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‘Dance’ Is All About the Costumes (or Lack Of)

For those of us still recovering from Pole Dancing Night on “Dance Your Ass Off,” last night’s episode of “SYTYCD” was refreshing. Don’t get too excited. The performance show was still a whopping 120 minutes, but solo and group numbers revived the formula, as did new partnerships.

The show kicked off with the Top 5 girls doing a Bollywood number. And get this — the song wasn’t even from “Slumdog Millionaire”! The movements were sharp and the jumping was, well, really jumpy.

Most importantly, though, I feel that someone in power has finally championed my cause. That’s right, Nigel acknowledged what I’ve been paying attention to all along — the costumes! He even called the divine multicolored garments “fantastic.” Bollywood Costumes: 10! Nigel: 9.

Interspersed between the couples’ performances were 30-second solo numbers. That’s even less time than they get for their gyrations on “DYAO!” While each of these finalists is immensely talented, it just wasn’t as entertaining to watch them on their own.

For one thing, it is amazing that Brandon could even fit that amount of windmill-esque spinning into a mere 30 seconds. Kayla looked like she was doing a gymnastics floor routine. Kupono had a tribal sideways-crab walk going on. And did Ade realize he was doing a fast dance to a slow song?

Backflips are impressive but are they really the best way to interpret a song like “Unchained Melody?”

I have to say that I found Evan to be the most entertaining solo dancer. Maybe it’s because I’m biased towards his Broadway style, but I picked up the phone for only the second time this season (hey, it’s not “Idol”) and voted for him. (Incidentally, I think the first time was for Randi’s and his “butt poodle” dance.) Janette’s swiveling hips also had me mesmerized.

Not so mesmerizing? The solo costumes! Randi looked like she was wearing her bridal lingerie, while Kupono made his costume himself. (It showed.) The only ones to impress in this category (once again) were Evan, who donned a tux with a white jacket, and Janette, who gets extra points for bedazzling her bra. Someone please tell Brandon that a T-shirt and pants does not a costume make.

Kayla & Evan: Of course fate would pair the tallest girl with the shortest guy, breaking up the cutest couple ever (Randi & Evan). Despite her age, Kayla is arguably the best female dancer on the show, and you already know how I feel about Evan. The flowing of the chiffon as Kayla kicked was hypnotic (in a good way). Extra costume points go to Evan for wearing lifts in his shoes.  Costumes: 9, Performance: 8. 

Janette & Ade: They had the opposite height problem, as she is the shortest girl and he is the tallest guy. For their hip-hop dance, Ade played a Funk doctor (a degree that can be earned through University of Phoenix, I think) assisting Janette with her funk issues (i.e., that she has none). Making it even more watchable was the fact that she kept losing her clothes to reveal a “funky” outfit. It would’ve been better, though, if the outfit had been a little more, you know, sparkly.  Costumes: 7, Performance: 8.
Jeanine & Jason: Every time you hear “contemporary piece,” you know it’s gonna be some sort of melodrama with a message. This “story” was about friends hooking up with each other for the first time. The piece garnered a standing ovation from the judges and left Mary at a loss for words (thank God). It kind of left me wondering if it was really that great. Everyone else seemed to think so. Costumes: 6, Performance: 7.

Randi & Kupono: The paso doble is one of my favorites mainly because of the drama and — you guessed it — costumes. As usual, this dance featured some of the most dramatic music ever. Too bad the actual dancing wasn’t up to par. The costumes kind of looked like pirates on Valentine’s Day or maybe Spanish vampires. With the music, costumes and strobe light combined, it reminded me of one of those seasonal walk-through haunted houses … and I love Halloween! BTW … I liked the wig, judges. Extra costume points for that! Costumes: 9, Performance: 6.

Melissa & Brandon:
“I smell patchouli!” I couldn’t have said it better myself, Cat Deeley! This was probably my favorite routine of the night. What can I say? I love showtunes, even if they’re about dirty hippies! The technique was amazing and the costumes were fun too. BTW … did anyone else think that Brandon looked like a hippy version of Alfonso Ribeiro from “Silver Spoons”? No? Must be the patchouli affecting me. Costumes: 8, Performance: 9.

The men closed the show with an African dance number. While impressive, it didn’t quite live up to the girls’ Bollywood dance for me. Plus, I know it’s hot in Africa, but “shirtless” just doesn’t scream “awesome costume.” Nevertheless, the guys’ movements were spot-on and the routine was fun to watch. Maybe we’ll see it at EPCOT soon along with last week’s Russian folk dance?

Have a Harry Potter midnight movie hangover? “Top Chef Masters” has a cure! This week’s Quickfire challenge was to create fine dining dishes out of junk food.

