Posted on September 25, 2017
And we’re off! Strictly Come Dancing Series 15 began its competitive shows with a marathon episode that gave viewers at home a little competition of their own: posterior versus seat. Still, squeezing all the couples into one programme did mean minimal faff and filler, and a good chance to assess a promising crop of celebs.
This was also the first real test for new judge Shirley Ballas. Could she, in the limited time given, encourage beginners, challenge ringers, and offer more specific technical commentary than we’ve ever had on the show, all while serenely dismissing Bruno’s flailing and suddenly introducing fabulous strict librarian glasses into the equation? HELL. YES.
OK, so she doesn’t have a Strictly “persona”, but that’s actually something of a relief as Bruno’s shtick becomes more and more caricatured. Instead, we have an actual human being with copious ballroom experience supplying informative, constructive criticism. It’s so crazy, it might just work…
Shirley’s initially reasonable marks also contributed to a welcome reversal of the previous years’ inflation, though all of the judges’ scores did creep up towards the end of the show. Still, I’ll cherish the memory of the audience madly cheering 7s, AS THEY SHOULD IN WEEK 1.
Overall, this looks like inspired casting – and seeing a woman take that head judge seat with such authority is pretty darned great. Long may she reign.
Claud: some glitter on a jumpsuit. Tess: THE GLITTER MONSTER HAS EXPLODED ALL OVER ME.
Ah, welcome back the “My celeb has early starts and I get to join them! Yay!!” trope. Mind, Aljaž’s forced enthusiasm was pretty much matched by Gemma’s when she learned that the theme of their cha cha was “Struggling with overt sexuality? Now you have to dance like J Lo! Next to bootylicious Aljaž!”. Unsurprisingly, somewhat forced and awkward (particularly as teatime viewing), but did distract from standard Week 1 cha cha crimes like leaden, fudged footwork and bent legs. But some nice partnering, rhythm and performance that bodes well.
Song: “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back”, Shawn Mendes
Judges’ comments: Shirley praised her cheekiness, but needs a straight standing leg. Bruno loved the attitude, but watch foot placement. Craig found it blocky and square, and needs to work on free arm and anticipating changes in direction. Darcey thought she coped well with a fast routine.
Judges’ scores: 4, 5, 5, 6 – 20
Laughter yoga: new VT low, or the standard we’ve sadly come to expect? Anyhow, last week I predicted Brian would immediately exceed my prop threshold, and so it came to pass. Magic shop, dusting, hat stand, umbrella, red shoes that called attention to stompy footwork… I can understand Amy’s strategy, but it rather backfired. On the plus side, Brian delivered most of the tango steps, but with a marked lack of style or shaping. Thus his furrowed brow and passive meandering rather gave the impression of a testy lost tourist determined not to ask for directions.
Song: “Temptation”, Heaven 17
Judges’ comments: Bruno said he needs to prowl or glide, not just step, but good performance. Craig noted poor posture, no shaping or drive, needs flexed knees, and splayed hands. Darcey agreed, but praised the intent and timing. Shirley liked the inclusion of a five step and attempted contra check, good promenade position and heel leads.
Judges’ scores: 3, 4, 4, 5 – 16
Odd. This VT went from larky hijinks about Alexandra being hyper and Gorka denying her coffee to emotionally heavy because this song was her (recently deceased, though not mentioned) mum’s favourite – then back to coffee hijinks. Not sure this is really the format for bracing whiplash dramedy; save it for Netflix. Anyhow, the actual waltz was gorgeous: lush, airy (well, there was a wind machine), deeply felt and filled out every musical phrase. Missed heel leads and gapping, but a promising start and an interesting partnership developing.
Song: “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman”, Aretha Franklin (COPYCAT KLAXON: Nicholas Owen and Nicole, Alex Jones and James, Jennifer Gibney and Tristan)
Judges’ comments: Craig wants a longer neckline, lost body contact and foot sickled in her kick, but expressive arms and great feel for the music. Darcey agreed on musicality. Shirley felt the emotion and noted she’s of course a frontrunner (LOL at the audience’s hammy gasp), but needs to work on footwork when coming out of a chasse. Bruno praised her artistry.
Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 6, 7 – 24
Karen got a kitchen field trip. How nice. So, is it time we retire the rock paso? Adding eyeliner, flames and “attitude” does not automatically make a dance exciting – the attempted manipulation just makes me grumpier. It also created an unintentionally comic juxtaposition between the fireworks and oh-so-beige Simon, who had all the charisma of an accountant diffidently pulling up a spreadsheet. Lowlights included Karen pummelling his chest in no-doubt real frustration, Simon turning the opening jump into an embarrassed hop, and Karen cavorting around him while he gazed sadly into the abyss.
Song: “Song 2”, Blur (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jodie Kidd and Ian, Fiona Fullerton and Anton)
Judges’ comments: Darcey said he had power, but not injected correctly – no shaping. Shirley thought he looked better in closed hold, but needs to rrrrrotate his body. Ooh, and here come the fabulous strict librarian glasses! Not long till they have their own Twitter account. Bruno and Craig agreed he needs more artistry.
Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 4 – 17
Another early start, busy schedule, UGH PIERS MORGAN where’s our trigger warning? Well, it’s reassuring to have constants in this frightening world, and one such is that Brendan can always choreograph a cleverly strategic, charming classic foxtrot. And enjoys benches. And lifting his partners onto high surfaces. And calling them “THIS GIRL”. All of which meant Charlotte showed a vast improvement from her scary robot launch show appearance – grounded, elegant and serene, if a bit square and stiff. I do still fear for her in Latin.
Song: “The Best Is Yet To Come”, Michael Bublé (COPYCAT KLAXON: Austin Healey and Erin, Nicky Byrne and Karen)
Judges’ comments: Shirley noted a good attempt at a heel turn. Bruno wants her shoulders down, but lovely. Craig thought they weren’t dancing as one unit, but potential. Darcey liked the grace, but she can extend more.
Judges’ scores: 5, 5, 6, 6 – 22
Chizzy is thrilled that her “BIG FACES!” acting style has finally found a home, but we’re really here for Pasha’s acting, which is as wonderful/terrible as always. Also, apparently, to bring disco back! Again! I’m with Craig in wanting more cha cha, particularly given Chizzy’s rhythm, expressiveness and general sky-high confidence level, but fantastic to see how strong she was out of hold, and if that little “roar” hand gesture exchange with Craig didn’t give you immense joy, this may not be the show for you.
Song: “Boogie Fever”, The Sylvers
Judges’ comments: We get it: Chizzy rhymes with stuff. No more. Bruno loved her personality and she can move, but needs refinement. Craig noted she mistimed a section, but great feel for music. Darcey loved her sassiness. Shirley praised her handling of the dress-in-heel moment, but wants her to make each step distinct.
Judges’ scores: 4, 5, 6, 6 – 21
Oti is already in tough teacher mode, which is exactly right for an athlete. Happy to see (useful) props in the training room, like a ballet barre for frame, less sure about the mystery desk at the beginning of their waltz – but at least Jonnie got to leap manfully over it and further put Simon’s hop to shame. Otherwise this was a familiar sportsman debut: more focus on getting things correct than selling them, and slight shyness with the flourishes. But a sweet partnership developing, and the perfect start for a good “J word”.
Song: “When I Need You”, Luther Vandross (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jaye Jacobs and Andrew, Patsy Kensit and Robin, Rachel Riley and Pasha)
Judges’ comments: Craig wants better posture and hand shaping, but brilliant job. Darcey praised his timing and attentive partnering, but needs to play a character. Shirley thought it was endearing and good pivots, but needs to keep Oti more to one side. Bruno was charmed.
Judges’ scores: 4, 5, 5, 6 – 20
Katya got to tour the Holby set. Lucky Katya. Perhaps she, er, sampled some meds while she was there, because this theme was puzzling: it’s a car wash, in the Fifties, with random Christmas music? I’ll also object to Joe’s trainers, which don’t help with weight placement or sharpness, and the illegal lift. Otherwise this was a delightful jive, with post-Ed Balls Katya getting to show what she can do. Excellent partnering, which gave it a relaxed, organic feel, good characterisation, and nice mix of steps. Look forward to more.
Song: “Rockin’ Robin”, Michael Jackson
Judges’ comments: Darcey praised the attack, style and details, but needs sharper retraction. Shirley corrected her on how to get said retraction, loved how he worked into the floor and entertaining. Bruno said it was polished. Craig, with creepy delivery: “Three words – I like you.”
Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 7 – 29
Tour of Glasgow for Kevin. Tours for everyone! Susan won me over in the launch show, and this Viennese further cemented her as a favourite. She somehow managed to dance it simultaneously with earnest intensity, camp irony and a slightly unhinged manic quality, plus the total joy of a long-time Strictly devotee living out her dream. Also Kevin was there. With his inexplicably scrawled-on moustache. (Why? Sometimes it’s better not to ask.) Technically, more convincing in hold – never let him go, Susan! No, really.
Song: “Mad About the Boy”, Dinah Washington (COPYCAT KLAXON: Phil Tufnell and Katya)
Judges’ comments: Shirley praised her fleckerls, but needs to distinguish between closing and brushing feet, and posture issues. Bruno loved that she played thousands of characters. Craig found it skippy and needs more elegance, but she did well. Darcey wants her to control the upper body.
Judges’ scores: 5, 5, 5, 5 – 20
The most important aspect of this VT was Debbie seizing control by chaining Giovanni in her magic dungeon. I am 100 per cent here for this showmance and also for Debbie BOSSING IT in her paso. Yes, of all the ringers, 58-year-old Debbie was by far the most ringerlicious this week. Those legs! Those splits! That shaping! That end snog and throw! Even her tambourine seemed awed. It was totally committed, dramatic, characterised the dance, and fantastic to see a celeb seize control so early on. Fingers crossed for a long run on the show.
Song: “Be Italian”, Fergie (COPYCAT KLAXON: Nancy Dell’Olio and Anton)
Judges’ comments: Bruno loved her hot performance and detail. Craig said she’s dancing like a 20-year-old. Darcey was impressed by her flexibility and battements. Shirley praised her choreography, extensions and arms – outstanding.
Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 7, 7 – 30
Tour of the East End! Tours for everyone! Rather unfortunate scheduling here, as the designated “sexy couple” had to follow our new sizzling paso queen – and came off as slightly desperate by comparison. Yes, Davood had a nice mesh shirt (plus be-fringed Nadiya for equal opportunities ogling), and there was swagger, stroking and bump ‘n’ grind, but the cha cha footwork was dubious, which meant limited hip action and they forced the movement. Still, needing to pull back slightly is a good position to be in – will be interested to see how they handle ballroom.
Song: “Dedication to My Ex”, Lloyd ft. Andre 3000
Judges’ comments: Craig wants more hip action. Darcey liked the energy and partnering. Shirley praised his forward locks, but posture issues. Bruno said he made a confident leading man.
Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27
In training, Ruth struggled with her head position. And that’s pretty much the most exciting thing to relate about this waltz. There was a nice chaise longue. And a distracting side ponytail. Ruth was clearly nervous – lots of stumbles, errors, clinging to Anton, dissolving posture. Anton manoeuvred her gently, as though carrying a box of antique glassware over a rickety bridge. We might see some technical improvement, but generally this is one of those “She’s thrilled to be here!” castings that’s heart-warming for a few weeks. Latin…will be interesting.
Song: “This Nearly Was Mine”, Seth MacFarlane version
Judges’ comments: Darcey thought that even with the nerves, she had a wonderful aura. Shirley said she’s a lady, but lots of mistakes. Also this excellent advice re: hand position in hold: “Don’t have a butterfly with concrete boots.” Bruno agreed – keep the frame. Craig called it a stumble and grab dance.
Judges’ scores: 3, 4, 4, 5 – 16
I would absolutely watch a spin-off sitcom about the Rev dancing in church. Get on it, BBC. He wisely borrowed Pasha’s cloud so as to delay putting his feet on the floor, but it’s clear a new Jeremy Vine/Ed Balls et al is born. This is my favourite kind of comedy contestant: one with some actual base skill, like good timing (musical background, natch), but added quirks and screamingly funny delivery. From the flapping bird arms to the “raise the roof” pushes and magnificent end pose, this was a debut for the ages.
Song: “There Must Be An Angel”, the Eurythmics
Judges’ comments: Shirley said he needs more technique, but great entertainment value. Bruno: “Heavenly delights, diabolical technique.” Craig: “All the problems began when the cloud landed.” Darcey thought he sold it.
Judges’ scores: 2, 4, 6, 5 – 17
Trip to the recording studio, just to demonstrate AJ had better hope this gig lasts because musical theatre isn’t about to welcome him with open arms. Perhaps another quirk of scheduling, following the Rev, or perhaps sheer weariness, but I found this rather disappointing. Like last year, AJ can’t resist out-dancing his partner, and his Tigger-on-speed act just showed up her timidity even more. Needs a lot more strength in her limbs and power in performance – relying on cute and competent will only get her so far.
Song: “Good Golly, Miss Molly”, Little Richard (COPYCAT KLAXON: Natalie Cassidy and Vincent, Simon Webbe and Kristina)
Judges’ comments: Bruno told her not to anticipate the lead. Craig found it flat-footed, blocky and awkward, but good rhythm. Darcey thought she lacked stamina and attack, but style. Shirley agreed on the lead, needs to rotate more and feet sickled, but good job.
Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 7, 6 – 23
Not all VT stories are created equal; in Aston’s, he puts on a suit. The fact that this ringer boybander came out strong was similarly unsurprising. They really didn’t need the crutch of a faffing about intro and breaks – felt like an American smooth rather than a foxtrot in places, and he’s more likely to get the audience onside if he’s actively out of his comfort zone. Also, that time might have been better spent cleaning up the footwork, which was variable. But a good strong frame and slick performance.
Song: “It Had to Be You”, Harry Connick Jr (COPYCAT KLAXON: Patsy Palmer and Anton, Michelle Williams and Brendan, Patrick Robinson and Anya)
Judges’ comments: Craig called the flashy moments self-indulgent, but great confidence and musicality. Darcey found it cool, controlled and stylish. Shirley agreed it wasn’t traditional foxtrot, though retained some elements. Good frame, but he needs to work on footwork. Bruno got lost in a tortured car analogy.
Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31
Aston and Janette – 31
Debbie and Giovanni – 30
Joe and Katya – 29
Davood and Nadiya – 27
Alexandra and Gorka – 24
Mollie and AJ – 23
Charlotte and Brendan – 22
Chizzy and Pasha – 21
Gemma and Aljaž – 20
Jonnie and Oti – 20
Susan and Kevin – 20
Simon and Karen – 17
Rev Richard and Dianne – 17
Brian and Amy – 16
Ruth and Anton – 16
Aston tops the first leaderboard, with Debbie close behind, while Brian and Simon are likely in trouble next week.
Who impressed you? What did you think of our new judge and pros? And who should be first to go? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain
See you next week for our first elimination. In the meantime…keep dancing!