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Strictly speaking

Posted on December 3, 2012

Week 9

The message of this week’s Strictly is that we must beware the ballroom gods. Sometimes they are benevolent, and bestow sequinned favours upon us, but sometimes we invoke their wrath. And the wrath of the ballroom gods is a terrible thing to behold.

Thus it came to pass that Kimberley, with her array of knee and hip injuries, had to contend with the physically taxing jive; Denise, who showed a chink in the armour with cha cha, and James, openly professing hatred for non-standard dances, the salsa; ballroom boy Michael the samba; Latin girl Lisa the quickstep; youngster Dani the Viennese; distinctly unsexy Nicky the Argentine tango; and, most gloriously of all, Louis, he of the lost personality, the character-driven Charleston.

This is a high-risk strategy, producers. Of course, such mismatches can result in astonishing breakthroughs or comic gold, but they can also result in a night of… meh. And as the show progressed, neither triumphs nor disaaaahsters were forthcoming. At the lower end of the scale, Michael’s samba was… kind of OK. Nicky’s tango was… uneventful. Lisa’s quickstep was… quick. At the higher end, Denise drifted down the leaderboard, but Dani and Kimberley didn’t leap over her; they just settled, contentedly, with decent 34s.

Now, I hate to cry conspiracy theory (who am I kidding! I love to cry conspiracy theory), but one could sense a certain air of desperation by the time we reached the show’s climax. Surely – SURELY – Olympian Louis would provide some fireworks? This is his MAKE OR BREAK dance! It will either be THE BEST THING EVER! Or THE WORST! One or the other! Vital television!

And it was… good. There were some great tricks. There was more than one facial expression. But if this performance appeared during a show filled with wonders sent down from the dance god heavens rather than as the scripted climax of a troubled night, would it really have had the same rapturous reception and storming scores? Us mere mortals shall never know.

Saturday

A reminder of Victoria AKA Miss Congeniality‘s departure. Yup, missing her already.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

I’m not sure which was more baffling – the profusion of rapper bling dwarfing the otherwise inoffensive blue strapless gown, or the limp hair straightened to within an inch of its life. Has someone bought new GHDs, perchance?


Kimberley and Pasha  – What’s up, doc?

kimberley-low_res-strictly-come-dancing-2012strictly_sensationalAs you know, I try to avoid commenting on “comedy” VTs because they make me SO ANGRY, but really, a giant bunny?? REALLY?? Kimberley paired short shorts and a sheepdog bra with challah bread hair for this jolly jive, which lost energy halfway and featured a few dodgy moments, but had confident, rhythmical movement and nice partnering. She may need more dynamics or a surprising element to really challenge.

Song: “Land Of A Thousand Dances”, Wilson Pickett

Judges’ comments: Len thought she managed both precision and exuberance, though her spins were off and she was clumsy going through Pasha’s legs. Bruno: “You were pumping it and bouncing it like a frisky rabbit!” Great energy and timing. Craig liked the fast, efficient footwork and synchronicity,but agreed on the legs manoeuvre. Darcey said she matched Pasha’s energy.

Judges’ scores: 9, 8, 8, 9 – 34

Overall: Another strong performance.


Dani and Vincent – Pizza for two

dani-low_res-strictly-come-dancing-2012strictly_sensational“Cinderella, you CAN go to the ball, but only if you sell your soul to Barbie! Oh, and your date is a Simpsons-level Italian stereotype!” If – and it’s a big if – you could look past the sparkly pink meringue ghastliness and casual mockery of other cultures, this was a surprisingly charming Viennese. Dani is now capable of producing a more mature ballroom performance and copes well with intricate choreography, picking out musical accents beautifully, but there was zero drive because there were zero heel leads. Vincent, either teach her some footwork or get her a longer skirt.

Song: “That’s Amore”, Dean Martin (COPYCAT KLAXON: Louisa Lytton and Vincent. Really, Vincent?)

Judges’ comments: Bruno, after a marvellous stream of Italian, praised them for adding colour to the dance that he’d never seen before. Craig agreed and loved the musicality, but it didn’t blow him away.Darcey wants Dani to curve her spine and show off her imaginary necklace. (If I were wearing Darcey’s travesty of a necklace, I’d be hunched over in a foetal position under a large cloak.) Len thought it was charming, throwing in his bit of Italian – “Bon Jovi.” Err, right.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 9 – 34

Overall: Gorgeous.


