By Amy Watts
7:20 AM EDT, July 12, 2012
Welcome to our first live show of the season. Cat is shiny in gold. I won't lie -- I look forward to seeing what she's wearing each week.
Since we're only getting one show a week this season, I was worried we wouldn't get the group numbers we used to get on the results show, but this show starts out with one.
Yay! It's all 10 couples dancing behind tables in what's supposed to look like an office setting. I only wish my work was (A) this uncluttered and (B) scored so well.
They've kept the introductions intact, with each dancer coming out and doing a move or two while Cat says his/her name. Notable: Janelle is in a metallic silver bikini. I thought Nick was going to get the biggest screams, but I think Witney got a bigger roar.
The announcer introduces the show twice, which Cat handles with aplomb by joking about it. She then tells us that Christopher Scott choreographed the opening group number.
Cat introduces the judges and almost calls Mary Murphy Mia Michaels. Rare misstep from our blonde bombshell hostess. Kenny Ortega (most famous as choreographer of "Dirty Dancing" and choreographer/director of the "High School Musical" movies) is guest judge and, of course, Nigel Lythgoe is there as head judge.
Nigel explains that this season, from the beginning, we the audience will be voting for individuals -- not couples. Next week, the bottom three male and female dancers will be declared "in the bottom" and then the judges will send home two dancers of each sex. Cat reminds us that this season they will crown two winners, one male and one female.
Cat explains that the dancers drew numbers out of a hat to couple up and then, in number order, chose the dance style they wanted to perform this evening. Each contestant will also get nine seconds to introduce themselves tonight.
First up: Witney Carson, 18 years old. She's musical, from a large family, and afraid of crickets. She's partnered with: Chehon Wespi-Tschopp, 23, born in Chicago, and raised in Switzerland.
They're dancing the samba, choreographed by Louis van Amstel. I love Louis. He's got moves, as he demonstrates the lower half vibration this dance requires in Brazil.
I'm not pleased with all the strobe lights at the beginning of this routine -- makes it hard to focus on the dancing. Witney's clearly in her wheelhouse as a ballroom dancer, but Chehon is a little stiffer than he should be, doesn't quite have the hip action there yet. Maybe I'd be more impressed if I hadn't just seen Louis show us how it's really supposed to be done.
There's something about the way Chehon is costumed and styled for this routine that makes me think of Taylor Lautner. One imagines that will not hurt him when it comes to votes. Unless the SYTYCD audience is overwhelmingly Team Edward.
Judges: Nigel repeats Louis' praise of Witney as a "firecracker" and calls her a star. He says that Chehon is a fantastic dancer, but that he needs to not overcompensate when trying to leave behind his ballet training.
Mary throws out a lot of technical critiques -- I caught things about feet and samba rolls and such. I actually like when she gives that kind of specific feedback. Then she screeches about trains and I hit the mute button. Kenny adds nothing of specific substance.
Tiffany Maher, 19, once had a pet duck, has tiny hands, and likes the beach. George Lawrence II, 19, loves green, crab legs, and collard greens, and doesn't go camping. I like him already.
Sonya Tayeh is choreographing them an "emotional" routine. Of course. It's about the connection these two people feel. Sure. Ok.
Tiffany does a better job than George of keeping that Sonya flat-foot pose. For a routine that's supposed to be about how these two "melt together," there's a lot of dancing apart. This is why sometimes I wish we didn't hear what the choreographer was trying to do and just got to figure out the dance for ourselves.
Judges: Mary is choked up and talking about how both dancers "surrendered" themselves to the choreography. She adds that she had high expectations for George and that he didn't disappoint tonight. She compliments Tiffany's strength.
Kenny likes to say Sonya's name. And then he starts reminiscing about being young. Stay on topic, old man. Nigel claims he can't remember being young. He talks about Sonya having moved into a "romantic" period in her choreography. And then he compliments the extension of both dancers and their lifts.
Janaya French, 20, wants to meet Shamu, loves fuzzy socks, and won't eat orange candy. Brandon Mitchell, 27, is from Kansas City, KS, severely allergic to cats and dogs and has a record-setting long-jumper brother. And if he's really 27, I want to know what moisturizer he's using.
