BEST OF THE NIGHT | Amy & All-Star Travis (Contemporary) I’ve been increasingly irked over the past couple months at the way Amy’s skated through the competition on her ability to execute what Mary noted was mostly “cutesy” choreography — and the judges’ failure to ask for deeper emotional connectedness in her work. Travis (hardly a newbie choreographer, ahem), however, brought out a new maturity in the typically perky dancer, whose submissiveness at the hands of her player-paramour infused the sexually charged dance with a darker edge. It can’t be easy to maintain one’s grace while being tossed about like a catnip toy in the paws of a panther, but Amy somehow pulled it off — especially in that gasp-inducing move where Travis dragged her upward off from a prone position and right back into his haunting piece.
BEST OF THE NIGHT (RUNNER-UP) | Tucker & All-Star Courtney (Jazz) Courtney was wise enough to use “Romeo & Juliet” as the basis for her piece — oh how the judges love an easily translated backstory — but more impressive was the way Tucker dove headlong into what, at times, looked like positively bruising moves. Exhibit A: Absorbing the impact of a flying Courtney as she dove — legs outstretched — into a perpendicular position against Tucker’s body. Exhibit B: Courtney propelling herself up and onto Tucker’s neck and contorting right ’round him like a stripper swan working the poll. (OK, that description doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny — I mean, would a stripper swan pluck its own feathers for the audience? Blerg.) Anyhow, paired with last week’s “brothers in peril” routine, I’m not sure how the heck Tucker got the boot. Except for, oh, Nigel was never gonna send home Fik-Shun while he had the power in his hands.
WORST OF THE NIGHT | Paul & All-Star Comfort (Hip-Hop) Despite an opening 15 seconds of random “graffiti mime” work that went nowhere, I really dug Comfort’s bustling, gritty brand of choreography. The problem was, every time the cameras cut to a side-by-side moment, Comfort seemed to be hitting her moves approximately 22% harder than Paul. (It was like watching a side-by-side comparison of a factory-fresh Ginsu and your never-been-sharpened all-purpose kitchen knife; the former cut and sliced with an authority and precision of which the latter simply wasn’t capable.) Oh sure, the hottie with the much-improved hairstyle gamely abandoned his ballroom mannerisms and got into the pocket, but he also lacked the physical aggression needed to make me completely get lost in the performance.
TRIUMPH OF CHOREOGRAPHY OVER CONTESTANT PERFORMANCE | Jenna & All-Star Mark (Jazz/Aliens) I understood the judges’ standing ovation for Mark’s weird and wonderful moves — many of which focused in on Jenna’s wacky braid-extension-Na’avi tail. But while Jenna impressively handled all the unexpected twists and turns cooked up inside Mark’s Gaga-colored brain — did anyone else think the Dali lip couch was a subtle shout-out to Gaga’s ARTPPOP? — Jenna’s face and especially her eyes never reflected the quirk and haughty hijinks that would’ve/could’ve made this one a Best-in-Show proposition. This week’s not-terrible guest judge Jenna Elfman said it best with her somewhat faint praise of Jenna as a “perfect technician.” As voters have tried telling Nigel almost every week, there’s a difference between executing one’s steps and actually living each and every one of ’em.
BEST FACIAL EXPRESSIONS (AND LET’S NOT PRETEND THEY’RE NOT WORTH 50% OF THE TOTAL SCORE) | Aaron & All-Star Chelsie (Jive) It’s entirely possible I’ve reached a point in my Aaron fandom where I can’t (or don’t want to) acknowledge his shortcomings, but — other than a bit of awkwardness during the “pull Chelsie through my legs” sequence — I thoroughly enjoyed his fast, fleet feet during a Jive that wasn’t overburdened by “story” (or its close cousin, bloated self-importance). And what, Nigel and Mary, about that leaping split right over Chelsie’s head? Big dude has tiny-guy agility, I tell ya! That said, I suspect Aaron won as many points for his flawlessly raised eyebrow upon discovering a popped shirt button during the judges’ feedback as he did during his actual routine. Why Fox hasn’t signed Aaron to some kind of deal to keep that ridiculously cute face on the network for the next couple years is a mystery as vexing as The Good Wife getting left of Emmy’s list of Best Drama Series nominees.
MOST IMPROVED (EVEN THOUGH HE SHOULD’VE PROBABLY BEEN ELIMINATED) | Fik-Shun & All-Star Allison (Contemporary) Before we talk Fik-Shun, can we please start a chant — “Al-li-son! Al-li-son!” — encouraging Uncle Nigel to bring the Lady Holker back for more choreography in the future? I loved her tale of two innocents navigating their newfound attraction in an era of racial prejudice. Yeah, sure, there were still moments where Fik-Shun still seemed to rely on his aw-shucks sweetness instead of exploring the piece’s deeper emotions, but he matched Allison step-for-step in the synchronized portions, and pulled off a couple tricky lifts with only a tiny bit of panic in his eyes. As the judges noted, Fik-Shun’s growth arc has been a satisfying one, and while I don’t personally believe he’s earned a finale berth over Aaron or Paul, I won’t be shocked if the voting public feels otherwise.
BEST ACTING (IN AN UNDERWHELMING PIECE OF CHOREOGRAPHY) | Hayley & All-Star Dmitry (Rhumba) I didn’t doubt for a moment that Hayley was a woman scorned by a (very hot) fiancé, now struggling to show him the door. What I’m a little bit dubious about, though, was whether Dmitry actually gave her a rhumba or just a series of sexy poses strung together with a handful of hip swivels. And while you can’t really blame the contestant for the failings of the routine, methinks said failings are exactly what will keep her out of the performance finale two weeks from now.
ROUTINE THAT MADE ME GIDDIEST | Jasmine H & All-Star Twitch (Hip-Hop) Much like Comfort, Twitch wasted a few seconds too many with the “hidden superheroes” shenanigans at the top of the routine, but I loved the wit and exuberance that he and Jasmine brought once the beats kicked in and their save-the-day competition began. What’s interesting about Jasmine — and perhaps makes her an acquired taste for some folks — is her occasional giraffe-like gawkiness, or rather, the sense that her frame could topple over at any second as she dives headlong into a fast and furious routine. But ultimately, Jasmine proved as steady as Cat’s eye makeup was thick, and as Nigel noted, she came pretty close to out-Twitching Twitch this time around.