Michael and Natalie – Hips don’t lie

michael-low_res-strictly-come-dancing-2012simply_so_soYou have to hand it to them. It would have taken most viewers at least a minute to get past the costume madness on show before they could start to seriously judge Michael’s samba. Nat managed to be both practically naked AND adorned with a flock of bluebirds, psychedelic sparkles and carwash fringe, while Michael refashioned an 1980s rug into a tropical shirt. A wise precaution certainly, but the actual dance was mainly decent – rhythmical and relatively clean. Michael will never look natural doing any form of hip action, but the fact that this was bearable is a tribute to his commitment as a student and Nat’s as a teacher.

Song: “Tequila”, The Champs (COPYCAT KLAXON: Denise Lewis and Ian)

Judges’ comments: Craig criticised the free arm and hip thrusting. Darcey praised him for his hard work and outstanding improvement, loving the amount of content, but wasn’t keen on his hip action. Len agreed: “You never let your right hip know what your left hip’s doing!” Bruno, on a mission to out-camp Louis Spence, loved Michael’s “GAY ABANDON – are you finally TURNING… into a one-hip wonder? You’ve got to SWING BOTH WAYS!”

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 6, 6 – 24

Overall: A respectable effort.


Nicky and Karen  – Hard times

nicky-low_res-strictly-come-dancing-20122simply_so_soI’m getting Bond fatigue. We’ve had all the anniversary hoopla, and Roger Moore’s book, and the Olympics cameo, and Colin and Kristina’s ongoing shtick, but here’s yet another attempt to buy into Bond mania and/or ride on Ramps’ Argentine tango coattails.Unfortunately, Nicky looked more over-eager teenager at the school dance than suave spy as he grabbed at the few clothed parts of Karen in her Ann Summers Christmas tree attire. Some nice moments of brooding eye contact, otherwise this was mainly Nicky stamping like an angry toddler or trying to kick an invisible bear to death.

Song: “Skyfall”, Adele

Judges’ comments: Darcey enjoyed the intensity, but wanted more lust – “you can get a little hard” (unfortunate). She also criticised the hold and shaping. Len liked the lifts, but it was too ballroom tango: sharp, staccato, stamping. Bruno: “A lot of people like it that hard!” Craig praised the storytelling, but it was too aggressive and stompy.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, “007”, 8 – 30

Overall: Could do better.


Lisa and Robin – Fun in the sun

lisa-low_res-strictly-come-dancing-2012simply_so_soNow, I know Lisa’s been cast in the role of happy camper,but does she really need to ram that home with a giant banana dress? Her quickstep was as buoyant and smiley as we would expect, though her hold still comes and goes and she got out of sync in the kicks twice. The messy, slapstick Morecambe and Wise finish really summed up the ambitions of this piece – fun, not finesse. Can she raise her technique to the same level as her performance? Time’s running out…

Song: “Bring Me Sunshine”, Jive Aces

Judges’ comments: Len thanked her for bringing “a bit of sunshine” to the show. Bruno praised her bright personality – “I need sunshades!” – and paid tribute to her ending by falling off his chair and re-emerging with Nat’s feathered headdress – “That’s for later!” Craig said it was a bit heavy and messy, but liked the energy. Darcey noted her topline collapsed, but it was fast and light.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

Overall: Enjoyable.


Denise and James – The rhythm is gonna get you

denise-low_res-strictly-come-dancing-2012simply_so_soI’m sure James felt MUCH happier about the salsa after this VT of Denise mocking his shimmies. And the VT on It Takes Two mocking his shimmies. I’m just waiting for the Newsnight investigation into his shimmies. Anyhow, this was the most awkward and manic Denise has ever looked. Her spins were slick, as always, but she lacked hip action and groove, there were a few fumbles, it wasn’t remotely sexy (not helped by her flag dress and Regency wig hair), and one of the lifts hit a marvellously unflattering, practically gynaecological pose. Still, perhaps a dud dance will endear her to the public?

Song: “Rhythm Of The Night”, Valeria (COPYCAT KLAXON: Louisa Lytton and Vincent)

Judges’ comments: Bruno thought it was hot and spicy, but there were some near misses and her hips need to be more luscious and flowing.James then owned up to blanking at one point, which delighted Craig. He thought it was too spiky, but praised her spins. Darcey got hot and bothered over James’s shimmies, but didn’t like Denise’s. Len thought they recovered well.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32

Overall: Not their best.


