The annual victory lap otherwise known as the So You Think You Can Dance National Tour two-stepped through Minneapolis on November 3, wowing an enthusiastic and vocal crowd at the Orpheum Theatre.
The two-hour show stars the top ten finalists from the popular Fox reality competition show of the same name, though the caliber of talent presented on this tour is far above your average group of kids who can sort of do something neat and want to be famous. The dancers featured on So You Think You Can Dance are serious artist-athletes, young adults who have typically been receiving dance training for most of their lives.
After the initial individual city auditions, hopeful dancers are flung into the notoriously grueling Vegas Week where they are winnowed down to 20 finalists, who then gut it out on the weekly televised competition. On the show each week they must learn multiple routines in a few short days, choreographed by some of the dance world’s biggest names, frequently pushing the boundaries of a wide variety dance styles.
The tour is very much an extension of the show, small on spectacle but big on highlighting the quality and variety of dance presented. The stage is reminiscent of the show’s set, featuring a large space filled only with standard stage lights, a single screen for closeups during the solos, and a small number of props the dancers move around themselves.
The dancers opened the show with Christopher Scott’s Architect of the Mind, a serious, deeply engaging and atmospheric group piece set in an office; the dane was one of the night’s highlights for me. Season 9 winners Chehon Wespi-Tschopp and Eliana Girard, who have grown much more comfortable in the spotlight over the course of the season and tour, gave a charismatic introduction to the show. The two were featured heavily throughout the night (including their showpiece, the very affecting Tyce-Diorio-choreographed Eli Eli piece), and their status as America’s Favorite Dancers was reaffirmed over and over by the crowd’s response whenever they appeared.
Although small tweaks were made to the line up to compensate for the fact that most of the cast currently had or was recovering from the flu and Lindsay did not appear, they all performed admirably. Many of the most popular dances from the season were featured, although the show primarily comprised contemporary and character-driven pieces with big emotional impact. Ballroom pieces were limited to a lively group number and Chehon’s stunning Argentine tango performed with Whitney, a more than suitable stand-in for Chehon’s original parter, All-Star Anya.
The hip-hop was also sparse, although the finale—begun by George, Cyrus, and Whitney—oozed barrels of swag before ending up with the whole cast doing “Gangnam Style” to the raucous delight of the audience. Other crowd favorites included Amelia and Will’s Lovecats, Audrey and Matthew’s Titanic piece, and the Tiffany/Ade Power of Love routine with Will substituting for Ade, looking a little more mature and smoother than he did on the show.
The crowd gasped, whooped, and cheered its way through most of the routines, but fell utterly silent, hanging on each emotional thread of the more intense, sometimes ethereal pieces, like’s Cole’s otherworldly Possibly Maybe, quiet enough to hear the sound a bare foot makes when it pulls away from the stage. And therein lies the big difference between the TV and live versions of these dances: seeing the small wobbles, hearing the impact from dancers landing or colliding, and seeing the speed with which they launch themselves at each other adds a whole other dimension to the experience well worth the ticket price.
Before the show I sat down backstage with two of the tour’s dancers, season nine male winner Chehon Wespi-Tschopp and top ten finisher Audrey Case, to ask them about the show, the tour, and what’s up next for each of them.
Chehon was up first, bundled in sweats, looking far more comfortable with the idea of an interview than he ever did on the show. I asked how the tour was going and immediately he said, “Well!”, adding that “it’s a shock to all of us, you know this is a tough show…I have like 18 pieces…but I love doing obviously as many pieces as I can because this is only time you get to like show America what you have. But everyone’s getting sick so everyone caught the flu and it was like Bridesmaids on a bus.”
Chehon was lucky enough to avoid the flu up until that point, but when my time with him was up, Audrey came in looking every bit like she was recovering from a very rough 24 hours. She was upbeat, though, and talked about making it through the nearly-canceled performance the night before in Milwaukee. “It’s just like what you have to do. There’s only six girls and six boys. If four of you are out then you have to just try your best to make it through.” In spite of the hard work and bad night she echoed Chehon’s enthusiasm about the tour, saying, “I love it. It is the time of my life. I literally couldn’t have more fun.”
As tiring as the tour has been so far, the dancers both said that the televised show itself was even worse. Audrey recalled the experience saying “I still think that Vegas Week was the hardest week of my life” and that “I felt like I was in the Hunger Games.” With as little as ten minutes between some of the big choreography rounds there was no time to recover from a bad performance or from the loss of a good friend on the show. And once that process ended, the competition weeks didn’t get much easier: “It’s crazy how much it sucks the life out of you…but I don’t think anyone would change anything.”
Chehon felt the same way, pointing out that compared to the live show, the televised competition was “worse. Way Worse. Show days you start at 5 a.m.” and that “it pushes you to your limits but it’s worth it.” Chehon felt particularly stretched by the partner work he was required to do on the show. As a graduate of the Royal Academy of Ballet and having only started dance at the age of 14, he was completely unaccustomed to the intense personal work he had to do with a rotating cast of new dancers. He “gained a huge respect for ballroom dancers, definitely. I never thought it would be that hard.” But, “that was the reason why I wanted to do the show, because I knew I was going to be out of my comfort zone. I didn’t know it was going to be as challenging emotional wise I just thought it would be a challenge for myself as a dancer.”
For her part, Audrey ultimately enjoyed the struggle of the show too, particularly in hip-hop. Her first rehearsal with David Scott and All-Star tWitch got off to a rocky start with Audrey not quite getting it “but then tWitch helped me a lot. He like broke it down for me…the way that he explained things I was just like, click! I understand. So it was great to grow so much in even one genre.”
Once they finish the tour, both Chehon and Audrey will be heading back to Los Angeles, where Audrey hopes to be rooming with fellow top ten dancer George. Both are hoping to work in a variety of capacities. Audrey has signed with a talent agency who will be setting her up with different gigs, some commercial work, and maybe one day joining a dance company, although “I really would love to be in Shaping Sound, Travis’ company.” Travis Wall is another alum of the So You Think You Can Dance family. He was a runner up in season two who has returned to choreograph for the show, including the Titanic duet between Audrey and Matthew featured on the tour and on the season nine finale as a favorite of the judges.
Chehon has a long list of goals for his time in L.A. He plans to take classes to become more well-rounded and perhaps do some acting on the side. He so enjoyed working in contemporary, especially with his favorite show choreographer Stacy Tookey, that he’d like to get more into choreography himself. “There are so many different contemporary styles i’d love to find, kind of, my own and hopefully teach that as well.” It’s a tall order, but he’s got a lot of ambition and drive to work with. “I don’t like being complacent…There’s so much that I want to do and I feel like now it the time to do those things.”
One of the best things about loving So You Think You Can Dance is the opportunity to see the kids who come through the show grow into their remarkable talent. They come back to the show as choreographers, as All-Stars dancing with the new crop each year, and showing up by the handfuls in new dance movies each year. So even though the Season nine crew will part ways this December at the end of their national tour, Chehon summed up where they’re all off to when he said “anyone who goes through the show, no matter how far you make, it it’s a really good door opener to so many things and if you utilize what the show gives you, then…the possibilities are endless.”
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