“So You Think You Can Dance” is back and kicking — literally. Limbs flew left, right, center and even behind the head, as season nine of the dance competition premiered Thursday night (May 24) with the first round of auditions in New York and Texas. Dancers from all over the world auditioned for a golden ticket to Sin City, showcasing a dynamic range of artists, styles and emotional stories.
Both cities delivered a plethora of highly skilled, highly entertaining and highly ridiculous talent. The highlight of the first auditions was not the usual crowd-pleasing contemporary and hip-hop styles, but rather, unique and inventive forms of dance, including animation, lyrical freestyle and … exorcism?
Chehon Wespi-Tschopp from Switzerland dazzled the judges with a stoic contemporary routine showing off his immense strength and a chiseled body that judge Mary Murphy made sure to squeeze extra hard as Wespi-Tschopp came over to graciously hug the panel for his Vegas pass. But the real standout of the night, by far, was Texan Hampton Williams, creator of his own style of dance titled “exorcist style.” The grimly angelic performance saw Williams pop and lock every single muscle in his body, like never before seen on the show. He brought not only Murphy to tears, but many members of the audience as well, and received a unanimous standing ovation through the theater. “I think you could be a genius,” judge Nigel Lythgoe told the young man before offering to pay for Williams’ Vegas ticket himself if the other judges did not put him through.
Being the soulful art form that dance is, “SYTYCD” is notorious for exposing its contestants’ gut-wrenching tales of adversity, and tonight’s premiere was full of such stories. Whether it was Jarell Rochelle’s need to succeed before his mother went blind to Sam Shefler’s battle with autism, the uniting factor was simple: a love for dance. Although Shefler did not move forward with his lyrical freestyle, he received a standing ovation for his courage and was advised never to stop dancing.
Mother of two Bree Hafen, from Texas, won the judges’ hearts and had her golden ticket delivered by her young son. The real kicker came when her daughter, also an aspiring dancer, chimed “my turn” after her mom performed a remarkably fluid contemporary routine. She immediately went into a relevé and started gliding her legs like a little ballerina.
Of course, no reality show is complete without the flops. Austin Freeman (New Jersey), pioneer of the “Mr. Wiggles” style of dance, shook his butt (and we use the term loosely) with no rhythm and no technique. He kept it real, though, admitting he was there because he hoped “to be a celebrity.” Von Kipper, on the other hand, kept it a bit too real. He exchanged some choice words with the judges after criticizing the show’s selection of dancers, calling out earlier contestant Shefler’s inclusion. Guest judge Lil’ C advised the dancer to keep his focus on the dance, instead of his bad attitude. Neither Freeman nor Kipper received a ticket to move forward.
Keeping its bar as high as ever, the premiere of “So You Think You Can Dance” proved it still had something to offer after nine seasons.
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