Tuesday, February 13, 2018


Thoughts on life, time, mothers and sons, grief and other light topics. Enjoy!

"Time, be my friend." - Home, The Wiz

"Time, why you walk away / Like a friend with somewhere to go / you left me crying." - Time, Hootie & The Blowfish

"This too shall pass." - Abraham Lincoln, quoting ancient Klingon proverb

"The Lord in His kindness, He gives me what you always wanted. He gives me more time." - Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story, Hamilton

(Mom and me. Swingin' at Byron Lake Park.)

[Author's Update: I wrote this 2 years ago for a website that has since gone dark, so I wanted to lightly edit and repost it here. I've had several friends lose parents in the time since I first wrote this. If you are dealing with a recent loss or continuing to learn to grieve with one as old as mine, these words are for you.]

In my life so far, I've run six marathons. I plan to run more. [Author's Update: I've now done nine.] I like to run them. I don't know why. I don't run just to go running. It's not my go-to form of exercise, but I do like running marathons. I enjoy the challenge. They're tough, but not impossible. Like most things in life, if you find a comfortable pace, do your prep work and keep yourself in a good head-space, you'll make it to the end and feel good about the journey. One trick I have for staying mentally strong is to think about making it to the halfway mark. After that, I'm fine. From then on, I tell myself that each step that I still have to take is less than what I've already done regardless of how much time it might take me to get there. Somehow knowing that helps me keep going forward.

In truth, I evaluate a lot of experiences by asking the question, "What half of this am I currently on?" Tasks at work, writing projects, plane, train and automobile rides - they all get measured this way. But the biggest half and half situation I've been measuring in my life has to do with my mom and when she passed away. Margaret Anne Panettieri (known to 
all who loved her as Peggy) died on Friday, February 13th, 1998 from complications of advanced cancer. It was a relatively quick illness. Less than a year, but at the time the days themselves felt very long. Peggy was the sweetest person and a great mom. My sisters and I were fiercely committed to having her attention, which was funny because she was very gentle and a non-competitive person (and I was obviously her favorite, so why compete girls??) She was very smart. She knew how to budget and save money and make it stretch (and there were times when we definitely needed it to stretch.) She encouraged us as kids, but also worried about us A LOT. She made this great macaroni salad in the summer with homemade Italian dressing and I swear I've never seen it's equal anywhere else. She was 54 years old when she died. I was 18 at the time. As I write this, it is Saturday, February 13, 2016. 18 years have passed. I'm 36. And this means that I now face the reality that when I wake up tomorrow morning, I will have lived more than half my life without my mom being alive.

(Mom and me at Junior High Graduation.)
Pretty much from the day she died, I have been aware that this day was coming. A mental "Save the Date" was programmed into my head. Every year that passed, I would feel the balance of time shifting and now my adult life matches my childhood life in length of years. I've lived exactly the same amount leading up to my mom's death as I have leading away from it. And you know what? There's a part of me that is really not okay with it. There's still the 18 year old version of me in my head who lives in that heartbroken space. I can see him in my mind. But at least now when I see him standing there reeling from the loss, I can send the image of 36 year old me to embrace and console him. I can understand how he feels because he's a part of me. It seems highly unfair to him that Mom shouldn't still be her own thriving person. That she shouldn't be able to be a part of her husband's life, her children's lives and her grandkids' lives. That she shouldn't be pursuing things that made her happy outside of her relationships to us. I can't argue with him. I feel that absence. I feel that grief. And grief is one hell of a smorgasbord of emotions all rolled up together. It's not easy to unravel, nor to see where one feeling ends and the next one begins. The only thing that you have at your disposal to sort it out is... time. And 36-year-old me has had time.

People often don't give themselves the luxury of time in dealing with a significant emotional loss. We face an internal and external expectation to get over things, to move on from them and bravely go forward. I do not view grieving along those lines. And so today, I want to write a little about what I have taken away thus far from the experience of my mother's life, her death and my relationship to her in both instances.

After my mom died, there was a very long phase where it felt like I was in a fog. Pretty much my entire college experience exists in that fog. Not that I didn't have fun. I had great experiences and built friendships that are still vital to my life to this day. But underneath all of that, my brain was still trying to process what the hell happened and what it meant to me. So for anyone out there that is reading this who has recently experienced a loss, I tell you with love and empathy that the struggle through the fog can last for years. Like, many years. It takes as long as it takes, but at some point you'll be able to look back and say, "Okay. I was there, and now I'm here. And now I can find a way forward."  But it will take a long time. And I reject the notion that you have to get there on anyone else's schedule. I'm not saying your life stops during that time. It won't. You have responsibilities and you can meet them. I'm simply saying I believe grieving is about learning each day to live with loss, not about getting over it.

(Mom and me outside the Beatles Museum!)

