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Strictly speaking

Posted on December 12, 2011


Week 11

Can you believe it’s the “Strictly” semi-final already? Just as well – I fear for Tess’s sanity if she has to deliver any more puns. Mind you, I bet she’s now a major hit at Christmas parties, nailing every cracker joke before it’s even half uttered. (“Tinselitis!” “Low elf esteem!” “A CONFUSED SNOWFLAKE!”)

Stray semi-final observations:

  • Someone forgot to recharge the Brucebot, with at least two dropped links and even more fluffed jokes than usual
  • The McFlies are back. Do they have an album out? Or a reality show? Or do they just worry if one of their members strays too far from the pack?
  • Weirdly, this Ghosts of Professionals Past has become a regular thing. Is the added screen time part of their contract, or are their souls trapped on Tess’s balcony until the mystery of Nancy Dell’Olio’s profession is finally solved?


So, we’re down to our “Famous Five”, a phrase which thankfully doesn’t necessitate dog costumes, lashings of ginger beer and sexually ambiguous characters. Or so I thought…

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Well, someone’s getting what they wanted for Christmas. If Tess sports that much cleavage next week, those 3D “Strictly” viewers may lose an eye.

 Harry and Aliona – Wild about Harry

1098853-low_res-strictly-come-dancingstrictly_sensationalI know none of us want to relive this torture, so I shall simply say that each first-round VT involved a “hilarious” “skit”, which shall henceforth be known as God-Awful Hijinks (GAH). This GAH involved spying and a plant. Aliona’s Charleston sailor costume probably looked really nice before most of it was eaten by that shark, but she recovered from the tragedy in time for their jam-packed routine. Loved the impressive tricks and high energy, but I still feel the pair lack real chemistry and storytelling. I’m not asking Harry for full-on Donovan gurning, but a bit of performance on top of the sheer concentration would be super.

Song: “I’m Just Wild About Harry” from musical Shuffle Along

Judges’ comments: Len: “Two things were revealed: Aliona’s midriff and your talent. If you can come out and do a Viennese waltz to that standard, you’ll be at the Tower Ballroom.” And what did the other judges have to say? WE’LL NEVER KNOW! For some strange reason, only Harry was denied a full first-round critique. Were the producers worried that the combination of Bruno, Harry and a sailor outfit would produce a pre-watershed disaaaaster?

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39

Overall: Great start to the show.


Alex and James – “Contender: ready!”

1098892-low_res-strictly-come-dancing2simply_so_soA nice retro GAH here with a “Gladiators” pastiche as underdog Alex fought back. Bring on the giant Q-tips! James lost their mock battle, just as he (hilariously) lost the Pro Dance Challenge – check it out here, from 6 minutes. The pair went all out on the Disney waltz sell, from Alex’s giant pink ruffled dress with glitter and angel wings (landing somewhere between Katie Price and a pimped-out flamingo) to the uber-cheesy routine. Still, it made for very pleasant viewing, with Alex at home in the ballroom and her footwork mainly hidden under the ruffle monster.

Song: “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, Aretha Franklin

Judges’ comments: Bruno called her “the belle of the ball – elegant, poised, graceful” and liked how in touch with James she was in their section out of hold. Craig noted her shoulders were raised and she missed heels leads and closes, but she’s come a long way. Len: “You looked beautiful, you danced beautiful [Ed: Argh! Alesha’s grammaritis is catching!], you deserve to be here.”

Judges’ scores: 7, 9, 9, 9 – 34

Overall: Charming.


Chelsee and Pasha – In full bloom

1099076-low_res-strictly-come-dancing2strictly_sensationalPasha’s clearly jealous of Artem’s patented Russian motivational phrasebook – he’s really been stepping up his game. This week (coming to an egg cup near you): “It’s double the time, double the work, double the pressure.” Did you get that, Chelsee? No, still on your phone. Right, that’s it, I’m confiscating Pasha. Another spying/crap disguise GAH. Moving on. Chelsee’s natural lyricism is really astonishing and Pasha made clever use of it in this emotive, fluid routine. I wasn’t wild about the straddling lift or drag split, otherwise absolutely gorgeous. (For amazing/wince-inducing drag splits, check out Mel B on “Dancing with the Stars”.)

Song: “Time After Time”, Cyndi Lauper. (Who else went to a Strictly Ballroom place? Ooh, speaking of which, do check out my best-ever dance films round-up and share your fave.)

