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Strictly speaking

Posted on November 3, 2014

Week 6

openerOh Strictly Halloween Week, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways…

  • Idiotic VTs If I comment on every single one of these, I will cry. Instead, each am-dram fright with the production values of a 1970s training video will be ranked on a scale of 1 to 10 – 1 being dumb, 10 making me want to start Googling “Hitman offering special seasonal rate”.
  • Styling atrocities When asking people to vote for you, it helps if they can, you know, actually SEE you. But no! Let’s turn the show into a Gothic Where’s Wally? If you can identify any of the celebs embalmed in greasepaint, you win a prize. The prize being the name of the ADHD toddler who applied it while simultaneously rocking out to “Let It Go”.
  • Monstrous music Logic in music selection hasn’t been a series strong point. Adding a Halloween slant is a bit like rewarding a struggling alcoholic by plying them with cheap absinthe. And then setting them on fire.
  • Spot the ballroom Well, look. Obviously the show is part entertainment. But in year when a good proportion of the cast are talented dancers, and most of the others are keen to learn, it’s both cruel and senseless to keep prioritising random lunacy. O hear me, producers: stop raiding the charity dressing-up box. Stop forcing the “fun” and “excitement”. Trust in my wisdom, and ye shall defeat X Factor. And you will KEEP YOUR SOUL.

Unsurprisingly, this was by far the weakest show of the series, with most dances disappointing, confounding or both. Let’s all just hold hands, book into group therapy, and start hosing down the dancers. It’ll take a good 10 hours of bleach scrubbing to get them back to their normal, six-layers-of-fake-tan shade.

Other hits and misses:

  • Apparently “scary” is interchangeable with “slutty”, as exemplified by the opening pro number and the girls’ skeevy rock ballerina outfits. MISS
  • Does anyone look good doing wire work? The answer is no. Again, tone set by the intro and Anton flailing about like a strung-up goldfish. MISS
  • Genuinely frightening scores. Even James Jordan thought Steve was wildly overmarked. JAMES JORDAN. Judges, if you’re going to score with total randomness, at least make it interesting: reward the next dubious performance with two melons, a cat and a tiara. MISS
  • No Claudia, sadly, but a very strong sub in Zoë Ball, making a compelling argument for us ditching Tess as soon as humanly possible… HIT
  • Speak of the devil, her terrible jokes now require an actual drum roll so the audience has a clue when to laugh. MISS
  • Donny is officially a punchline. HIT
  • Random gymnastics strikes again. Just NO. If you want to do wobbly cartwheels, head on over to Tumble. MISS
  • The judges’ entrance continues to up its insanity levels – Bruno, in particular, joyously reliving his glory days. By the final, he’ll be gyrating in a cage dressed only in a leopard-print thong screaming “LOOK AT ME! I NEED ATTENTION LIKE LEN NEEDS HALF-BAKED SIMILES!” HIT

Best in Show

  • Best performance: Alison’s out-of-body experience No one produced a fully formed dance performance this week, so let’s salute the most entertainingly bonkers number of a very strange night.
  • Best costume: Glam-rock Aljaž “So serious, so masculine,” intoned Len to Aljaž, who was sporting a ruffled shirt, eye-wateringly tight breeches and copious guyliner (NO complaints here). Goodman’s mind works in mysterious ways. See also: praising Joanne’s “choreography”…
  • Best move: Anton’s doggy day care fail In fairness, those dalmatians followed his lead better than Ann Widdecombe ever did.
  • Best line: Kevin’s “A real 10!” Somewhere, a toothy Mormon is watching and weeping, BABY.

Saturday

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Creepy fishnet cutouts and tortured hair trying to make a run for it, one side at a time.


 Sunetra and Brendan – And so to bed

sunetrastruggles sparkleVT idiocy: 3. Brendan didn’t so much choreograph a jive as gauge Sunetra’s suitability for clearing heavy furniture out of his garage. Canny move, given that jive is very much not her dance – sluggish, flat-footed and alarmingly loose kicks – thus the Halloween distractions were something of a godsend. Sunetra, AKA Helena Bonham Carter goes to prom via a prickly hedge, brought her usual rhythm, energy and expressive arms, while Brendan, fully aware that he was betraying the cause with this bedography-heavy number, came styled as the Ghost of Actual Ballroom.