Grief expresses itself in a very wide range of emotions, not all of them related to sadness. There's joy. There's laughter. There's silliness. I think it's important to give yourself permission to feel what you're feeling and not judge it. At the same time, let it try to be something that washes over you like a wave, instead of covering you like a blanket. Holding on to pain is not holding on to a person. Acknowledge what you feel. Experience it and release it, so whatever the next feeling is can come in. Also, relationships are complicated, so you might have very complicated feelings to sort through. Just because a relationship was incredibly important doesn't mean everything was perfect. As you find yourself in different places in your life, you'll continue to use your life's experience to examine that relationship. That process does not end.

The sneaky victory I feel over the situation comes from one of the huge benefits of having time, and that's knowing that my mom has never not been with me in these past 18 years. Death tried and it failed! Suck on that, Death! If a person is in your DNA and they are in your flesh and your blood and your brain, are you ever apart from them? If 
you actively think about a person every day, can they really be completely gone?  I don't think so. And being able to still feel my connection to my mom makes me feel that I am connected to something bigger than myself. And yeah, sometimes a memory hits me and I really cry. I wish I could talk to her as the adult I am now and better understand who she is as a person - and who we are together -  from my adult perspective. But if the half of my life since she passed wasn't filled with her physical presence, it was no less filled with her love. These years have been filled with my own achievements and adventures that were inspired by her life and her love. Can that be enough? Can we look at what is there instead of what is not? It may not always be easy, but there is a lot of joy in the pursuit of it. I already said I enjoy a challenge.

I watch friends and family now who are dealing with both aging parents 
and little growing children. The refrain is the same: time moves too damn fast. It goes by so quickly. It's easy to feel that way. But I also think: you're only in the moment you're in. So love that moment for as long as it lasts and then love the next one for its uniqueness and possibility. I don't think you do yourself any favors by thinking of time as an adversary - as something acting against you that is speeding up or running out or that can't get here soon enough. Welcome time as a friend, it will always be right there with you.

Last week, I was going through some old papers I'd saved from college, and I found a handwritten letter that she had sent to me at the beginning of my freshman year. There were a bunch that were typed too, because as she got sicker I think she had a harder time writing in her very pretty cursive and the word processor made the messages neat and easy to read. But I love the handwritten one, (note to parents: write 
your kids handwritten notes - they are special!). This is what she said to me.

Do my best and I'll always be proud of myself... I will try to carry that with me over the next 18 years, Mom, more than even I did during the last 18. Should I be so fortunate to get that much time, I will be 54 years old. Two thirds of my life will have been lived since your death and I'll be the same age as you when you passed. That is a crazy fact to wrap my head around. But I look ahead, and think of all the things I can do with that time. I know you will remain with me throughout it. And I feel so much love. And I feel so much gratitude. And because of that, every moment is so full.

Monday, September 25, 2017

SYTYCD 14 Top 4 Recap: Sophistication Up the Wazoo!

Here we go, Dance Fans! The Performance Finale is here! I really believe it's anyone's title to win at this point. If the kids were a little tired and nervous last week,  I bet this week they are super tired but emotionally FREE! It's just about dancing now. They've gotten as far as they can go and now the votes will be what they will be. So let's hope they have a great time in this penultimate episode of what turned out to be a really great season, shall we? After all, Mia Michaels is in the house. If you're not excited for her return, there's just no pleasing you.

All-Stars and Top 4 Group Performance. Choreographers: NappyTabs! "Mi Gente" by J Balvin & Willie William. NappyTabs is here too?! So many OG choreographers are returning for the live shows this year. Can we get a Sonya group number for the finale next week? Pretty please? This routine has a lot of hide and seek going on for the dancers as they move multiple moving platforms on the stage. Lex gets a stand out solo moment because he's Lex. The audience is waving glow sticks - as are the judges - which is delightful. This number was a lot of fun. NappyTabs did not let us down n their return!

Cat is a vision in light blue, in a dress by Marc Jacobs, shoes by Gian Vitorossi and jewelry by xivkarats. She reminds us that this is the fun episode where everybody dances with everybody and no one goes home! What's not to love? If you voted last week, fear not! Your votes still count. They'll be added to this week's total to determine who wins the cash prize and the title of America's Favorite Dancer 2017!

The judges are here, but they remain powerless! That will try to make up for it by saying extra-insane things that defy logic and grammar! This week, we're getting a Top 4 group number, an all-stars number, the contestants all partnering with each other, "Contestant's Choice" encore numbers and also brief solos. If that sounds like a lot, that's because it is! I'm curious to see what the contestants choose for their encore numbers tonight and what gets saved for the Encores Finale next week. I mean, we're not going to see the same routines 3 times in one season, right? Not with so many stellar routines to choose from. I can't wait to see the whole Top 10 again! SO SOON! But not yet. Let's savor tonight while we can!

