With only one week before "So You Think You Can Dance's" top 10 stage--when the all-important allstars come in, the dancers start competing as individuals instead of duos, and the lineup for the "SYTYCD" live tour is determined--this was undoubtedly the most crucial week of Season 8 yet. And Wednesday's show was a bittersweet episode in many ways, as it marked the last time "SYTYCD" fans would see made-in-dance-heaven power couples like Melanie and Marko, Jordan and Tadd, and Clarice and Jess perform together. So luckily, we all got to watch the remaining couples perform two routines apiece this week.
As sad as those forthcoming breakups will be, on the plus side, I've long theorized that some dancers on this show are sadly dragging their partners down (namely Ryan hurting Ricky's chances, and Alexander hurting Sasha's), so it was nice to know that after this week, the remaining contestants (Ricky and Sasha hopefully among them) will be judged on their own merits. No couples, oddly, have been split up yet this season--the judges have sent intact couples home every Thursday--so next week's new top 10 format will definitely shake up this competition, and separate the men from the boys and the girls from the beasts.
But until then, here's how everyone did THIS week...
SASHA & ALEXANDER
Paso Doble - This Tony Meredith and Melanie Lapatin-choreographed routine turned the paso doble's usual gender roles upside-down and inside-out, with Sasha not playing the usual submissive "cape" role but instead storming onto the stage like a raging bull. ("The days are over when the girl is simply the cape. She can be the bull!" declared judge Mary Murphy.) Sasha's dominance over Alexander the meek matador throughout this number was very much in line with the "girls are beasts"-themed group numbers of this season (the ones in which the girls have poisoned or beat up the boys), right down to the final moment when Alexander got Sasha in a chokehold and she defiantly punched his hand away. (Don't worry, they kissed and made up the instant they were out of character.) Pretty much all four judges singled out Sasha for more praise than Alexander, of course. "Tony and Melanie recognized your strength and kept you in that strong mode," Nigel Lythgoe told her, while he gave Alexander the more backhanded compliment, "You have difficulty keeping up with her sometimes, but you did....you were much stronger tonight than I've seen you in a while." Said Mary, "Sasha, you are so fearless in this competition," while Alexander got the comment, "You hung in there, brother." Guest judge Jesse Tyler Ferguson, of "Modern Family" fame, was the nicest, gushing, "It was highly dramatical and I loved every moment....Alexander, you were right there with her the whole time." (Incidentally, unabashed "SYTYCD" fanboy Jesse was the best celebrity guest judge of the season so far. LOVE him.) But the other guest judge, choreography genius Sonya Tayeh, echoed Nigel and Mary. "Sasha, you rock my socks off on a regular basis. I really love strength in women," she began, before adding, "Alexander, sometimes with the consistency in terms of your partnering, I don't always trust you." That seemed a little harsh--I think Alexander has a been a devoted partner all season--but as the season has progressed, it has become increasingly obvious that this pair is somewhat mismatched.
Jazz - For this number, set to a recording of the standard "That's Life" by Aretha Franklin, choreographer Tyce Diorio vaguely told them it was "about life" and to "be themselves." So I'm not quite sure what the storyline really was. But the dancers sure had a chance to let their personalities shine through. I really don't mean to keep discounting Alexander's talent--he is a fine, fine dancer--but usually when this pair takes the stage, it is The Sasha Show; Sasha is just that incredible a force, with that big a presence. Even when she suffered a major stumble at the end of this routine, she somehow managed to make it look like it was all part of the act. ("That's life," she shrugged with a chuckle, to which Jesse replied, "If I'd just danced that, I'd have to sit down too!") But in this routine, Alexander finally came to life. "This what I've been praying and hoping for this whole season," Sonya told him. "You dove in and you looked amazing!" Mary agreed: "Alexander, I think you had an extremely breakthrough night; there was a new freedom to how you moved tonight!" And Nigel said, "Alexander, for a few weeks Sasha has carried you in these routines. Not tonight, kid! This was the best you've danced on this show. All of a sudden the chemistry has come together, just in the week that you're breaking up!" Hmmm. Maybe Alexander has what it takes to stay in this game after all, even sans Sasha.
