wrong in a relationship, which means that Sasha gets to kick Alexander's ass, both in rehearsal and onstage. The dancing is powerful, a more delicate version of stage combat; seeing the dancers crash silently on the floor is mesmerizing. The judges say they didn't quite feel the connection between the two dancers, but agreed that Sasha is a strong, dynamic dancer. Oh yeah, and Alexander was okay.

Clarice and Jess perform a Broadway-style routine choreographed (surprise) by Tyce Diorio. Jess, whom the judges had earlier disparaged because his facial expressions made it seem like he didn't enjoy dancing, came out on top with joyful expressions and brilliant technique. This is a guy who takes criticism seriously and works hard. Megan called the routine "pure joy on a platter," and compared him to James Cagney and Jimmy Durante. Nigel told Clarice she needs to work harder to keep up with Jess and reminds her, like he will for pretty much the rest of the show, that the girls are very strong this season.

Ryan and Ricky are paired up to perform a lyrical hip hop dance by Christopher Scott. In rehearsals, we hear Ricky say Ryan's driving him "cray-cray." Uh oh. But they pull off an intriguing piece that starts off mechanical and becomes more fluid, and their facial expressions are delightful. Nigel finds them too distracting, however, and says he doesn't want to get carried away with the story and not pay attention to the dancing. Mary says the dancing was brilliant and Megan says it was "effective and affecting."

Cailynn must dance a jazz number without her partner, Mitchell, but she gets Robert from season 7 to fill in (Mary hints he might show up for all-stars this season). The routine is choreographed by Sophia Tayeh, who says it's about what we can accomplish without fear. I don't really get that from the choreography, but Tayeh's known for being abstract. The jerky movements, lifts and cartwheels show why Mitchell got injured: this is not easy choreography to do (before he got injured, Mitchell was sweating profusely in rehearsal). After the performance, we see Mitchell in the audience, getting choked up, Mary says "Woooooo!" and Nigel says, quoting Mitchell, Caitlynn's a "10 across the board."

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CAROLINE EVANS
Contact: CAROLINE EVANS