Top 4 Group Number. Choreographers: Travis Wall and Chris Scott “Elements” by Nathan Lanier. There are four contestants and four natural elements and two choreographers. I'm assuming the whole routine is pre-taped because the make up on all of them is so intense. The solos are definitely taped, but even when they're all on stage, I'm doubtful this is happening live. No matter. This is cool. Koine is Earth. Lex is Water. Kiki is Fire. Taylor is Wind. Unfortunately, they can't summon Captain Planet without Heart and Vanessa stays seated at the judge's table. Instead, their powers combine to form a great routine. A fun way to start things off for these four!

Kiki and Taylor - Cha-Cha. Choreographer: Anya Garnis, “Don’t Cha (Ralphi’s Hot Freak 12” Vox Mix)” by The Pussycat Dolls. ANYA! They were burying the lede! Nobody told me ANYA! was coming back tonight! OMG. She is the greatest. She and Pasha have been across the pond rocking Strictly Come Dancing. I love when she's able to come back. The dance is strong. Kiki does a great job partnering Taylor, and she seems really confident and in control a solid 95% of the routine. There are a few quick moments that feel a liiiittle wonky, but they are really minor and don't affect the overall performance of the piece. Mary is thrilled that ANYA! is back, as she's the original rider on the Hot Tamale Train. She loved the routine, as did the other judges. They think Kiki is a generous partner and Taylor committed to it and had fun. Great stuff!

Lex and Koine - Broadway. Choreographer: Al Blackstone, Broadway “L-O-V-E” by Nat King Cole. Lex is a pizza delivery guy and Koine is the amazing dancer who loves him. While I try to avoid hyperbole, I do believe this is the best Broadway number the show has ever produced. The character work is delightful and funny. The dancing is great. It's hilarious at this point in the season to think that Lex was the one who started with "no personality." He brings so much to this routine. But gosh, doesn't Koine just make it all look so effortless?? Can she sing? Get this girl to Broadway as soon as the tour is over.

Kiki and All-Star Jenna Favorite Routine: The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. Oh this is even better the second time through. The first time was lovely, but I felt like Kiki was a little too much in Ballroom-mode with his partnering. He sheds a lot of that here. His connection with Jenna is fantastic. It's a beautiful moment for them. At the end Jenna is crying and Cat rushes out to see if she's okay as if they had just finished a Doriana Sanchez Disco Number. Jenna is fine, she's just sad that her time dancing with Kiki is almost over. Hey, all good things, Jenna... The judges love this encore. Vanessa literally declares, "It's love!" Here's hoping there's a Season 15 and you come back to us, Vanessa.

Koine and All-Star Marko Favorite Routine: Speaking in Tongues. Come for the headdress. Stay for the shredded body suits. The sequence where they just keep flipping over each other is so impressive. I don't know if it's elevated past the original performance, but that's such a high bar with Koine. Where was there left to go? I have really appreciate the Marko-Koine partnership during the live shows. These two are very special dancers.

All-Stars Group Performance. Choreographers: Keone and Mari Madrid. "DNA." by Kendrick Lamar. The formations in this number are really cool. The All-Star numbers always seem really complicated to me. I'm always so impressed by what they do. This routine is a little like Return of the King with it's multiple fake out endings. The dancing and music stops and the crowd starts cheering and then they keep going. It happens twice and it makes me chuckle both times.

Koine and Taylor - Jazz. Choreographer: Mandy Moore, “Black and Gold” by Brenna Whitaker. Yes! Here's to the Ladies who jazz! I'll drink to that. Koine and Taylor are so fierce. They are entirely true to their own energies (Taylor's center brings her higher, and Koine is more grounded - so I guess Earth was a good element for her!) but they both bring an equal sense of power to the choreography. In judging, Mary says they have, “Sophistication up the wazoo.” That has to be my favorite comment of the season, if not the entire series.

Lex and Kiki - Hip-Hop. Choreographer: Luther Brown, “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” by Missy Elliott. This routine is a lot of fun. Kiki and Lex have an easy chemistry together. I'm so glad Kiki avoided being the hip-hop disaster in the live shows that he was during Academy Week. They do Luther Brown proud, which is a nice present since it's his birthday! In judging, Nigel brings up how Lex was not good at Samba and then shows footage of Kiki sucking at Hip-Hop. Both guys are like, "what gives?"  I guess that means Nigel is truly Team Koine? I'm cool with that.

Taylor and All-Star Robert Favorite Routine: Change Is Everything. Oh WOW. I thought this one was top notch the first time through, but it goes to another level this time. Taylor just completely lets go and it's incredible. I don't really understand how she can move so effortlessly in the air, making shapes around her partner. Wind was definitely the right choice for her in the Element Dance. The emotion is flowing out of her. If she wins next week, the foundation was laid with this routine in Top 10 week and solidified again tonight.

Lex and All-Star Gaby Favorite Routine: More (Tappa Tappa Tappa). Lex picks tap for his favorite routine. I guess this means we'll get their awesome hip-hop routine next week! Following the trend of the night, this routine is better than when we saw it in Week 1. Lex is much more relaxed. He has an easy confidence about him. His arms have a better flow. Obviously, he always knew how to do this kind of routine, but now he's figured out how to do this show and the routine is that much better for it. Lex is great.