JORDAN & TADD
Contemporary - Travis Wall, the Season 2 "SYTYCD" alum-turned-choreographer extraordinaire, is a genius. This is not up for debate, this is fact. As much I loved him as a guest judge last week, so much so that I almost rallied for him to become a permanent member of the panel, I was glad he was back to choreographing this week, because this routine was uh-mazing, and, to borrow a phrase from Jesse Tyler Ferguson, highly dramatical. The piece, set to music by Icelandic avant composer Olafur Arnalds, was again keeping in with that whole the-girls-are-beasts premise, depicting "women who take advantage of weak men" with Jordan cast as a feathered femme fatale. ("The classic vulture-stalks-boy storyline we all know so well!" joked Jesse.) It was all very Black Swan, and still very Travis Wall, and it received a well-deserved standing ovation. Jordan and Tadd of course had an advantage going into this competition by getting such an intense and powerful routine, but Travis's choreography wasn't the only star here: Jordan and Tadd really got into character, surprisingly so. I didn't think the Lolita-like Jordan had it in her to be such a queen of mean, but Tadd's acting skills were even more impressive as he convincingly portrayed the beaten-down victim who finally gets up and fights back. "Beautiful! Dark! Magnificent! Woo!" howled Mary. "A perfect symphony between style, movement, and technique!" Said Nigel: "It was remarkable...the pair of you were absolutely tremendous." Concurred Sonya: "This is just the true artistry that makes you wanna cry." And Jesse stood up for this season's much-underestimated boys by saying, "What happened with Tadd just there proves the guys are in it to win it--not to borrow from another reality show!" Then Jesse did his best impression Randy Jackson impersonation while Nigel plugged his ears. But I got Jesse's point: Jordan and Tadd were fantastic, dawg. This was the best routine of the night for me for you for me.
Broadway - For the second time this season, this cutie couple had to do a routine that required them to be in bed, and this Spencer Liff number--about a Sleeping Beauty-style princess awakened from a 100-year slumber by a prince's kiss--was bursting with just as much plucky personality as their one-night-stand bed number earlier this season. (But it was a lot more innocent, as evidenced by the fact that their smooch didn't inspire the judging panel to make out with each other.) It was a very acrobatic routine with many lifts and flips, vigorously accompanied by the high-energy Rent song "Out Tonight," and it was great fun to watch. Tadd totally rocked it from the minute he blasted out and sprayed Binaca Blast in his mouth, and Jordan was just adorable. It seemed like the type of routine viewers would love. The judges? Um, not so much. Surprisingly, none of them were feeling it. "I felt a little underwhelmed," griped Sonya. "I know your abilities and I didn't see them; I know your craft and I didn't see it." Added Mary: "It just wasn't strong enough....especially since you had such a dynamic in your first number." Jesse concurred, "I felt like it was a bit of a grab-bag of style and costume and music." And Nigel sadly brought it home with: "I thought it could have been a little quirkier....I thought you could have brought more characters to it....I needed more from you to push [other contestants] aside, because you two are good enough to be in that top 10." I think these two still will be in the top 10, thanks to their attention-grabbing first routine, but I was a little shocked by the judges' apathy regarding this routine.
RYAN & RICKY
Broadway - Ryan can sometimes seem goofy or even ungainly, but here, cast as an Old Hollywood starlet who leaps to life off a movie poster, she looked and acted the part, evoking classic Hitchcock heroines in her LBD and blonde chignon. Ricky played off her well as the young innocent swept away by this silver-screen glamourpuss. But in the end, despite their for the most part capable dancing, this Spencer Liff-choreographed, Sinatra-soundtracked number was hardly the standout of the night. It was a little limp. "I felt like a glass ceiling was on the performance, like your ability was more than what performance allowed you to do....It just didn't sparkle for me," sighed Jesse. "I felt like you were questioning it the whole time, letting it simmer a bit too much. It was okay," agreed an unenthusiastic Sonya. Said Mary: "The first 30 seconds was great, but then I felt that you lost the style." Nigel elaborated on that point, explaining, "I think if you don't get that complete Broadway style and sit comfortably in it, you lose the flavor and the simplicity of the steps....I don't know if this routine is going to make the connection I would've hoped you would've made with the audience this week." Wow. It all made me wonder what this routine would have been like if Jess and Clarice had danced it instead.
