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Strictly speaking

Posted on November 21, 2011

Week 8

wembleyAh, there’s nothing like seeing “Strictly” in the flesh, is there? Weren’t we lucky to be part of the thousands who experienced THE BIGGEST LIVE SHOW EVER!

Except we weren’t. (If you’re reading this and you went to Wembley…pretend you didn’t. I’m building to a clever point.) The problem with celebrating Week 8 as a monster stage show is that most of us were still watching it on TV. Or, judging by the acoustics, in a cave, at the bottom of a wishing well.

If you play almost exclusively to an arena audience, with dancers scuttling around a giant space, TV viewers end up peering at wide shots, trying to pick out the ant-like forms with Sherlock magnifying lenses. (Ah, now the garishly coloured/sequinned to the hilt costumes make sense!) Yes, it looked like great fun for everyone who was there, but the rest of us were left staring through the window at a party to which we hadn’t been invited.

However, I admit that my reception of Wembley is almost certainly coloured by the fact that I’m officially in mourning. Russell Grant, sunshine of our hearts, rainbow of our souls, sequin of our imagination, has been taken from us. It was just so unexpected. One minute, he was soaring forth from a cannon and becoming an almost literal star in the heavens; the next, the world got a little dimmer, a little duller, a little less fabulous. What happened, “Strictly” gods? Did we take him for Granted? Ah, Russell, though your time on our planet was too brief, you will always be remembered as a true “Strictly” legend. 

In other news, the music crime wave continues. This week’s song-stealing culprits:

  • Robbie and Ola – Darren Gough and Lilia’s quickstep
  • Chelsee and Pasha – Mark and Hayley’s samba
  • Holly and Artem – Alesha and Matthew’s quickstep (way to take on a judge…)
  • And, in a truly sacrilegious move, Harry and Aliona – Jill Halfpenny’s jive. Jill Halfpenny’s jive! There’s no coming back from this

Saturday

wembley-tess-and-bruce“Hi, Tess, here’s this week’s hilarious pun-tastic voiceover script!”

“But it’s all about football.”

“Yeah, so?”

“They don’t actually play football at Wembley Arena.”

Pause.

“Just read the lines.”

The difficulty with getting “Strictly” to fill the vast space was exemplified by the opening Queen-themed routine, in which our pros (dressed in a way that proves even incredibly good-looking, athletic people can be made to look horrendous) were lost in the sea of Cirque du Soleil streamer-crawlers, hairy musicians on wires and manically tumbling cheerleaders. Budget = blown. On the upside, our celebs appeared just long enough to establish that they absolutely cannot clap in time and that Robbie moves on a 2.5-second time delay.

 

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Tricky one. Loved the silky shawl. Shame they didn’t get round to cutting a dress out of it.

 

Robbie and Ola – Where the wild things are

robbiestruggles_sparkleSeriously, people. They don’t play football at Wembley Arena. “Yes, but Robbie’s a beloved footballer who lives at the bottom of the leaderboard – his VT NEEDS a football gag!” Barbie and Ken stuck with their crowd-pleasing formula during their…err, dance (style undetermined): Sir Thrusts-A-Lot in an open shirt, Ola squeezed into a lace body stocking, big lifts, go-go dancing and a “Girls Gone Wild” approach to seduction. Two moments of potential murder on the dancefloor: Ola hanging from Robbie’s neck by her thighs (anyone else think Xenia in Goldeneye?) and Robbie dive bombing over her, missing her by inches. Free Willy he ain’t.

Song: “Let Me Entertain You”, Robbie Williams (Did you know our Robbie’s really close pals with Robbie Williams? Honestly! Yes, he hasn’t come to watch him yet, but keep voting, he will eventually! Scout’s honour!)

Judges’ comments: Oh goodie, more football gags. Len thought it looked like Robbie was straddling a goal post and he was “too wild and savage”, but it was great entertainment. Bruno reminded him salsa is a dance of courtship, but he “went at it like a primeval fertility rite, flowing over into unimaginable positions”. Craig criticised his footwork, lack of hip action and dangerous jump, but liked the ambitious lifts.

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 7, 7 – 26

Overall: Another Latin dance, another Chippendale routine. Bored now.


Alex and James – Cut!

alexsimply_so_so“Tango is everything Alex is not,” explained the ever-supportive James. I would have thought eight weeks of him would be more than enough to bring out the requisite emotions, but no – we had to endure a “One Show” plug so that Alex could channel the most aggressive person in the world. And who might that be? A cage fighter? A mercenary? A Tea Party supporter? No, a TV director! (As the daughter of a TV director, I can confirm this characterisation is approximately 42 per cent accurate; 76 per cent if filming is behind schedule.) I’m not sure Alex’s giant ruffled skirt and black lace cardigan matched her supposed new-found persona – she looked more like a good fairy in a mood – nor was I impressed by her passionless performance and complete lack of heel leads, but she executed the routine decently and seems to have her nerves under control now.