Finally! This was a challenge I could finally wrap my palate around! Oh and bonus! Judges for this trial were Jeff Lewis and friends from “Flipping Out.” Thankfully, the chefs seemed to be warned in advance about Jeff’s issues with onions.

One problem: When these celebrity chefs chose inspirations like corn dogs, hot dogs, fish sticks and fried shrimp, I thought that the resulting dishes would seem somewhat familiar. This was not the case, however, as the dishes were as hoity toity and unrecognizable as ever. (I think Hoity Toity 101 is a required class in chef school.)

Michael Chiarello from Napa Valley wanted to prove himself because he’d been a TV chef for the past several years. Well, guess what, Michael? Being on “Top Chef Masters” is kinda like being a TV chef, too … or exactly like it.

Michael chose fish sticks as his inspiration and prepared swordfish meatballs with fisherman’s sauce. (Clearly the key ingredient, “stick,” was omitted.) Jenny from “Flipping Out” marveled at the “three perfect balls” and Jeff immediately cracked up. (Ah, I can’t wait til they return to the air!)

Lachlan Patterson, a surprisingly young chef from Boulder interpreted “hot dog” as “prosciutto stufado with pork sausage.” For us laypeople, I think that translates to “meatballs in broth.”

“Swedish Chef” Nils Noren, head of the French Culinary Institute in New York, chose fried shrimp. He kept it pretty basic but added creamed corn and pickled cherry tomatoes. He also kept his choice of charity pretty basic, selecting the Friends of the French Culinary Institute, an organization that he works closely with. (Ya don’t say!) While it was funny when THIS Swedish Chef explained things like “Swedes are punctual,” I still think I prefer the Muppet more.

Self-proclaimed “ADD child” Rick Moonen of Las Vegas rounded out the competitors. A seafood specialist, he chose “corn dog” and planned to make a seafood hot dog concoction. No such luck. He was not even able to present to Jeff & Co., as he didn’t finish preparing his dish! ADD indeed.

The winner of the challenge was Michael with 4.5 stars. Nils and Lachlan tied with 3 stars.

For the elimination challenge, the chefs had to each prepare a miniature three-course meal based on appetizers, entrees and dessert for 100 “Top Chef” fans (including former “Project Runway” contestants Sweet P and Jerell).

Nils wanted to show that he’s from Sweden. Might I suggest Swedish Fish next time?

The chefs presented their mini-meals at a cocktail party with only waiters to help them. For the appetizer course, Michael whipped up a shaved brussel sprouts salad with citrus vinaigrette and marcona almonds. Between flirting with fans, he had time to exclaim to the judges that the dish was “half winter and half spring!”

Lachlan prepared something called “fritta esotica,” which is apparently fried pineapple wrapped in “speck.” (Don’t worry; I’m not sure what that is either.)

Rick’s dish was called — are you ready for this? — “opakapaka and barramundi ceviche with yuzu, avocado and grapefruit.” I have heard of avocado and grapefruit but as for the rest of it … Seriously, guys, am I the only one?

Nils made a scallop with smoked potato cream, apple and curry oil cooked in pressure cooker.

For the main course, Michael served prawns with rice flour, chili and garlic oil. Rick made a brandade of scallop and shrimp and a fennel salad with truffle vinaigrette. Lachlan grilled short ribs with anchovy parmesan vinaigrette and horseradish and Nils prepared salmon with napa cabbage, chorizo, broccoli puree and madeira sauce.

Whew! I need to take a breath just from writing those fancy things.

The dessert course provided more unpronounceable (and let’s face it … probably made-up) dishes. Lachlan supplied a strawberry frangipane tart with yogurt semifreddo, while Michael filled everyone up with a balsamic marinated straw with basil gelato and chocolate creme fraiche. That’s right. I said basil gelato. You can’t get that at Baskin Robbins!

Nils made a chocolate goat cheese ganache with cara cara orange gel and lapsag cream. (No, I did not make that up.) Rick redeemed himself from the nonexistent corn dog by making the perfect lemon panna cotta with ginger,macadamia, coconut and pineapple. In fact, judge Jay Rayner even commented that panna cotta is “meant to wobble like a woman’s breast.” Who says food isn’t sexy?

As for the judging, youngster Lachlan was out first with only 15.5 stars overall. Nils and Rick were neck and neck with 17 stars each, which is pretty impressive on Rick’s part, seeing as how he didn’t even get a score for the Quickfire challenge.

In the end, though, it was former TV chef Michael who won with 19.5 stars and took home a check for his charity, the Clinic Ole Foundation.

All this fancy-shmancy cooking is fine, but I like mine with a side of swearword. Can’t wait til Tuesday when “Hell’s Kitchen” premieres!