‘World of Dance’ recap: The Duels begin, but with a new redemption twist [UPDATING LIVE BLOG]

After three weeks of Qualifiers on “World of Dance,” the competition has now advanced to the Duels. This single elimination round pits contestants in each division against each other: whoever wins moves on to the next round, and whoever loses is sent home on the spot … or maybe not. This year there’s a brand new twist in the Duels. For the first time, competitors who are eliminated may have a chance for redemption. So who moved forward in this grueling round, and who was left behind? Find out below in our live blog with all the minute-by-minute developments as they happen.

Because the Duels are a head-to-head round, your chances of success are only as good as who you’re up against. So a performer could theoretically win with a score of 81 if their opponent gets an 80, while another performer could lose with a score of 99 if their opponent gets a perfect 100. That’s not fair, is it? Well, that’s where the new redemption stage comes in. Of the five acts that are eliminated in each division, the two highest scorers will get to compete against each other for one last wild-card spot.

The 10 Upper Division contenders who made it out of the Qualifiers competed on the first night of the Duels. They included hip-hop performers Tobias and the EZTwins and Poppin John; contemporary dancers DD Flection, Derek Piquette, Derion and Madison, Denise and Josh, and Briar Nolet; Latin dancers Jonathan y Jorge and All Ready; and tap dancers the D’Angelo Brothers. Who gave the best performances? Find out below starting at 8:00pm (all times listed are Eastern).

Tobias and the EZTwins vs. D’Angelo Brothers

8:03pm — Reward for the top scorer is the first pick in the Duels. Tobias and the EZTwins were the leaders in the Qualifiers, and they’re battling D’Angelo Brothers. Tap isn’t usually that competitive at this point in the competition, especially up against the top scorers from the last round. The D’Angelos are adding flips to their routine to give them an edge, but one back flip went wrong during rehearsals when one brother broke his finger and nose. On top of that, Tobias and the EZTwins are straight-up trolling their opponents by adding some tap to their routine. I’m kinda rooting for the D’Angelo Brothers now.

8:07pm — Tobias and the EZTwins are up first. A good, hyper-caffeinated routine. They’re at their best when they’re doing intricate, synchronized shapes, but the routine overall seemed rather frantic.

Judges — Ne-Yo loves their hats and appreciates that they synchronized their upper bodies during the tap section. Derek appreciates that they have “their own style,” and he enjoyed the tap section too, but he didn’t feel they had a wow moment during their routine.. Jennifer thought their tap section was actually somewhat underwhelming since it didn’t have as much complexity as the D’Angelo Brothers will have.

8:13pm — Okay, the injured D’Angelos are up next, and they did what the judges have recommended for a while now. They dropped the background music so they could provide their own soundtrack. Sometimes they lost synchronicity, and they left out the back flips after all. But I actually preferred this to Tobias and the EZ Twins.

Judges — Ne-Yo raves about the section where they dropped the music to provide their own sound. Jennifer said this was the first time she got goosies from a tap routine — “I really, really loved this routine. You were aggressive for tappers.” Derek felt the moves got a little “muddy” and “complexity is the enemy of execution,” and says it may be a good idea to simplify to maintain cleanliness.

D’Angelo Brothers Scores: Ne-Yo (89), Jennifer (90), Derek (90) — Average: 89.7

Tobias and the EZTwins Scores: Ne-Yo (90), Jennifer (83), Derek (89) — Average: 87.3

8:18pm — Wow, huge upset, and that score from Jennifer is what did them in. I totally agree with this result, though, especially since Tobias and the EZTwins’ attempt to burn their opponents with their own dance style blew up in their faces.

Denise and Josh vs. Jonathan y Jorge

8:24pm — An emotional contemporary team up against the same-sex salsa duo. This match-up is like comparing apples and oranges, but they seem fairly evenly matched. I’m partial to the salsa duo, not just because they’re unique as a same-sex duo but because there’s so much contemporary on this show that I’d like to see Latin dance represented in the later rounds.

8:26pm — Jonathan y Jorge are going to take Jennifer’s advice from the first round and improve their authentic salsa content, while Denise and Josh are amplifying their emotional content. Emotional routines often have an advantage on this show, so we’ll see what happens.

8:28pm — Lots of great tricks from Jonathan y Jorge, a lot more difficult than in the first round, but their transitions were also clean and precise. They’ve really upped their game, and I’m worried for Denise and Josh.

