Posted on November 19, 2012
Ah, Strictly’s Wembley Week – a party to which the TV viewers are not invited. “It’s a brilliant atmosphere here!” people howled at us with increasing levels of desperation (and from the bottom of a lake in 1964 if the sound was anything to go by).
In order to reassure us that this was indeed a BIG venue with plenty of EXCITEMENT, cameras swooped around randomly like hawks with ADHD (“Ooh, something shiny!”), rendering the ant-like dancers pretty much superfluous amidst a sea of psychedelic graphics, while the band fought against a baying crowd and occasional bouts of marvellously out-of-time clapping.
Further compounding our misery, another vague X Factor-esque theme loomed over proceedings – “Dancing through the decades” – while Bruce returned to shout his old-fashioned, vaguely offensive cracker gags at us – “Joking through the decades”. And who wants more Brucie-led “Gangnam Style”?
No one. No one does.
Meanwhile, Darcey summed up most viewers’ increasing crankiness with a delightful descent into bitchery. In between strained “yah”s, she sarcastically applauded former favourite Louis for his “tacky tricks”, told Kimberley to try doing more sit-ups and suggested Victoria focus on the exit signs. Quite.
Crazy aerial entrance to set the tone for Whacked-out Wembley Week? Check! Craig and Bruno dressed as pilots for their high-wire act, accompanied by budget airline-costumed pros, before the group dance limped “through the decades” to its inevitable hammy school disco climax. Louis and Victoria (co-captains of Olympic cheer) lifted the number to another level of euphoria by alternately grimacing and glaring throughout.
Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Halloween Week’s over, Tess! Too late for that Dynasty-meets-Victorian brothel madam-cum-wicked witch costume!
Lisa and Robin – Stuck in second gear
Of course, the big question this week was: who will replace Topless Artem as Strictly’s Page 3 Boy? Robin made a strong challenge with his half-open Huckleberry Finn dungarees, while Lisa went for cyclist visibility in an array of radioactive hues and finger-in-socket hair. As always, their disco-y side-by-side work was joyful and fun and her split finish was impressive, but it could have used more samba content and tighter technique, plus a glaring error led to Robin stamping on her foot.
Song: “Car Wash”, Rose Royce
Judges’ comments: Len, master of the PC critique: “Your headlamps were gleaming and your bumpers were polished!” Loved the performance but wanted more technique and finesse. Bruno enjoyed it because her personality shone through. Craig thought it was “big, bold and beautiful”, but she lost timing. Darcey liked the energy, but wanted more bounce.
Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32
Overall: Jolly start, but more of the same. Still.
Nicky and Karen – Repeat offenders
There’s a strong sense of jeopardy with Nicky’s performances, if nothing else – I really thought his limp jump off the judges’ desk might end in complete disaaaahster. Speaking of which, surely the sleeveless denim shirt was enough of a handicap without adding Jedward hair? Karen (whose interpretation of “prison warden” includes 50 petticoats and a family of blackbirds) gave him another showy but messy routine – plenty of jive steps, dreadful execution. This manic display ended with the pair pointing to a prop record labelled “criminal record”, which was both a fair assessment of Westlife and a long way to go for a pun.
Song: “Jailhouse Rock”, Elvis (COPYCAT KLAXON: Dennis Taylor and Izabela, Christine Bleakley and Matthew)
Judges’ comments: Bruno “Everybody loves a rebel!” Loved the rock ‘n’ roll style (note: not jive), but wanted more accuracy. Craig called it flat-footed and stompy with no retraction in the flicks, but liked the energy. Darcey thought Nicky’s tight hamstrings hampered the kicks, suggesting Karen should get him on the floor and stretch him out. (…) Len offered no criticism because it was a great rock ‘n’ roll (note: not jive).
Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 8, 8 – 30
Overall: Fun, if messy, rock ‘n’ roll (note: not jive).
Denise and James – It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world
Well. Perhaps you just had to be there. From where I was sitting, this was a totally bizarre concoction – the fish fingers and custard of dances. Yes, it’s a loopy song. Yes, Charleston is a loopy dance. BUT THE TWO DO NOT BELONG TOGETHER. I mean… this was just surreal. Yes? It’s not just me? Oh, of course uber-pro Denise did a great Joseph audition and James was enjoyably idiotic in knee socks, but… fish fingers and custard.
Song: “Walk Like An Egyptian”, The Bangles
Judges’ comments: Craig called it “the best Charleston I’ve ever seen”. Darcey loved the polished performance and brilliant choreography. Len made a squirm-inducing “Tutankha-MOON” gag, and Bruno called her “the Queen of the Nile”.