Judges’ comments: Bruno thought she shone “like a south sea pearl” and loved her phrasing and sustained movement. Craig called her arms “exquisite” and delivered THE backhanded compliment of the series: “For someone so vertically challenged, you create beautiful long lines.” He wasn’t keen on the shoulder lift or drag split. Poetic Len thought it was “like the Chelsea Flower Show”, with Chelsee in “full bloom” and her movement like “daffodils blowing in the breeze”.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 10, 9 – 36

Overall: Another impressive performance.


Holly and Artem – Spin cycle

1099089-low_res-strictly-come-dancingstrictly_sensationalHolly’s GAH: sabotage. Given her inconsistency this series, that might actually be a good plan. Artem, meanwhile, had moved several degrees north of morose. He was the emotional equivalent of a snowdrift. Their swivel stool opening was potentially gimmicky, but actually turned out to be really interesting and effective, with revolving Holly creating a cool, sensual tableau that drew Artem in. Loved their quiet intensity and detailed, precise movement, but slightly lacking that extra oomph, although arguably that was more dramatic interpretation than the usual issues with Holly’s performance level.

Song: “Por una Cabeza”, Carlos Gardel, featured in Scent of a Woman (Which happens to be a favourite of Dance Today’s esteemed editor, Nicola Rayner, who got married last week – I like to think this was a subtle wedding gift. Many congratulations, Nicola!)

Judges’ comments: Craig loved the “quiet control”, “seductive chair rotation” and the fact that Holly was “reacting completely to Artem’s lead”. Len, not usually a lover of props, was impressed by the stool action and praised all the celebs for the high-standard performances. Bruno: “Beautiful, bad and dangerous, coiled on the chair, ready to strike.” He thought it was played extremely well “and I got it!”

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36

Overall: Captivating, but perhaps too subtle?


Jason and Kristina – I just can’t control my feet

1099213-low_res-strictly-come-dancingsimply_so_soOur manic Aussie was annoyed that Kristina waited until now to reveal these apparently unfamiliar words of wisdom: “Dance like nobody’s watching.” Really, Jason? This is news? We SO need to have a cheesy dance film marathon. Right after we watch Shrek with Chelsee. Oh yes, and their GAH involved a PI and Pink Panther music. (Shout out to The Grant, who tweeted that he would have done a Pink Panther Argentine tango. Sigh. I miss him.) Jason lost this week’s costume lottery and was stuck with salmon pink, while Kristina went for the Ola approach (less is more) and turned a fascinator into a skirt. They definitely went for it, but it was a tad drunk wedding and there was far too much goldfish mouth.

Song: “Blame It On The Boogie”, The Jackson 5 (Matt and Flavia’s music and performance disaster. Clever pick, as they’ll look better by comparison?)

Judges’ comments: Len loved seeing so many basic steps, “plus your bum was going to town!” But Jason lost the timing in his excitement. Bruno thought he got carried away and it was messy, but it was “more fun than Sydney Mardi Gras”. Craig praised the energy and bounce and combination of disco and samba, but “could have done without the awkward dad dancing moment”.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 8 – 34

Overall: A decent attempt at a difficult dance.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the ballroom… “Famous Five” VT. Horrendous wig. Dog costume. Sir Brendan. Almost salvaged by Russell and Craig. But then more Brendan. Dear God. Comic Strip satire it ain’t.


Harry and Aliona – Prince Harry (and Pippa)

1099252-low_res-strictly-come-dancingstrictly_sensationalSo, would the second-round VTs contain actual training footage? Pfft! Join me in a hollow laugh. Oh no, we were treated to the judges’ lengthy “Previously on ‘Strictly’…”, in which the level of insight wasn’t exactly mind-blowing. (“Harry has rhythm…because he’s a drummer.”) Aliona dressed as the mint toothpaste fairy for their Viennese waltz, which was simply beautiful – an unfussy routine that showcased Harry’s vastly improved lead and impressive sway. While there may not be much emotional connection between them, their dance partnership has definitely become one of the strongest of the series.

Song: “This Year’s Love”, David Gray

Judges’ comments: Bruno: “The prince and the showgirl! Romance unfolding with every step. Dancing royalty.” Craig liked the unconventional melancholy tone (a recession waltz, if you will), but wants Harry to place his head more to left and spot on his fleckerl. Len loved the traditional choreography and swing and sway, and morphed into Henry VIII: “Take him to the tower (ballroom, Blackpool)!”

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39

Overall: Contender for a perfect score?


