"World of Dance" kicked off a two-night extravaganza with the final round of the Qualifiers Tuesday night before the show moves to its new night on Wednesdays.
While the show wasn't live, it nevertheless aired on Jennifer Lopez' birthday, and kicked off with a performer and routine that were like a gift for her. Like J.Lo, Victoria Caban's parents are from Peurto Rico and she feels touched by the ongoing hurricane recovery efforts there, so much so that she said if she were to win the million dollar prize, the first thing she'd do is donate some of it.
"I'm with you on that," Lopez said. The singer and actress has already donated a million dollars to relief efforts in Puerto Rico, as reported by USA Today. Lopez also raved over the teen's performance. Caban represented her culture with a flamenco-contemporary fusion which J.Lo described as "like watching art."
This was the last group of fresh faces we saw before the competition finally moves into the more competitive rounds tomorrow night, and Lopez lobbied for a bigger show by mashing together nine performances into a single montage before sending viewers to YouTube to watch them in their entirety. But don't worry, we have them all right here for you down below.
The gambit worked instantly as NBC is shifting "World of Dance" to Wednesday nights for new two-hour episodes. After a season and a half airing behind the top show of the summer, "America's Got Talent," Lopez and "WoD" have clearly proven themselves enough to the network to anchor their own night. Let's hope the viewers follow them.
Dancers are divided into four categories: Junior (17 & Under, 1-4 Dancers) and Upper (18 & Older, 1-4 Dancers). First up it's the Qualifiers, a free-for-all round, with no head-to-head competitions. But acts need to score 80 points out of a possible 100 to advance to the next round. Each act is judged 0-20 points in each of five categories for a possible total of 100 points.
A quick reminder about me: I spent nearly a decade of my life sweating and bleeding to the music as a dancer, all for this moment: armchair judging a dance competition. From a young boy learning a shuffle-ball-change to performing with the St. Louis Ballet Company, I experienced the ups and downs of one of the most difficult physically demanding sports on the planet.
Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Ne-Yo, Jennifer Lopez, and Derek Hough. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.
(Junior) Jennifer Lopez' unexpected birthday present, Victoria brought a style not usually seen on competition shows like this, and this 14-year-old just proved why flamenco is legit! From the moment she hit the stage, there was ferocity in her face and body language. She absolutely slayed the attitude and her presentation of this oft-overlooked dance style was on point, with some additional elements of contemporary storytelling to modernize it and add additional flair. Those arms were amazing, and her footwork was sharp. She created such visual flair and style with every movement, that was so calculated and precise, I forgot over and over again that she was only 14 years old.
(Upper Team) This crew struggles to get by in LA in pursuit of their dream, so this could be their biggest break yet. I'm not sure the suits were doing them any favors. While they didn't seem to restrict movement, they took away from the grace and fluidity of their lines as they moved. While the choreography was sharp, the dancers were not always at the same level in executing it, making the whole piece lack cohesion. They're talented dancers, but it kind of looked like maybe they weren't a seasoned crew used to working together enough.
(Upper) Now that, my friends, is how you tell a story through dance. This couple choreographed a domestic dispute with passion, mixed with sensuality, anger, frustration, communication problems and underneath it all, an undeniable love. It was so beautifully presented, with such power and grace and creativity, it's easily one of the best contemporary pieces to hit this stage. This couple got almost no packaged introduction, but they told us everything about who they are and what they mean to each other right there. Even better, we got the reveal at the end that they each have boyfriends, which only adds to the talent because that was some amazing acting as well. It was absolutely gorgeous and so very powerful.
(Junior Team) Coming from the same studio that brought the world Derek Hough, these kids were feeling the pressure, and it came through a bit in the delivery of some of those ballroom moves. A few of the girls lacked the proper curvature in their backs for their carriages to be consistent, and they weren't all in sync throughout. They challenged themselves with some very fun and unique partnering combinations, making it visually interesting to watch. It was adorable watching them fanboy and fangirl out when Derek came up to give them some pointers about hitting their marks. They looked like they felt like they just won the whole damned thing.
