Two performances from each couple! Another hilarious guest judge! Awful and amazing routines! Let's start cutting!
Sasha and Alexander (Paso Doble by Tony Meredith & Melanie Lapatin)
I'll start with a disclaimer about how much I typically dislike the paso doble. This one, however, I actually liked. For the first time, I think Alexander held his own against Sasha; it looked more like a partnership between the two of them than any performance ever has before. The choreography was great here, and I think that's why I liked it more than usual. The movement wasn't as weighed down by anger as it usually is, and both dancers were doing typically masculine and feminine movements. Like the judges said, it wasn't just a man throwing the woman around the stage; Sasha took on more of the male-oriented choreography, and Alexander sometimes took on the female-oriented movement. It still retained the drama of the paso doble, but it was more balanced between the dancers. One of the better ballroom performances of the season so far.
And for once, a big thumbs up to the costume department for not putting Sasha in a giant skirt; the leather pants worked great.
Jordan and Tadd (Contemporary by Travis Wall)
This was the first time I've loved Jordan. Her extensions are amazing, and her characterization of a preying female was perfect. She truly was beautiful, in all aspects but mostly in her fantastic technique. I would've liked more acting from Tadd in places where it wasnt built into the choreography; it's easy to look weak when you're literally choregraphed to be beneath the other dancer, but it needed more expression of weakness in the moments where it wasn't as obvious in the movement. Overall though, I kept recalling earlier pieces this reminded me of (the black swan in Swan Lake, Wade Robson's "Chairman's Waltz") and thinking that it was just as intense and well-done; a really great performance.
Ryan and Ricky (Broadway by Spencer Liff)
Thank God this piece was given to Ryan and Ricky and not Clarice and Jess; I can only imagine how over-the-top and campy Jess would've been as Ricky's character. I love this type of Broadway dancing, true old-school old-fashioned musicality and lightness. Ryan was sultry and smooth, while Ricky was a little awkward; she seemed more comfortable than he did. Having said that, I wasn't blown away by either the choreography or the performances. They were both good enough but something was lacking, whether it be the "spark" the judges were referring to or just a general comfort with an unfamiliar (and, frankly, dying) style.
Caitlynn and Mitchell (Hip Hop by Christopher Scott)
Okay, seriously... I can't stand Christopher Scott's choreography. This concept of Caitlynn and Mitchell being abducted Ugandan children forced to become soldiers is so heavy, and he's just not a good enough choreographer or a creative enough thinker to pull it off in a way that makes me care. I feel like he's a surface-level choreographer: he knows the basics of movement and can have a decent idea, but he doesn't have it in him to ever follow through and tap into something true and real and emotional. This routine in particular had so much running around and such a feeling of confusion (which I can only assume was intentional given the subject matter) that I never cared enough to care. Caitlynn overacted like nobody's business with her constantly scrunched up face and never settled into a groove. She was clearly trying too hard to be "hard" and it came across as really silly. Mitchell had a little more attitude but was still too graceful to sell the sharp motions. It didn't help that much of the choreography was based around really small, quick motions that just don't read that well. The movement became muddled, though I don't know if it would ever be clear no matter who was dancing it.
Melanie and Marko (Tango by Louie Van Amstel)
For me this performance was only moderately successful. Melanie sank deeper into a character than Marko, so I felt more attached to her performance than his. They both danced the routine well enough that I didn't notice any glaring mistakes or any cringeworthy moments (aside from perhaps that awkward moment of getting up off the edge of the stage), and that final lift between Marko's legs was pretty awesome. But I just didn't really feel much; I wasn't particularly invested, but I didn't hate it either.
Clarice and Jess (Hip Hop by Christopher Scott)
Here we are again! I'm less inclined to blame Christopher Scott here for not liking the piece, but I still just can't get behind his lackluster choreography. For me, he's the Tyce Diorio of hip hop. I either outright hate the piece (see the above critique) or I have no reaction whatsoever to it and forget it happened 30 seconds after it's ended. This one falls more into the latter category. Don't get me wrong, there were moments I absolutely hated (I mean, seriously, is a girl with insecurities about her looks really going to be that flattered by such an ugly portrait being painted of her?), but that was more due to my dislike of the dancers. Up until this week I thought the problem with Clarice was that Jess has such an overpowering personality that it makes her look tame; but I realized after watching this routine that she really just doesn't have a personality. Her facial expression rarely changed and the emotion looked totally fake throughout. And Jess just can't dance hip hop. Every movement was too showy and done with a slight wink, like... well, like a theatre kid taking a hip hop class. There was no tension in his movement. Nothing about their chemistry seemed genuine, and I couldn't get behind any of it.