Cha Cha - Attempting to redeem themselves and bring the fire that was missing from their first number, R&R returned for this Enrique Iglesias-soundtracked Louis Van Amstel "dance of fire," which they assured all viewers would be hotter than a Hot Tamale Train in overdrive. (Ricky was in fact campaigning for a Hot Tamale ticket before the dance even started; read on for more on that.) But the train never quite pulled out of the station, in my opinion. Ryan's off-putting habit of smiling like a pageant dancer at the most inappropriate of times certainly didn't help their cause, but it was simply the lack of believable chemistry between them that did them in, distracting from Ricky's actually quite impressive mastering of the cha cha. "Ricky, I thought you did a really good job there...you had great style and class. But Ryan, I felt as if you were overdoing it, over-egging the footing a little bit," said Nigel. Sonya echoed Nigel's thoughts, saying, "Ricky, you were basking in it, enjoying and celebrating it. Ryan, I think what happens is the pressure you feel and the conviction you have kind of get mixed up, and that's why it seems tense sometimes." Jesse was nicer to both dancers, saying, "I don't have the authority to put anyone on a Hot Tamale Train, but I think you need to be on it!" But it was the ticket-dispenser in charge, Mary, who--while agreeing that Ryan got sloppy--declared Ricky the second Hot Tamale Train passenger of Season 8. Sadly for Ryan, she was not invited along for the ride. Burn!
CAITLYNN & MITCHELL
Lyrical Hip-Hop - This dance, masterminded by Christopher Scott of the LXD and set to Lupe Fiasco's "Break The Chain," had all the potential to be great. Inspired by child soldiers in Uganda, it should have been very emotional. But I just wasn't moved like I wanted or expected to be. Mitchell seemed to be under-acting, while Caitlynn's theatrics, as she made pained, pleading faces to the audience, seemed forced and almost silly. The pair's dancing was decent, but there was no real connection and it wasn't totally in sync, so I was ultimately disappointed...even if the well-meaning audience gave the piece a standing ovation. The judges shared my disappointment. "I am trying to connect with this intention that's very serious, and I get lost in translation because of the lack of clarity and unison," lamented Sonya. "I have no problem with whatever inspires a choreographer to choreograph, but when I'm being asked to buy into abductees in the Congo, all I want is for you to dance together. It didn't really happen," concurred Nigel. Mary called the effort "respectable" but agreed that it "fell short." Jesse admitted, "I didn't quite see what this amazing message was with the dance," though he still expressed amazement over the duo's strength. "You two dance with so much power," he said. "I dance with the power of a tricycle; you dance with the power of a Mack truck!" But will this dance inspire viewers to power-vote? Probably not.
Jazz - I got all jazzed (no pun intended) when I found out Travis was doing a second routine this evening, but really, this was not his best work. It just wasn't magical or signature enough, by high Travis standards, and whatever emotion it was supposed to have certainly was not fully conveyed by the dancers. A '70s period piece set to Janis Joplin about a scorned groupie (Caitlynn) who finds out her rock star boyfriend (Mitchell) is married, this could have been fab Almost Famous-style fun, but it was just "almost good" instead. Mitchell wasn't a very convincing rock star, and Caitlynn didn't seem nearly furious enough (though she did nail the sexy part, looking hawt in that garter belt and bedhead hair). Even when she hit Mitchell, Caitlynn seemed to be holding back. But weirdly, all the judges loved this. "Slightly naughty, a little intense, gutsy...and I loved it!" howled Mary. "It was fantastic!" exclaimed Jesse. "That was really, really hot!" declared Sonya (though she did mildly critique Mitchell's occasional inability to fully give himself over to the storyline.) Nigel called it "absolutely sensational," though he did criticize the pair a bit for playing too much to the audience instead of completely concentrating on each other. But overall, the judge adored this. I am still trying to figure out why I didn't. I expected '70s rock and Travis Wall to be a killer combination. Well, at least this was much better than their other number.
MELANIE & MARKO
Tango - For the first time this season, the "couple to beat" got a genre that wasn't smack-dab in their comfort zone, and for the first time this season, they weren't flawless and the recipients of unanimous glowing praise from the judges. Apparently Melanie and Marko are human after all. There was nothing wrong with this Louis Van Amstel-choreographed, Gotan Project-soundtracked routine, but since it was free of any storyline (no evil vultures, no female bulls, no movie posters or Ugandan war children), there wasn't much to distract from the moments when M&M were occasionally less than perfect. "I've been saying for weeks that I don't think you've been challenged like you should have been challenged....Louis was really tough on you," Nigel intoned, though he pointed out, happily, that this performance was much better from what he'd seen earlier in rehearsal. (He said they "speed-learned" the tango, a style that usually takes years to master.) "This was very tough, and there were a few awkward shapes, that's for sure," conceded Mary. "But I thought you guys did a really good job. Could it have been better? Yes." The two guest judges were more excited by this. Sonya raved, "Every time I watch you dance, you make me lose my breath. Even when you falter a little bit, I still trust you because the intention in your face doesn't change. It's coming from your soul!" And Jesse summed up M&M's unstoppable popularity with: "You both possess this thing called a spark. That's something you can't learn; you just have it. Win or lose this competition, you both have that spark in you for the rest of your lives!" And they'll probably have it for the rest of this season, because let's be real: M&M aren't going anywhere for a good long while.
