So You Think You Can Dance has changed up its routine for Season 9.
Fox's SYTYCD is on one night a week (instead of two) — and, more important, there will be two winners this season - best female dancer and best male dancer
Wednesday was this season's first live performance; the first results will be next Wednesday (8 ET/PT), with performances and eliminations packed into one two-hour episode. Two guys and two girls — that's right, four dancers — will be sent packing.
But for now, it's all about the performances. And along with the usual contemporary and ballet dancers, the top 20 include the show's first belly dancer (sexy!), karate-fusion dancer (come again?) and animator (what?).
The episode opened with a group routine by Christopher Scott, which had the dancers presumably working at desks, at office jobs, to violin music. Half the group were the bosses, the others workhorses manipulated by the bosses and getting more coffee amid isolations, stepping combos (Brandon Mitchell had a breakout), pirouettes (Dareian Kujawa had a breakout), high kicks and looks of despair.
Then, Cat Deeley introduced the show and explained that the diverse group was to be divided into 10 guy-girl pairs to dance for the judges and voters:
Ballet dancer Chehon Wespi-Tschopp, 23, and Latin dancer Witney Carson, 18, danced a Scott-choreographed samba. Chehon, clearly out of his classical element, was stiff in the hips and a bit bowlegged. Judge Nigel Lythgoe told him to "be careful" to treat this dance different from ballet, and ballroom expert Mary Murphy complained about Chehon's "foot issues." Guest judge Kenny Ortega told Chehon to let loose. Witney, on the other hand, owned the dance with come-hither looks, adept use of hairography and tight footwork. Nigel said, "You look like a star, you dance like a star, you are a star." Mary scored her first excited scream of the night.
Jazz dancer Tiffany Maher, 19, and contemporary dancer George Lawrence II, 19, took on a Sonya Tayeh contemporary routine to the song Turning Page by Sleeping at Last. The couple gave in to the dance and to each other. George lifted Tiffany while in an arabesque (as pointed out by Nigel), Tiffany looked as if she was levitating over George (as Mary noted), and the two crawled, pirouetted and extended to each other. Mary said, "George, you are one of the best dancers in this competition," and told Tiffany she had so much strength for "a teeny little thing." Kenny said, "You're breathtaking to watch."
Lyrical dancer Janaya French, 20, played caring girlfriend to 27-year-old stepper Brandon Mitchell's alcoholic boyfriend in a hip-hop NappyTabs routine to Drake and Rihanna's Take Care, showcasing Brandon's popping skills and Janaya's clean movements. Mary loved how committed Brandon was to his character, but "wanted to see a little bit more" from Janaya. Nigel advised Janaya to "get down and dirty a little bit more" for hip-hop.
Contemporary dancer Alexa Anderson, 19, partnered with ballet dancer Daniel Baker, 24, for a demanding jazz routine by Sean Cheesman. The two, clad in shiny red outfits, contorted their bodies into a non-stop whirl of lifts and spins. Nigel said that since the routine was so fast-paced, it was "really difficult to make a connection" with the audience. Kenny agreed, saying he was "impressed with the exercise," but "not with the performance."
Contemporary dancer Amber Jackson, 21, paired with ballroom dancer Nick Bloxsom-Carter, 20, for Jason Gilkison's flowing Viennese waltz routine to Nights in White Satin. Nick, comfortable in his genre, expertly handled the graceful Amber. "It was just dreamy," said Mary. "Nick, you're absolutely phenomenal." Kenny said the routine was "fluid, flowing," but Nigel advised Nick to get rid of his anxious expression and Amber to keep a tighter core.
Contemporary dancers Amelia Lowe, 18, and Will Thomas, 19, teamed up to be cats (felines, not Broadway performers) in a playful NappyTabs routine. Amelia embodied the kittycat role, with goofy Will right there with her. Kenny loved it. Nigel called it a memorable routine, saying "Amelia is quirky and crazy" and "Will is just plain crazy." Mary called the performance "purrfect."
Belly dancer Janelle Issis, 24, who has suffered a couple of injuries on the show, paired with contemporary dancer Dareian Kujawa, 20, for an energetic African jazz by Cheesman. The two were gyrating, contorting forces on the floor. "I think you're both going to do very well," said Nigel. "It was like a jungle dance-off," said Mary.
Ballet/pole dancer Eliana Girard, 21, took the floor with animator (that is, he does crazy/weird/amazing robotic movements) Cyrus "Glitch" Spencer, 22, for a Hairspray routine by Tyce Diorio. The lovable duo enjoyed themselves, even though Cyrus is not trained outside of animation. Nigel told Cyrus, "You are absolutely entertaining to watch … you immerse yourself." To Eliana, he said, "you are the benchmark" for what the ladies need to be this season. Kenny said, "The personalities were on fire."
Jazz dancer Audrey Case, 18, and contemporary dancer Matthew Kazmierczak, 21, danced a passionate Travis Wall piece to Unchained Melody set on the Titanic. They proved a compatible pair, moving as a graceful entanglement with small lifts — and a big lift off a chaise longue (as Nigel pointed out). The judges gave the dance a standing ovation. "Gorgeously danced," said Kenny. Mary said that Matthew "showed emotional vulnerability" and Audrey was "perfection."
Latin dancer Lindsay Arnold, 18, paired with karate master Cole Horibe, 26, for Jason Gilkison's fierce paso doble number. The genre seemed perfect for the intensely focused duo. Again, the judges were on their feet. Kenny said it was "two of the most fantastic performances I've ever seen on this show." Nigel said of Cole, "That is the best paso doble I've ever seen any boy do on this show," and that Lindsay had "magic."