(Junior) This is an interesting pairing, as she comes from a background in classically-trained ballet while he has more of a breakdancing background. Paired together, they've created a contemporary/ballet hybrid, but that puts a lot of pressure on him as a non-trained dance partner. They definitely brought something fresh to the stage with their routine, which didn't look at all like traditional pointe ballet. But it wasn't quite contemporary or hip-hop, either, which isn't a bad thing. The lifts could have used a little more complexity, and I don't think either of them were as strong when they danced apart as they were together, but this is a fusion that deserves further development.
(Upper Team) It took these guys a minute to really find their confidence in this goofy and light-hearted performance, but once they did, they really brought it. I'm still blown away by the dude who was caught mid-backflip and then flipped and twisted two more times by the dudes holding him before finally touching down. Giving us something we haven't seen before is how you conquer competitions like this. If they could just tighten things up a little bit and bring that level of creativity and musicality throughout the performance, they'd be golden. I loved the sense of humor they brought to the whole thing.
(Junior Team) Short-changed on the show, these girls' full performance is online here and it is worth checking out. How girls so young could bring such strength, commitment and passion to this performance is beyond me. Their musicality was through the roof and they embodied strong, bold, powerful women even though they're not women yet. The choreography was challenging and they were so tight in everything they did, this is going to be a powerhouse group in their division.
(Junior Team) Another act that didn't get their full audition on the air, but were presented online, this act wasn't nearly as impressive as the Girlz. While I respect their stomp, tap fusion, it was more energy and enthusiasm than cleanliness. It almost looked like there were elements of krump in there as well, which is more wild and chaotic, but it wasn't even sharp enough or aggressive enough for that style. All in all, it felt a little too all over the place for me, but obviously the judges liked their frenetic energy.
(Junior Team) This online-exclusive performance (with just a sliver of it making it on television) was more about the cool style of the 1960s than offering up challenging choreography well executed. All props for the props and the costuming capturing the vibe of the era, but the girls suffered from some instability issues a few times and really failed to full immerse us in their world. There's a lot of potential here, and I love their ideas, but they'll need to step it up big time.
(Junior) A part of the shortened television montage, the full performance was worth the visit. They helped me realize that tap is the rap of the dance world. Often misunderstood, it's more about the rhythm of the sounds than some of the more grand movements of other traditional styles, just as rap is about the rhythm of flow rather than range or hitting certain notes. Pairing their routine to Macklemore's rapping brought it all together in a way that made tap feel fresh and exciting, and more importantly, allowed that rhythm of the tap to shine through.
(Junior) It took me awhile to figure out what wasn't clicking about this performance (which could only be seen in its entirety online). At first I thought I was looking at weak arms, but then I realized it was more than that. These guys know the hip-hop moves and they have the proper technical executions, but they weren't hitting anything hard. The hands looked weak because the holds were weak, the stances weak. Everything lacked strength and conviction.
(Upper Team) A technically sound contemporary group (part of that TV montage that sent us online for full performances), this just wasn't very exciting. I didn't feel the passion of the song coming through in their performances, and there shouldn't be a disconnect between the music and the performer. I can't fault their technical skills and proficiency in their style, but I need a wow factor and a connection to the piece and neither happened for me here.
(Junior) This just didn't come together at all. They were wobbly, amateurish in their execution of the steps and they weren't even all three on the same page as to which facial expressions to use during which portion of this hip-hop number. Attitude and expression is such a big part of how to make a dance routine successful, and these kids just don't seem to be there just yet in their growth. But the judges are going to let them do that growing here.
(Upper) What a cool combination of some ballet mixed with elements of animation and locking in this number (also short-changed on TV, but available in full here), Angyil truly defies traditional description in a fun and innovative way. I wanted to see more of that obvious technique beneath her animation, but she abandoned the ballet with her tutu. A little more hybridization of the styles throughout would make her even more memorable.
(Junior Team) Just a clip on the air, but the full performance is here and it features some really nice teamwork in a cheerleader-inspired hip-hop routine. The girls need to work on those moments between the formations as the energy level seemed to go up and down throughout the routine, and there were moments a few of the girls looked uncertain what to do with parts of their bodies. Everything needs to be precise and thought out.
(Upper) The group's choreographer had to give up dancing after a knee injury, and so he now has this group of three guys bringing his vision to life, and that is a vision of joy in movement and performance. There were some sick tricks and some awesome formations. Doing a flip and landing on your heels? That's just sick and the kind of moment that stays with you, just as this performance will stay with us for awhile.