Alex and James – Count me out

1099389-low_res-strictly-come-dancingstruggles_sparkleJudges’ insights: she’s improved. Good on her for getting this far. So, not backing her for the final, then? Their salsa had one of the most bizarre openings we’ve ever seen – Alex, dressed in a mac, sweeping and dancing with her broom, a scenario never explained nor referenced in the rest of the routine. Was she the Sorcerer’s Apprentice? The Worst Witch? Dick Van Dyke? She should really have kept the mac on, as her salsa dress was a Frankenstein eyesore – at least four different ideas mashed together, including a dangerous wardrobe malfunction invitation. Also an eyesore: her messy salsa, with lots of clapping and grinning at the audience, awkward lifts and James throwing her around.

Song: “1-2-3”, Gloria Estefan

Judges’ comments: Bruno: “You can come and scrub my floor any time.” He liked her letting her hair down, but she was too uncertain when dancing on her own. Craig thought the routine was “beyond your skill set”, but praised her for throwing herself into it. (Ouch. But true.) Len loved the gusto, but it “lost a bit of finesse”.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

Overall: Not semi-final level.


Chelsee and Pasha – Pasha doble

1099415-low_res-strictly-come-dancingstrictly_sensationalJudges’ insights: she can do everything. She’s good at Latin, she’s even good at ballroom. Yes, she can do everything. Chelsee sported a strange blue and white dress with corset lacing on her thigh, suggestive of a flag for a fetish club, but her performance was extremely convincing. Pasha’s strategy of building up solo work through the series really paid off, as he was able to use strong out-of-hold flamenco sections that contributed brilliantly to the dramatic framework of the dance. Great to see Chelsee so confident and daring in a style that didn’t come naturally to her, though still the odd step she didn’t quite nail and the fan was probably unnecessary.

Song: “Malaguena”, 101 Strings Orchestra

Judges’ comments: Craig: “Paso personified – a-maze-ing! You are the most incredible dancer. Gobsmackingly good.” Len loved the mood, attitude, focus between the two of them, shaping and varied pace – “Pasha doble, fantastic!” Bruno: “I could feel the continuous, relentless flow of heat, pressure and steam, like the build-up of a storm on the scorching plains of Andalucia.” He particularly loved the flamenco.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40

Overall: Wow! Deserving of first perfect score? Certainly came close for me.

A quick public service announcement: the “Strictly” final will be shown in 3D in selected cinemas. Bruce illustrated this by wearing 3D glasses with glitterballs that prevented him reading the autocue. As opposed to his normal, slick presenting style.


Holly and Artem – The shock of the new

1099610-low_res-strictly-come-dancing2simply_so_soJudges’ insights: Holly is talented but flat. Artem was injured. Now he’s better. The DJ opening of this Charleston made me cringe in anticipation of the disaster to follow, but this was actually a really interesting modern interpretation – not entirely successful, but that was really due to Holly being outfoxed by its complexity. Artem’s done a great job of matching choreography to her personality, but even he couldn’t hide the fact that a introverted performer doing an extroverted dance was always going to be a tough sell. Also a tough sell: Holly’s giant grey shorts.

Song: “We No Speak Americano”, Yolanda Be Cool & DCUP

Judges’ comments: Len, surprisingly, “grew to enjoy” their Charleston with a modern twist – it could have been slicker, but it was very entertaining. Bruno praised Artem for pushing the boundaries in fusing Charleston with street, but there were a few messy moments. Craig agreed that it was great to see them taking risks, “or we’d all be living in the 1950s” (well, Len still is), but it was “like Vegemite – you love it or you hate it”. Has Craig not come across Marmite, or does he have a sponsorship deal?

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 9 – 34

Overall: An exciting risk that didn’t quite come off.


Jason and Kristina – If ganchos could kill

1099623-low_res-strictly-come-dancingstrictly_sensationalJudges’ insights: Jason could sell ice to the Eskimos, but he puts too much pressure on himself. His face is Crazytown. This was a make-or-break tango after his so-so samba, and all credit to choreographer Kele Baker for this dark, dynamic number that gave the pair a relentless crescendo culminating in a show-stopping dramatic climax. Kristina got her femme fatale on in lingerie and lace, reminding us that just because she steered Sergeant round the floor, doesn’t mean she can’t be dangerously sexy when she wants to be, and Jason turned in his best performance to date, putting his overacting to good use in this aggressive, tempestuous duel. The high praise and standing ovation from Alesha were well deserved, but did it really top Mark and Karen’s tango?  Discuss!)