Judges — Derek thought they were “amazing, so much fun” with “incredible” moves and great salsa, but it still needs more refinement, especially Jonathan. Jennifer was “really, really impressed” by how much they cleaned up their performance quality from their initial routine.

8:35pm — Lots of emotional intensity from Denise and Josh, but they didn’t show me as much that I haven’t seen before as Jonathan y Jorge.

Judges — Jennifer thought it was “awesome.” Derek felt how well they tapped into their emotions, but wonders if it had enough strong choreographic content, but was it “Duel-worthy”? Jennifer strongly disagrees, arguing that it’s just as difficult to be genuinely emotional as it is to do tricks. Ne-Yo says it was “beautiful” with clear emotion, but he’s also unsure if it was a Duel-worthy piece. Sounds like it’s gonna be the salsa kings.

Jonathan y Jorge Scores: Ne-Yo (90), Jennifer (91), Derek (91) — Average: 90.7

Denise and Josh Scores: Ne-Yo (89), Jennifer (92), Derek (89) — Average: 90.0

8:41pm — Great Duel, and another result I agreed with, and another routine where the underdogs from the Qualifiers ended up beating the competitors who picked them to battle. But that 90 score for the contemporary teens might be enough to get them a redemption dance.

DD Flection vs. Poppin John

8:47pm — DD Flection won “World of Dance” in Thailand, and now they’ve chosen to battle Poppin John, who had the lowest qualifying score in this division, but Poppin John is a legend with a reputation to uphold. DD Flection has been inspired by Poppin John in the past, so they want to face their idol, but
“I’m coming to smash them,” says John. I’m going to give the slight edge to the Thai champs, but we’ve seen two upsets tonight already.

8:51pm — DD Flection up first with an edgy, funky contemporary routine with some dynamite strength and flexibility moves, but I think the door is open for Poppin John.

Judges — Ne-Yo thought it was a “crystal clear” narrative, and he loved the move where he held her by her feet. Jennifer thinks “Poppin John has his hands full — student becomes the teacher.” Derek felt there were “amazing moments,” but he didn’t connect to it emotionally as much as he wanted to.

8:58pm — Poppin John is next. His first routine didn’t quite fill the stage as much as it could have. This round’s performance is still relatively subtle compared to other routines we’ve seen, but it’s incredibly precise, playful, technically outstanding, eloquent in its movement. I kinda loved it.

Judges — Jennifer says, “That was sickening” — in a good way — and his musicality was “off the charts.” Ne-Yo thought it felt like he was free-styling too much. Derek thought it was “solid” and “intentional” from a Duels perspective. I’m actually not sure who wins this based on these routines, but again I preferred the underdog. I’m rooting for Poppin John.

DD Flection Scores: Ne-Yo (90), Jennifer (88), Derek (89) — Average: 89.0

Poppin John Scores: Ne-Yo (91), Jennifer (92), Derek (91) — Average: 91.3

9:03pm — Yet another upset! Poppin John came in from the Qualifiers at the bottom of the pack in the Upper Division, and yet beat one of the top teams from the last round. This was the third time in a row that the lower qualifying act won the Duel, and DD Flection’s strong score means Tobias and the EZTwins are officially out and won’t have a chance at redemption, and they came in with the highest score in the Qualifiers.

Derek Piquette vs. Derion and Madison

9:09pm — This is going to be an interesting contest since these are two contemporary acts, so we can make a more direct comparison between them. Derek had a higher score in the previous round, but not by much. Derion and Madison are athletic innovators, so Derek has his work cut out for him. I almost think he’s the underdog in this battle even though he was one of the highest scorers in the Qualifiers. But Derek is the more emotional performer. This could go either way.

9:14pm — The first half of Derion and Madison’s routine is outstanding. They’re in hold throughout and moving as one in dynamic, beautiful, powerful ways. But then I thought it lost steam when they’re side by side. Their individual movements didn’t have as much innovation. I think Derek has the potential to outdo them.

Judges — Jennifer thought they did things she’s never seen before, but they should finish stronger. Derek thought their creativity was “amazing,” though he could see their setup in their big move, so it wasn’t as impressive. Ne-Yo thought it was “beautiful but ugly” at the same time with an intense “tribal” quality.