NOTE: After spending the week slagging off the Charleston choreographers, at this point James retracted his earlier comments and gave them full credit for this (peculiarly) high-scoring dance. KIDDING!
Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 (NOTE 2: a 9 from Craig for the best Charleston he’s ever seen? Take that, perfect-scoring Chris Hollins!)
Overall: Surreal. Yes?
Louis and Flavia – Taking the “ooh” out of smooth
I fear Flavia has given up on emotional performance altogether. Rather than a stylish, romantic smooth with lovely partnering, she gave Louis some frantic quickstep and a bizarre solo freestyle section with pommel horse tricks. Not even Louis’s combination of wife-beater and suspenders could win over a baffled crowd. Is Flavia failing to find a connection, or is Louis the sulky teenager bored with this dancing lark? Either way, the former favourites could be in real trouble.
Song: “I Got A Woman”, Ray Charles (COPYCAT KLAXON: Rachel Stevens and Vincent)
Judges’ comments: Darcey, queen of backhanded compliments, praised them for their “different” style of smooth and “tacky tricks”, though suggested saving the latter for the final. (If they’re lucky…) Len was confused and didn’t get the smooth part at all. Bruno was surprised they didn’t go more lyrical and called it “a cop out”. Contrary Craig liked the risk.
Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 7 – 30
Overall: Odd. Very odd. Hey, there’s a theme emerging!
Richard and Erin – Island fever
Erin doesn’t do tropical gay cruises, but if she did, they would probably be the best tropical gay cruises in the world. She and Richard competed with light-up palm trees, feverish graphics and back-up dancers dressed only in itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow trunks, who both joined in the casual salsa and distracted from it (what can you do when chillin’ out in your rubber ring but raise your pineapple to the heavens?), climaxing with Richard violently voting her off the island and hurling himself at the bathing beauties. I love Erin, but this wasn’t so much a dance as the embodiment of heatstroke.
Song: “Club Tropicana”, Wham!
Judges’ comments: Len called it “fun in the sun”. Bruno laughed all the way through, but the technique was sketchy. Craig pointed out timing, footwork and hip action problems, but liked the backing dancers. Richard squawked about his VPL, at which point Darcey brought it back to a family-friendly place by asking if he’d ditched his underwear altogether. Bruce, angry that VPL was not included on his “modern speak” flashcards, shut down the banter pronto.
Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 7, 6 – 24
Overall: Odd. Surreal. Mad. Hey, it’s Wembley Week!
Victoria and Brendan – Phone home
This has to be the biggest anticlimax in Strictly history. After enormous build-up to Victoria’s ET entrance, the flying bike was a dodgy blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair followed by 300 bars of tangled Brendan capework while her wires were unhooked. Oh and did I mention the Union Flag cape and Victoria’s hideous Union Flag jumpsuit-cum-smock? If you have any doubts about your wafty paso that consists mainly of jumping over invisible hurdles, in-yer-face patriotic Olympic styling is the way to go! Sidenote: no improvement in Victoria’s performance ability, but Brendan now shares her look of pain. As do we all.
Song: “Bicycle Race”, Queen
Judges’ comments: Bruno: “The bike didn’t make it all the way to Spain!” Her shaping wasn’t right and the stag leaps too ambitious. Craig agreed and noted her posture was off. Darcey thought she lost focus – “I always focus on the exit signs.” (Brendan, with feeling: “We might do that later.”) Len disagreed, saying her basics and arm placement were decent.
Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 7, 6 – 24
Dani and Vincent – Pretty in pink
Hey, it’s some vaguely normal dancing! What is this doing at Wembley?! The tiny twosome, who lost a confectionary-related bet and thus had to dress as candy floss and a magenta stick of rock, trotted happily round the floor in a largely gimmick-free number. Dani coped well with a packed, frenetic routine (quickstep…Vincent…red rag…bull), maintaining neat footwork and a decent hold. A welcome relief during this night of weirdness.
Song: “You Can’t Hurry Love”, The Supremes (COPYCAT KLAXON: Will Thorpe and Hanna)
Judges’ comments: Craig: “Fast, efficient, fearless – I loved it.” Darcey praised them for “eating up the dancefloor” with light, clean movement. Len loved the quantity of steps and quality of movement, labelling Dani “Little Miss Dynamite”. Bruno adored the Motown touches, but they never lost the style of “a classic quickstep”.
Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36
Overall: Fantastic performance.