They'll be doing a Tabitha and Napoleon routine about alcoholism. Specifically, he's drinking and she's trying to get him to escape the addiction. Please, choreographers, I love these serious issue dances. More of them. Next week, explain the European debt crisis with a quickstep, and I'll love you forever.
I'm not a huge fan of Tabitha and Napoleon choreography, so I'm going to wait for the judges to tell me what to think of this routine.
Kenny blathers about watching "hip hop turn into a deeper language." Blech. I don't need my hip hop to "tell a story." Sometimes I just want to see young athletic people do amazing things with the human body in a way that highlights the music.
Nigel warns Janaya about needing to "lower her core" in hip hop. Mary wanted to see more "grittiness" from Janaya. Nigel comes back to add that both these dancers will need to do more to stand out in this year's pack of dancers.
Getting ready to go to commercial we see Alexa in a skintight red leggings with a crop top. If a 19-year-old with a dancer's body isn't flattered by an outfit, it is the fault of the outfit.
Alexa Anderson, 19, loves watermelon, toppings, and sprinkles. And she reminds me of Bitty Schram. Daniel Baker, 24, is Australian and then says a bunch of stuff that's so stereotypically Australian I wonder if any of it's true.
Sean Cheesman is choreographing a jazz routine for these two and it's very physical in rehearsals, with Alexa bumping her head a lot.
This is my first shoes rant of the season -- why on earth do you put a man in a full suit to dance but then have him barefoot? Sometimes dancing means wearing shoes. Gah!
This routine isn't grabbing me and I don't know if it's the almost-monotonous music or the complete lack of chemistry between Alexa and Daniel.
Nigel highlights my problem with the routine by saying there wasn't a lot of rise and fall in the choreography which disguised how difficult it actually was. He also calls them out on fake-smiling your way through a routine instead of actually forging a connection with the audience.
Mary agrees with Nigel, and actually liked Daniel's smile, as a counterbalance to the "serious" ballet side of him we've seen so far. Kenny says it was an "extremely demanding" routine and he "appreciated the exercise" but didn't think they were as invested in it as he would have liked them to be.
Amber Jackson, 21, used to run track, loves bunnies, hates sausage, likes to skate. She's partnered with Nick Bloxsom-Carter, 20, who took way too many credits last semester, loves movies, and whose dad works at the Playboy mansion. Lead with that, kid.
They're dancing a Jason Gilkinson Viennese Waltz. Nick's a ballroom dancer, so this is his wheelhouse. Rehearsal seemed to not go well.
My viewing buddy, Diane, is not a fan of this Tina Arena cover of "Nights in White Satin." We had to hide the knitting needles, so she wouldn't stab her eardrums. I explained there's this thing now called "mute button" and saved us bloodshed.
Mary thought it was "dreamy" and then asks Amber if she's ever worn shoes like the dance heels she's wearing now. Amber admits not. Mary calls Nick "absolutely phenomenal." Kenny compliments not only the dancers but the steadicam operator --shoutout for the crew.
Nigel makes a Dance Moms reference and I assume that is a "dance mom" we see in the audience. Nigel worries about Nick's face during performance. He cautions Amber about using her core and not "collapsing" during movements.
I'm getting a strong Benji Schwimmer vibe off Nick as he mugs for votes. Do with that what you will. Benji won his season way back when.
Amelia Lowe, 18, is named after Amelia Earhart because her dad likes to fly planes. Her dad is also a tattoo artist, but she doesn't have any ink yet. She's partnered with Will Thomas, 19, who loves the color orange and folds under pressure, saying "um" a lot.
"NappyTabs" is back to choreograph. I find most of what they say to be nonsense and can't bother committing it to type here.
They're cats. So they're dancing to The Cure's "Lovecats," that standard of hip hop music. And just in case you missed the theme, they're both wearing leopard print. And then, I swear to you, Amelia bends over and presents her behind to Will. They missed the part where Will is supposed to bite her neck to subdue her. And the part where a cranky neighbor throws a shoe at them.
Kenny says, "Amelia, I think we can all agree that if we had a kitty like you we'd play with her all day." I am clutching my pearls. Nigel likes this pairing of dancers and I do too. Nigel also agrees with me that it wasn't really hip hop. It scares me when I mindmeld with Nigel.
Mary's screeching, which means she likes it. Cat sends them off the stage with a "Go find a dumpster somewhere else." I love her.
