The terms of the contest were set. The remaining Top 4 dancers would dance six routines each: three with each of their fellow contestants, one with a "So You Think You Can Dance" all-star, a solo routine, and begin it all with a group number to start the show. At the end of two hours, the phone lines would be opened and voting would begin for the first ever crowning of two season champions, a favorite girl and guy dancer.
The Top 4 finalists began the final performance episode of Season 9 with a group number choreographed by Tyce Diorio. There's an enormous amount of material for the contestants to remember and execute for the show. Were they up for the challenge?
Sitting in as this week's guest judge was Rob Marshall, the four-time Emmy winner and Oscar-nominated choreographer for the Oscar-winning Best Picture for 2002 "Chicago." Of course, producer and judge Nigel Lythgoe held his usual judge's seat, as did Mary Murphy, who appeared to be diamond-encrusted in her formal attire for the evening.
First up, it's Cyrus Spencer and Eliana Girard with a Jason Glikson choreographed Paso Doble. Eliana is all points and curves. Cyrus is stiff as usual (not having any formal training) but where it usually hurts him at times, it helps with the Paso Doble, which requires a certain stiffness. They dance to Daft Punk's "The Game Has Changed." There were compliments all around for the dancing and Nigel asked Cyrus if he ever imagined being on the finale of "So You Think You Can Dance" wearing a black dress, referring to the long black costume the young dancer wore.
Next: Tiffany Maher is paired with all-star William Wingfield for a Sonya Tayeh jazz routine worked out to Moloko's "Time Is Now." It is a beautifully rendered piece and the judges applaud Sonya for her creativity. Nigel tells Tiffany he's been underselling her all year as "the girl next door." He quipped, "No girl like you has ever lived next door to me."
Third: Eliana is back up with fellow ballet artist Chehon Wespi-Tschopp. The two get to play to their strengths and perform a classical ballet piece choreographed by Marat Daukayev to "The Nutcracker Suite—Pas De Deux" (Bruton Apm Studios). Eliana spends the last half of the routine on the tip of her toes with Chehon balancing her. The judges are quick to note that Chehon's part was not passive and Mary thanks the dancers for giving her a moment that she will never forget.
Tiffany and Cyrus are back again with a lyrical hip hop routine choreographed by Tessandra Chavez to Beyonce's "Best Thing I Never Had." It's fluid but it is missing the punch that most hip hop routines express. Still, the judges enjoyed it. They were complimentary, noting the load of choreography the finalists had to learn for the finale. Nigel congratulated both dancers for making it to the "SYTYCD" final without ever appearing in the bottom tier of dancers.
Chehon is back for the next routine, a contemporary piece choreographed by multiple Emmy-nominee Stacey Tookey. He is paired up with the phenomenally talented all-star Allison Holker. They dance to "Leave" from the musical "Once." Their performance moves the judges to give them a standing ovation. Mary is so taken with the performance she gets tongue-tied complimenting Tookey, calling her a "nommy-emanated" choreographer. Guest judge Rob marvels at Chehon's ability to reach such heights when he leaps.
For routine number six, the girls dance together. Eliana and Tiffany do a Ray Leeper Broadway routine that incorporates a stripper's pole, explained as bringing a little burlesque to Broadway. And did the girls ever... Performed to the very suggestive lyrics of "When You're Good To Mama" from the musical "Chicago," Eliana and Tiffany were sexy and athletic, especially Eliana, who climbed to the top of the pole and hooked herself there and began spinning. Just as her spin slowed, Tiffany dropped to the bottom of the pole, grabbed Eliana's ankle and kept her spinning. When host Cat Deeley asked Nigel for his critique, he said he was too hot and bothered to speak. Rob loved it and said he kept trying to imagine Queen Latifah doing the number (she sang the number). Mary said it was "crazy great." Back to Nigel, he said he couldn't say anything for fear he'd get in trouble.
After the Top 2 girls came the Top 2 guys, Chehon and Cyrus. Viewers were graced with a second Sonya Tayeh choreographed number, this time a jazz routine performed to a District 78 remix of "Fangs" by Little Red Lung. Nigel says that Cyrus has become his favorite person on the show, but Chehon is his favorite dancer. Mary agreed with Nigel's assessment that both guys had grown tremendously during the season.
The Season 9 dancers got a slight break while guest performer Jean Sok worked a routine. A B-boy dancer from France, Sok's skill was made all the more impressive in that he had only one leg. Using his crutches and excellent sense of balance, he performed a beautifully fluid number to Helen Jane Long's "Expressions."
Next up, Eliana is back for her final routine of the night, matched up with all-star Alex Wong. The two perform a contemporary routine worked out by Travis Wall to Harry Nilsson's "Without You." Judge Rob says the dancing was "poetry" and that there is nothing Eliana cannot do. Nigel says it is his favorite routine of the night and that he now ranks Eliana as his favorite dancer ever on "SYTYCD." Mary applauds Eliana's passion and her technique.
Next to last is Tiffany and Chehon for their last numbers of the night. They perform a Rumba put together by Dmitry Chaplin and set to an Elvis Presley cover, "Love Me Tender" by Adam Levy and Norah Jones. Mary, a champion ballroom dancer, found the choreography excellent and said it was perfect for Chehon. She thought Tiffany was "fabulous." Rob found it sexy and said the dance worked so well because of the connection between the dancers, although neither oversold the piece. Nigel joked that pole dancing was fun but the rumba was sexier. He also joked about the finding Chehon a shirt but the buttons were missing, which led to jokes about Dmitry and shirtlessness. (Dmitry famously ripped off his shirt in a solo routine as a finalist in Season 2.)
After teasing with it all night, Cat finally introduced the final number of the night, a Christopher Scott animation routine (Cyrus' specialty) where Cyrus, whose nickname is "Glitch," was paired up with popular all-star tWitch. Set to District 78's "Like a Criminal," it showcased Cyrus at his best and included a moment where the two dancers burst from their glass cages, showering the stage with shards. The live audience loved it, roaring their approval. Mary said she adored watching Cyrus perform his specialty with tWitch. Nigel complimented tWitch for keeping up with Cyrus, then apologized to Cyrus, saying he would not be voting for him. He admitted he loved "his bones," but he had to vote for Chehon because of the years Chehon had put into professional training.
So, all in all, even though they were saddled with quite a bit of material, the Top 4 were superlative on the final performance show. Regardless of which dancers end up as America's "Favorite" dancers, it is apparent that they are all quite accomplished. But was Nigel trying to sway the vote with his admission of not voting for Cyrus? Perhaps. Cyrus' lack of formal dance training was noticeable throughout the competition, but where he lacked in technique and knowledge, he more than made up for with enthusiasm and the quickness with which he picked up the gist of the routines, sometimes pulling them off without a hitch. Some are born to dance and all four Top 4 finalists are examples of that innate ability. Cyrus simply has not been afforded the opportunity of formal training. Should that disqualify him, like it does with Nigel, to be eligible for votes? Not in the slightest. Because "So You Think You Can Dance" is just as much a personality competition as anything. And besides that, there is an interaction between the dancer and the observer, just like with any performance art. Simply put: It is art conveyed, with all its nuances and meanings and emotions and abstracts and tangibles.
So what does it all mean for the Top 4 Season 9 dancers? Truthfully, it just means that the contest is anyone's to win.
The two-hour "So You Think You Can Dance" results finale will air on Tuesday, September 18, at 8:00 p.m. (EST) on Fox Television.
(photo credit: Porfitron, Creative Commons)