Louis and Flavia – Return of the prodigal son

louis_low_res-strictly-come-dancing-2012strictly_sensationalThis has to be the most heavily scripted segment of the series. Plenty of SAD MUSIC. Louis is in TROUBLE. It could be THE END. So,let’s bring in an acting coach, finally! That idea only occurred to us in Week 9! But can he help Louis? CAN HE? THE STAKES ARE SO HIGH! This wasn’t an emotional breakthrough so much as Flavia realising she could choreograph Louis’s face, but it gave us plenty of fun camera-mugging moments. In fact, I’d say this number was 50 per cent camera mugging, 40 per cent gymnastics and 9 per cent Flavia’s adorable cloche hat, with a mere 1 per cent pure Charleston, but at least it wasn’t dull. Fake it till you make it, Louis!

Song: “Dr Wanna Do”, Caro Emerald

Judges’ comments: Craig thought he used his acrobatic skills wisely and at long last showed some personality. Darcey called him “a silent movie star” and thought the tricks had the wow factor. Len praised him for coming out and performing. Bruno: “Doctor, doctor, my heart is pounding! Do you do house calls?” He loved that Louis matched ability with personality, making him “a true contender”.

Judges’ scores: 8, 10, 9, 10 – 37

Overall: A definite improvement.


Leaderboard

Louis and Flavia – 37

Dani and Vincent – 34

Kimberley and Pasha – 34

Denise and James – 32

Lisa and Robin – 31

Nicky and Karen – 30

Michael and Natalie – 24

Louis rockets up, Denise falls from grace and Nicky drops down. Still, we’ve had a consistent lead group for a while (Denise, Kimberley, Dani), so I reckon they’re fighting it out with Louis for final places, barring major disaaaaahsters.


Sunday

Well, we’re forgoing ballroom altogether. But who wouldn’t want to see the pros dropping in on a 1920s jazz club? A particular highlight of this super-sexy semi-Charleston was the battle of the blondes as Ola and Kristina tried to out-vamp one another. IN A FRIENDLY WAY, obvs.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Clashing pink and orangey-beige sequins in a hideously unflattering silhouette. Oh Tess. Do you want to look like you have a fatal skin disease? DO YOU?

The recap recapped. It’s baffling that the show gets shorter each week, with fewer couples, yet somehow the recap gets longer. Or it just FEELS longer.

Safe couples: Louis and Flavia’s hat, and Lisa and Robin. In the dance-off: Michael and Natalie.

More ITV refugees wandered onto our screens, namely “that other show” also-rans JLS, stylin’ out school uniforms for an M&S campaign. Not sure this single will change music history.

Claudia, the judges and Len’s lens highlights:

  • Len grinning like a loon during Lisa’s quickstep
  • The frankly creepy giant bunny upstaging the judges
  • Bruno having a “moment” with the feathered headdress

More safe couples: Denise and James, Dani and Vincent, and Kimberley and Pasha. In the dance-off: Nicky and Karen.

Alfie Boe did a sterling job warbling the hell out of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, but was entirely ignored while we salivated over the return of two beautiful creatures: semi-naked Aliona and Artem’s bare chest. Oh, and some rather lovely rumba.

An important announcement from Uncle Len: next week is dance fusions! This was kind of a hot mess on Dancing with the Stars, with some lunatic combos: samba/rumba! Cha cha/paso! Argentine tango/samba! (No, really). Only Shawn Johnson lucked out with paso/tango.

So, whether this is all-new dances for the celebs or styles they already know, the big question is whether the pros can find some sanity in the whole enterprise. And, of course, whether we actually WANT a dance fusion week or if this will rival Wembley for sheer awfulness. (And whether the addition of another gimmick means the new producers have now entirely lost faith in our ability to enjoy the show we’ve been devoted to for ten series…)

3309397-low_res-strictly-come-dancing-2012The dance-off, and the sad end to Michael and Nicky’s bromance – the closest thing we’ve had to a showmance this series. Both performances were slightly stronger, with Nicky reining in the manic.

Craig saved the couple who were “sensational” second time around – Nicky and Karen.

Darcey thought they both upped their game, but saved Nicky and Karen.

Bruno saved the couple with a “license to THRILL” –  Nicky and Karen.

Len agreed.

Ah, sad to see Michael and Nat go, but they’ve had a good innings and other cricketing stuff.

What do you think? Were the right couples in the bottom? Who’s looking like a finalist? And what do you make of the dance fusion addition to proceedings? See you next week to either marvel or scoff. 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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