Kiki and Koine - Contemporary. Choreographer: Travis Wall, “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell. In this number, we get the beginning and the end of a relationship. The transition between the two points involves a reversible black and white dress and Koine selling the hell out of yet another routine. She seems more mature and angrier at the end of the piece than she does at the beginning. And the routine is like 90 seconds long. Nigel shouts out the costume department in the judging for the fantastic work they've done all season, and they truly do deserve an Emmy nomination for this season. There hasn't been a week when I didn't note how amazing the costumes have been. Nigel is happy to see Kiki do contemporary yet again tonight and believes that the show has given a lot to Kiki and that Kiki has given a lot to the show. Aww!

Lex and Taylor - Contemporary. Choreographer: Mia Michaels, "You Matter to Me” Sara Bareilles feat. Jason Mraz. Okay, so MIA IS BACK and she brought the Waitress album with her! This is a routine about deep love. Do either Lex or Taylor know about being in love? It turns out they do, because they are IN LOVE WITH EACH OTHER! My mind is blown. I can barely take in the routine the first time through as my brain is still trying to process this info. LexandTaylor4eva!!! There's one move where they slide into each other on the floor and connect in a kiss, the force of which looks like it should break both their faces and spray blood all over the stage. That doesn't happen, though. How does that not happen? Upon a second viewing, the piece is quite lovely and there is a great care that's evident between them and the dance is very lovely and involves LONG kisses, which might have been awkward if she got two dancers who didn't actually love each other. The judges wish them the best both in and out of the competition. What else can they say? That's a wrap for the competitive routines of Season 14!

Cat tells the dancers she thinks this is one of the best performance finales the show has ever done and I have to agree. The live shows this season were definitely among the best ever (I maintain that only airing for an hour a week for the first half of the season really dragged out the audition process). It's time to vote! I'm putting all my voting power behind Koine, who has been my favorite performer all season. I still feel that the title will go to one of the lovebirds - Lex or Taylor - as I originally predicted (but I called Taylor, "Ashley" until my Sweet Boy Josh pointed out my error.) But I think you could make a solid case for any of the four winning. No matter who wins the title, the result will be satisfying.

Tonight's non-encore routines in order of my preference:

1. Lex and Koine - Broadway
2. Kiki and Koine - Contemporary
3. Koine and Taylor - Jazz
4. Lex and Kiki - Hip-Hop
5. Lex and Taylor - Contemporary
6. Kiki and Taylor - Cha-Cha

Monday, September 18, 2017

SYTYCD 14 Top 6 Recap: The Last Cut is The Deepest

Here we go, Dance Fans. It's been a long road getting from there to here, but tonight we find out who are our Top 4 contestants vying for the title of America's Favorite Dancer 2017. This season has been so exceptional, that I wouldn't be surprised if there is a slight dip in quality this week. These kids are exhausted, nursing injuires and stressed about making the final. If there was ever a week when nerves were gonna shine through, it's this one. The double cut is gonna cause some drama, as several of the remaining dancers have fallen into the Bottom 3 over the course of the live shows. This vote could go several ways. What will happen next?

Top 6 and All-stars Performance. Choreographer: Christopher Scott. "Prism" - Nathan Lanier.  This intricate opening number feels VERY Christopher Scott, and I mean that in a great way. There are a lot of different set-ups here and the camera work does a good job of establishing the different perspectives and formations that are created throughout the piece. Cubes are held, spun, stacked, pushed and danced upon to great effect. There's been a great variety to the group numbers this season. These openers have all been very memorable.

Tonight Cat is wearing a "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" Dress tonight by Chloé, shoes by Gianvito Rossi, and jewelry by Dior. She explains we are combining this weeks votes with next week's vote and that will determine the winner 2 weeks from now.

We also get a shout out to both Mandy Moore and Travis Wall, both of whom won Emmys for choreography this year. Travis for SYTYCD Juniors and Mandy for DWTS. So excited for both of them! I keep hoping that SYTYCD's Emmy noms and wins keep getting it renewed. What else does Fox have right now that's bringing home the trophies?

Lex and All-Star Gaby - Samba. Choreographer: Sasha Farber, Samba “Chillando Goma” by Fulanito. Lex is tasked with a "sexy samba" and we've finally found a dance style that does not fit effortlessly on him. I'm sure right about now he'd prefer the oft-jokingly-threatened Riverdance. Interestingly enough,  Gaby never performed a latin ballroom routine on the show before partnering with Lex because the show abandoned those styles in the Stage vs. Street season she won. There are some incredible tricks here -at the end Gaby seeming flips him over her back by his neck. The main event here is "butt bongos" where Lex plays Gaby's butt. The whole thing seems a little awkward though. Mary can't help but point out ballroom deficiencies but tries to be as nice as possible. She even throws in a "Holy Foosballs!" just so Vanessa can't use that as her official catchphrase either. Nigel encourages him to take ballroom lessons on tour, which is exactly what he wants to hear right now. Not the best start for Lex. Let's see what his next routine looks like.