Kimberley and Pasha – Hot stuff
Isn’t it embarrassing when you get loo paper tucked into your knickers? Magnify that by 100 and you have fringe fairy Kimberley’s stylish entrance! Pasha entered the Strictly Page 3 Boy race with his unbuttoned silky bowling shirt and gave her a sultry, musical samba with a great variety of steps and – natch – equal amounts booty shaking and hairography. I’m not entirely convinced by their “sexy” chemistry, but they’re definitely fun to watch.
Song: “Livin’ La Vida Loca”, Ricky Martin
Judges’ comments: Darcey adored the carnival spirit and isolations, but suggested Kimberley do more sit-ups to strengthen her core. Len: “If you’re in the dance-off tomorrow night, I’ll pickle me walnuts.” Bruno: “I love it when you flash it and flaunt it! Hot to the point of fusion – my core is imploding.” Craig praised her for coping well with the challenging rhythms and cross-section of steps, and made a plea to voters.
Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 9 – 34
Michael and Natalie – Bright lights, big city
Once again, Nat’s number looked like it belonged on a different, less ITV-manic show. Yes, there was a random chorus line, but the focus was firmly on the pair’s old-fashioned, razzle-dazzle, utterly charming smooth, complete with high kicks, big smiles and even bigger lifts. Michael is still happier in hold (a few odd arm movements when left on his own) and he occasionally let his concentration show, but their natural partnership and sense of achievement through hard work made this a total joy.
Song: “New York, New York”, Frank Sinatra (COPYCAT KLAXON: Colin Jackson and Erin)
Judges’ comments: Len: “You put the ‘ooh’ in smooth.” Loved the transitions and production and thought it justified being the last dance. Bruno agreed that they lived up to the production and it was a great finale, apart from the odd moment when Michael broadcast his fear. Craig praised their hard work, and Darcey loved the Fred ‘n’ Ginger glamour and amazing lifts.
Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 8 – 35
Denise and James – 39
Dani and Vincent – 36
Michael and Natalie – 35
Kimberley and Pasha – 34
Lisa and Robin – 32
Nicky and Karen – 30
Louis and Flavia – 30
Victoria and Brendan – 24
Richard and Erin – 24
Denise stayed on top, while Michael made a big leap upwards and the Olympians slid down.
Do you think Denise and her lunatic Charleston deserved the first 10s over other standouts like Dani and Michael? If, like me, you feel the judges slightly favour her, are they actually in danger of turning the audience against her, a la strong dancers in series past? (Zoe, Emma etc…)
This opening diner/funfair medley either got you in a super happy mood (just like those cool kids at Wembley!) or scared the hell out of you with its giant skittles and cackling clowns. I bet Steven Moffat was measuring the scale of Twitter terror and taking notes…
Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Oh Tess. Why would you want your shapeless mini dress to look like bejewelled mucus? Why? Claudia, always faithful to the lacy LBD, went for a prom dress version.
The recap recapped, with the amazing addition of normal people entering Wembley. TV gold!
Safe couples: Dani and Vincent, Michael and Natalie, Lisa and Robin, and Denise and James. In the dance-off: Richard and Erin.
Girls Aloud donned glitterball frocks to shriek out their Children in Need single. The gist of it, I believe, is that we girls gonna run this show. Subtext: watch out, Bruce. Claudia is coming.
Claudia, the judges and Len’s lens highlights
More safe couples: Victoria and Brendan, Louis and Flavia, and Kimberley and Pasha. In the dance-off: Nicky and Karen.
Kylie, eternally youthful queen of pop, glued shards of mirror to herself for a rendition of “Locomotion” and forced her back-up dancers into corsets and hotpants – girls and guys. I fear this may be a precursor to Strictly Burlesque Week. (Who am I kidding? Every week is Strictly Burlesque Week.)
Dance-off time. Richard and Erin were no less demented the second time round. Nicky’s jive was no less scrappy.
Craig saved Nicky for his exuberance and energy.
Darcey, likewise, saved Nicky for energy.
Bruno saved Nicky for power and content.
What do you think? Did the madness of Wembley make for good viewing? Or are you looking forward to a return to the studio and (relative) normality? See you next week for more topless contests, warring partnerships and flashes of ballroom bliss. In the meantime… keep dancing!
The November issue of Dance Today features interviews with Denise Van Outen and Aliona Vilani, while Marianka Swain writes on major ballroom centres around the world. We have a HALF PRICE offer for new subscribers – get 12 issues for the price of six (£11.70) if you subscribe before January 31. Call 020 7250 3006 to subscribe.