So You Think You Can Dance: Top 16 Performance Show

I had the opportunity to attend the live taping of this episode and let me tell you it was an entirely different experience than it was to see it on TV. For one thing, the room itself is not what I expected. The first comment made by every person to walk in was: “wow, this is a lot smaller than I expected.” The show is only something like 25 rows deep with some standing room off to both sides.

Before the taping began, Cory the warm up comic came out to hype everybody up before the show. We had been sitting around for a few hours (most people arrived at around 2 pm and the show started taping live at 5 pm) so the extra jolt of energy was sorely needed. As no cameras or cell phones are allowed, Cory promised to take some “twit-pics” of the audience and put them up on Twitter (check them out here and here) if we were loud enough. not that the audience needed incentive to scream, the show was scream-worthy all on its own. We got a fun introduction to the judges before they took their seats–Lil C did a bit of a dance and Kristin Chenowith was as adorably tiny as ever.

Of the choreographers, Jean Marc Genereaux showed up a lot earlier than the others and seemed to be in the best mood. He spoke with the family members of the dancers seated around him and partook in Cory’s antics. The other choreographers showed up only a few minutes before the show started and seemed somewhat less interested. TO their credit, Napoleon and Tabitha followed along avidly at times, pointing and laughing when appropriate. Tyce and Sonya meanwhile seemed content to mostly chat amongst themselves and look mildly disinterested. In fact, they were the only people to remain seated when the room was called to its feet at the opening of the show.

And then Cat did her cold open, which can hardly be heard inside the actual theater. We mostly had to guess at what she was saying. She’s as bubbly and cheerful in person as she is on screen and she and Nigel clearly have a good rapport as he called out random comments about her sparkly shoes. She did like showing off her glitteriness.

It was a little strange to have half the dancers match while the others wore random outfits for their introductions, but that is immediately explainable by the addition of the two group numbers. Cat’s need to pause during her next monologue was due, in large part, to Cory’s request that the audience scream until Cat was forced to quiet us herself. The audience took this as a solemn call of duty.

For the judges we have Lil C, Nigel, Mary, and Kristen Chenowith who, in addition to her acting and Broadway career, is now pursuing a singing career. Lil C is also apparently rapping these days (but will anyone understand his lyrics?).

The first group routine is a Broadway routine choreographed by Tyce Diorio about how the girls are dominating the boys. Group numbers are hard to watch in person–who do you watch is only a small issues as compared to not being distracted by the random cameras running along a track on stage (which the audience was warned not to knock out of place while going wild). This is one of Tyce’s best Broadway numbers in ages. I did want to thank Ryan for finally not smiling through an entire performance (though I think her mouth is naturally upturned or at least permanently stuck that way).

One thing that was interesting to note about the show is that the applause is not really artificial. The only time they ever specifically told us to applaud was upon return from the commercial breaks. We were specifically told not to look at Cat when she spoke from somewhere within the crowd, which was a little strange, but we couldn’t hear much of what she said anyway, so it hardly mattered.

Sasha and Alexander are paired up for a Dee Casparay contemporary routine about a guy remembering his lost love. But first we hear about their first performances. Sasha was a frog and it scarred her for life. Alexander was a hysterically awkward Simba. (These tidbits we got to watch on the two large screens on either side of the stage, though we were otherwise told not to watch these screens during the show.) I preferred this routine once it moved away from the piano (anyone else notice the bad camerawork there? we caught sight of one of the other camera men on stage!). I was less thrilled with the hands coming out of the piano. Sasha in particular sold this performance.
Judges Say:
Nigel- Good start. Alexander needs to work on connecting to the audience. (The boo was from a fan named Noemi who is a bit of a scary stalker.)
Mary- I loved this love story.
Kristin- (Kristin reveals that a frog once peed on her) Sasha is amazing and makes no noise when she dances. Alexander has amazing extensions.
Lil C- The perfect representation of how melefluous the keys of the piano are (chew on that).

