So You Think You Can Dance Recap: The Competition Begins!

Lithe young bodies take flight with the power and grace of Pegasus. A hyperactive woman sits behind a rectangular table and squeals with delight. A British fashionista dazzles in a shimmering black minidress and silver stilettos from hell. And I’m awkwardly typing phone numbers containing the word “TEMPO” into my cellular keypad. It can only mean one thing: The live rounds of So You Think You Can Dance, Season 8, are upon us. And based on Tuesday night’s mostly first-rate performances, I’d say we’re in for a heckuva thrilling summer. Ask 10 different folks who’s the competition’s current front-runner, and you’re likely to get 10 different answers. Let’s review the action — in chronological order.

Jordan Casanova and Tadd Gadduang (Afro Jazz: Sean Cheesman)
Talk about a way to kick off the voting portion of the season! Jordan and Tadd had me transfixed right from the freaky, intertwining pose that began the routine down to the final, primal stomps. Their hair tinged with red, their bodies painted to look as if they were taking part in some kind of spirit-conjuring ceremony, Jordan and Tadd danced with an abandon that’s unusual for the SYTYCD stage, but never at the expense of the choreography. Best of all was that move where Tadd held Jordan in the vertical, upside-down position, off the ground, and flipped her left to right as she used his thigh for support. Bonus points for Tadd’s fleet “crab-walk” over the top of his partner. I went in to the night thinking Wadi was the strongest of the Season 8 B-Boys, but I’m starting to think the title should actually go to Tadd.

Sasha Mallory and Alexander Fost (Contemporary: Travis Wall)
Despite the judges’ lavish praise, I’ve got to admit I wasn’t completely enamored of Travis’ piece about a man whose conscience comes back to tear him to shreds. That said, Sasha more than earned the “beast” title bestowed upon her by Nigel. The woman has so much raw power — who else gasped at her daring, unbridled leap into Alexander’s arms? — and such undeniable command of the stage, she might as well have been dancing solo. Alexander’s final move — a brutal and thrilling hurtle to the ground — was impressive, but without Sasha’s fan base he’d be dancing for his life on Thursday’s result-show telecast.

Clarice Ordaz and Jess LeProtto (Broadway: Tyce Diorio)
I got a lot of grief in the comments last week for placing Jess at No. 7 on my Season 8 rankings, but I’m almost thinking I didn’t rank the kid high enough after witnessing how he used his dazzling pirouettes and terrific theatricality to upgrade Tyce’s so-so routine to Liza Minnelli’s “Me and My Baby.” Dude’s pirouettes are so fast and varied and effortless, he looks like he’s doing ’em on ice. Clarice, for her part, provided very pretty backing support, but Nigel is right: She can’t afford to give a single dance — or a single move — away, if she wants to go far in an ultra-tight pack.

Ryan Ramirez and Ricky Jaime (Lyrical Hip-Hop: Christopher Scott)
Add me to the tally of people completely flummoxed by Ryan’s glazed smile during a routine about a guy clinging to the memories of his lost lover. Maybe girlfriend had a point that her character was buoyed by memories of happier times, but the particular smile she chose was a little too Stepford Wives, no? And while the duo are certainly capable of creating beautiful pictures with their bodies, I don’t think they were helped by Ryan’s distracting green dress or Ricky’s drab street clothes, either. If the average viewer felt as disconnected from the routine as me, Ryan and Rickey could be in jeopardy this week.

Caitlynn Lawson and Mitchell Kelly Robert Roldan (Jazz: Sonya Tayeh)
My heart really broke for Mitchell, whose elbow injury left him on the sidelines — and sent him directly to the Bottom 3 guys — during the first week of voting. As for his partner, well, let’s just say that even if Nigel’s “10s across the board!” critique was a wee bit overenthusiastic, it’s not as if Caitlyn wasn’t absolutely fabulous. I especially liked how she didn’t leave even the slightest trace of her “perky princess” persona in the almost savage Sonya Tayeh routine (performed with world’s hottest substitute, Robert). I loved that move where the duo grabbed each other’s legs and “placed” them in position on the floor — as if relying on the other partner’s strength to overcome the laws of gravity (and perhaps the obstacles of daily life).