Koine and All-Star Marko - Contemporary. Choreographers: Mandy Korpinen and Elizabeth Petrin, “You’re the Last Thing on My Mind” by Aron Wright. Koine gets to do contemporary again! It seems like it's been forever. Tonight she gets a gymnastics routine on the high bar as she spends most of the time being swung around by Marko as she hangs from a hanger. As opposed to the previous routine, this all looks effortless. But it has to take incredible strength. She's hanging up there for a long time! Nigel once again calls her "Kee-oh-nay"during judging. I thought we settled this with him last week. I almost wish he'd get more and more absurd with it each time. Konway, Kandelabra, Ken Jennings. Vanessa very pointedly pronounces Koine's name correctly once Nigel stops talking. V brought the sass tonight! This turned out to be a great moment on the show for Koine. She just gets stronger each week!

Kiki and All-Star Jenna - Jazz. Choreographer: Ray Leeper, “Proud Mary” by Tina Turner. Something about their outfits and the routine makes me realize we've had very little disco this season. Where you at, Doriana Sanchez? This is supposed to be uptempo Jazz, and personally Kiki looks a little tired here to me here. He hits the fast movements hard, but anytime it slows, I feel like the energy drops out of him. It's fun, but I think Jenna is carrying the focus. Also, apparently Kiki can't leap. There were supposed to be leaps, but he looks, um, unimpressive in the act during the rehearsal footage. You won't see him entering a jumping contest against Lex or Logan who have extension for days. Vanessa tells him he should work on leaps, so his routines aren't so earth-bound. Mary puts them on the Hot Tamale Train and Nigel wonders why they always kiss at the end. It's to make sure they give the #DaddyKiki fans what they want!

Kaylee and All-Star Cyrus - Hip Hop. Choreographer: Phillip Chbeeb, Hip-Hop “Die Trying” by Michl. Chbeeb in the house! I love the Chbeeb. He gives them a steel cage on the floor to dance in and around. This piece is about, "the addiction to the climb." The prop is cool and used to good effect. At one point, Kaylee walks on Cyrus' feet as he lies on the ground and it looks hella painful! I like this routine. Kaylee and Cyrus seem really connected to each other and control the movement of the box well. Mary was like, "Great job! Very Creative! This routine is not for me! I bet others will love it!" I'm surprised by her reaction. Nigel and Vanessa are much more receptive to it. Nigel maintains his season-long, "Be true to you!" mantra for Kaylee. Be true to you, but also show growth! True growth!

All-Stars' Routine. Choreographer: Andrew Winghart, "Floreana" by Baauer. Another great group routine where I vocally comment on how expensive all the costumes look this year. They just look fantastic. Here the All-Stars look like Vampire Butterflies with these giant red and black wings.

Taylor and All-Star Robert - Hip-Hop. Choreographers: Keone and Mari Madrid, “Numb & Getting Colder” by Flume feat. Kucka. This routine is not what I was expecting from the rehearsal footage but it's rad and unusual. It had something to do with creatures rejecting their outward appearance or something, but Taylor and Robert are in green and blue jump suits. I don't get the story, but the intensity is dialed all the way up. There's an icy strength to it and the vibe is totally different from other routines we've seen them do. The judges are very impressed. There aren't a lot of moments I can point to as stand out tricks, but the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Good for Taylor!

Logan and All-Star Allison - Contemporary. Choreographer: Dee Caspary, “The Other Side” by Ruelle. It's a romantic routine centered around the stem of a rose. This is the first time we see them dance contemporary together, because Allison was injured during Top 10 week. This is a GREAT routine for them. It's super sexy and passionate and they are both super human so the moves they accomplish together are next level. Mary notes that he’s been given so many ways to get out of turns by so many choreographers because they know he can do it. It's really remarkable. Nigel tells him to dig even deeper with the emotion because there are a lot of voters out there who don't notice if you point your toes the straightest or extend your legs the longest, they want to connect emotionally to what's happening. I think Logan was very successful in doing that here, so it seems like a good overall note for Logan that doesn't directly apply to what just happened. But it's Logan, whose physical ability seems boundless, so why not push him out of his emotional comfort zone to see what we get? I'm sure it would be pretty special.

Mia Michaels will be back next week! AAAAH!!!! As we try to take that news in, we move on to contestant pairings!

