'Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition' Season 1, Episode 9 Top Four Recap: Cirque du Solos

Brianna (in mirror) and Amanda on Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition

The Lifetime network has been airing Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition, which was shot in Los Angeles, CA, since October. When the season started there were twelve aspiring dancers between the ages of 6 and 13 competing to win $100,000 cash and a full scholarship to the Young Dancers program at The Joffrey Ballet in New York City. Now in the show’s ninth week it is down to the top four dancers: Asia (now age 7), Amanda (age 12), Brianna (age 13) and Madison (age 13). At the end of this episode, only three dancers will move on.

Abby Lee Miller and host Kevin Manno arrive in the rehearsal room. Abby greets the dancers with, “You’re the final four, some may say the fabulous four, I say need-to-fix-it four.”

For this week’s Group Dance Challenge the skill Abby will be looking for is balance, and this week’s overall theme is the circus. The Group Dance will test the contestant's ability on the balance beam, and the winner will receive a trip to New York City and two tickets to the world premiere of Cirque du Soleil’s new 3D movie, Worlds Away (it will be in movie theaters December 21).

Only Asia has experience on the balance beam; she is a trained gymnast. The rest of the girls have 20 minutes to master a new skill. They work with guest choreographer Shannon Beach (from Britney Spears’ Circus tour), who teaches them a short combination in which they go from a battement into a split, and then they have to maintain the position without putting their hands down.

All four dancers have a problem holding the pose at the end and fall over forward or backward. Abby names Amanda the winner, and later we see Asia tell the camera that she was robbed. She did hold the pose the longest without falling over, but Amanda was more graceful when she toppled over.

Next we hear an Abby voice-over in which she says, “Asia will need to improve her technique, Madison and Amanda will need to improve their facial execution, and Brianna has to let go.” Then we see the girls learning their solos.

Madison works on a lyrical number with Ricky Palomino. Her Mom Corrine says, “My strategy for Madison to get into the top three is to blow the judges away with her emotional performance.” Amanda learns a jazz routine from Anthony Burrell; he wants her to imitate Asia. Perhaps it is just the way it was edited, but Burrell seems overly frustrated with Amanda. He calls her, “spatially challenged and facially challenged" and then leaves the theater saying, "I can’t do anything else, Amanda." Brianna practices a musical theater piece with Ricky who tells her to relax her face or she’s “going to come off like a mean clown.” Anthony also choreographs Asia's jazz routine, and asks her, “...why do you take your feet off the floor? You shouldn’t be a dancer if you can’t point your feet”.

The Top 4 also have to master a Cirque du Soleil-inspired group dance. Shannon Beach teaches them on props including silks and hoops hanging from the ceiling. It’s a complicated number that is hard on the dancers.  Brianna worries she’s not getting it,  and she's so sore from the harness she has to wear (in order to hang from the ceiling) that she is in tears.

Backstage the dancers prepare for the show and the mom and daughter duos go over the fine points that each of them needs to focus on for their performances. Mayelin doesn’t want her daughter Amanda to be compared to the other dancers and especially Asia with her facial expressions, but Amanda says, “It’s not about outdoing her, it’s about outdoing what I usually do”.

Then the competition begins. Host Kevin Manno introduces the judges: Robin Antin (founder of The Pussycat Dolls), Richy Jackson (creative director for Lady Gaga), and the show’s lead judge, Abby Lee Miller (the studio owner and teacher from Dance Moms). Abby warns, “There better not be one sickled foot on that stage tonight.”

The Cirque du Soleil-inspired Group Dance is first: Brianna does aerial work on a silk streamer, Asia performs on a big cube, Madison is suspended in a hoop, and Amanda dances in a cage.

Next we see the Top 4 dancer's solos.

With five minutes to go, Madison gets a rubber band stuck in her hair; it’s just because she’s nervous. She dances first in the competition with a lyrical piece about a highwire performer. She wears a sparkly lavender costume with an asymmetrical skirt. I notice that her turns are pretty and she has a lovely smile. She looks hunched over when she climbs the ladder at the end of her number and I wonder if that's how it was choreographed, or just how she executed the move, but the judges don’t address it. Abby says Madison’s face was very natural, but she wants her to “really straighten her knees and hyper-extend her leg” and finishes with, “I would hire you for the circus.” Robin advises Madison that in the moves designed to show flexibility, some angles just don’t look great and wants her to think about that. Richy was impressed and said, “This performance with you gave me a lot more than ever before… if lyrical makes you do this you’ve got to find a way to put that into every genre of dance that you learn because that was beautiful.”

Asia doesn’t want to run (go over) her dance backstage, so her Mom Kristie threatens to not walk her out to the stage. Of course Kristie does escort her, and Asia does her jazz routine portraying a caged animal. She is in a silver two-piece costume with fur shoulders and a lion headdress, and dances and flips around the bars of a cage that resembles a “jungle gym”. Asia gets a standing ovation from the audience and all three judges, and she gets double finger wags from Richy (very high praise from him). Then Abby calls Asia out for having two sickled feet when she did the big drop at the end of her routine, and in a stern voice says, “Asia, fix it. It needs to be more important to you.” Robin, on the other hand, calls the performance flawless, and says she saw Asia’s feet nicely pointed, and adds, “I think I just found my little pussycat.” In between the two, Richy enthuses, “This performance right here is all I’ve been asking for from all the rest of the girls… you are Beyoncé in seven years.” Then Abby asks and answers a question: “Asia do you have what it takes to make it to the top three? I don’t know.”