Song: “Tainted Love”, Gloria Jones (COPYCAT KLAXON: Zoe Lucker and James)

Judges’ comments: Len thought it was too careful. Bruno noted they used rumba to slow the pace and it was overly fluid. Craig called it laboured and lacking in punch. Darcey… God knows. I was transfixed by her ringleted hairmet, which, on the evidence of this weekend, cut off all circulation to her brain.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27


 Alison and Aljaž – High as a kite

alisonsimply so soVT idiocy: 2. In theory, this was an American smooth. In practice, it was the art rock acid trip we all hoped it would be. Alison, wrapped in bedding stolen from the mental hospital, descended in a giant slingshot and proceeded to dance almost entirely with her enormous sleeves while gazing at Aljaž with the beatific intensity of a doped-up Labrador. Essentially, it was a dance re-enactment of what plays in her brain on a loop when she looks at him. No rise and fall, heel leads or consistent frame, and bore only the faintest relation to foxtrot (third cousin twice removed), but the wildly OTT contemporary was undeniably compelling.

Song: “Wuthering Heights”, Kate Bush

Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the “hurricane of emotion”, comparing her with a wind turbine, but sketchy footwork. Craig said it was “one of the campest entrances I’ve ever seen” (and he should know), feet turned out, head wrong and too much wafting. Darcey liked the theatricality, but it affected her topline. Len, in a contrary mood, suddenly decided he likes excess wafting.

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 7, 7 – 26


Simon and Kristina – Tangled web

simonsimply so soVT idiocy: 8. I do not like spiders, and did not need another reason to avoid a Simon VT. Sterling job, producers. This frantic, slightly confused paso featured Kristina in a stolen Ola catsuit and Simon the accountant going mad on Casual Friday (the green eyeshadow is EVERYTHING). He did commit, but small steps, stiff hips and jerky arm motion meant he failed to produce Spanish lines or strong, flowing movement. More worryingly, he’s not noticeably improved from Week 1 – still a confident, musical performer, but also very much a mannered pop dancer, far too aware of his image to throw himself into the characterisation. A few errors and irritating gymnastics, otherwise decent but dull, as always.

Song: “Poison”, Alice Cooper

Judges’ comments: Craig wanted more shaping and it went a bit haywire, but commanding. Darcey praised the attitude and storytelling, though one mishap. Len liked the power and attack, but it was missing finesse. Bruno agreed.

Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 7, 8 – 29


Steve and Ola – Bone of contention

stevestruggles sparkleVT idiocy: 5. Watching this number was like witnessing a car very slowly driving off a cliff – possibly on one of those Inception higher levels. Much of the fault must lie with Ola for shoving a million and one precarious lifts into this gimmicky routine, leaving Steve no time to a) learn how to dance Charleston or b) dance any Charleston. He went out of sync almost immediately and never recovered, buffering like a crashed browser and radiating panic even through six layers of skeleton camouflage. No swivel, a near-disaaaaahstrous lift doubling the show’s insurance premium, and DEFINITELY NOT WORTH A SEVEN. ARE YOU CRAZY? Wasted opportunity, given the aptitude he showed for the dance during his “quickstep”.

Song: “Dem Bones Dem Bones”, Kay Starr

Judges’ comments: Darcey noted he blanked and was too preoccupied by the lifts. Len agreed, but thought the lifts were great. Bruno called it overambitious and lacking in performance. Craig said the lifts were messy and timing was out.

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 7, 7 – 26


Pixie and Trent – Live wires

pixiestrictly sensationalVT idiocy: 7. First of all, we must salute Pixie’s truly extraordinary giant hair – she looked like the love child of Sasha Fierce and Aslan. This tango was another over-busy number that fought the music from start to finish, but the manic quirkiness actually worked for them, as Pixie finally vacated her usual “pretty but vapid” role. Right shoulder kept lifting, scuppering her hold, and footwork variable, but sharp, unusual and engaging. Their partnership remains problematic – hard to find a middle ground between bland and “creepy incest vibe” – so perhaps avoiding the issue by following this more conceptual route is wise.