Lex and Koine - Disco. Choreographer: Doriana Sanchez, “Knock on Wood” by Amii Stewart. Ask and ye shall receive! Doriana and Disco are here! Knock On Wood is one of my favorite dance songs. I can't really explain why. It's just my jam. So I'm excited for this routine, but a little concerned because Doriana is going to put a million lifts in this routine and Lex has both a rotator cuff injury and arms that are not the massive tree trunks that Doriana is used to working with on the guys who get disco on this show. Sad to say, Lex tweaks something (his shoulder? his ankle? something else? all of the above?) on the first lift and hobbles through the rest of the routine. Koine covers beautifully, but Lex is working overtime to make the lifts and the spins happen. At the end, Koine basically carries him over to judging, where they all want to know what happened, and Lex is like, "What multiple injuries?" It's disappointing that Disco resurfaced only to break Lex. I really hope he's okay to continue, because we're already jumping straight to some voting results. That means that one member of each upcoming pair is a finalist and the other three will have to wait to the end to see who's moving forward! The drama!

1st Finalist: Lex! That makes sense, but I'm sad for Koine because that probably means she's going home. Lex hobbles down the stairs to safety and hopefully also to some needed medical attention.

Taylor and Logan - Jazz. Choreographer: Mark Kanemura, “Gypsy” by Lady Gaga. Mark is back with a very personal routine about a 7-year relationship that is over, but one from which he learned so much. Not knowing anything else about his life, I will assume he's talking about Lady Gaga. And then they dance to Gaga! So that must be it! So literal! It's a beautiful and emotionally open piece where everyone is covered in body glitter. Taylor and Logan both bound around the stage with energy and freedom. Genuine smiles! At one point they rip their shirts open and the camera angle switches to a wider shot and the lighting is dark and it strikes me as a very weird choice of direction, which I generally think has been exceptional this year. This dance had a lot of heart and fun. Mark was holding back tears in the audience. It's nice that they had this moment together.  Nigel thinks they both finally emotionally let go, which is great because it might be the last dance for one of them.

2nd Finalist: Taylor! I thought it was strange that they announced Taylor was safe, because I thought it would've been more suspenseful if they kept Taylor in jeopardy. I mean, obviously Logan is going to make Top 4. I mean, obviously.

Kaylee and Kiki - Bollywood. Choreographer: Nakul Dev Mahajan, Bollywood “Gallan Goodiyaan” from Dil Dhadakne Do (Soundtrack). So of the two dancers who survived being the Bottom 3 last week, one has apparently moved up to the top 4. Who will it be? Before we find out, we get a Bollywood routine. Kiki is a rickshaw driver trying to cheer up Kaylee, who is his passenger. There are big smiles and endless squats. This routine can been summed up as, "quads on fire." Kaylee especially is dancing with so much joy. At the end, these two are totally spent. They left it all on the floor. Nigel thinks the choreographers have been especially cruel to the dancers this week, and he's not wrong, but he also loves it.

3rd Finalist: Kiki! Kiki is safe! Hooray! Now lets get to the reveal that Logan is the final finalist, shall we?

Final Finalist: KOINE!! Oh, it's a shocker! I'm so happy for her. I chose to throw all my votes behind Koine and Kiki at the right time.  It's crazy that Logan didn't make the final, though. He's been fantastic all season, had never been in danger and can seemingly do anything. But for some reason, this show has always been difficult for contempo boys to win. Ricky UbedaWork! is the only straight up male contempo winner of the show in 13 seasons. Lex could still pull it off if he's fit to compete next week, but history is not on his side. We'll have to see what happens. Kaylee and Cyrus probably knew her time was up, but I'm sure it was a shock for Logan and Allison. This means we are robbed of a Lex and Logan partner routine next week! That would've been killer! What a shame. Fantastic work this season, Logan and Kaylee! We'll see you in 2 weeks for encores during the finale!

I'm splitting my votes this week between Kiki and Koine again, but next week one dancer gets all the marbles! In the immortal words of Geoffrey Jellineck, it's time to see who wants it bad enough!

Monday, September 11, 2017

SYTYCD 14: Top 7 Recap: Merrily We Roll Along Toward the FINALE!

Hello Dance Fans! Another week in this highly entertaining season has gone by. I'm expecting great thing from this Stellar Top Seven. Cat opens the show this week by telling us tonight's vote determines the Top 4. My brain goes on Red Alert. Are we cutting half the cast tonight with no advanced warning? I might expect that BS from The Voice, but not here! Someone explain what's happening! No time for that now, I guess. Instead. let's change the mood entirely with a smiley Broadway dance routine! We can discuss all the impending carnage later!

Top 7 and All-Stars Group Routine - Broadway. Choreographer: Warren Carlyle. "Overture" from Merrily We Roll Along (2012 New York Cast Recording) Oh, I know this song very well. Was this production really FIVE years ago? That seems incredible to me. Such a great production and a great cast recording. The dancers are in all white and the girls have mid-century styled wigs. The dancing is light and fun. There's a tappa tappa tappa section for a select few All-Stars and contestants who can handle it. At one moment you can see Mark all the way off on the side of the group, and he's not hitting it very hard which I found worrying. The wigs make it difficult to identify the ladies. It ends with Jenna coming out in a giant white feather peacock heart thingy on her back. It looks very heavy! They finish the dance and I applaud and would like them to get to the part where they explain how many people they're sending home tonight. Thanks!

