The So You Think You Can Dance 2015 Tour made it to the very wintery Pacific Northwest, heating up the city of Abbotsford, BC. On a frigid January 9, the 14 dancers of the tour played to a packed house – Abbotsford’s Entertainment and Sports Centre. As attendees were downing beer, pretzels, popcorn, hot dogs – a handful of some of the U.S.’s most exciting dancers performed.

It is a pity, then, that it was virtually impossible to see them perform – the onstage lights, that projected directly at the audience (and, it seemed, to me in particular) were blinding. I had to watch with my hoodie up and around my face (to block out the most powerful, glaring lights), and through opera glasses, which tended to diffuse the light. I can’t help but think that the lights were distracting for the dancers, too.

Whining aside, these dancers can dance – last year’s touring group may have been a bit stronger, but the lasting impression is pretty much the same. Dancers can get stronger (certainly, the ensemble did throughout last summer’s season), and can deliver their personal best week after week – without serious injury (it helps that they are all young). Touring takes its toll, for sure, especially given their exhausting on-the-move tour schedule, variability in floor construction (providing both support and spring), and very busy daily schedules. There is one female dancer who managed beautifully all three challenges – Hailee Payne.

JaJa (Jana “JaJa” Vankova) had been my personal favorite (a hip hop dancer who could pirouette, arabesque, and waltz with the best of them), as well as Gaby Diaz – who actually won the competition. Throughout the season, I had been drawn to Jim Nowakowski (who was honored in Dance Magazine as a 25-to-watch) and to Derek Piquette. I guess America wants to see faces as well as bodies, and both of these men seemed to wear the same flat expression irrespective of the routine, not even making it to the top-four. That said, Nowakowski and Piquette are stunning dancers, and this showed in the Tour performances. Virgil Gadson, of course, continued to shine 1000 megawatts through the season and in the Tour.

What makes a truly great dancer? For me, it’s about a connection that grabs you and won’t let go. Being spot-on, consistently, helps. Flexibility at 110% helps, too. But dancers also need to use their eyes – their senses overall – to communicate with and to touch the audience. Hailee achieved just that, in every piece she danced. The audience seemed also to zero in on Hailee. Even when she’s dancing with her back to the audience, it’s as if we could see her entire being. She, together with Virgil, Jim, and Derek, were sparks of energy that kept the show alive. Brava. Bravo, Bravi.

Hailee Payne –

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