Miranda Maleski and Robert Taylor Jr (Latin/Jive, Jason Gilkison)
On a night where Nigel drove home the “beastliness” of the Season 8 ladies, Miranda could be at risk on account of her own insecurities about being sexy, and a routine that fell more on the side of goofy than powerful. Not that she didn’t pull off the zippy footwork or the flirty energy of Mr. Gilkison’s routine, but I can’t really see her lasting over Sasha or Missy or Caitlyn or Melanie or Iveta or Jordan, can you? Robert, on the other hand, was less technically adept (thank you, Nigel, for pointing out Robert’s failure to point his toes) but if he lands in the bottom, he might skate through on the basis of having “possibly the biggest personality” in the Top 20. Personally, I find his “Urkel Suavé” routine more hammy than hilarious, but at this stage of the competition, that beats being forgettable.

Missy Morelli and Wadi Jones (Jazz: Sean Cheesman)
I can’t say the “sexy demons emerge from Pandora’s box” routine was the cleanest of the night, but it was certainly among the most compelling. Missy and Wadi’s individual moves were so raw and passionate, I found myself in a fierce internal debate over which one to watch whenever they separated. Wadi couldn’t have been more virile or dangerous — no small accomplishment, considering he was wearing a red and black rubber shrug) — and Missy displayed a thrilling fearlessness, particularly in that segment where Wadi was flinging her around while clutching only her hand and foot. J-apostrophe-adore! (Side note: Of all the slo-mo “dancer’s introduction” segments, I have to rank Wadi’s ridiculous flip at No. 1.)

Melanie Moore and Marko Germar (Contemporary: Travis Wall)
Was Mary’s “Oh em gee a moment like this only comes once or twice a season” critique a little 1-800-Sister-Please? Yeah, sure. But that doesn’t mean Melanie and Marko’s number about a love affair between a couple of statues wasn’t the best of the night. There was something quietly, achingly beautiful about the way Melanie and Marko brought their characters to life — the way they used every single bar of music to convey their longing, their love, and their joy at coming together — that made it perfectly understandable why Mary and guest judge Megan Mullally (not too bad, as far as guest judges go) were moved to tears. When the music (Ingrid Michaelson’s “Turn to Stone”) shifted and the duo launched into a series of ecstatic leaps and spins, I was clutching the couch cushions in a state of suspense and anticipation. That’s some good dancing, people!

Ashley Rich and Chris Koehl (Hip-Hop: Chris Scott)
It probably didn’t help that Ashley and Chris had to follow Melanie and Marko, but I thought theirs was far and away the weakest routine of the night. Ashley’s facial expression was almost gleeful, while Chris’ was downright bewildered — despite the fact that they were supposed to be playing lovers who discover each other’s cheating ways. Even more perplexing, though, was the judges’ failure to point out that Ashley’s motions were far too soft and fluid for a convincing hip-hop routine, that Chris seemed to be fade further into the background as the dance went on, and that the duo possessed little to no discernible chemistry. If these kids don’t wind up in the bottom, I’ll swear off gelato this weekend.

Iveta Lukosiute and Nick Young (Quickstep: Jason Gilkison)
Yeah, it’s a little cray-cray that in Week One of competition, our World Champion in Quickstep draws…Quickstep! But a lot of other dancers managed to draw their own styles this week, too. And if Iveta and Nick had drawn, say, hip-hop, we’d have been robbed of the evening’s most riveting display of footwork, and possibly denied seeing Nick’s emergence as a major Season 8 threat. Honestly, there wasn’t a moment of the dance — set to Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz,” which I may have to download and add to my Calorie Burner playlist — where Iveta and Nick’s feet seemed to touch the ground. Their posture was impeccable. Their joy was palpable. And they infused the whole number with a gleeful rock-and-roll attitude. This one ranks right behind Melanie and Marko, and just ahead of Jordan and Tadd, as my second-favorite of the night.

What did you think of Week One of the Season 8 performances? What was your favorite routine? How about your least favorite? Who did you vote for? And who is most likely to go home? Sound off below, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!