Cat is wearing a dress by Balmain, shoes by Chloé and jewelry by Dior and Dolce & Gabbana. We finally get the explanation that one dancer is going home tonight, but then tonight's vote will eliminate 2 contestants at the end of next week, leaving us with a Final Four for the Finale. Whether or not we get an extra week with the final four before the Encore/Finale show remains to be seen.

Nigel explains that the votes count for everything from this point on because after tonight, the judges are going to just sit there and the audience vote will decide who's eliminated. I have no idea who is gonna get the axe from six down to four. That will be so stressful! Tonight the contestants will dance with their All-Stars, perform a solo and then be unevenly split into groups for ensemble dancing.  That's a lot. Let's get to it.

Lex and All-Star Gaby - Hip-Hop. Choreographer: Luther Brown,“Humble” by Kendrick Lamar. Lex cements his front runner status with this one. This is Lex Unleashed! He's so good here and having so much fun doing it. Despite wearing one of the strangest wigs I've ever seen on this show, Gaby cannot draw focus away from Lex. He gets low. He hits all the choreo hard. He looks like he's having the time of his life. He has done Luther Brown proud. The judged can't knock him for having no personality on this one. All he gets from them are raves. What a great start to the night!

Logan and All-Star Allison - African Jazz. Choreographer: Sean Cheesman,“Kabila” by Lord KraVen. Sean is a mad genius, but I'm concerned for Logan here because he has the longest arms and legs that sometimes get gangly and I don't know how that will translate to the low and quick movements African Jazz is known for. Turns out Allison was also concerned about this, so I know I'm not crazy. This routine certainly is crazy though, with the dancers climbing over each other and then belly-surfing on rolling boards and then doing all sorts of spins and leaps and turns. It's so much. Logan does a really good job. I mean, his pirouettes alone are worth the price of admission, but it was very fast paced and never lost steam. The judges love it.  Logan is playing for the win, y'all. Two great routines to start the show.

Kaylee and All-Star Cyrus - Contemporary. Choreographer: Tyce Diorio, “DKLA” by Troye Sivan feat. Tkay Maidza. Concept: People who've lost everything (to a natural disaster.) It's not hurricane specific, which is fine since we've also been dealing with horrendous wildfires and earthquakes and the Earth generally going through some major issues. This dance could apply to so many things! Kaylee's movements play to her strengths and Cyrus' movements play to his strengths and they work well together. It's a solid routine. It has the best emotional connection between them to date. Cyrus has so much dust in his hair that it creates a cloud around him as they dance. The judges like this one a lot too. They're not adding a lot tonight so far. They're already looking forward to not sending anyone home next week!

Kiki and All-Star Jenna - Broadway. Choreographer: Warren Carlyle,“Dancin’ Fool” by Barry Manilow. Props routine! This time it's all about not dropping canes! Kiki and Jenna dance with canes and with each other and throughout the routine they throw the canes off stage four times and catch a new set of canes that are thrown to them from off-camera. It's a high anxiety venture and it reads on their faces a little bit throughout. It's still a lot of fun to watch and they perform it well, but it feels more like they have to get through a challenge than dance a routine. They gdo et through it though. Everyone in the studio freaks out. Jenna and Kiki do a victory lap around the stage. Cat says she's never cheered harder for anybody during a routine. In judging, Mary gives us a, "LORD HAVE MURPHY!" Nicely done. Nigel talks about a Barry Manilow tuner maybe coming to Broadway soon. It's a long tangent. Is he on board as a producer? He think Kiki is overall the most improved dancer. Considering Kiki basically stood still during his hop hop routine at the Academy, this is a fair assessment.

Koine and All-Star Marko - Jive. Choreographer: Dmitry Chaplin, “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets. Koine is the popular girl and Marko is the nerd and they dance together because that is the destiny of all popular girls and nerds. Koine nails it, surprise to no one. Her side kicks are particularly impressive. They just punch through the whole routine with energy and character. Sometimes the jive can lose steam halfway through, but not here. In judging, Nigel apologizes for consistently butchering her name,  and she reveals that in rehearsals they (lovingly?) call her "Quinoa." Who is this "they?" The film crew? Marko? The choreographer? All of the above? R-E-S-P-E-C-T Koine, people! Vanessa then declares that since she hasn't come up with her own catch phrase, she's putting them on the Hot Tamale Train. Oh girl, NO. This is your first misstep for me this season, and it's a major one. You cannot co-opt the Hot Tamale Train. You certainly can't put anyone on it before Mary has had a chance to speak at that Judge's Table. Mary maintains a big smile but you can almost hear the Kill Bill danger music playing in her head as she stares Vanessa down. Vanessa, you in danger, girl. No one is coming to your aid on this one. Nigel sitting in between you will not be enough of a shield the next time Cat cuts to commercial. "You think you can steal my train from me, bitch? Go ahead and try. Did you hear that 'Lord Have Murphy,' earlier?  I've been doing this show for 10 years. I got catchphrases for DAYS. Don't come for me unless I send for you."

