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Strictly speaking

Posted on December 2, 2013

Week 10

“We will not have another disaaaahstrous week,” they said. “We will have jazz hands, and the movie musical equivalent of Stars in Their Eyes, and Ann Summers’ take on a Disney dressing-up box!” they said. “We will have props, and pizzazz, and incongruous ghostly backing dancers, and the hills will be alive with the sound of unearned 10s!” they said.

And what the producers want, the producers get. Now, I’m not saying Musicals Week was a total bust. After all, we had Susanna falling foul of ANOTHER sofa, Mark’s Simba samba, Craig’s Phantom of the Campera and the escalation of Pivot Warz (this week’s victor: spinny Sophie. Runner-up: Ashley, as Ola even managed to get them in a rumba).

What was missing was ballroom dancing. In the battle for the choreographer’s soul, Artem took the baton from Brendan, but was so determined to change the world through MEANGINGFUL REACHING, he forgot the foxtrot. Aljaz dismissed salsa altogether and bafflingly – I repeat, BAFFLINGLY – landed a perfect score for wedding-dance disco; Kevin sold the tap better than the slivers of quickstep; Ola interpreted rumba as static smoulder; and Anya… had Charleston.

Brendan, alone, choreographed and taught an entire ballroom dance. And his strained smile during Aljaž and Abbey’s 10-fest was a thing of beauty. I suppose the big question is, how do you, loyal viewers, feel about the show’s identity crisis? Are you getting ballroom fatigue? Do you want Strictly to go the way of Dancing with the Stars and introduce other styles? In which case, do we need new pros with a more varied dance background? I mean, no one wants to see Anton doing hip hop. Yes? Yes. Quite. SHUDDER.

Or, if we decide we rather like Strictly as it is, perhaps the small child running around the control room hitting all the buttons and howling for MORE GAMES and MORE GLITTER could kindly take their ADHD medication and give us a rest. We promise we won’t change channel. You don’t have to take our eyes hostage and stew them in sugar.

Best in Show

  • Best performance: Sophie’s Viennese waltz Purely on the basis that it’s an actual ballroom dance. Brendan’s choreo was like Ronseal: does exactly what it says on the tin.
  • Best costume: Mark and Iveta’s his ‘n’ hers lions Not sure which I loved more: Mark’s children’s entertainer Cowardly Lion orange felt get-up with sparkly bib and milk goatee, or Iveta pairing fringed mini with fur collar and cuffs and a wild mane held back by plaited pretzels. As you do.
  • Best move: Ashley’s weirdly languid carpet ride It had all the pace (and all the magic) of a creaking Circle Line train during Engineering Works Season. ’Tis the season to be severely delayed.
  • Best line: Len’s “I’m a wind-up watch in a digital world.” What does that make Brucie – a partially eroded sundial?

In other news, the swingathon returns next week. Is there a swingathon fansite somewhere? A burgeoning online petition? People sporting “Swingathon’s the Thing!” T-shirts and tattoos? I’ve only read (or contributed to) griping about it, so either small child in the control room is unfamiliar with Google or they’re deliberately trolling us with the grim determination and tone-deaf self-assurance of Piers Morgan.


Saturday

 

I blame the “Anything Goes” opening number for the subsequent choreography and scoring weirdness. As we know, Strictly is a literal land. (See: Kristina fallin’ during “Fallin’”; Sophie’s “favourite things” props; everything Ola has done since the dawn of time.)

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Poor Tess’s dress. It’s pining for the fjords. It’s gone to meet its maker. It’s joined the choir invisible. It is an ex-dress. We know this because it is the greyish hue of final expiration and the craft-project bodice hears the siren call of the grave. Either that or the sequinned pipe cleaners adorning it have the mass of an anvil.


Patrick and Anya – In the fast lane

 

5244629-low-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soThere was a terrible flying car VT, because of course there was. Anya wore a bonnet with a magnificent air of sufferance. Once on the floor, she traded that in for a ruffled lampshade cover and Patrick got an actual car to play with, because of course he did, before a crazily frenetic Charleston with terrifying Cheshire cat grins and Patrick burning a hole in my skull with the force of his CHARACTER EYES. Decent swivel action, if untidy, shoulders up sometimes, high energy, lifts still look like hard work, but enjoyable opening.

Song: “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Judges’ comments: Len called it a showstopper. (Not now, Len – it took Brucie half an hour to get the show going.) Bruno made some sort of Grand Prix comparison. Craig loved the vaudeville, rollover lift and character, but noted the speed meant he was flat-footed and the last lift was unstable. Darcey thought it was fast and wild with difficult timing, but he nailed it.

Judges’ scores: 8, 10, 10, 10 – 38

Overall: Harried.


