Melanie LaPatin on 'So You Think You Can Dance': Falling for Sasha and Alexander

Melanie_LaPatin_1

Has it really been a week since I blogged last? No, I mean, has it ONLY been a week?! The last few days alone have been such a blur that half the time I thought I oughta have my eyes checked! That’s because, as you probably know by now, I was in Canada last week working on So You Think You Can Dance there (the couple Tony and I choreographed made it onto the “hot tamale train”!), and in L.A. this week working on our home-grown version!

Sooo… the challenge for me this go-’round hasn’t been just to find the time to organize my thoughts to write this blog, but also to make sure that, after this whirlwind, I could still think, period! Haha! All kidding aside, it’s been busy, but it’s been exciting, too. And a little tense, because, after all, we ARE down to the Top 12 now, PLUS this was the first week that the dancers had to perform not one but two numbers ON TOP of their group number. So, determined as they were to put their game faces on, they were exhausted, emotionally and physically.

How did they do? Let’s see. Bearing in mind that 1) it turns out it is HARD to take notes during the show! and 2) it’s even harder for me to be impartial about dancers once I’ve met them and worked with them and seen firsthand just how sweet and adorable and talented they are, I AM going to be honest, brutally if need be, my picks for the Top 4 performances this week are:

·     Tadd and Jordan’s contemporary routine. Not only was it technically spot-on, but it reached down into your soul so deeply that I can’t imagine anyone watching it and not coming away feeling… I guess “satisfied” is the word. Really beautiful work.

·     Jess and Clarice’s lyrical hip-hop routine. First of all, they were totally in sync. Second of all, I don’t remember when exactly in the last couple of weeks I noticed that it happened, but these two “clicked” for me as partners. And ever since, including here, I’ve felt that their chemistry was switched on. And finally — and this may be the bit that impressed me the most — you know how Jess has had a tendency to maybe mug a bit, to let his “big” personality get the better of him? He’s been getting that under control, and in this number, I felt (and not for the first time, I should mention) he was completely in character, which was absolutely necessary for this heartfelt piece to be as moving as it was. Well done.

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Image Credit: Adam Rose/FOX

·     Sasha and Alexander’s jazz routine. Besides the fact that they gave a strong, fluid performance, two things wowed me big time: 1) After weeks of being criticized over and over by the judges (and sometimes by me in this blog, too), Alexander seemed to begin to trust himself and just do it, and that was a beautiful thing to see. It felt as if he’d “arrived,” in a way. Oh, and 2) Sasha, aka “the queen of passion.” She fell, right? And of course, no dancer wants to do that. The judges don’t want that, either. But what I loved was how she recovered, committing wholly to what was happening and creating her own ending to the piece. That, my friends, is the hallmark of a real pro. Is it too late to add a third “what I loved” to this blurb? 3) The energy coming off of Sasha and Alexander was overwhelming. I’m QUITE sure the audience could feel it at the back of the theatre.

·     Melanie and Marko’s contemporary routine. I feel like I write a love letter to these two every week, but the fact is, I think they deserve it. This was stunning. I mean, I can’t even think of what I COULD critique, it was so fluidly, powerfully danced. It totally made me forget all about the “off” moment Marko had earlier in the show, which we’ll get to very shortly…

As for the others…

·     Sasha and Alexander’s paso doble. This is the number for me where Alexander really became a Man with a capital M. He just 100 percent brought it — and he sure needed to, because Sasha might as well be called Sasha Fierce, she’s so intense. Yes, he stumbled, but he totally made up for it by staying absolutely in character. Thrilling to see. (Also thrilling: I could be wrong, but I think this was the first time, at least on the U.S. version of SYTYCD, when the show was opened with a paso doble — and Tony and I got to choreograph it! Whee!)

·     Ricky and Ryan’s Broadway routine. I had to disagree with the judges about this one. They felt that the dancers didn’t bring enough to the table, but I thought they did. Maybe because they made it LOOK simple, dancing it with such ease, it was perceived as having BEEN easy? From where I was sitting, it was well done, performed with style and grace.

·     Caitlynn and Mitchell’s lyrical hip-hop routine. This was a tricky one, because obviously, the theme of the dance was very emotional, and I think that sparked each of their musicality differently. As a result, they weren’t always in sync. So what happened was understandable but not really ideal, if you know what I mean.

·     Melanie and Marko’s tango. As usual, she was stunning — she seemed to be living the dance before our eyes. Also as usual, he was very good, too. But his frame was awkward at times, especially in the pivots.

·     Jordan and Tadd’s Broadway routine. Now here, I have to agree with the judges: J&T’s technique was fine, but they weren’t able to bring the overall “package” together or deliver a clear theme. Not gonna be part of their “best of” collection.

·     Caitlynn and Mitchell’s jazz routine. They performed it well, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of her, so — elementary, my dear Watson — what was needed was more “presence” from him.