9:21pm — Derek is up next, and he brings the emotional intensity, thought I don’t think he had the choreographic complexity of his first-round performance, except for one front flip into a split. Wow! But it’s going to be close.

Judges — Jennifer thought it was an excellent performance with a great song choice. Derek didn’t feel the emotions felt authentic, they felt “contrived.” Ne-Yo thinks Derek’s front-flip move into a split was too similar to what Michael Dameski did last season. I think Derion and Madison might have the edge here, but I thought both acts were capable of more.

Derion and Madison Scores: Ne-Yo (91), Jennifer (88), Derek (91) — Average: 90.0

Derek Piquette Scores: Ne-Yo (89), Jennifer (89), Derek (90) — Average: 89.3

9:25pm — Four for four with the challenged dancers beating the higher-scoring performers who picked them. But Derek is now in position for a possible redemption dance, completely knocking out Thai champs DD Flection from contention. There’s only one Duel left to do, so Denise and Josh are guaranteed a spot in the Redemption round.

All Ready vs. Briar Nolet

9:31pm — The last two Upper Division contenders: the Korean Latin/street duo and the highly flexible contemporary soloist. No one chose either of them for a Duel, so they face each other by default. They’re incredibly different, so I’m not sure there is a favorite or an underdog in this battle.

9:34pm — All Readt are taking the stage first. They’ve definitely got their game faces on, and their routine is whimsical, energetic, clean. They hit all their positions with sureness and intention, and their synchronicity was outstanding. That’s going to be difficult to beat.

Judges — Jennifer thought they had great “naughty” personality, and they’re “great performers.” Derek praised their “charisma,” which brought joy to the entire room, but the Latin pivots left much to be desired. Ne-Yo was worried when he heard “Who Let the Dogs Out” start playing, but he thought their routine made the song better. I’ve got to say, I was worried when I heard that song start too.

9:42pm — Briar’s performance is next, and she’s outstanding, with much more emotional presence than her Qualifiers routine. But her technique is still there, and her moves flow so elegantly into the next that it makes her stand out.

Judges — Derek thought it was like an Olympic floor routine, and he felt it rush through his body. Jennifer says she’s an “incredible, strong, athletic dancer,” and she left something “unforgettable” out there on the stage. Ne-Yo calls her a “phenomenal dancer” and a “survivor,” but he thinks it was a “showcase piece” and not a “Duel piece” — I have no idea what he means by that, but it sounds like Briar is going to win.

All Ready Scores: Ne-Yo (92), Jennifer (93), Derek (92) — Average: 92.3

Briar Nolet Scores: Ne-Yo (87), Jennifer (90), Derek (94) — Average: 90.3

9:47pm — All Ready are deserving winners of that round, but what was up with that lowball score from Ne-Yo. I don’t understand his critique or his score. But Briar moves onto the redemption round against fellow contemporary dancers Denise and Josh. Derek Piquette is out, and I feel so bad for him, but I do think he didn’t bring it quite as strongly as he did in the Qualifiers.

REDEMPTION: Denise and Josh vs. Briar Nolet

9:50pm — Contemporary vs. contemporary for the redemption dance. Their first performances tonight were separated by a third of a point, though I preferred Briar and think the judges keep undervaluing her with their scores.

9:54pm — Denise and Josh are up first for their redemption performance. They’re solid, though this redemption dance doesn’t have the emotional presence of their first performance, and I don’t think they connect quite as well to their music. No commentary from the judges, just straight into Briar’s rebuttal to the same music, and I don’t think it’s even close. I think Briar’s fire, intensity and attack wiped the floor with her opponents.

9:57pm — The winner of redemption by majority vote of the judges is … Briar Nolet! Even Josh nods in agreement, and the judges give her a standing ovation for her valiant comeback effort right after she lost her Duel, but Jennifer tells Denise and Josh that she hopes to see them again in the future.


Advancing to the Cut:
— All Ready — 92.3
— Poppin John — 91.3
— Jonathan y Jorge — 90.7
— Derion and Madison — 90.0
— D’Angelo Brothers — 89.7
— Briar Nolet — Redemption

— DD Flection
— Denise and Josh
— Derek Piquette
— Tobias and the EZTwins

10:03pm — What’s most shocking about these results is that the four eliminated acts were the four highest scoring acts during the Qualifiers. The bottom six beat them for spots in the Cut. I never would have guessed that would happen.

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