Posted on December 5, 2016
Perhaps this is an unfashionable stance in the “tired of experts” era, but for me Strictly’s Musicals Week highlighted a more general issue with this series: we’ve had too much of our ballroom dancers attempting other styles, rather than their own. The pro numbers are overwhelmingly contemporary or theatrical, and the quarter-final’s theming meant every competitive routine was ballroom dancers having a crack at West End.
Yes, Strictly is an entertainment show rather than, err, strictly ballroom, but the latter was in noticeably short supply this week. I’d rather see professional West End dancers doing musical numbers (why not bring in a cast for a full demo?) and our ballroom experts showcasing their years of training – plus the individual celebrities growing in ballroom under their tutelage, rather than being buffeted around by generic themes, props and human props.
Oh, those human props. Bad enough that we have backing dancers on the studio’s tiny floor, worse that they crowded our couples like that weirdo who sits right next to you in an empty Tube carriage. It contributed to an overhyped but strangely lacklustre show, which (whisper it) felt the absence of Ed Balls – it was too safe, too scripted and lacking in suspense given the judges’ transparent favouritism. Even Bruno’s 10 spree fell flat – the price of overmarking earlier in the series.
The couples may well be feeling the pressure this close to the end, but if we’re going to have an improved semi-final and exciting final, we’ll need more spontaneity, more effective showcasing of individual celebs, and more trust in ballroom – rather than showdance or stylistic mishmash – to provide the competition and engagement that’s made the show such a success.
Other hits and misses:
Best in Show
Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Tess’s asymmetric neckline hits a new low – and a high, and something confused in between. Claudia: nice lacy number.
Ore and Joanne – Syrupy
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory field trip. I’m not sure it helped particularly, as Ore’s version of Wonka was stately and tame, with no hint of eccentricity or danger. In fairness, there may have been some and it was blocked from view by the GIANT CAMERA-HOGGING FLOWERS. (Plus sweets – an unwelcome reminder of their dubious Charleston.) It would have felt less sleepy if Ore had had better technical control – his topline’s improved and nice swing and sway, but, in the oh-so-exposing foxtrot, definite footwork errors and wobbly transitions. Neither a wow character moment nor a vintage foxtrot.
Song: “Pure Imagination” from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Judges’ comments: Len noted some unsteady moments, but a stonker. Bruno thought he was a gentleman, but was sometimes exposed by the musical phrasing. Craig said he should be on his toes in the chaîné turns, didn’t always close his feet and balance issues, but elegant. Darcey praised his lead and mystical character.
Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36
Judge Rinder and Oksana – Night on the town
Jersey Boys was a puzzling theme choice for our most flamboyant remaining contestant, who would surely have thrown himself into a more outré character if asked. At least the human props mainly stayed clear, allowing for a decent attempt at a proper (not disco!) samba, with loads of content, some good hip action and, as ever, a totally committed Rinder performance, even if the mouth was back to manic goldfish desperately trying to convey danger to Lassie. Flat-footed in places, which meant forcing the action rather than powering it through foot pressure, but a good effort.
Song: “Oh! What a Night!” from Jersey Boys
Judges’ comments: Bruno noted some errors, but great fun. Craig said it was flat-footed, but his bottom was “bouncing for Brazil”. Darcey praised his travelling and big movement. Len found foot issues, but “I’d like to watch it again.” Won’t be long, Len…
Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31
Louise and Kevin – Yee-haw
Oh Kevin. Put down the preteen dressing-up box. This was maybe the most ballroom-lite number of a ballroom-lite night, much more convincing as a thigh-slappin’ hoedown than a quickstep. That exaggerated take on Wild West needed an equally exaggerated performance, which isn’t exactly Louise’s forte, but she did look up more this week and delivered the busy routine with animation. However, the actual quickstep, glimpsed between line dances and illegal lifts, was rather stodgy, square in hold and barely travelled, though may well have been limited by the theming and looming human props. Fun, but not a showstopper.
Song: “The Deadwood Stage” from Calamity Jane
Judges’ comments: Craig loved the mix of genres and praised her timing. Darcey thought she got the character and had lovely details. Len wanted more quickstep and managed to forget his (ahem) very spontaneous pun. Bruno thought it was a great tribute to the Wild West.
Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 10 – 37
Claudia and AJ – Party animals
Drawing the field trip short straw with a visit to London zoo. AJ was like SO BORED because he came here with school only last month. Competing for the ballroom-lite title, this wasn’t exactly awash with salsa, rather with lifts, tricks and lion vamping (but incongruous Cats styling). It was great to see Claudia embracing the performance side more, though that did tend to pause for each set-up/wobbly dismount – I wish AJ would declutter her routines so she can express herself and get into the flow of the dance, especially now she’s finding that balance of precision and abandon.
Song: “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” from The Lion King (COPYCAT KLAXON: Mark Benton and Iveta)
Judges’ comments: Darcey praised the packed routine, high energy and isolations, but wanted more character detail. Len thought it was both hot and spicy and clean and precise. Bruno said he wouldn’t penalise her for the end stumble, as it was AJ’s fault, and her best performance. Craig noted she still spots the floor in her turns, an ugly dismount and needed more foot pressure in basics, but extraordinary lifts.
Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 10 – 37
Danny and Oti – Supreme leader
Once again: strange, unhelpful tango choice (what a crowded category that is this year), but at least vaguely timely with Dreamgirls opening in the West End. Also unhelpful to have this much human prop interference, particularly with a strong couple who don’t need distractions. The tango had crisp timing and control, but needed to be down in the knees more to get heel leads and distinct style, plus a bit too much frame movement. Leading man Danny was as slick and coolly confident as ever, but overall not their best. Certainly no Natalie Gumede touching the divine.
Song: “One Night Only” from Dreamgirls (COPYCAT KLAXON: Chelsee Healey and Pasha)
Judges’ comments: Len said it lacked heel leads, but loved the promenade section and he’s one heck of a dancer. Bruno praised his star performance. Craig agreed on heel leads, but dynamic, sharp and clean. Darcey loved his focus and characterisation.
Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 9, 10 – 38
Danny and Oti – 38
Louise and Kevin – 37
Claudia and AJ – 37
Ore and Joanne – 36
Judge Rinder and Oksana – 31
Hardly any movement, with just Ore and Claudia swapping places.
Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
One business casual with weird white insert, the other vampy red sequins. It’s fair to say they’re off to very different parties.
In the dance-off: Judge Rinder and Oksana, and Ore and Joanne – the bottom two on the leaderboard once again landing in the dance-off. All the points to Rinder for his cheery wave as soon as his name was called, knowing that of course the judges would all save Ore. Rinder’s been a brilliant surprise this year and I’ve really enjoyed his strange and beautiful partnership with Oksana – he’ll be much missed. Yes, it’s great to have strong dancers left, but I can’t help feeling it’ll be something of a vanilla final.
What did you think of Musicals Week? Did you agree with the elimination? And who’s looking strong for the final? Come say hi on Twitter: @mkmswain
See you next week, when it’s two dances and us recappers lose a hand. In the meantime…keep dancing!