P.S. - When Mary told them they had swag, I literally laughed out loud. No.
Sasha and Alexander (Jazz by Tyce Diorio)
I'm sure this was a perfectly good piece, but as soon a Tyce said in the interview, "This dance is about life" I just checked out. What does that even mean? What he meant to say was, "This dance isn't about anything, it's just pretty." And if he had said that, I wouldn't have gone into the performance with such an attitude. But that's life (haha, see what I did there? I made the same joke everyone else on this show made about the dance!). I agree with the judges that Alexander really came into his own this week; he was strong again this piece. Sasha was strong, as usual, but I'm still waiting for her to really break away and become a force (like Melanie has). But she started at a really high level and just stayed there, never really pushing past her own boundaries but never really falling below them too much either. Having said all that though, this was probably my favorite performance from this couple so far solely based on the fact that Alexander finally came to life.
Jordan and Tadd (Broadway by Spencer Liff)
Wow, not a good night for Spencer Liff. Okay, so the whole concept was really fun and campy and quirky, but something got lost in translation. Jordan and Tadd were nearly lifeless on that stage, especially in the turning pass. I don't know if it was the simplicity of the movement that threw them off or what, but it was just weak. True, the choreography wasn't up to Spencer's usual standard and the music choice was slightly awkward. But like I've said before, good dancers will sell weak choreography, and there were some decent bones there to work with. It needed more character, more camp, more overall fun. It just kind of went limp in the execution.
Ryan and Ricky (Cha Cha by Louie Van Amstel)
I started off really liking this performance, but somewhere along the line I just stopped paying attention and fell out of it. I was bored with it, basically. As much as I love Ryan, she just wasn't that great here. And I don't think Ricky was either, despite the praise heaped upon him by the judges. He's just so lanky, and I can't get past his strangely long limbs and how strangely they move. I don't know enough about the cha cha to judge the weaknesses like the judges did, but I agree that it wasn't a very strong performance. I wouldn't go so far as to call Ryan "sloppy," but it was definitely boring.
Caitlynn and Mitchell (Jazz by Travis Wall)
This performance just proved something to me: you cannot dance to "Piece of My Heart." You can rock out to it, you can have a private party. But you can't successfully dance to it. A dance can't rely solely on sex appeal, which was pretty much all this one had going for it. There was absolutely zero musicality to this piece, and the majority of the movement was just so slow and heavy that I found myself leaning forward, waiting for the routine to accelerate. It never did. I kept thinking of how this was the jealous little sister of Sonya's fourth season piece "The Garden." This was the Jan Brady to the Marcia Brady that is "The Garden."
Coming up with that analogy was more fun than anything this piece had to offer.
Melanie and Marko (Contemporary by Dee Caspary)
And then there's this. This amazingly clever, perfectly realized and choreographed, unbelievably perfect masterpiece. How such a small concept like "moving toward the light" can turn into something so breathtaking is crazy to me. Melanie and Marko were just fantastic in a stunning piece of choreography, a genius piece of choreography. I was totally rapt watching this performance, waiting for something to be less than stellar after a string of underwhelming performances. But it was just unnataural how good everything about this was. The timing of the light going on and off, the emotion in both dancers' movement and faces, the flow of the steps, the sweeping music, the clarity of purpose. Everything just worked so brilliantly. For me, this dance was this season's "Mad World" or "This Woman's Work" or "Calling You." Incredible.
And the fact that the judges could then simplify something so beautiful into something so stupid as a moth to a flame infuriated me. Here you have two fantastic dancers fully embodying the struggle between that feeling of darkness and the need to move toward the light, between faith and despair, depression and happiness, emptiness and fulfillment. And then they compared it to a bug ceaselessly throwing itself against the porch lamp. Ridiculous.
Clarice and Jess (Jive by Tony Meredith & Melanie Lapatin)
I like the jive well enough when it's done right, but this really doesn't compare to some of the better jives the show has had. Benji's jive of season two will always be the greatest, followed by excellent ones by Billy and Anya (to "Paradise By the Dashboard Light" in season seven) and one by Miranda and Robert earlier this season. This one was pretty well done, honestly, though I was annoyed by it being Jess's first ballroom routine and being so close to his own style of dance; and I didn't really care what happened after the previous performance, because it made my night. So it was fine, but not enough to wipe away the memory of their poor previous performance, and not good enough to follow such a great piece.
My Bottom Three
Ryan and Ricky
Caitlynn and Mitchell
Clarice and Jess