You may have noticed that only one half off the audience stood up at the end of the performance. Cory proceeded to make fun of the other half of the room, which encouraged them to stand at the end of the next performance. Unfortunately, they couldn’t figure out when to sit after the next performance to the point where someone finally asked when they should sit.

Mitchell and Caitlynn get a samba with Jean-Marc Genereaux. Caitlynn’s first performance had her doing a duck dance where she looked miserable for half the time and happy for the other half. Mitchell was a late bloomer dance-wise, his first performance came in Fame at age sixteen. This performance felt more awkward to me than the judges indicated with their commentary. Sometimes there seemed to be a moment’s hesitation, particularly in the opening steps.
Judges Say:
Mary- The speakers have been blown out in here. Caitlynn’s leg action was rhythmical and loose. Mitchell did not look cheesy.
Kristin- Shut the front door…backdoor, front door, garage…every door.
Lil C- y’all murdered it.
Nigel- Jean-Marc exposed Mitchell’s strengths and he brings a great energy to the show. Caitlynn articulates her body well.

Interesting note, Lil C always gave a shout out to the choreographers when critiquing. I don’t know if this is because he is a choreographer himself and is therefore sensitive to the need for credit and appreciation.

Miranda and Robert get a Broadway number predictably done by Tyce. Miranda was an opinionated kid who performed a tap dance as her first dance. Robert, not so surprisingly, has spend his life making people laugh by trying on different characters. He did a Michael Jackson routine for a talent show. Miranda is meant to be the upper class working girl who seduces groovy cat Robert. Based on the practice footage, I expected this actual routine to be much faster than it turned out to be. This routine looks better on TV than it did live. The camera angles artificially speed up the dance.
Judges Say:
Kristin- My job is to critique you, but there’s nothing to say! (Really Kristin? You can be tougher than that!) Make some of your moves sharper so they stand out more.
Lil C- Miranda, with legs like that, who needs arms? Robert has personality.
Nigel- You’re improving.
Mary- Miranda is really transforming. Robert, you’re a hip hop dancer!

Melanie and Marko pull a Nappy-Tabs hip hop routine. Melanie was Little Bo Peep her first time on stage. Marko was a bit spoiled as a child but dancing straightened him out. His first concert was an awkward jazz routine when he as 10-11. Their dance is about a guy who was left at the alter and realizes that the best friend who is comforting him is the right one for him. Marko really got the sad character. Not surprisingly, this pair is solid and effortless. (The lift also looked better on screen than it did live.) Tabatha and Napoleon looked genuinely thrilled to see their routine performed.
Judges Say:
Lil C- Most definitely buck. M&M are the equivalent of limited edition Swiss army knives.
Nigel- Brilliant concept. You are the couple to beat.
Mary- You keep knocking out a special performance. (When she starts asking about the kiss mid-routine, Nigel is inspired to kiss Mary. Whether or not this was planned on his part, Mary seemed genuinely surprised and Cat seemed genuinely grossed out.)
Kristin- You are the epitome of the kind of language that I understand. (Kristin is so moved that she leans over and kisses Lil C who tries to be funny by knocking his hat and glasses askew. Nigel comes over to join in the action. Cut to the judges where Sonya is hiding her face in her hands.)

Ashley and Chris get a Sonyah Tayeh jazz number. Ashley’s first performance was when she was three while Chris’s first time on stage was a poetry reading when he was seven. So cute! Sonya is inspired by Beatlejuice and having more than one side to a personality. Unfortunately, the pair couldn’t quite get into character. I felt like any other couple would probably have done this routine better. Ashley’s faces tended towards silly over zombie-like and intense. (What you cannot see about Sonya’s outfit is that her blue and white polka dot outfit is long and baggy but underneath, she is wearing a pair of crazy bright shoes–neon green, blue, pink, and orange–high enough that when she walked down the stairs later she needed someone to help her walk down.)
Judges Say:
Nigel- Didn’t connect to the music and wanted more character.
Ashley- Ashley is beautiful.
Kristin- I’m just amazed. i don’t connect to this type of number but I’m into it. Ashley is one of her favorites. You partner well.
Lil C- Sonya’s work always has characters for the dancers and for the moves itself. Ashley is the sleeper star.
Mary apparently has no opinion here.