Next it is Amanda’s turn. Mom Mayelin has Amanda look in the mirror and says, “Look at yourself right here; we are making it tonight to the top three.” Amanda does a jazz routine in which she portrays a contortionist. Her costume is a pink unitard with black polka-dots, and she briefly uses a red scarf as a prop. After her performance, host Kevin Manno says, “Abby Lee Miller you don’t look happy, but sometimes that’s just your face.” Abby says, “I really didn’t see any contortion work,” and then elaborates that when she choreographs contortion work it is “a form of acrobatics that goes above and beyond the means of a natural flexible back.” She commends Amanda for her excellent technique, but also points out a few mistakes with her foot positions. Robin tells her, “You’re gorgeous... I don’t thinks it’s the best you’ve done in this competition,” but “I still think you’re amazing.” Richy thinks Amanda is “…so ballroomed out” that she can’t let herself go past that ballroom (Amanda is a ballroom champion), and that Amanda didn’t use the number to show her personality.

Backstage Brianna states, “This week my biggest fear is that if I don’t make the judges laugh I might be going home because I haven’t done my job as a clown.” Brianna does her clown-themed musical number in a two-piece aqua costume with black dots (sequins?), a cage skirt festooned with colorful puffs, and cool striped stockings. Her routine includes gymnastics, and requires her to do Chaplin-esque moves and make funny facial expressions. Abby tells her, “I thoroughly enjoyed the performance” and says the pantomime work was excellent. To Richy, the antics felt like a regular circus clown instead of a Cirque du Soleil clown, and he tells her to work on her technique. Robin thinks it was Brianna’s best performance, and compliments her with, “I don’t think anyone else could have done that number.” With last weeks' emotional African dance and this week's humorous clown-themed performance, Brianna is proving to be a versatile dancer.

Then the judges deliberate.

Abby points to a photo of Asia and says, “She’s the cat with more than nine lives” and expresses frustration that Asia isn’t taking corrections, prompting Robin to wonder, “Maybe she has truly shown us everything she’s got.” Regarding Brianna, Abby says she loves her every time she comes out that she’s amazing, but Robin says, “I’m not a fan of always goofy… to be honest, I wouldn’t be afraid to lose her tonight.” When Abby says Amanda blew her away with the number but not her face, we learn that Amanda is Robin’s favorite, but not Richy’s. When it comes to Madison, Abby asks, “Do you think she belongs in the final three?”, and Richy answers that Madison listened to the critiques and made adjustments. The segment ends with Abby saying, “I think we’re running out of spares, I think this one might have to go home”.

The dancers and their Moms assemble on stage. Asia and Madison are asked to step forward, and then they get the happy news that they are moving on to the Top 3. It comes down to Amanda and Brianna. Abby tells the girls, “We’ve become family, I would be very happy to have you dance for the Abby Lee Dance Company, and this is just the beginning.” Then Abby congratulates Brianna. It is Amanda who is being eliminated. When the camera turns to Abby it is obvious that the decision pained her, and she confirms this at the end with, “I want you to know I struggled with this big-time.”

Mayelin and daughter Amanda
In Amanda’s exit interview she says, “It’s been a really big challenge for me… I do my best and you know what, it’s just their opinion.” Amanda was one of my favorites – in my opinion she is the most graceful of all of the contestants, and she has beautiful, long lines and posture. Even in the moments when the cameras capture Amanda just standing still or sitting backstage, you can tell she’s a dancer. I would love to see her in her element, and I have a suggestion for Lifetime – bring back Amanda on a new show about young ballroom dancers.

It is worth noting that at the end of last week’s episode Asia said that if Amanda was eliminated, she knew she could beat the two older girls, Brianna and Madison (both are 13). Little Asia has become a big source of controversy over the course of the competition, and seems to have divided viewers into two camps: those who think it’s a travesty that she has outlasted more technically advanced dancers (and some in that camp think the results and viewers are being manipulated for ratings), and those who think Asia puts on a great show and deserves to win, or at last move on as far as she has.

During last week’s deliberations (episode 8) I noticed that the two judges who work in concert production (Robin with the Pussycat Dolls and Richy with Lady Gaga) were voting to keep Asia -- perhaps they recognize a larger-than-life performer who will read well in an arena setting -- while Abby who comes from a teaching and a competitive dance perspective was looking more for technical skills than "face". This is not to say that Robin and Richy don't know tech, or that Abby doesn't care about "swag", it's just a thought I had while analyzing the Asia vs. Jordyn elimination.

Next week on the season finale of Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition all of the contestants will be back, the top three will compete, and a winner will be named.

Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on Lifetime. The show is currently casting for new dancers - for more information on how to audition click here.

To see all of our AUDC coverage click here.

Photos and video ©Lifetime

Posted on Wednesday, December 5, 2012 3:35 PM