Posted on November 28, 2016
This year’s couples largely managed to avoid the crippling malaise that is Blackpool Hangover Week, although I could have done without the continuation of bizarre scoring, plus dubious Cha Cha Challenge choices. It’s no secret that the judges have firm views on potential finalists versus also-rans, but attempting to erect a Berlin Wall on the leaderboard looks clumsy, and likely won’t help endear their favourites to the audience.
Better to trust that (despite all recent evidence to the contrary) the voting public generally do make sensible choices at this stage, as we saw with the timely exit of Ed “Glitter” Balls. He’s been a real joy and an enthusiastic trier, with an assist from fantastic debuting pro Katya’s judicious choices, but this felt like the right week for him to bow out. I’m happy to see a temporary reprieve for stealth star Judge Rinder, though he may well follow Ed to the exit shortly.
At which point we’ll have a competitive battle for the three finalist slots, if somewhat lacking in true “J word” contestants. Ore began a good performer and has remained so, but is variable technically, while Louise is the opposite – projecting slightly more now, yet not straying far from her previous experience.
But is Danny – clearly in a different league – too professional to be a Strictly champion? Is there hope for Claudia, who’s made strides in ballroom technique and whose difficulty in expressing herself is slightly more relatable? A lot depends on choreographic choices, as well as the ever-alarming lottery that is Strictly song and theme picks. That, at least, adds an element of unpredictability in what may otherwise be a fairly conservative final.
Other hits and misses:
Best in Show
Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Asymmetric repurposed sheet and hair miraculously held in some alien configuration. Claudia mainly noticeable for her heavily-varnished-sideboard tan.
Danny and Oti – Pecs appeal
Oti decided to go for more of a tribal samba than the usual carnival (actually, on this series the “usual” Latin could be disco, hip hop, contemporary, mime…), and it was a smart choice. Their routine was raw, earthy and, well, hot – and not just because Danny forgot to button his shirt. He really worked into the floor, which resulted in much better hip and body action than we’d normally see in a celeb, particularly in the voltas, batucadas and samba walks, with a generally organic bounce and great rhythm. At times it was a bit “Eddie Redmayne’s mating dance in Fantastic Beasts”, but seriously impressive.
Song: “Magalenha”, Sergio Mendes
Judges’ comments: Len went all Attenborough with a series of animal analogies. A panting Bruno loved the “pagan mating ritual” vibe. Craig praised his hip action and isolation, and loved the tribal style. Darcey commended the work he’d put in and thought it was a masterclass.
Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40
Ore and Joanne – Part of the furniture
Too nice to paso klaxon. Actually, Ore’s main challenge was figuring out this conceptual hodgepodge – like a cryptic crossword clue in dance form. Why was Jo dressed in a shredded business suit? And why were they both cross with/hiding under/weirdly fondling an air hockey table? Another dictating music choice, which meant moody rather than sharp and rather smothered the dance style. Ore committed to a strong performance and got some great shaping, but this tipped the balance too far into conceptual – a shame, as he showed fantastic potential for paso. (Plus ripped off this actual jazz number.)
Song: “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”, Lorde
Judges’ comments: Bruno praised the originality. Craig noted an unsure moment and some issues with the Spanish line, but loved the strength, power and story. Darcey found it dramatic, and liked his shaping. Len agreed on both the shaping and a little incident.
Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 10 – 36
Louise and Kevin – Head over heels
More Family prop points for Louise, this week deploying her footballer husband (last seen tepidly clapping at Blackpool). Another routine that worked better as a performance than a delivery of a specific ballroom style, even if Louise did look down a lot. This was classy, musical and elegant, but it wasn’t until about 40 seconds in that they actually took up proper waltz hold and practically no heel leads whatsoever. Lots of gorgeous touches, like the end spins and well-expressed musical accents, but if the judges are marking more on the feeling of a dance than technical ballroom details, what differentiates them from the viewers?
Song: “At This Moment”, Michael Bublé (COPYCAT KLAXON: Chris Hollins and Ola)
Judges’ comments: Craig noted her raised shoulders, but graceful and fluid. Darcey praised her effortless style and turns. Len thought it was brilliant. Bruno loved the interpretation and musical phrasing.
Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39
Judge Rinder and Oksana – School reunion
I know Rinder’s teacher tales were a bit cheesy and performance-motivated, but that element has always been one of my favourite parts of Strictly, so it was nice to see it recognised (particularly in a year that’s become as much about showcasing existing talent as teaching novices). Unfortunately, this rumba was rather too effortful: the hip action was forced rather than smoothly generated through foot pressure and leg action, the transitions were sticky, and the free arm was a tad peculiar. Some nice lines and partnering, plus an expressive and sincere performance, but not his best.
Song: “Lean On Me”, Bill Withers
Judges’ comments: Darcey said his weight was too far back and he didn’t look comfortable. Len thought he had fluid arms and hip action in the cucarachas, but lacked naturalness. Bruno found it partly lyrical, partly funky chicken, but brave attempt. Craig said it was spiky and awkward, with individual body parts moving independently of his core.
Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 8, 7 – 29
Ed and Katya – Blue Steel
Canny decision by Katya to use the male model theme, which produced our Ed gif of the week as he went full bug-eyed Zoolander (and snatched back the camp crown from Rinder). But the tango was far less convincing, despite Ed managing to produce a fair amount of content amidst the comedy. His hold has certainly improved from the beginning, but it’s still far too hunched and frozen, and a fair bit of flat-footed stamping. He’s best off the leash in Latin. A fun last dance from this year’s surprise package, but showed his limitations at this stage of the competition.
Song: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, The Rolling Stones (COPYCAT KLAXON: Matt Dawson and Lilia)
Judges’ comments: Len called him the people’s champion. Bruno compared him with junk food. Craig noted the hold issues, splayed hands and stompy, but committed. Darcey thought he lost focus and got carried away with the character.
Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 7, 6 – 23
Claudia and AJ – Right as rain
Oh lord. Please just keep these two in the studio and stop giving them lines to read – it’s killing me. Go-karting nonsense aside, this was one of Claudia’s finest weeks, with her strength, power and “focus” face all assets in this Argentine tango. Exceptionally controlled, intricate and daring lifts, slick ganchos, gorgeous lines and simmering mood. Yes, I take Craig’s point that she tends to move independently rather than responding to AJ’s lead (they’ve never cracked that as a partnership), otherwise I thought this was superb and oddly undermarked – certainly in comparison to other couples, and to her oddly overmarked jive last week.
Song: “Cry Me A River”, Justin Timberlake
Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the lifts and she’s developing a dramatic persona. Craig thought her legs could be looser and she could react more, but precise and incredible. Darcey was stunned by her upper-body strength in the lifts (err, Olympic gymnast) and the sultry character. Len found it frisky and risky – a knockout routine.
Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36
Leaderboard before Cha Cha Challenge
Danny and Oti – 40
Louise and Kevin – 39
Ore and Joanne – 36
Claudia and AJ – 36
Judge Rinder and Oksana – 29
Ed and Katya – 23
Very little change from last week’s rankings.
Cha Cha Challenge
Well, this wasn’t exactly vintage television. If you could make sense of the snatched glimpses of couples amidst frantic gesticulations from the judges, then congratulations – MI5 is hiring. The final ranking:
From what I could gather (other than FRINGE, FRINGE EVERYWHERE), Ore looooves the camera but flapped his free arm around, Rinder again had forced hip action but good timing, Ed…was having fun, Claudia was a bit tentative and fixed grin but good leg action, Louise was neat but did not straighten her legs at all, and Danny was streets ahead.
Leaderboard after Cha Cha Challenge
Danny and Oti – 45
Louise and Kevin – 45
Ore and Joanne – 40
Claudia and AJ – 39
Judge Rinder and Oksana – 31
Ed and Katya – 24
Louise gets an assist from the CCC, otherwise fairly inconsequential.
Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Muted jumpsuit. Claud the more egregious in eye-watering layers of paper snowflakes.
In the dance-off: the actual bottom two – Judge Rinder and Oksana, and Ed and Katya. The judges of course seized their opportunity to oust Balls, who left with a classy exit speech, paying tribute to partner Katya. I’d love to see what she could do with a ringer next year.
What did you think of this week’s performances? Was it time for Ed to go? And who’s your pick for the final? Come say hi on Twitter
See you next week, when it’s (jazz hands) Musicals Week. In the meantime…keep dancing!