Around this time Cory started giving out “bling” (light up rings). He gave the first pair to a couple nine year old girls and then started throwing them out at random. Cat wanted a ring of her own and then decided to give it to the most stylish girl in the room, only to discover that Cory has already given the girl a ring (it was the same nine year old girl he’d started with). Should you ever be in the audience, a please can go a long way in getting some bling.

Clarice and Jess had a foxtrot with Jean-Marc. Clarice (who seemed to have the most signs) first performed at two and a half. Jess looks just as smug in real life as on TV. His first performance was spent waving to his mother, which is cute. Jess’s character ends up being a Broadway-like character (nightclub singer) wooing Clarice, the beautiful woman. They do a fairly good job considering but they are not my favorite couple.
Judges Say:
Mary- Beautiful lines, you pulled it off. No other dancer could have pulled it off like Jess.
Kristin- You two together are magic.
Lil C- Jess is a sophisticated performer.
Nigel- (Has to complimented Clarice’s cool dress.) Beautiful dance. Jess is a master.

Ryan and Ricky get a Sonya Tayeh contemporary routine. Ricky forgot his choreography in his first performance. Ryan became more outgoing with dance. Sonya’s routine is about a couple whose relationship is ending. Ricky connects to the loss of his father while Ryan connects to her lack of love. This pair was lucky to draw this number because it may save them from elimination. Overall Ryan managed to wipe her usual unnecessary smile off her face (though it did slip on at times). This was one of the more emotional pieces of the night though there is apparently some back story about Sonya’s mother that we don’t get that might make it even more emotional. (Nigel mentions it in passing.) Sonya is all but crying and she and Nigel share a hug after the critiques.
Judges Say:
Kristin- (mouthing amazing over and over again) I don’t think anyone couldn’t understand that. Ricky your turn out and Ryan you’re a beautiful dancer.
Lil C- You guys are also a power couple murdering every week.
Nigel- I’m proud we kept you last week, you delivered.
Mary- It is not easy to dance with a prop like that. I loved every second.

Something else I noticed about the show is that standing ovations are meaningless unless the judges partake in them. They are very discerning, whereas the audiences gives a standing ovation for every routine It’s almost as if they can’t help but stand at the sheer energy of the room. The judges did not give anything a standing O tonight.

Our last couple of the night are Jordan and Tadd. Jordan used to growl at people and first did Spice Girls. Tadd’s first dancing involved native Filipino dancing. They draw Nappy-Tabs hip hop about a couple that has an awkward late night encounter in college. This was not my favorite routine by Napoleon and Tabatha, still fun but more fun than awesome.
Judges Say:
Lil C- Loved it, the concept and execution. Make sure to use your whole body when in a groove.
Nigel- The story overwhelmed the dance but it was great fun. You’re going nowhere.
Mary- You put the whammy on all of us.
Kristin- Shut the front door! You’re amazing.

For the final routine of the night, Dee Caspary gives us a group routine about the girls trying to poison the guys. It’s a strange and interesting routine. I’m liking these group performances, even if they don’t help me judge the contestants (it’s hard enough just figuring out who everyone is).

The dancers were carefully lined up at the end of the night and it was interesting to see who did what during this process. Melanie needed to be manually put into place. Jordan could not stop dancing and occasionally Tadd joined her. Most dancers watched their clips as they ran along the stage but Jordan was too busy free styling to bother (this actually endeared me to her more than almost anything I’ve seen of her until now). Jess meanwhile could not help but mug in front of the camera which made me want to smack him.

It was an exciting experience watching the show as it tapes, but in truth, I think I prefer watching it on TV. Who do you think should be in the bottom?


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