Janelle Issis, 24, is from Birmingham, AL, loves purple, can cook, and likes roller coasters. We should totally hang out. Dareian Kujawa, 20, left home to join the circus, used to play ice hockey, and does a great Donald Duck impression.
Sean Cheesman has given them a very physical African jazz routine. Janelle does a move that looks like it twisted things that shouldn't be twisted. Ouch.
Seconds into this routine we learn how flexible Janelle is. Wow. I'm not sure if they're supposed to be synchronized for these side by side moves, but they aren't. Janelle looks very awkward doing the most basic steps. Perhaps the fluidity of belly dancing moves isn't translating to the more sharp, angular moves I expect in African dancing.
Nigel says these two are very exciting dancers. Then we get a rundown of Janelle's injuries, including when she whacked her head on the door after the "Green Mile" which they now tell us required five stitches. Dareian gets a compliment for his work in the group routine. Nigel thinks this routine was memorable and that Janelle and Dareian will do very well in the voting.
Mary singles Janelle out for praise as fantastic and then calls Dareian a "powerhouse" with "great body lines." Kenny compliments Sean on his choreography and then goes around the world with his metaphor.
Promo spot for National Dance Day with viewer-submitted videos. People, I do not recommend dancing in a port-a-potty.
Eliana Girard, 21, hates raisins and is addicted to True Blood. (Eliana, have you read Suffering Succotash?) Cyrus Spencer, 22, is a Pisces and has lots of "gauges" -- those rings you put in your earlobes. And he also loves shoes.
They're dancing a routine from "Hairspray," choreographed by Tyce Diorio. One of the moves in this routine is the running man. I feel bad for both Eliana and Cyrus. They're dancing to '50s-inspired music, with 90s dance moves in 80s fashion. How do you sell that? That being said, they both have some tremendous charisma.
Mary's screeching, so, again, she likes it. Tyce is making a fool of himself in the audience. Way to pull focus, choreographer. Mary says, "People are going to watch this routine over and over again." Viewing buddy Diane and I exchange a long dubious side-eye followed by definitive shakes of the head.
Kenny loved the choreography and the performance. If this is the epitome of a good Broadway routine, I guess I just don't like Broadway. Nigel is impressed by Cyrus's handling of the choreography and then really pumps up Cyrus as an early favorite. Nigel also doesn't think the routine showed Eliana off to her best advantage, but says she's the "benchmark" for female contestants this season.
Audrey Case, 18, from Oklahoma, can fart with her neck, and loves elephants. Matthew Kazmierczak, 21, loves hiking, is a cat person, is scared of sharks, has 6 tattoos, and is terrified of the mannequin in the interview room.
Travis Wall is giving them a Titanic-themed love routine, based on the couch/sketch scene. And it's set to "Unchained Melody," which makes those of us in the audience think of an entirely different movie love scene. (It's called "Ghost," young people. Look it up.)
Audrey is indeed a tiny thing and Matthew is able to fling her around quite well. Overall, though, this isn't one of my favorite Travis pieces. The crowd goes wild, though, so what do I know?
Kenny says it was "exquisitely choreographed and beautifully danced." Nigel says it was his favorite routine of the night, because the music and the movement of the dance fit together so well. And then he says "chaise longue" beautifully. Mary calls it breathtaking and compliments Audrey specifically.
Lindsay Arnold, 18, doesn't like spiders or tomatoes and can sew. Cole Horibe, 26, calls himself a ninja and claims to be descended from one of the 47 Ronin Samurai.
They're dancing a Paso Doble choreographed by Jason Gilkinson. Instead of the usual bull/cape metaphor, Lindsay's persona is that of poison slowly invading and trying to kill Cole.
The music starts out sound like it will play well to Cole's martial arts background. Cole is not wearing a shirt and I'm being quite superficial and enjoying the view. There's too much strobe lighting happening, though. I always feel like that detracts from, rather than enhances the performance.
Standing ovation from the judges. Kenny says it was "mesmerizing" and one of the best routines he's ever seen on the show. Mary's loud, and we know what that means. Nigel says that was the best paso doble he's ever seen a male dancer do on this show. Legions of Pasha Kovalev fans just threw things at their television (myself included).
We have to wait until next week to see who goes home -- such suspense!
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun