by Stephen Mosher
We’ve seen five episodes of SYTYCD 2019 and this week the sixth brought the dancers and us to The Academy. In this first episode focusing on the toughest week of the competitors’ lives we see them begin the process of being broken. That’s what The Academy (previously Las Vegas) has always been about: weeding out the weakest of the pack. In three days and with four rounds, elite choreographers come in and work these kids within an inch of their lives and the panel judges them mercilessly (except when they don’t because one of their favorites did poorly and could be cut - in these cases they selfishly look the other way, cutting other dancers who actually brought their A Game) in a Lord of the Flies manner to achieve the survival of the fittest. 79 dancers have made it to The Academy. 20 will move on to the live shows. 10 will enter the competition. It’s crunch time. As the evening of sweat, sorrow and satisfaction begins, the viewers see Laurieann say, 'Make the choice to believe in yourself!
The hardest choice ever.
First up is the Hip Hop round and their choreographer will be Luther Brown, who declares he needs precision, energy and star quality. Brown is an old school choreographer who demands you keep up and keep quiet, so he jumps right in with complicated and 'hard hitting' moves, and the dancers either follow along or get lost, with Brown stopping only long enough to reprimand those dancers who are talking, like a school teacher or gunnery sergeant. It was actually beautiful to watch and I applauded the scolding. After only 90 minutes of learning the choreography (which my husband laughed at and said, 'NINETY MINUTES! That’s a DAY! Come to Broadway where a dance call moves a lot faster!' which made me laugh), the dancers are sent onstage in groups, where they take their destinies into their own hands.
The first dancers to hit the stage were the three female hip hop dancers, Dezi Saenz, Sumi Oshima and Anna Linstruth, who did such a bad job that Nigel commanded that they dance again. Anna was particularly lost in the choreography and Laurieann told them to 'dance like big girls!' which must have worked because the second time around they were better and all three were put into the next round.
Following the women are three hip hop dancers: one popper and two B-Boys. Michael Sales and Samuel Sweetser fared the worst, with Samuel simply stepping out of the routine when he forgot it. Mary was yelling at him to 'stay in it!', Dominic urged him 'keep going' and he tried but the simple truth is he just gave up and during the critique Nigel told him, 'Never, never, never give up,' before the panel cut him and Sales, leaving only Brandon Ron in the competition.
When the judges cut Victoria Neukom and Lauren Luteran, they showed resilience and a determination to get better and come back next year, while Shamus Moriarty whined and pouted and said that the judges made a mistake which, clearly, they did not.
Sophie Pittman, Jay Jackson and Benjamin Castro are lucky with the judges, garnering compliments and advancement in the game, while other dancers earn nothing but vitriol from Nigel, who is so mean to them that Laurieann says to him, 'Slice and dice, why don’t you!'
The next segment features Howard Johnson (who needs to add a middle initial to his name and get away from comparisons to the hotel chain) and the adorable Edwards twins, Colton and Trent. Trent had a TERRIBLE showing at this stage of the game, unable to keep up with the other two boys, and constantly looking back at Colton to follow his moves. At the end of the round the judges advanced Howard and Colton but asked Trent to dance for his life, but he was not able to bring the magic that he exhibited during his initial audition. One of the judges blurted out 'What was THAT?' after a particularly sloppy move and, finally, Mary had had it and simply cut the music and the audition, at which point he was cut, and Laurieann murmered, 'Welcome to the real world.' It was sad to see the two best friends separated and Trent put up a stiff upper lip but it was clear he was crestfallen.
Gino Cosculluela is paired with Ashley Sanchez and they are simply glorious to watch. Dezi Saenz dances with Darrell Allen and they hit some bumps in the road, especially Dezi. Sofia Ghavami teams up with Benjamin Castro and it is just magical. The judges confer and it is obvious Dezi is worried but Mary declares they are all amazing and going through to the next round.
Up on stage next are Maia Bliudniks and Frank 'Ghost' Crisp Jr, Lukas Bartunek with Mariah Russell, and Eddie Hoyt alongside Anna Linstruth. All in all, they aren’t very good, except for Mariah and Lukas who are just gorgeous and sexy and everything else. Ghost coasts through on massive amounts of personality and Eddie gets by with likability. When it comes time for the cuts, they release Maia, telling her she just isn’t ready, pass everyone else through, except for Eddie, whom they make fight for it. And he does. Eddie sticks up for himself and pretty much demands that they advance him. So they do!
In quick glimpses we see the judges cut Jalen Sands but she says she is holding it together and it’s pretty obvious she will be back next year, and they release Colton Edwards, who takes it on the chin and declares he will work harder and be back next year. This is the kind of spirit that belongs on SYTYCD, the kind that, frequently, rises to the top. A tearful Bridget Derville-Teer departs under a cloud of defeatist self-pity. That never rises to the top.
The final round of Ballroom dancing featured Gianna Newborg and John John Tarrayo, Gabe Flowers and Sarah 'Smac' McCreanor, and Stefen Yeritsyan and Madison Jordan, whose boyfriend, Jarrod Tyler Paulson, was seen being advanced in a montage earlier in the show. John John wows the judges, while Gianna looks lost, Smac poses more than she dances but Gabe offers her attentive support, and Stefen and Madison are the clear standouts. A beaming Jarrod watches from the wings. When it is finished, Mary cuts Gianna who, smiling through tears, says it was the best experience she’s ever had. Fifty bucks says she comes back. John John, Stefen, Gabe and Madison all get put through to the Contemporary round but the judges are really unsure about Smac, so they ask her to dance for her life. After a slightly heated discussion it is decided that her talent does not come up to the level of her personality and she is sent home. She takes it well, which might be an indication that she knows she needs more training. One hopes she gets that training and gets herself onto the show next season.
54 dancers remain and the incomparable Talia Favia is kicking their asses for the Contemporary round. I LOVE the way she communicates with these dancers! She is an incredible teacher and choreographer who gets down on the floor and does the dance with them. She is freaking amazing.
First group! Samuel Nelson, Benjamin Castro and Jay Jackson. Samuel and Nelson are clearly extremely well trained dancers, while Jay is remembered for appearing last season in drag. But this season he showed that he has worked like mad during the last year. It was a wonderful run for Jay. Castro fared especially well with this piece, leading Dominic to tell him that he saw 'an authenticity in emotion and connection to this music.' When asked what he was feeling he said, 'It was a mixed feeling of being inspired, to surrender to the music,' and the judges sent him on to the next round. Samuel will join him, but Jay will not. The judges paid him much compliment and ask him to come back, but Jay informs that he is 30 and cannot return. 'This has been a dream come true ... It may not be what you’re looking for and that’s okay, because it’s what I was looking for the whole time, and that’s belief in myself.' In his departure interview Jackson said he loved his experience and wouldn’t change it for the world.
Bailey Munoz and John John are roommates and Filipino brothers and deliver what could well be the most astonishing performance of the evening, drawing out cheers, applause, physical and emotional reactions, and a standing ovation from the judges. Bailey in tears, he talks about being not just a B-Boy ... I’m a dancer.' The two besties are overcome with emotion when Dominic tells them, 'Every B-Boy that’s been on this show would be proud.' Duh, natch they are both moving forward.
It was the perfect ending to the first day of The Academy. As Mary put it, 'I can’t wait to see what they do …' and neither can I. I’ve been with this show since the first season and I always have certain ideas about who will be chosen for the live shows. Last season I picked Slavik out of the back of a group before the show started paying real attention to him. I have some private notions on who will win one of the coveted 20 spots that will be narrowed down to 10 …
But for now I’ll keep those a secret. But if anyone wants to let me know who they are thinking will move forward, I am longing to know.
What did you think of this episode? Give us your thoughts in the comments section below.