Song: “Danger! High Voltage”, Electric Six

Judges’ comments: Len praised the verve and energy, but she needs a more consistent frame. Bruno loved the balance of quirky details and fantastic tango. Craig approves of Trent pushing her to the limit. Darcey though the shoulders made her lines messy, but exciting to watch.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 9 – 33


 Judy and Anton – Dog’s dinner

judystruggles sparkleVT idiocy: 6. It would be too easy to say the highlight of this dance was Anton being schooled by a pair of freaked-out Dalmatians, and yet… There’s a celebrity dog dancing reality show in the works as we speak. (Or has there already been one? I despair of humanity.) This was as much an American smooth as glazed cronut is one of your five a day, with strained, plodding semi-foxtrot and hilarious collisions out of hold, like two drunken strangers trying to figure out how to pass one another on a narrow pavement. Tiny improvement in topline, but shoulders still up and the only lift that worked was the one requiring Judy to tip over like a falling plank.

Song: “Cruella de Vil” from 101 Dalmatians

Judges’ comments: Bruno thought she was less greyhound, more rescue dog, and delivered what we expected: “Nothing.” Craig said the dogs had more grace. Spiky, no flow or finish. Darcey noted she drops characterisation when she moves, but much more dance content. Len agreed.

Judges’ scores: 3, 6, 6, 5 – 20


Jake and Janette – Black mark

jake-low res-simply so soVT idiocy: 9. A HORSE? WHAT? Ahem. Sorry. I promised not to comment on the idiocy. Yet another example of Janette overcomplicating a routine – yes, Jake can deliver some great tricks, but he’s also capable of landing entirely gimmick-free dances. Not many pros have that advantage, so USE IT. Strong and dynamic, but, like Simon, prioritised power over shaping, so movement too generalised. Also, percussive knees should never appear on this dancefloor again. Too upright and stuck on fast-forward, but still fairly slick delivery. Shame we had to endure this during a theme week. Mind you, this series, every week feels like a theme week. Oh, in the old days… (I am of course now lighting my pipe and settling back in my rocking chair.)

Song: “Black Betty”, Ram Jam

Judges’ comments: Craig found it stilted and unconnected. Darcey liked the attack, but wanted more shaping. Len praised the characterisation, and agreed on shaping. Bruno thought he internalised it too much rather than physically projecting.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 8, 8 – 29


 Caroline and Pasha – Waking the dead

carolinestrictly sensationalVT idiocy: 1, but only because it featured Pasha’s phenomenal line reading. First order of business: “disco samba” IS NOT A DANCE. Producers, if you want disco, introduce disco. (Please don’t introduce disco.) Once you got past the zombie shenanigans, ginormous afros, apocalyptic Saturday Night Fever styling, copious disco moves and… Where was I? Oh yes. If you made it to Level 10, there was impressive attempted samba: voltas, rolls, batucadas and promenade runs, all with some semblance of correct technique and ACTUAL HIP ACTION. However, needed more distinction between bent and straight legs and pressure through the floor to get proper bounce, plus a couple of stumbles. Caroline isn’t wowing yet, but Pasha’s really pushing her technically, which will hopefully pay off down the line. Or maybe they should just give up and emote to Wicked

Song: “Le Freak”, Chic

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised Caroline’s control, though wanted more fun. Bruno: “Sizzling satanic samba with a touch of disco inferno.” Craig found it both too frenetic and too clinical, but otherwise loved it.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 9 – 32


Scott and Joanne – Dysfunctional family

scottstruggles sparkleVT idiocy: 10. So, this… foxtrot? Genuinely unclear… mainly required Scott to skulk around the floor scowling and hunching like a moody teenager while Joanne ensured they paired childish cartoon motions with every single sound effect. He was less Fester, more Dr Evil suffering from a painful slipped disc, and only managed a proper hold when his partner physically shoved him into one. Even then, it lasted approximately two seconds. Ponderous, content-lite and featured an egregious floor spin that gave the impression Scott had been ordered to polish the floor with his rear end. Does this sound worthy of a 6? DOES IT?