·     Clarice and Jess’ jive. You couldn’t know this at home, of course, but this number (that Tony and I choreographed) was tighter in rehearsal. (Oooh, backstage tidbit! Haha!) Overall, I thought they did a good job, but she outshined him. It didn’t help that, around the middle of the routine, he seemed to lose energy at exactly the time when it should have been building.

And that is IT for Lady Cha-Cha this week. Doing some interviews and a photo shoot for the Ballroom Remixed album here in Tinseltown (if you “like” Ballroom Remixed on Facebook, we’ll let you know when you can see the pics, etc.), then it’s back to New York for me. Oh, and before I sign off, am I allowed to give shout-outs? I guess I’ll find out, won’t I? Wanted to say THANK YOU, loudly, publicly and, if it were up to me, repeatedly to all the music bloggers, especially Paul Reynolds (My Fizzy Pop) and Bill Smith (BillCS Is Tuned-On), and Sirius XM’s MVP DJ, Larry Flick, for their enthusiastic support of the project — and to any and all of you who have checked out the songs on iTunes, amazon, etc.! I knew it was insane to try anything like that, and I’m so, SO glad you guys were crazy enough to come along for the ride! ‘Til next time…

Check out Melanie LaPatin’s album of unabashedly offbeat ballroom dance songs, Ballroom Remixed, featuring ace of clubs Lucas Prata, electropop Boy Wonder Kyle Brylin, and Spain’s answer to Lady Gaga, Romy Low.

Read more:
‘So You Think You Can Dance’ recap: Double Trouble
Cat Deeley nominated for an Emmy
‘SYTYCD': 25 Best Performances Ever

Comments (37 total) Add your comment
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  • Rebecca

    Thanks so much for your insight, Melanie! Here’s a question for you: Can you give us some idea of what the days leading up to the performance show is like for the dancers? A few times now Nigel has said that they only have 7 hours to learn these routines, but that seems unlikely. How much time is spent working with the choreographers, practicing on their own, working on their solos, learning the group numbers… Could you break it down for us? Thanks!

    • davey

      Those are really good questions that I’ve been wondering about for years as well.

    • PIMB

      Hello? Jordan and Tadd vulture??????

      • christine

        She called it one of the four best. Hello indeed.

      • TV_Pete

        I liked Jordan’s feathers on her wrists, but little else. I have not been that inspired by Tadd’s dancing (I’m not grading on a scale), but he is my favorite personality. I think Jordan could be beautiful, but she is trying to hard to be sexy for me rather than just BEING CONFIDENT/SEXY. All she seems to do in solos is splits and sexy leg-extensions. I was disappointed her “Acro” skills were not stronger.

        I think Ryan is technically one of the better dancers, but she never seemed to connect with her partner. Instead of looking at/focus on her partner, she kept trying to mug for the camera/audience. Compare with Melanie and Marko.

    • steph

      I’m pretty sure they have 7 hours with the choreographers to actually learn the steps and get the technique down. The rest of the week would be practice, learning the group dances, working on solos, etc.

      • Squishmar

        At least they don’t have to take time out of rehearsing to film a Ford commercial. ;)

    • TV_Pete

      Giving us insights into a “week in the dancer’s eyes” or a “week or two in the choreographer’s eyes” would be really nice. When do you find out you will be on the show? How much time do you have to work on the dance? When do you get to know which dancers you work with and how much do you adjust your choreography?

  • Shannon

    I loved both pieces you choreographed this week. I like how you and Tony seem to always challenge the dancers. As I keep watching the show more and more I realize that some times choreographers have to take out elements of their routines because either the dancers just can’t get it down (like it seemed to happen with Spencer’s Tadd/Jordan piece) or because it isn’t working at all. I think sometimes the choreography gets slammed, but in reality I think the original choreography was better, but it had to be stripped of more interesting parts because the dancers couldn’t get it down. I think this happened to Spencer’s 2nd piece in part and perhaps even Christopher Scott’s 1st routine. When they flashed to him after it, he looked less than pleased (which was unlike Jess/Clarice’s routine), so I wondered how much of his original vision ended up on that stage.

    • K

      Yeah, you could see Spencer working with Jordan and Tadd on some kind of lift where she sat on one of his shoulders, and it never appeared in the live performance. I don’t know about the Uganda dance though…that one was just kind of odd. Maybe it would have looked better if Caitlynn and Mitchell were any kind of good at hip-hop, but who knows.

  • Me again

    I felt bad for Caitlynn and Micthell during their hip hop number. The “message” the choreographer wanted to convey was just not there, and I don’t think it was the dancers fault. Which makes me wonder: what does it feel like to be a choreographer whose work is not praised by the judges? You are all prefessionals, obviously, but I imagine it might get a little awkward backstage after the show. How do the choreographers feel about having their work critiqued?

    • Pisces228

      Good question! Please answer if you can, Melanie. I remember Travis getting dinged once for making a jazz routine look too contemporary. Since he’s still there and doing amazing work, he obviously took note. :-)

    • Dr. Chim Richalds

      Yeah, but Caitlynn and Mitchell also danced what they were given very poorly. Little Jess and Clarice totally out-swagged them, if you want to compare the two hip hops, and were always totally in sync.