Contemporary - Question: How many "SYTYCD" dancers does it take to make a lightbulb seem awesome? Answer: Two, if those dancers are Melanie and Marko, the choreographer is Dee Caspary, and the song is David J. Roch's "Skin & Bones." Back to doing what they do best, M&M went out with guns, or lightbulbs, blazing in their final routine. Christened "The Moth Dance" by Jesse, this was all about struggling to seek out the light--the light being some sort of metaphor for taking a relationship to the next level (and this was some next-level dancing, right here). What a beautiful routine. I am already bummed that M&M probably won't be dancing together again this season; their partnership has been one of the best in "SYTYCD" history. Le sigh. "I'm excited about next week when we split the couples up, apart from breaking you two up, because there is something magical about the pair of you," said Nigel. "Goosebumps! It's like Braille on my arm right now. You are amazing!" raved Jesse, who said this dance was even better than M&M's statue dance from earlier this season. "Everything was flawless; for sure, you are two shining stars on this show," said Mary. "I'm just so grateful that this is the future of dance," Sonya swooned. Me too, Sonya. Me too. But the near future--i.e., next week's partnership dissolution--makes me sad.
CLARICE & JESS
Lyrical Hip-Hop - I was worried about hoofer Jess doing hip-hop of any kind, but this Christopher Scott routine allowed him to show off his softer side instead of requiring him to act like a street thug (breakdancing bits aside). As a result, he was totally convincing in his transformation from Broadway baby to B-boy. A routine about a woman's insecurities, the dance began with Clarice neurotically fretting in her mirror like Snow White's stepmom, and then Jess stepping in to reassure her and put a smile on her much-scrutinized, obsessed-over face. It was a sweet and relatable routine, and their connection seemed real. (Scott's song choice, an acoustic cover of Bruno Mars's "Just The Way You Are" by Boyce Avenue, was perfect here too.) "You guys are amazing, just the way you are!" raved Mary. "That number was so cute and innocent...some people don't get the swag of this type of hip-hop, but you guys did!" Dark, gothic Sonya got all uncharacteristically bubbly and gushed, "You're just so adorable! You guys slayed it." Nigel encouraged Christopher Scott to stick to simple storylines like this one (puppy-love romances, yes; Uganda abductees, no), and praised the pair for finding their own sort of swag and groove. And Jesse faked them out with, "I didn't care for it...happy Opposite Day! I loved it!" Then he proposed marriage to Clarice. I'm pretty sure he was kidding, since it was Opposite Day and all...but still that was high praise coming from Jesse.
Jive - This lightning-speed rock 'n' roll jive by Tony Meredith and Melanie Lapatin was set to Robert Randolph's "Ain't Nothing Wrong With That," and there was nothing wrong with it, pretty much. Jess always looks effortless doing routines like this (even if he was visibly winded after this one), and Clarice totally kept up with him. "I love it I love it I love it I love it I love it! Perfect! Adorable! Amazing!" squealed Sonya. Jesse loved it too, saying Neil Patrick Harris should give Clarice the keys to Broadway. Nigel and Mary were a little less effusive. "It did lose steam as it went along. I missed the joy of the jive; the animation wasn't really there for me," sighed Mary. And Nigel thought it needed more energy and more work on the lifts and footwork. "Will this routine bring votes in? I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will," he said. Me too, Nigel. Me too.
So now, after a whopping dozen routines by the final dozen, it is prediction time. I think that the three couples who received the harshest critiques (if only for one of their routines apiece)--Caitlynn and Mitchell, Ryan and Ricky, and Jordan and Tadd--will probably be the ones up for elimination this week. (All are familiar faces in bottom six--the former two couples have been on the chopping block twice, as recently as last week, while Caitlynn and Mitchell there two weeks ago.) Jordan and Tadd should be saved based on their incredible first dance this week; Ricky is wonderful and Ryan is a judge favorite; so that leaves Caitlynn and Mitchell. I predict they will be going home this week, thus keeping with this season's pattern of eliminating couples together. After all, there will be plenty of time to split up the couples next week.
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