SYTYCD Recap: 100 Percent Pure Dance

“Turn down these voices inside my head,” requested Bonnie Raitt, in her epic 1991 hit “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

That’s not a bad philosophy, as it turns out, for watching So You Think You Can Dance — still breathtaking in Season 12, and yet also unflinchingly manipulative in its pre-performance packages, judges’ comments and even post-dance interview soundbites.

As the Top 14 took the stage this week for a septet of uneven routines — and brutal double cuts on Team Stage and Team Street that would narrow the field to a Top 10 — I decided to fast-forward through everything except for the dancing. No parroting of Paula and Nigel by Jason Derulo. No lengthy “this is what you’re about to see — and what you should feel” sound bites from the choreographers. And no mispronunciations of “choreography” by the otherwise flawless Travis Wall.

Most important of all, no strategically edited gobbledygook warning me who was struggling in rehearsal, no knowledge of which contestants were being strapped to the blacktop and readied for the crushing weight of Nigel Lythgoe’s bus, and (thank goodness) no “you’re ollllldddd” punch lines lobbed in Paula’s increasingly Dorian Gray-esque visage.

So don’t mock me if I misinterpreted a drug-addiction number as “creepy spiders in a jar” or a tragic love story as “jazz musician is not about to let some chump steal her shine.” This week’s recap will contain my reactions — and my reactions only — to the pieces put in front of my eyes. After all, isn’t that how dance is supposed to be enjoyed?

With that said, let me spill the results, then endeavor to rank the night’s routines, and, finally, cook up power lists for the Street and Stage sides based on individual members’ performances during the entire episode.

Bottom 3 Team Stage (Based on Last Week’s Vote)
Alexia
Derek
Kate

Bottom 3 Team Street (Based on Last Week’s Vote)
Ariana
Neptune
Yorelis

Twitter-Saved by America
Derek (correct, America!)
Neptune (whoa! two for two, SYTYCD-ers! Well done!)

Eliminated
Alexia
Kate
Ariana
Yorelis

And now, let’s dish who’s left…

Routines (Ranked Worst to Best)
7. Alexia and Ariana (Tracy Phillips and Dominic Harlow, Blatant Sabotage Burlesque Jazz) | This was one of the worst pieces of churrography (as Travis would call it) in SYTYCD history — with “costumes” (a generous word for those black and green snakeskin ribbons and booty shorts over sheer netting) just as unappealing. Here’s an idea: Former contestant Travis has turned out to be one of the show’s great go-to choreographers: Why not allow some other former alumni to come back and try their hands at routines? It couldn’t be any worse than this cacophonous vision of two young women being asked to writhe uncomfortably on the ground, unable to mask their apathetic response while still displaying some impressively athletic prowess. Question: Were Alexia and Ariana asked to make those oddly exaggerated facial expressions or was that just a misguided choice on their part?

6. Jaja and Edson (Misha Gabriel, Hip-Hop) | I’ve generally enjoyed Jaja and Edson all season, but they looked about as connected and natural together as Donald Trump and Megyn Kelly on a roller coaster. (Side note: What would happen to Donald Trump’s hair on a roller coaster?) Granted, Edson’s open shoulders and lovely extension prevented him from dipping deep into any kind of groove, but Jaja’s unexpectedly blank expression and utter lack of engagement with her partner were almost as disappointing. Things came to life a bit on the last-act disco-y breakdown, but that’s like putting delish frosting on a cake that’s already collapsed.

5. Kate and JJ (Brian Friedman, Jazz) | What was this routine supposed to be? Vargas Girls stumping for the navy? I always feel a little bad for contestants who are given routines that don’t involve any kind of emotional arc or interesting storytelling, but JJ definitely dove deeper into her campy-sexy-upbeat persona than Kate — whose lack of any real za-za-zow had me jotting the phrase “50 shades of beige” in my notes.

4. Yorelis and Jim (Sonya Tayeh, Jazz) | Poor Yorelis didn’t get a lot of great routines during her run on the show, but at least she got to work with Sonya before her exit, right? The skittery music and ominous costumes provided a creepy backdrop to a duet in which Yorelis and Jim stalked each other across the stage, like two insects in a glass jar, fighting for precious little oxygen. To my untrained eye, Yorelis didn’t allow Jim to out-extend or out-finesse her — no small task considering Jim’s stunning technical skills — though a little more facial intensity could’ve made this one a best-in-season proposition rather than midpack-this-episode one.

3. Hailee and Virgil (Tyce Diorio, Contemporary) | Given the routine’s technical difficulty and overall maturity, mmmmmaybe I should’ve ranked it at No. 2 — or even No. 1 — for the night. That lift where Hailee had Virgil perched on her leg, with his feet in the air. That mesmerizing twist where Hailee’s foot wound up beneath Virgil’s chin. The way she latched him with her feet to end the routine, with him dragging her into the darkness? In my head, this piece looked like a dance between two tragic souls about to succumb to a zombie apocalypse — the pair of front-runners really good actors in addition to being fabulous dancers — and that should be more than enough to keep ’em safe next week.

2. Megz and Derek (Dave Scott, Hip-Hop) | I’m partial to Fifth Harmony’s “Worth It” — don’t judge, it’s no worse than “Problem,” and none of the girls are nasty donut-lickers like Ariana Grande! — which made me naturally inclined to buy what Megz and Derek were selling. Still, girlfriend was so haughty-fabulous — throwing side eye at Derek’s hapless suitor, prancing like a panther and not getting at all thrown by the literal horn prop — that I could’ve watched another 10 minutes. Derek, for his part, dropped down as low to the ground as Megz and used his puppydog charm to great effect. Maybe not the most challenging piece of the night, but hands down the most fun.

1. Gaby and Neptune (Stacey Tookey, Contemporary) | The vulnerability Neptune showed in the dance’s opening pick-yourself-up, dust-yourself-off moments was remarkable — and reiterated just how powerful simple movement can be. Gaby, meanwhile, swept in with a gracefulness bordering on angelic, her character guiding and comforting Neptune on a path toward greater confidence, and also revealing some of her own struggles in the process. Maybe that’s not what Ms. Tookey intended? I can’t say for sure — but the fact that Neptune and Gaby invoked so much backstory in under two minutes is remarkable. No doubt Gaby’s a serious front-runner now. Let’s just hope Neptune can finally break free from the bottom next week and maybe inch his way closer to the finale, too. If he can keep dancing this well, I wouldn’t mind, to be honest.

Team Stage Individual Rankings (for the week)
1. Gaby
2. Hailee
3. Derek
4. Edson
5. Jim

Team Street Individual Rankings (for the week)
1. Megz
2. Neptune
3. Virgil
4. Jaja
5. JJ

With that, I turn things over to you. What did you think of Season 12 Top 14 results night? Take our polls below, then sound off in the comments!