Song: “Relax”, Frankie Goes to Hollywood  

Judges’ comments: Bruno: “So fascinating, so alluring, so poised, so stylish – ‘You may touch me but I don’t know if you can afford me’.” Craig saw “some improvement” and liked the theatricality, but wanted heel leads. Len called it a proper tango, danced beautifully.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35

Overall: Definite improvement, but somewhat over-hyped.


Holly and Artem (and Brendan) – It should’ve been me

hollysimply_so_soAdorable bromance alert! Artem and Brendan’s magical collaboration made up for my dwindling interest in Holly – if the boys can’t produce rivalry and drama, they can at least provide an argument for “Strictly” introducing a same-sex pairing next series. Sadly, Artem chose to dance with Holly rather than Brendan, despite having far more chemistry with the latter, and Brendan infiltrated the costume department to get his revenge: poor Holly was saddled with a giant Kermit-green skirt, matching collar and cuffs, a fake-tan top and a leopard-print scarf, while the floor was lit in clashing red and blue. Ouch. In contrast to her garish outfit, we had the usual Holly performance: proficient, casual, muted. Can she find a way to get beyond that? Bring in Gethin’s barrier-jumping acting coach!

Song: “Valerie”, Amy Winehouse

Judges’ comments: Bruno: “At times you’re thrilling, at times you’re maddening.” He compared her with an unbroken thoroughbred, either overthinking the dance or falling behind it. “But I say that with love!” Craig praised her pirouette on the stairs, but she lost timing and there was lots of gapping. Len liked the use of space but thought she lost control of the dance.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

Overall: Will she have a breakthrough soon, or will the viewers run out of patience?


Anita and Robin – Thumbs down

anitastruggles_sparkleNew in the Anita retro practice wear store: crazy headscarf and blazer with giant shoulder pads! And speaking of retro, this week’s appeal to voters was based on Anita’s glory days in Albert Square, when she apparently favoured the finger-in-socket approach to hair styling. If they get through on this, they’ll be dancing to the “Eastenders” theme tune next week. Back to the unfathomable costume choices (Robin: super-pink shirt; Anita: burlesque-esque combo of pink washing-up gloves, shoes, flower and sash and raven-family skirt) and unfortunately back to performance over technique with a rather ropey samba. But lots of clapping! Woo live audience! (Hmph.)

Song: “Come On Eileen”, Dexys Midnight Runners  

Judges’ comments: Craig didn’t like her hunched shoulders, “muddy and murky” footwork and thumb sticking out (was she dance hitchhiking?), but praised her timing. Len liked that she gave it 100 per cent. Not 110 per cent? If we’ve learned anything from reality shows, it’s that there’s always more than 100 per cent in the tank! He also, in defiance to Craig, praised her thumbs. Bruno thought there was fire up above, but not down below. In her feet. Ahem.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27

Overall: A travelling volta backwards after last week’s tango.


Harry and Aliona – Strip action

harrysimply_so_soAs a long-time When Harry When Sally fan, I had mixed feelings about this particular “comedy” VT. Yes, (our) Harry exhibited more personality than normal, but I’m not sure it was his. Their routine opened with two guys holding a giant red sheet. No, me neither. Like Robbie and Ola, they played to the crowd: Harry open shirt, Aliona’s dress fragment swiftly removed to reveal her tinsel bikini, knee slide, shimmying, lengthy lifts. Harry has definitely grown in confidence, lead and timing, so it’s a shame he’s not being given more challenging ballroom routines or taught more technique. Obligatory cut to the remaining McFlies, presumably up in the gods.

Song: “I’m Still Standing”, Elton John 

Judges’ comments: Len called it a full-on samba, which shows just what a memorable salsa it was. He liked the lifts and energy, but it lacked hip action. Bruno: “I think you’re overdressed for the occasion.” He wanted Harry to wear his costume from the original video, which suggests Bruno has a shaky grasp of “pre-watershed”. He’d also like to work on Harry’s bum. (At this point, it’s becoming difficult to mock Bruno – he beats me to it.) Craig loved the routine and spectacular lifts, but thought it was too placed and needed hip action.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 9 – 34

Overall: Great fun, but still not reaching his full potential.


