Not since “Puttin’ On The Ritz” — THE group number of SYTYCD’s Season 10 — has there been a choreography like last night’s group opening “Wind Beneath My Wings”. The first swept you up in it’s sheer joy and celebration of life. The second, the Final Four dance on your heart, their motions and emotions sweeping down pathways that stir up a dust storm of forgotten feelings. It’s a wonderful Travis Wall routine to play again and again. Featuring our Final Four, Ricky, Valerie, Zach, and Jessica, it is: Beautiful. Breathtaking. Stirring.
I complained last week about too many tepid choreographies. That’s far from the case this week. I’ve never seen so many standing ovations in one show. And, as one of the judges commented, those are not given lightly. Last night was amazing.
The first number to knock my socks off — you know I don’t take these things in order — was what has been dubbed “The Jessica Rabbit Routine” thanks to Mary Murphy. Zach and Jessica sizzled in this Spencer Liff Broadway routine to Ella Fitzgerald’s “Hernando’s Hideaway”. Zach so nonchalant and cool. Jessica so sultry and slinky as she makes that down staircase look like a stairway to heaven. Zach is tall. Watch him as he stands next to Cat Deely. He uses those long legs to good effect in this steamy nightclub lair.
As a couple, every lift is crisp and effortless. Both Zach and Jessica stay in character, giving us a thoroughly delightful look at old Broadway. Guest Judge Jesse Tyler Ferguson mentioned that this year’s prize package includes a role in the Broadway musical “On The Town”, which includes some of the “best dancers in New York City. “And if you won, Zach,” he said, “you would be giving them a run for their money.” High praise, indeed.
The first standing ovation was given for Tyce Diorio’s beautiful and touching routine to Sade’s “Pearls”. Valerie plays a blind girl. As Tyce describes it, “He (Zach) is in love with her, even though there is an obstacle in the way.” Zach says, “Valerie and I have to make sure we not only have the choreography down pat, but the intentions behind the movements, so that it’s real to everybody.” Whether or not Zach wins — and he just might — I believe he is going to make his mark in the dance world. With his depth and attitude, he may just come back as another Travis Wall.
In the strains of the opening notes, Valerie comes forward carrying what is traditionally known as the white cane, for a blind person. Her eyes are never focused on any one point, but the joy on her face as Zach puts his arm around her and lifts her, cane and all, is so moving. Hearts also swell as Valerie reaches up behind her to touch and “see” the face of love. To say it is tender and warm and affecting is to say the least. You have to see Zach as he looks deep into her face, and Valerie, as she draws joyfully upon his selfless love. You have to see their expressions, their hands, their entire movements, to fully appreciate the scope of such a relationship. It is beautiful.
Nigel talked about how the choreographers brought to light so many difficult subjects in their routines, and also (speaking to Valerie) that “one touch that just brought your face to life”. Mary was emotional as she talked about how honest and real the dancers were.
Zach and Ricky’s hard-hitting hip hop routine by Christopher “Farside” Jennings and Krystal “Phoenix” Meraz, brought another standing ovation from the judges. It was the shocker of the evening that these two — the sharp and sensitive contemporary Ricky, and Zach, the tapper-turned-everything-dancer — pulled off a card-carrying, street fighting, hip hop that would have put Comfort and Twitch to the test. The crowd went wild and so did the judges.
Another standing ovation came for Anthony Morigerato’s tap routine to the voice and music of Sammy Davis, Jr.’s “Love Me Or Leave Me” with a 1940’s background and costumes. For the first time in eleven seasons, two tappers — Zach and Valerie — have made it into the finale. Nigel Lithgoe, a true-hearted tapper devotee, swears he’s in hog heaven. Well, he just said heaven.
I loved the tappers — All-Star Aaron and Valerie — and the routine. They are finally pairing some music that goes with tap. If the music and tapping don’t match, it’s completely boring. I just didn’t get Valerie’s dowdy, middle-aged housewife dress and hat. It was supposed to be a routine about the love relationship between Aaron and Valerie. Aaron looked cool and debonair. Valerie just looked dowdy.
A Stacy Tookey contemporary routine garnered another standing ovation for Ricky and All-Star Kathryn McCormick to the music of “Not About Angels” by Birdy. But the routine was about angels — or one angel, anyway. Kathryn is an angel dressed in flowing white, who comes to earth to help a young man (Ricky) who has gone his last step and is giving up on life. Ethereal was the word everyone used for Kathryn, because it was very much the right word. Tears flowed for me at the end when she lent her winged support to Ricky.
Then I became totally confused. The mood was shattered by the inanities and totally inappropriate remarks by Jesse, who completely ignored the elegance and beauty of the routine. It was like he stomped through a flower garden wearing brogans. Nigel finished the coup de grace with his morbidity and tearing off on a suicide tirade. Mary Murphy was the only judge who made any sense of this awesome Tookey creation, and those dancers who interpreted it. I would like to see this routine again without the clown and the mortician bringing up the rear.
Another standing ovation ended the second tap routine of the night, again by Anthony Merigerato, and featured Zach and All-Star Aaron dancing to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”. Merigerato really knows how to bring out the entertainment in a tap routine. Jesse said it was the mark of a true artist to have grown as much as Zach in the space of a season, excelling in everything thrown at him. Nigel said Zach articulated tap brilliantly. Mary thought that Zach had been laying that passion out every week. And I so agree.
The last routine was also a standing O, and deservedly so. In another brilliant Travis Wall routine, Jessica is paired with All-Star Robert, a very memorable and super-talented dancer. Travis describes the story of their relationship. “Does he even notice that I’m there. Does he notice if I walk out that door?” The girl is in a bad and abusive relationship, taken for granted. It is a walk on the dark side of “love”.
Nigel told Jessica she had become a great actress as well as a dancer, with a look on her face that said “damn him” as she walked away. Mary said Jessica was “electrifying”. Mary said, “This routine, this moment in time,I hope you always remember. and Jesse noted they had saved the best for last, as it was his favorite routine of the night.
Two routines that were so-so compared to the ones who were wildly received were Jessica and Ricky’s jazz routine by Ray Leeper. It was good. The costumes and dancing were good, of course, but it just lacked impact; the other was Jessica and Valerie’s Bollywood number. This one was mediocre and forgettable. That’s a shame, since I think the song came from the Bollywood movie “Lagaan”, which I loved and bought.
That’s it. We’ll see who walks away with the whole enchilada next week. It’s got to be either Zach or Ricky. Gotta be.