This was requested repeatedly in comments and then in email, and I didn’t have a post planned for today, and the first competition episode of season 5 is tonight, so I decided “what the hell.”
Group dances in SYTYCD follow an interesting evolution. There weren’t any group dances in the first season (beyond a very brief reunion dance in the final episode which was all too perfunctory). They arrived in the second season as Fox decided to put more money and airtime behind the show and the producers needed something to fill time on the elimination episodes – they were the natural and logical next step after the group-sings on American Idol. This attitude was fairly prevalent during the second season’s group dances, most of which were fairly bland affairs.
However, starting in the third season, choreographers started realizing that the group dances offered them opportunities for fancier, more elaborate choreo than could be put into the brief 90-second competition routines, and started to take advantage of this fact. Still, it wasn’t really until the fourth season of the American show that group dances really started to come into their own as a distinct portion of the show’s entertainment value.
12.) Australia season one, top 12.
Most of the group Broadway/jazz routines in SYTYCD tend to be pablum, saccharine affairs (although this has gotten better with time), overloading on the hammy faces and jazz hands. This clever routine uses the jazz hands to good effect, though, turning them into bird feathers in a series of good uses of a group of dancers. It’s slinky and understated and cool.
11.) Canada season one, top 20.
Determined to remind us all that Canada is so multicultural, the first Canadian season opened up with a macauele, the Brazilian stick-fighting dance. And let’s be honest, they pretty much nailed it. No one dancer stands out, but the unison is fantastic and the routine gripping and enthralling.
10.) U.S. season three, top 18.
This wild-ass Shane Sparks group routine made fans wish Shane Sparks was more actively involved in seasons three and four than he was. Damn you, Shane Sparks, for becoming rich and famous and such! Thankfully he apparently will be more involved in season five.
9.) Canada season one, top 18.
Bollywood is endlessly popular with SYTYCD fans, because it’s energetic and fun. It also works better, I think, in the group routines, where the intended-for-masses choreography works to much better effect. This Canadian group Bollywood is probably the best of the group Bollywood routines overall.
8.) U.S season two, top 6.
Most of the season two group dances were pretty bland, with the exception of this one and the top 10 Wade Robson routine. The Robson piece is the more notorious and popular, but I’ve never been a fan of it; it was noteworthy for actually having personality and character, but the dancing was actually kind of boring once you got past the “Thriller”-in-Renaissance-times outfits. This Mia Michaels number (and just looking at it can’t you tell it’s a Mia Michaels piece?) really starts to explorethe boundaries of what’s possible in group dance that most of the season two group routines did not.
7.) Australia season two, top 16.
A really wacked-out tribal/hip-hop piece by Tiana Joseph that almost feels like it should have been a disaster, but it teeters on the edge of madness and comes up genius. Laredo’s leadership in this routine is wicked awesome.
6.) U.S. season four, top 12.
This clever house routine from Napoleon and Tabitha (see, they can seriously rock the house when they feel like it, which is why it’s so aggravating when they don’t) has some brilliant visuals, of course – the dark portions are visually striking – but what really impresses me about this piece is that unlike many of the group hip-hop routines, the dancers feel like a real dance crew.
5.) U.S. season four, top 16.
Wade Robson in rare form, going to his bizarre-well again for a mad-harlequins piece that’s memorable and distinctive. Mark’s turn as Grand Master of the Whatever-These-Guys-Are is inspired in its malevolence and Gev’s insane jester only slightly less so. The only misstep is giving Comfort that weird breakdown in the middle, but I can overlook that for the rest of the piece’s sheer awesomeness.
4.) Canada season one, top 16.
Ballroom tends to mostly… not work in group dance, mostly because most ballroom choreographers haven’t yet figured out what to do with a group of dancers other than have them do individual paired routines all at the same time. This Jean-Marc Genereaux waltz, though, has a specific story assigned to it and he uses the structure of the waltz to enhance that story. It’s really impressive.
3.) U.S. season four, top five guys.
For the top ten elimination episode of season four, in addition to the top-10 group dance (a Bollywood piece, perfectly acceptable), the show also offered two gender-split “top five” dances. The girls got a by-the-numbers Mia Michaels flailing-around number (featuring some of the least attractive makeup on any dancers in the show’s history), and the guys got this, a charming and clever Broadway number by none other than Nigel Lythgoe himself. One of the show’s great mysteries to me is why we keep getting Tasty Oreo’s hammed-up, warmed-over-Fosse Broadway numbers when this piece makes it evident that Lythgoe is both familiar with and appreciative of modern musical choreo.
2.) Australia season one, finale.
This routine manages to not only re-display the entire top 20 in order of elimination, but also give a quick showcase to each of the major forms of dance performed in the show, sneak in the top four for small bits of it before their big reveal at the end (Rhys in the ballroom segment, Demi in the hip-hop, and Jack and Kate during the pop/jazz led by Kelley Abbey), incorporate all three of the primary judges and the three most important choreographers of the season (Abbey, Jason Gilkison and Nacho Pop) as performers in the routine, and rock ass. When I saw this I thought that this routine set the gold standard for SYTYCD season finales and didn’t see how they could top it.
1.) Australia season two, finale.
And then the Aussies went and topped it with this, an incredibly intricate routine featuring the entire top one hundred, with the top 20 less the top four distinguished by their white pants/skirts, leading into a sickly cool step routine and the top-four Sting-dropping their way down to the stage. Incredible workmanship, surpassed only by the showmanship involved in, for a brief moment, creating a world where everybody dances in crazy joyful ways (and with a lot of skill). Memo to everybody else: this is where the bar is set now.