All-Stars Routine - Jazz. Choreographer: Brian Friedman, "Derniére Danse" by Indila. This routine and its French Jazziness reminds me of those bizarre SNL sketches that used to delight me so. Except here, it's the All-Stars so it's actually amazing instead of amusing. The costumes and lighting are on point and I've said it before, but I really love how much effort the show puts into these All-Star numbers. They have no outcome on the actual competition but the routines are always fantastic and never seem like an afterthought or filler. I appreciate everyone pole dancing on the giant lamp shades. The All-Stars have been learning three routines a week just like the contestants. The schedule has to be intense. I love getting to see them dance so much.

Taylor and All-Star Robert - Contemporary. Choreographer: Mandy Moore, “To Make You Feel My Love” by Mick McAuley and Winifred Horan. Man, Taylor just appears to be weightless in this routine. Every time Robert picks her up (75% of the routine is her spinning in the air) it looks totally effortless. As a dancer she has such beautiful softness and strength on display at the same time. It's a very elegant dance. Mary cries (sending a message to Vanessa. "FYI, I bring the waterworks too!). Nigel asks Taylor to dig even deeper emotionally, which I think is a fair criticism. I don't think she's gone to a really emotionally raw place yet. Her first dance with Robert was still her best, in my opinion. Next week is final four. She hasn't been in danger yet, but the boys seem ready to thrown down emotion AND the kitchen sink of tricks to stick around. I want to see her let loose as well.

Mark and All-Star Comfort - Hip Hop. Choreographer: Misha Gabriel, “No Twerk” by Apashe & Panther x Odalisk. No more romantic fights for these two. Now it's just fights. Ninja-style! Comfort is the teacher and Mark the Student. Cat makes a "Comfort Zone" joke before the routine and I have to admit that's probably a better name for her spin-off series than my, "Too Close with Comfort." Please sign her, Fox! Anyway, this routine doesn't really do it for me. I don't like that they have masks covering their faces for much of the beginning. I get that they're ninjas, but I want their faces to help tell the story. I don't really get a strong sense of the relationship dynamic between them. I feel like I've seen them fight harder against each other in the romantic routines. This feels a little bit like obviously choreographed punches and kicks. It's not bad, but I feel it underserves Mark, knowing what he can bring to a routine. Nigel is not impressed. He gives it a very matter-of-fact, "good." My prediction a few weeks ago about Mark making the Final Four does not look good right now.

Group #1 - Lex, Kaylee, and Logan.  Choreographers: Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson “Strange” by LP. Trio dance! Shirtless boys! Impavido in her signature blue. They have stools! The routine is really cool. I mean, these three are really working with dance LEGENDS so the odds of something special happening were in their favor. Lex and Logan are both such dance MONSTERS. It's kind of incredible that they are both in the same season. Kaylee keeps up with them and is a nice counterpoint to them in style and energy, but the boys are really freaks of nature. I assume they will dance together before the end of the season at which point the studio might implode.

Group #2 - Taylor, Mark, Kiki, and Koine. Choreographer: Sean Cheesman “Still I Rise (Maya Angelou)” by Alexis Henry. Ahh, this is gorgeous. I could listen to tape of Maya Angelou reciting her work all day long and be much better off for it. This routine looks very tricky. It is not easy to dance just to someone's speaking voice. These four kids nail it. There are amazing moves for all of them. Taylor does a split leap into the boys' arms. Mark and Kiki flip-roll over each other. Koine ends up squatting on Kiki's shoulders as he walks downstage. It's nuts. I love the whole thing. This show is the best.

BOTTOM THREE: Kaylee, Mark and Kiki. Gasps from the studio audience when the boys are announced in the bottom. Girls, there are only 7 of them left! Almost half the cast has to be in the bottom! Still Kiki winding up there is alarming. He's safe, but I realize I can't be so spread-the-wealth in my voting anymore. This week, all my votes are going to the two dancers I like the most that I think need the most help. As for tonight, I assume Kaylee is going home. She's had a strong run, but this is it.

ELIMINATED: Mark. Surprise! The judges decide to "honor" the actual vote total and send Mark home instead. I'd point out that the reason they have the power to choose between the bottom 3 is that they don't have to strictly follow the audience vote and that they were already lamenting how they had no power to affect things next week, but it won't do any good. Nigel wasn't wowed by the Ninjas Routine, and has always liked Impavido's uniqueness, so Mark goes home at least a week too soon. The recap video of his journey reminds us of parts of his story that hadn't gotten mentioned since his first audition. This dude is awesome.

So this is it. We're down to five contempos and 1 baller. Looks pretty good that we'll have a contempo winner this season, unless Kiki can pull off the upset. I'm giving 10 votes to Koine and 10 votes to Kiki, because I think Lex and Logan will do just fine on their own. Who will make the finale? We'll find out soon enough!