Natalie and Artem – No holds barred

 

5244564-low-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soHey, Artem, remember when Natalie evoked a measure of audience sympathy with that whole back injury? Yeah. Maybe not a VT involving trapezes, mm-kay? Also not helping: a routine that confirms our view of her as slick, sleek, theatrical and impossible to relate to i.e. quintessential stage-school ringer. In theory, this was an American smooth, but more lyrical jazz than anything else, with strong, graceful movement, manufactured chemistry and slightly samey HIGH DRAMA. Artem emoted manfully through his sparkly Liberace smoking jacket; Natalie over-emoted epically through her diseased smurf gown and Stegosaurus ringlets; and the performance, while impressive, left me rather cold. Perhaps time for a change of strategy, Artem?

Song: “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls

Judges’ comments: Bruno loved her fluidity, shapes, accents and “sublime” storytelling. Craig liked the crucifix lift and sharp, clean movement, but wanted more in hold and less telegraphing lifts. Darcey thought she had beautiful light and shade, but agreed on the lifts. Len said they lost the dance: “Too much swooshing, not enough foxtrotting.”

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 8, 10 – 36

Overall: Affected.


Mark and Iveta – Nine lives

 

5244856-low-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soGiven Iveta’s amazing role play during their Lion King field trip, I was disappointed not to see her casually gnawing on a bloodied elk while they got their patronising critiques, à la Karen and her Carmen Miranda banana. Another joyful outing from the triple-dance-off survivors, albeit a rather community theatre one, with enthusiastic shimmies, a smidge of samba basics, the requisite bendy Iveta hammer throw and a weird bonus in the form of nameless backing dancers squeezed into horrifying zebra-print yoga pants. Better on entertainment than dance, but given the other routines this show, weirdly landed on the “trad ballroom” end of the spectrum. I can only imagine Iveta’s fury.

Song: “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” from The Lion King

Judges’ comments: Craig thought it was full of rhythm and camp, and technically his best dance, if a bit flat-footed. Darcey said he’s still the cheeky king of the show. Len called him a great big bundle of joy. Bruno praised his performance value, storytelling and samba content, but needed more bounce.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7, 8 – 29

Overall: Endearing.


Sophie and Brendan – Back in the habit

 

5244817-low-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalAfter a fairground field trip (during another “Viennese involves spinning? Spinning makes you dizzy? My god, alert New Scientist!” VT), Sophie won a host of new fans by embracing the musical theatre geek within, delighting in her Maria von Trapp nightie and singing along as she cradled her literal props. Brendan plunged them into hold as soon as humanly possible and she just about hung on during strong, sweeping basics and enough pivots to fashion a crop circle. Left shoulder Quasimodo-like and footwork a tad skippy, but a nice no-frills (bar the dress) number that puts them back in contention.

Song: “My Favourite Things” from The Sound of Music

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised Sophie’s composure, but wants her to work on her neck. Len’s favourite things – rotation, pivots and fleckerls – present and correct, but agreed on the neck. Bruno liked the purity of style, and wants the same confidence in Latin. Craig said her arms need more tone out of hold, but fantastic chemistry.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36

Overall: Lovely.


Abbey and Aljaž – Hustle and bustle

 

5245041-low-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soWell, look. If we’re judging solely on best karaoke version of iconic routine, this tops the board, as Louis Smith’s Dirty Dancing knock-off salsa did last year. (Hey, it’s almost as if the pros have nothing but contempt for salsa!) This was total Travolta fangasm, with copycat costumes, oh-so-80s spiral perm, coloured disco floor, club vibe with anonymous extras and ginormous mirror ball subtly linking the concepts of “Abbey” and “trophy”. Everyone looked like they were having fun (particularly Aljaž’s eyebrows), so I can’t blame the judges for wanting to join in. But 10s for a non-existent salsa with non-existent hip action and untidy lifts? I would call it Faux fusion, but it doesn’t even qualify – it was pure disco.

Song: “You Should Be Dancing” from Saturday Night Fever

Judges’ comments: Len was happy to see everyone up their game. Bruno called her a disco diva and thought she matched the pro girls. Craig: “A-maze-ing!” Darcey said she oozed confidence – five-star routine.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40

Overall: Controversial.


Ashley and Ola – Arabian nights

 

5244976-low-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleIt’s official. Ashley has won Family prop points – but lost his soul – with the following: after handing adorable toddler a prop magic lamp, cooing, “So, Daddy winning Strictly, would that be one of your wishes?” Oof. They’ve succumbed to the soap curse (soap giving celeb more storylines to capitalise on Strictly popularity, but leaving them no time to actually train), so Ola packed their rumba with filler: Ashley flogging carpets for about 20 minutes, floor spin, knee slide, pivots, weird semi-split and multiple slow-mo gyrating sessions with her drag queen-bewigged Princess Jasmine. Not sure this is what Uncle Walt had in mind. Lacked basics and technical detail, but exemplary distraction.

