There are 30 acts coming into The Cut round of "World of Dance," but only a dozen will make it out alive, with three acts surviving from each division.
That's a brutal round of any competition, but with the caliber of talent as high as we've seen so far this season, it guaranteed we were going to be saying goodbye to some of our favorites over these next two episodes. But we're also saying hello to some acts that really stepped up.
Two groups channeled personal struggles to really wring the emotions out of the judges, the audience and themselves. In the Junior Division, both The Lab and The Rock Company explored personal struggles and finding solace in friends, while Upper competitors Alex & Zack showcased the regret when that friendship isn't enough to save someone from their own demons.
To help with their mentoring of the groups, this week saw Jennifer Lopez joined by tap legend Savio Glover to work with the Junior Division. Derek Hough invited his sister Julianne Hough to work alongside him with the Upper division. Ne-Yo and Jenna Dewan will tackle their divisions next week.
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.
This crew came out stronger than we've seen them before with a very clean routine. They incorporated red gloves, which was a very clever way to keep our eyes drawn to their hands as they moved from one formation into the next. I would have liked them to let some of their moments and pictures breathe a little bit, as it all felt a bit rushed along, but everything they di was sharp and on point.
Unfortunately, these girls have been much stronger than this before. One of them even fell behind during their signature synchronized spin segment, which was flawless in the previous round. The choreography was lackluster early on, and the biggest problem is that nothing they gave us was memorable. Even the spins we've seen before, so they didn't take the opportunity to push themselves to the next level.
An eight-person paso doble, the challenge was in keeping up the intensity of the style from start to finish, and they mostly pulled it off. This was the most confident we've seen The Pulse yet. The choreography was sharp and fun, with some really creative uses of the cape. The guys jumping from their backs over the capes was handled very well, and the synchronicity was almost perfect, especially considering the complexity of some of their moves. The guys took a little longer to fully get into their characters, but it was very strong.
Cut in this round last season, this group made their performance this time about the very personal struggle of one of their members. They told a beautiful story about inclusion, even incorporating a wardrobe change into the piece to emphasize the journey of the girl whose story they were sharing. We didn't need the specifics to know that it was this group that accepted her and helped her heal. On top of that, this was clean, sharp and visually appealing from start to finish. The power of dance.
This felt a little like too much of the same to me, with the girls hitting familiar fierce crouches and being tough. Honestly, there wasn't enough variety in movement and the laser segment didn't really add much to what was going on. These are good dancers, but I think their choreography keeps holding them back from reaching their full creative potential.
This piece just came together beautifully, with the lone guy in the group carrying the story. I loved that the girls incorporated some lifts of him, flipping the script on dance tradition in a beautiful and powerful way. The girls were beautifully in synch with one another, ultimately pulling him into their world. Everyone danced so sharp and with such grace, the story really took over and it was just beautiful.
It took a little bit, but this piece really came together nicely in the end. This group shows you can be fierce strong women without ever losing the danceability of your movements. Every decision was considered, and each one served the story. They hit their marks so hard and so fierce, they're a little intimidating as performers. And that closing segment was so flawlessly visualized, it was a great final note to end the round on.
The only soloist in his division, Michael was feeling intimidated going into the round, but he needn't have. His musicality is absolutely through the roof, he interpreted and represented every single beat and note of that song just beautifully. And his athleticism. I mean, damn! That was some crazy flips and tricks and good lord does he have perfect control of every joint and muscle in his body. He may be one person, but he filled that stage with his presence.
This couple wants it so bad, and they really stepped up even more this round. The Duels was all about showcasing him, but it was their unity that took center stage here. We got some really provocative and unusual lifts and partnering work that was executed quite beautifully. There were just a few wobbles on the full-arm extended lift, but the overall fluidity and grace of the whole routine really sold it.
While the dance had a nice groove to it, it never really went anywhere. They basically did the same kind of sidestepping in tandem throughout the entire performance. By the end of it, I found myself picturing them as the hit of a wedding reception, but totally outclassed on the "World of Dance" stage. There just wasn't enough dynamic content in that routine.
I love seeing elements of locking and popping while staying true to their roots with krump. The format has had a long journey toward being something that can be choreographed without losing its rough and powerful ferocity. These guys are the real deal, creating some truly spectacular visual moments. Their creativity is through the roof, and their execution is so tight and precise. What a joy to watch.
There was a cheekiness about this performance that was fresh from this male contemporary duo, but it fit their routine beautifully. This was also the most polished and clean we've seen them. They were known for their somewhat messy delivery of steps, but that was almost completely absent here, proving those were intentional choices. It only shows how exciting this pair can be. This wasn't as strong as their first performance, but it was visually striking and fun to watch.
What a powerful tribute to Zack's lost friend, and even without knowing that story, the storytelling was so strong, we could see exactly what that friend struggled with and how Zack wishes he could have been there to lift him up. The costuming was on point as well, with very creative uses for the hoodie Ashley wore early on, ultimately switching into a white dress with black undertones. Everything worked and served the story beautifully.
There was maybe one slight lift falter, but then it was executed so fearlessly it didn't even matter. These guys did some lifts I've never seen before, and Karen came so close to eating dancefloor a couple of times. I loved the splits glide across the floor and the strength and grace they both showed when partnering or apart. The woman is usually the showcase in Latin dance, but Ricardo shines just as brightly, with choreography that spotlights them both. Very difficult choreography brought to life with confidence and hard hitting commitment.
The Rock Company, The Lab and Fabulous Sisters are three fierce and strong competitors, representing the Junior Team division very well in the next round. Choosing between them, though, will be very, very difficult.
The scores and competition was even more fierce in the Upper division where Michael Dameski, Ashley & Zack and Karen y Ricardo blew the roof off of that place. The kids came out strong in Season 1 of this show, but they better watch out this season. The adults are here to take them back to school!
"World of Dance" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.