  • Aice

    I loved the salsa on the Canadian show. (I believe it opened the show as well) The couple performing it looked fabulous. One of my favourite routines of all time was the paso doble for Natali and Francis a few years back… for me the paso doble to which all other SYTYCD paso dobles are now compared.

    • tnosnibor

      I also loved the salsa on the Canadian show last week. It was awesome!

  • Greg

    Hi Melanie! You probably hear it often, but I still remember your appearance on What Not To Wear. (She was not a fashion trainwreck, just wore too much black.) So when I see you on SYTYCD, I can’t help but notice if you’re wearing black, and think, ‘Uh oh, Stacy and Clinton are gonna be pissed…’
    Makes me laugh every time! (Regardless, you look great!) And thanks for taking the time to provide your insight on the dances. Much appreciated!

    • D

      I think she was on the first episode of WNTW that I ever watched! I liked her then and like her now.

    • TV_Pete

      It is always a pleasure to see you and hear your inspiration, Melanie!

      I enjoyed seeing you on WNTW as well.

  • Lucy

    Me too!

  • AnneMarie

    Melanie, I was wondering why Jess’ floor split, the up & down one, was included in the jive? It would seem that a jive is already such a challenge to a newbie & on a week when they had to to 2 duets instead of one, it would seem to be adding such a level of potential fatigue to the dance. People can barely get through the speed & the legwork of a jive as it is. Just wondering. I did think it was a great routine & danced well by both. Those high kicks on Jess. Wow!

    • K

      I LOVED that split. It’s one of the reasons I myself couldn’t take my eyes off Jess in that dance. I’m sure Clarice is a wonderful dancer, but I just can’t ever tear my eyes away from Jess.

      • AnneMarie

        K, I loved it, too, but to me, it’s inclusion created an unnecessarily increased strain on Jess’ legs in a dance already known as a killer, esp. for novices. That just seemed over the top for the male side in a week of doubled dances. Did you see Jess’ rehearsal comment..”Legs? What, I have no legs.” And he was decidedly stiff as he walked over to judging. Even Clarice and Cat gave him a look of concern. That’s the only reason I question the move being added. As far as I know, it’s not a standard of the jive, so could have been left out and would still have been a perfectly legitimate Jive. I want him & Clarice in for the long haul, so I hate to see everything amped up so early for some dancers. He had a lot of floor work to do in the HH, too, which no one else has had this season except Tadd, the b-boy. Was just wondering about how choreographers adapt for the rigors of the show, while keeping true to the nature of the dance.

  • Jen_S

    Thanks for your insight, Melanie! Love it!

  • Holly

    I was laughing when the camera cut to you and we could see you thinking hard and taking notes. I thought, “I will be reading that tomorrow!” : )

  • Christine

    I truly enjoy reading your perspective on the dancing of SYTYCD. My question: do the choreographer’s determine which costumes the dancers will wear? I found Tadd’s costume in the sleeping princess routine to be a distraction.

    • D

      I did too. Not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing considering the overall weakness of the routine though.

    • Squishmar

      Good question, Christine. I always assumed the choreographers conferred with the costumers at the beginning of the week about the concept of the dance and then any technical elements that would need to be taken into consideration. Also, about what “mood” they would like to convey. I would like to know about that process. Usually, I think the costumes/hair/makeup is spot-on.

  • Chris

    Hey Melanie, it was great to see you back choreographing last night! Thanks for your blog, I really enjoy reading it. Hope to see you on the show again soon!

  • Katriel

    I really, really enjoy reading your perspective every week, Melanie. Plus your voice as a writer is really fun. :)

  • Squishmar

    Melanie, as someone asked here above, it looks as if choreographers have to adjust their routines to accommodate certain weaknesses or shortcomings the dancers may have… steps or lifts they just are not able to master in time for the show. I was wondering about the flip side of that. While teaching the number to the dancers, do you ever get inspired to *add* something based on a feeling or specific strength you see in the dancer(s)? Something you hadn’t originally had planned for the dance at first?

  • Jeanne

    Ahh Melanie, I just found out you were blogging SYTYCD and immediately went looking for it. I remember watching you years ago on our local PBS station when you were competing! You’re the best and I love your choreography for the show. But I have to tell you, from my admittedly amateur perspective, it was Jess who stood out in the Jive (my favorite ballroom dance). His technique was so good and Clarice was kind of sloppy. It made me crazy that she didn’t point her toes in the flicks. Jess is not my favorite generally and my eye is usually drawn to the female in ballroom dances, but I couldn’t stop watching Jess in that routine and I loved it.

  • Linda

    I’ve been wondering how much the dancers are allowed to adapt the choreo once their session with the choreographer is over. Are they free to make a change if they feel a move isn’t going to work for them?

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