Russell and Flavia – That magnificent man in his flying machine

russellstrictly_sensational“I am jive!” Russell, the contestant who feeds off the audience the most, was positively giddy about Wembley. Also, he was brought up in Middlesex. I don’t know why I feel this is worth mentioning, nor did the producers seem wholly convinced, but it did lead to a-message-from-the-beyond stargazing set to “Rule The World”, fitting in with the couple’s theme of “drug-fuelled super dreams brought to life”. In possibly the best “Strictly” entrance ever (discuss!), Russell elegantly soared out of a giant cannon (unfortunately ending up with “cannon hair”) while Flavia whirled around with sparklers, their insane yet curiously perfect partnership reaching its pinnacle. Surely this is a Vegas act in the making? Russell can frolic and tell fortunes while Flavia does the dancing bit. Oh yes, the dancing. Unlike previous weeks, there wasn’t much to speak of, but there was plenty of literal “reaching for the stars” and, of course, the handstand peek-a-boo final flourish. Did anyone see that coming? DID YOU READ IT IN THE STARS?

Song: “Reach”, S Club 7 

Judges’ comments: Alesha: “Just when you think you’ve seen it all…” She called it “Strictly”’s best entrance and loved the entertainment. Bruno: “Russell the incredible flying machine, you’re like a satellite circulating in its own orbit of madness. The peek-a-boo at the end made me almost bust a gut. It’s got nothing to do with jive, but god, I loved it.” Craig: “Dumbo springs to mind. But… Revolutionary.” Len pointed out that people will always remember this routine – it’s iconic.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 6, 7 (“For the sheer insanity of it all!”) – 24

Overall: Extraordinary.


Chelsee and Pasha – Samba Spice

chelseestrictly_sensationalOh dear. Considering Chelsee’s an actor, she really can’t sell these ghastly VTs, and nor, adorably, can Pasha. “Well, it’s cold out. In winter. So we’re going to try to…WARM UP the crowd. With our…HOT samba. Yeah. Think of the sun! That’s HOT.” Hamminess aside, I thoroughly approved of Chelsee’s sunny happy place – lying on a beach with Pasha. Yes, that’s mine too. It was something of a miracle that she moved at all in her super-tiny Geri dress (with bonus feather boa tail!), but more mystifying was Pasha randomly emerging from a load of balloons, a scenario never referenced again. I know I’ve been complaining about literal choreography, but this might be going too far in the other direction. Still, the actual routine was impressive – fast, complicated, challenging, messy in parts but more confident execution than we’ve seen from Chelsee thus far, plus a decent solo opening.

Song: “Spice Up Your Life”, Spice Girls 

Judges’ comments: Bruno called her “Chelsee Fierce, a ball of fire” and praised her rhythm and musicality – near perfect, bar the mistake. Craig pointed out a missed turn and odd arm placement, but loved her finishes, spins and bounce action. Len liked the brave solo section and energy, saying it spiced up his night and calling it “a proper samba” (presumably a dig at Robbie? Who knows. Len is so changeable these days).

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35

Overall: Most satisfying performance of the night.


Jason and Kristina – Rock around the clock

jasonstrictly_sensationalYe gods. Apparently Jason’s performed at Wembley twice before – once in a Widdy wig, once dripping wet. I need a warning notice before that kind of footage is blasted out in HD. His quest to reclaim the 1980s (cue succession of appalling wigs) proved he really is willing to do anything for “Strictly” glory, which is surely half the battle – it normally takes celebs until at least the semi-finals to abandon the last vestige of dignity. The pair burst through a sparkly clock (naturally), reminding us why the 1980s is a fashion decade best forgotten through Jason’s suit over T-shirt and Kristina’s pink and yellow monstrosity with tennis shoes. Ian Waite’s Jill Halfpenny comparison was partly justified in Jason’s sharp footwork and strong side-by-side work, though his basics were a bit dubious at times and he unfortunately lost the choreography towards the end.

Song: “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, Wham! (For a cheer-tastic version, check out Carson Kressley’s jive on “Dancing with the Stars”)

Judges’ comments: Craig said it would have been phenomenal without the mistake and the lifts. Len praised his hard work, foot placement and bounce action, but randomly decided to notice that this routine, like most this series, had illegal lifts. He won’t stand for it any more, people! (At least, not right now. In a week’s time he might be penalising for NOT doing illegal lifts.) Bruno said the beginning looked like Jason had turned back the hands of time – “a teenager going for it like a mental man”. The occasion overwhelmed him, but otherwise it was “a-maze-ing”.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 9 – 34

Overall: Still a fantastic number, despite the errors.


Leaderboard

Chelsee and Pasha – 35

Alex and James – 35

Harry and Aliona – 34

Jason and Kristina – 34

Holly and Artem – 31

Anita and Robin – 27

Robbie and Ola – 26

Russell and Flavia – 24

Did Alex really deserve joint top? (If your answer is “yes”, please contact me so I can correct this error in judgement.) Holly slipped down again – she’ll need to dig deeper next week if she wants to stay in. Russell’s back at the bottom, but scores are immaterial where he’s concerned. We’ll all remember where we were the moment Russell Grant flew out of a cannon. It’s our generation’s moon landing.