Song: Theme from The Addams Family

Judges’ comments: Len thought it was entertaining. Bruno said he’d easily win Strictly No Dancing, because “you don’t care!” Craig disagreed, saying Scott does work hard, but it hasn’t helped. Darcey praised the characterisation and improved topline, but it wasn’t smooth enough.

Judges’ scores: 3, 6, 6, 6 – 21


 Mark and Karen – Shop til you drop

markstrictly sensationalVT idiocy: 4. Would be higher, but it featured the hilarious moment of Mark claiming to have a day job. Karen channelled a mad plant by knocking out a few teeth and sticking her finger in a socket, but no distraction needed: her partner turned in a surprisingly decent jive, with buoyant energy and much improved rhythm. His steps were too big on the basics, making the movement slightly lurching and skippy, plus needed more grounded bounce action and pointed feet on kicks, otherwise – unnecessary gymnastics aside – another strong performance. Crazily overmarked, but what else is new…

Song: “Little Shop of Horrors” (COPYCAT KLAXON: Audley Harrison and Natalie)

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised his timing, flexibility and sharpness. Craig: “Bravo, darling.” Darcey loved the natural spring and rock ‘n’ roll style. Len called it “a sweet shop full of tasty treats”.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35


Frankie and Kevin – It’s not easy being green


frankie 7429911-low res- 1strictly sensationalVT idiocy: 8.
Is this the most inappropriate music choice we’ve ever had? It’s certainly top 10. The rumba-cum-American smooth opening worked far better with the track than the tango, which tore us in completely the opposite direction – this was truly the Sophie’s Choice of routines. If you watched it on mute (which I heartily recommend), you could appreciate Frankie’s sharp staccato, elegant travelling, hazy footwork and wandering hold – her arms still flap and her hips need to stay tucked in. Their connected partnership covers up a multitude of sins, but it would be DELIGHTFUL to see Kevin address some of them sooner or later. If they’re not too busy figuring out how to winch Frankie into a nest of flying blankets.

Song: “Defying Gravity” from Wicked

Judges’ comments: Craig: “Fab-u-lous!” Darcey praised the shaping and topline. Len thought it was spectacular. Bruno was nearly brought to tears. (Don’t worry, Bruno, we understand – Halloween Week would try the patience of a saint.)

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 10 – 37


Leaderboard

Frankie and Kevin – 37

Mark and Karen – 35

Pixie and Trent – 33

Caroline and Pasha – 32

Simon and Kristina – 29

Jake and Janette – 29

Sunetra and Brendan – 27

Alison and Aljaž – 26

Steve and Ola – 26

Scott and Joanne – 21

Judy and Anton – 20

Frankie leaps to the top and Mark and Simon go up, otherwise far less movement this week.


Sunday

aljaz and janette7430050-low res-Following the disco samba, we had a contempo-rumba-cum-paso featuring innocent maiden Janette (fabulous hanky dress) ripped from Aljaž by evil vixen Kristina. Whoever choreographed this has a wicked sense of humour. The other pros smouldered vaguely in the background of this loopy melodrama, which was somewhere between a music video for the Maleficent soundtrack and an overwrought Baz Luhrmann perfume ad.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Muted black pantsuit and witch’s hat – the latter genuinely the most stylish thing she’s worn all series.

Annie Lennox (another cutting-edge choice following last week’s Culture Club throwback) put a spell on us, partly via her indelible voice, partly via the tipsy, spasmodic boogieing and alarming polka dots. Tragically, no dancers to dilute this weirdness.

Len’s lens highlights:

  • Len demonstrated matador shaping while wearing a tight tux, which was quite something
  • Craig defined “frenetic” for us. That Word of the Day calendar is really paying off
  • Bruno leaped around like a maniac and tripped up Darcey, who was cheerily demonstrating that her paso skills are non-existent. She nearly neutered him, though, so points for effort

In the dance-off: Scott and Joanne FINALLY, and Alison and Aljaž. Both had their mums in the audience, but sadly the producers didn’t spring a surprise mum-off. (Suggested criteria: producing the most embarrassing baby photo and accompanying anecdote.) Everyone saved Alison apart from Len, that practical joker.

What did you make of Halloween madness? Who was your favourite? And did the right couples end up in the bottom two? Leave your thoughts below or get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week when we return to (relative) normality. 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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