We’re not sure what it says about “So You Think You Can Dance” that the first celebrity judge of the season was Megan Mullally — star of “Childrens Hospital,” erstwhile Tammy no. 2 on NBC’s “Parks & Recreation” and “Will & Grace” alumna. She’s not really known for her dancing. But, hey, we were pretty jazzed, what with being big fans and all. We hoped to catch a glimpse of real-life husband Nick Offerman (Ron Effing Swanson) in the audience, but no such luck — probably home whittling a canoe.
But we digress — we’re here to talk about dance, and here we go.
Season 8’s top 20 dancers got off to a strong start with routines choreographed by the usual suspects — Sonya Tayeh, Jason Gilkison, Travis Wall and — of course — sometime judge Tyce DiOrio. We tried to catch every single moment, but since we were watching from a bustling green room just yards away from the main event, it was a little hectic.
Here’s what we can tell you: Melanie Moore — who used to wear a helmet for narcolepsy, what? — was paired with Marko Germar in what the judges deemed one of the best performances of the night. We know this because their contemporary routine, which truly was beautifully executed, brought tears to the eyes of judge Mary Murphy. The good kind. Their togas and white sparkly body make-up — to make M&M look like Roman gods — only added to the implied dignity of the piece.
At one point Megan Mullally commented that “SYTYCD” has “the best costumes, hair and makeup of any show on TV.” And we have to ask: Megan, have you not seen “RuPaul’s Drag Race?” I mean, it doesn’t take much to make a 19-year-old dancer look hot.
Another standout performance: Missy Morelli and Jamaican-born street dancer Wadi Jones, who paired up to dance a fierce jazz routine from choreographer Sean Cheeseman. Hot doesn’t even begin to describe it. Also, they had a prop — which is always fun. And, in their case, useful, since Wadi careened off of it to show off some Parkour-reminiscent acrobatic moves. Megan labeled the couple “insane” (a compliment) and Nigel Lythgoe expressed exactly what we were thinking — that Wadi, who had never before partnered with another dancer, gave an amazing performance. We’re hoping he sticks around for the long haul. Mary, being Mary, said, “If the two of you think you looked anything like sexy demons out there, I think you’re right.”
Also strong: the surprising pairing of ballroom dancer Iveta Lukosiute and tapdancer Nick Young. Amazingly, they drew a quickstep for their routine — which, although one of the hardest dances faced by the average contestant, was pretty much in the bag for the world champion quickstepper and a guy used to fancy footwork.
Robert “Woo Man” Taylor, who has been trying to get on the show for ages, paired up with Miranda Maleski for a mod/nerd take on Latin dance. It was interesting, but we got the sense that both dancers were holding back. At least in the dance department. In the personality department there is no such thing as holding back for Robert, who had the audience “woo-ing” for him.
In his sternest critique of the evening, Nigel said, “This is so you think you can dance, not you think you’ve got a great personality. You’re going to have to learn how to point your toes.” Ouch.
We liked the pairing of Clarice Ordaz and Jess LeProtto, who lucked out and drew a routine from Tyce DiOrio that played to Jess’ strengths as a showman. There was razzle dazzle to spare, though Nigel warned Clarice that she needed to keep up with Jess. “Jess outdanced you in that routine,” he said. We respectfully disagree. She made Jess look good because she impeccably paired with him in a routine designed to showcase his talents, not hers.
The weirdest routine of the night award goes to Ryan Ramirez and Ricky Jaime, who drew “lyrical hip-hop” as their style and were forced to dance it to the incongruous “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.” An odd mash-up made odder by Ryan’s perma-grin. We were immediately thrown off by the dissonance of the melancholy routine and her smiling face. And it wasn’t lost on the judges — all three noted that the smile kind of threw them off. Add in Ryan’s flowy short baby-doll dress and long unkempt blond curls and you get what Zap2it’s Mikey O’Connell described as “Erin Brokovich, the Musical.”
We expected more from openers Sasha Mallory and Alexander Fost, who danced a modern African jazz number that, although strong, didn’t really do much for either dancer. They’re amazing, independent talents and the routine diminished them both somehow.
We felt for Mitchell Kelly, who had to sit out the competition because of an elbow injury. He sat, teary eyed, in the audience watching his partner for the week, Caitlynn Lawson perform with season 7’s Robert Roldan. The Sonya Tayeh routine was fierce and for an 18-year-old, Caitlynn did a great job of communicating strength.
“What I love about it is that Sonya produces such strong, powerful movement,” said Mary. “Every girl wants to be you, that’s for sure.”
We’ll see. On Thursday (June 16), two dancers will be eliminated. Who do you think will be the first to go?