 

Sunday

beatles“Strictly” mania! Our bewigged male celebs made cracking Beatles, particularly Robbie (somehow still blonde) and Russell (unabashed campness radiating out of the screen). The judges emerged from a red phone box, Craig narrowly out-dancing Bruno. I wonder what 1960s Craig would have been like? “Groovy, darling.”

 

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Ooh, impressed! Flattering red number with surprisingly non-offensive lace. Claudia unfortunately let the side down in a funereal dress that managed to be both juvenile and too old for her. Come back to us, Claud. Both had to SHOUT OVER THE CROWD. Because we’re at WEMBLEY!

The recap. More ECHO echo echo echo

Safe couples: Anita and Robin (lovely reaction), Robbie and Ola, and Alex and James. In the bottom two: Russell and Flavia. NOOOOOOOO! Anita bounced around happily on her seat, “like a little pony!” cooed Claudia. Robbie got all emotional. “I didn’t think 9 would be possible,” admitted Alex. “I didn’t think 7 would be possible,” interjected James. Oh yes. Coming to a Samaritans hotline near you. Meanwhile, open-shirted Robbie and Robin had an unofficial Rob-chest-off. (For my money, Robin won.)

James Morrison crooned and Jessie J struggled to free herself from a strobe-lighting pyramid cage. Did this soulful (read: dull) acoustic number belong at Wembley? Or on “Strictly” at all, for that matter? To make matters worse, no pros appeared to take advantage of the giant floor and make it marginally less coma-inducing.

Goodies from Claudia, the judges and Len’s lens (apparently Wembley made the judges go a little Crazytown):

  • Craig gave us this series’ best hairography during his air guitaring
  • Brian May dropped into the judges’ Queen rehearsal. Oh yes, Brian May! Why didn’t he perform at Wembley? He awarded Craig a 3 for his fandango
  • New bromance alert! Len and Craig danced cheek to cheek at the end of the show
  • Robbie came very, very close to butchering Ola’s “croissant” (Len-ism). Ola may keep her distance in future
  • Bruno mounted the judges’ desk and ripped off his jacket, then accidentally brained Alesha. Who wants to go clubbing with Bruno? Yes, me too!
  • The Grant and the peek-a-boo. Artistry. Pure artistry

il-divoFinal safe couples: Chelsee and Pasha, Harry and Aliona, and Jason and Kristina. In the bottom two: Holly and Artem. OOH. Shocker. Well, sort of. As I keep saying, she’s always good, never spectacular, and the partner swapping can’t have helped.

Second musical performance – will this one ROCK WEMBLEY? Err no, it’s Il Divo. Perfectly nice, but four guys in suits standing very, very still may not have been the best choice, and again no pros to relieve the tedium. Time to make another cup of tea. Oh wait, it’s snowing! Was anyone in the arena dreaming of a white Christmas?

Bless Russell. His goal was to get to Wembley, so he’s calm about being in the bottom two. Also, he was fired out of a cannon, which was apparently one of the best things that’s ever happened to him. His “Strictly” VT brought up so many happy memories: the shell, the bed, the Julian Clary sleeves, the steel-abs-drumming, the teddy bear. Just look at what this man has brought to the competition. Why isn’t Russell safe? WHY, BRITAIN?

Holly was sad, I think. I tuned out.

russell-leavingAmusingly, Tess chose to repeat Len’s cannon comment and Bruno’s mildly offensive thoroughbred remark during the ‘scary music’ section. And the couple going home is…Russell and Flavia. A light has gone out. He gave a lovely, gracious farewell speech, paying tribute to Flavia – who has indeed been wonderful, making the most of Russell’s comedy gold but also teaching him some actual dance steps, something a few other pros seem to have trouble doing.

Finally, this year’s star turn gamely boogied to “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”. We won’t, Russell. We won’t.

For a bonus on-the-scene report from Our Woman In Wembley, check out Vikki’s great write-up.

What do you think? Was it Russell’s time to go? Can Holly redeem herself? Did Wembley live up to expectations? Leave your comments below. See you next week for a Russell-less show (sob) and in the meantime…keep dancing!

Nicola Rayner was editor of Dance Today from 2010 to 2015. She has written for a number of publications including The Guardian, The Independent and Time Out Buenos Aires, where she cut her teeth as a dance journalist working on the tango section. Now acting editor of Discover Britain magazine, she continues to dance everything from ballroom to breakdance, with varying degrees of success.

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