Song: “A Whole New World” from Aladdin

Judges’ comments: Bruno: “Exotic with a touch of the erotic.” Praised Ashley for framing Ola, but wanted more hip action. Craig agreed and not enough expression in his arms. Darcey: “You told a very real story of love.” (Ah, the age old “First date on a flying carpet with a slutty version of Disney cartoon hero/heroine”. We’ve all been there.) Len said he took command, but lacked hip action.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35

Overall: Coarse.


Susanna and Kevin – The morning after

 

5245158-low-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soSusanna added a few Family prop points of her own with a skipping rope lesson from cute sons (one taking after Mum in the OTT cheesy department, the other gloriously jaded, like a mini Noël Coward). This dance had the potential to be a series favourite, but – unusually for Susanna – rather fell apart, with frame, footwork, rhythm and synchronicity all suffering in a super-speedy quickstep with frequent tap breaks. Still buoyant and dynamic, but noticeable drunken Nancy-esque stumbles, particularly in the precarious sofa big finish. Perhaps Kevin needs to take it down a notch? The public love them, so simpler content joyously delivered is pretty unbeatable. And – as we’ve seen – confidence that suggests perfection is quite enough to elicit perfect scores…

Song: “Good Morning” from Singin’ in the Rain

Judges’ comments: Craig noted sloppy footwork and kicks out of sync. Darcey thought she captured the Debbie Reynolds role, great content and energy, but mistakes. Len called it “a blockbuster of a quickstep”. Bruno praised her zest: “Newsreader by day, musical star by night!”

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 9, 9 – 33

Overall: Eventful.


Leaderboard

 

Abbey and Aljaž – 40

Patrick and Anya – 38

Natalie and Artem – 36

Sophie and Brendan – 36

Ashley and Ola – 35

Susanna and Kevin – 33

Mark and Iveta – 29

In a topsy-turvy week, Abbey takes pole position and Sophie and Patrick improve, while previous favourites Natalie and Susanna slip down. Interesting to note that Sophie (fairly flawless, bar the neck issue) ended up with the same score as Natalie (no foxtrot, lift problems). Brendan’s wife Zoe took to Twitter to express her dissatisfaction: “Maybe judges could make note of what they’ve scored so far in show so they don’t end up scoring same 4 dance that went wrong as 1 that didn’t.”


Sunday

 

“Right here is where you start paying – in dignity!” Fame music, but lots of odd tomato car-wash fringe and unfathomable movement. I’d say it’s 80s-tastic, but so is every week on this show.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

LBDs with accompanying headbands and leg warmers for both presenters – Claudia fully embracing it, Tess bristling like head girl wearing mufti to raise money for a terribly worthwhile cause. Ironically, it’s the best she’s looked all series.

It feels like just last week I was bemoaning the plethora of bland popera acts and accompanying lyrical angst. OH WAIT – IT WAS. Anyhow, the producers did not take my sage advice (or they’re on some kind of “buy one, get six free” deal with Classic FM), so we had Alfie Boe crooning “Bring Him Home” next to a giant harp while Kevin and Karen wafted about in wafty white clothes. Sigh.

Len’s lens highlights:

  • Len solemnly defended his choice to score Natalie an 8 for lack of foxtrot. Totes with you there, Len… #spotthesalsa
  • Darcey’s shock at Craig’s 10. Yup. I punched a hole in my wall. (Cold now.)

In the dance-off: Mark and Iveta, and Ashley and Ola. Tense tense tense. Or not. Ashley faffed undoing his flying carpet seatbelt (oh, the magic!), otherwise similar performances. Sidenote: Ashley’s annoying head tilt reappeared. Is it stress-related, or is he following the gleaming path of Ola’s tangoed cleavage?

Anyhow, everyone saved Ashley, of course. Truly sad to lose Mark and Iveta, one of my favourite couples this year, but The Time Has Come. If there’s any justice in the world, Iveta will get the ringiest of ringers next year.

What did you think of Musicals Week? Did Abbey deserve a perfect score? Were the right two in the dance-off? And are you looking forward to the swingathon? Leave your thoughts below or visit me on Twitter: @mkmswain

Join me next week for the Brucie-free quarter-final (huzzah!). In the meantime… keep dancing!

Simon Oliver has been production editor of Dancing Times since 2010 and is highly experienced in design across print and online magazine production. Throughout his career, Simon has worked on a diverse range of subjects including music, family history, book collecting and poker.

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