Judges’ comments: Alesha loved the seductive opening, effective build and great acting – “You owned that dance”. Bruno called it “death by Kristina”, praising the “ferocious, relentless attack” and “fight to the death – you won!” Craig: “I’d put that woman on an assault charge, darling. Incredible.” Len: “If you’re going to do your best dance of the series, what better time than the semi-final.”

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40

Overall: One of my favourites so far.



Harry and Aliona – 39 + 39 = 78

Chelsee and Pasha – 36 + 40 = 76

Jason and Kristina – 34 + 40 = 74

Holly and Artem – 36 + 34 = 70

Alex and James – 34 + 31 = 65

A fairly predictable final order, with Jason’s tango prowess lifting him into the top three. Interestingly, Harry didn’t get one of the night’s perfect scores but still finished top.



1099866-low_res-strictly-come-dancingSo, they managed to find enough pink fabric to create the world’s biggest skirt and several capes, but not enough to cover Kristina’s breasts? Energetic if slightly unfocussed pro paso to “Paint It Black – Unless You’re On “Strictly”, In Which Case Paint It Very, Very Pink”.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Remember Alex’s hideous salsa dress, born of scraps from other hideous dresses? Well, here’s the source of the red sequinned bit.

The recap, coming to us via the famous corridor. Does Len spend all his time between shows running laps of the studio? Does he owe someone money?

Speaking of which, Aloe Blacc and his rakish hat grooved to “I Need A Dollar”, as did Natalie, Brendan and another rakish hat. Artem, the originator of the “Strictly” rakish hat, called his solicitor.

First couples in the final: Chelsee and Pasha, and Harry and Aliona. STOP PRESS. Top-notch advice for the finalists: don’t stop believin’ (Bruno/“Glee”) and eat porridge (Alesha/Goldilocks). You heard it here first, people. Don’t stop believin’, eat porridge and dance like no one’s watching. Rules for life, I’d say.

Teases for next week – Pasha described their showdance as “funky” (which made both me and Claudia nervous) and Harry is jolly honoured to dance at Blackpool. STOP PRESS AGAIN.

Exhibition champions Craig Smith and Natalie Woolf did one of those technically impressive yet somehow unfortunate circus-cum-bedroom dances that our couples would do well not to emulate. (Lisa Snowdon learned that the hard way.)

Gems from Claudia, the judges and Len’s lens:

  • Harry’s Charleston made Len “relieve himself vocally”. What an unfortunate phrase. I may never look at him the same way again
  • Jason’s face will be charging overtime for his samba
  • Alex’s semi-Dirty Dancing lift wasn’t any more elegant in slo mo
  • Bruno and Alesha make a weird and wonderful couple
  • Series highlights: Ola’s swing elimination strop (Len), Bruno’s go-go dancing-cum-accidental assault (Alesha), Brucie jiving with/stalking Holly (Craig), Craig on wires “living the dream” as Brian May (Bruno), Brendan and Lulu showcasing their ropey partnership by completely mangling a high five (Claudia), and Claudia’s love affair with The Grant (Len)

Ah, I’m a sucker for Gareth Malone’s “The Choir” series – it’s the viewing equivalent of hugging a puppy – and the recent military wives edition was particularly tear-jerking. Vincent and Flavia’s lyrical interpretation of their beautifully sung “Wherever You Are”, which included elements of rumba, tango and waltz, was suitably lovely and emotional.

1100025-low_res-strictly-come-dancingThe first eliminated couple: Alex and James. STOP PRESS YET AGAIN. (Sorry. I know you guys have a deadline.) Gracious farewell speeches all round. Despite the emotional abuse in training, the pair really seem to like each other. Baffling.

Of course, the real tussle was between the Aussies. So, drum roll…final couple in the final: Jason and Kristina. And final eliminated couple: Artem and Holly. (Well, not final final. Just final for now. Hey, it’s the final next week!) More gracious farewell speeches, with Holly rightly recognising Artem’s gift as a choreographer and Artem thawing enough to offer praise. I officially upgrade him to room temperature.

What do you think? Did the right couples go through? Were the perfect scores deserved, and should Harry have joined the club? What are your predictions for the showdances? And who do you want to win?

Next week we’re off to Blackpool for what promises to be a very close final. Join me then to see if Brendan finds a way to sneak back in. In the meantime…keep dancing!

In the December issue of Dance Today, Marianka Swain interviews Jacky Logan about the Pink Dancers, Nicola Rayner looks at the making of “Strictly” costumes at DSI London and we suggest some festive snacks for next week’s final…

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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