Posted on October 21, 2018
In a firm bid to counter the Sean(n) Scandal of ’18, Strictly gave us lots of new things to gripe about this week – from Couple’s Choice (of which much more anon) to someone channelling the medicated enthusiasm and incoherence of Bruno Tonioli, if not the occasional dashes of lyrical expertise.
Yes, it was another dodgy American import – much like Prom or Black Friday – in the form of a Dancing with the Stars winner and person who appeared on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and thus will neatly divide the viewing audience into “Eh?” and “…oh, him I guess”. Now, I’m not saying DWTS devalues the brand, but they’ve had so many series they’ve been reduced to Sugababes-esque conscription, and a classic quickstep includes Tonya Harding being chased by a bear.
Alfonso Ribeiro’s contributions? Yelling into the mic, giving nearly all the same marks as Shirley, flagrantly confusing cricket with more interesting sports that involve goals, and reminding us every three seconds that he’s a glittering DWTS alum – whether informing Lauren he got 10s for contemporary (before scoring her 7), or telling Sean(n) that he was crap at quickstep too. I will not be recapping his comments, because my patience only stretches so far.
Speaking of…Couple’s Choice. Well. I understand the impulse to keep the show fresh by giving everyone something new to engage with, but how on earth is it fair to have such ill-defined disciplines besides those with clear, established technique?
How are the judges meant to mark a James Brown impression versus, say, a waltz? Will it not severely undercut the climactic showdances? And where does it fit in the ongoing dance journey? Charles was told he had a “breakthrough”, but that implies he’ll maintain the standard once back in ballroom. It also makes weekly dance selection even more of a lottery – potentially allowing producers to stack the deck.
Plus, what of the faithful audience, who can by now spot a half-decent fleckerl or Cuban break, and vote accordingly? Of course viewer support is based on far more than pure dance content and technique, but part of the joy of Strictly has been its educational element. Introducing half-baked styles with vague explanation undercuts that mission.
Sofa cover-turned-jumpsuit. Claud in a black cloud of sequins.
Dr Ranj also sings in a choir, because of course he does. (Panto offers a-coming, Ranj!) Unlike the Strictly band, said choir managed not to murder the Beach Boys, so that’s something to ponder. This was a beach themed-American smooth – just the thing for a London October – and about as baffling as that sounds. Played to Dr Ranj’s “sunshine wrapped in a freshly baked muffin” personality, but also made it harder to find elegant, fluid foxtrot. Frame improved, but sometimes tight in the shoulders and constricted them to plodding steps, plus cute but underwhelming lifts. Still too reliant on Dr Ranj’s smiley charm.
Song: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, the Beach Boys
Judges’ comments: Shirley said he looked more comfortable in frame, but keep working on the footwork. Craig found it lumpy, but liked the routine. Darcey noted problems travelling backwards, but beautiful lifts.
Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 7, 7 – 25
Hmm. Are we going to get an epic backstory for every Couple’s Choice number? Lauren at least has a genuinely powerful one, discussing the support system who’ve helped her deal with her disability and become a champion. They’re being represented by AJ and his buttonless, see-through blouse, which…is a dream come true I’m sure. Routine wise: very paint-by-numbers contemporary, with smoke monster, air grabs, 500 lifts, and painfully literal choreo – running, see, because Lauren RUNS. (I await Faye writhing emotively on some STEPS.) Surprisingly committed performance from Lauren, given that’s not been her strong point, but too many awkward transitions and lacked clear dynamics.
Song: “Runnin’ (Lose It All)”, Naughty Boy feat. Beyoncé
Judges’ comments: Craig said they delivered unconnected still pictures, but brave. Darcey praised the strength and control, but needed to soften the landings. Shirley felt she delved deep, but wasn’t fluid enough.
Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 7, 7 – 24
The Family props points are strong with this one: adorable moppets who rightly recognise Oti as their Queen. But turns out Graeme didn’t need a save from the kids, actually producing a decent tango (and wow, these two must have worked hard during the week – early training footage was GRIM). Lowered well into the knees, strong, sharp movement, nice partnering, and good communication of the dance style, guyliner and all. Still a lot of work to be done posture wise, and the odd mistake, but Graeme continues to improve – and more clever Oti choreo, adding flash with flourishes that didn’t require too much from him.
Song: “Roxanne”, The Police (COPYCAT KLAXON: Claire Sweeney and John, Denise Van Outen and James)
Judges’ comments: Craig praised the attack, but wanted more passion. Darcey liked the focus, intent and frame, though head a bit inclined. Shirley disagreed with Craig on passion, and enjoyed the musicality and footwork.
Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 8, 8 – 29
I do admire Ashley’s continued attempts to add jeopardy, but since she’s firmly in the evil ringer camp, she might as well own it. Spend rehearsals eating a sandwich. Heckle the other contestants. Throw in a series of spins it took Shirley years to perfect. Ah, wait. Well, she certainly didn’t disgrace herself in the rumba – like Faye, needed to relax into her hips to make it less spiky, but beautiful shapes and extensions, impressive turns, and control (other than one accidental lift). Oh, and Lauren? THIS is how you grab the air like you’re trying to pluck your kitten from a tree AND THAT KITTEN IS A PART OF YOUR HEART.
Song: “Something About the Way You Look Tonight”, Elton John
Judges’ comments: Darcey noted the trust between them and great resistance, but some jerky closes. Shirley praised the timing and spins. Craig loved the passion – a-maze-ing.
Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36
This week in chaperoning: coincidentally much-liked Graeme and Oti pop by for a visit. Now, either the scandalous pair have been ordered to keep a guitar between them at all times, or Katya’s choreo well has run dry. Irritating start to their routine, with Sean(n)’s busking and the guitar third-wheeling (it’s no Dr Ranj’s angel choir), and later some weird rolling pin moves. Actual quickstep: the speed showed in the loss of detail, like chasses without closes, Sean(n) too flat-footed, and times they got out of sync with each other and/or the music. Potential there, but lacked clean execution.
Song: “Lightning Bolt”, Jake Bugg
Judges’ comments: Shirley said there were moments of nice frame, but not his best. Craig noted messy footwork with huge steps, but lively performance. Darcey thought it was light and fast, but got overexcited.
Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 6, 7 – 24
I’ve generally tired of Kevin’s misty nostalgia by this stage of the series, but a Strictly Ballroom reference will always win me over. This was fun, silly but actually content-packed old-school samba, from the bird-carcass-as-bustle and big, winking performance to the basic steps danced with aplomb. Brilliant commitment from Stacey, who’s now gone Full Strictly, and she made a packed routine look effortless and fun. However, really needs to learn to differentiate between a straight and a bent leg (most of the routine danced somewhere in between), point toes, slide feet in Latin rather than picking them up, and get control of her arms.
Song: “Tequila”, David Hirschfelder and The Bogo Pogo Orchestra version (COPYCAT KLAXON: Denise Lewis and Ian, Michael Vaughn and Natalie)
Judges’ comments: Craig said she didn’t spot on the turns. Darcey loved the carnival spirit, but too wild. Shirley praised her samba roll and a proper basic routine.
Judges’ scores: 8, 7, 9, 9 – 33
Family prop points galore, with a visit from Joe’s even-more-YouTube-celebby sister Zoella and a waltz dedicated to his grandmother. Truly covering the whole spectrum of human experience there. This was a nice unfussy routine from Dianne, pitched well for Joe – it capitalised on his natural performance, rather than demanding something more overtly romantic or dashing. Much improved posture, though still occasional gapping and rigidity, decent footwork and gentle flow with some rise and fall, but would have more power with a proper drive through Dianne. Sidenote: Joe was quite the Dickensian urchin in his cap. “Please, sir, may I have another million views?”
Song: “Rainbow Connection”, Sleeping At Last
Judges’ comments: Craig praised the movement round the floor, but lacked expression. Darcey said he’s actually leading and sweet romance, but got out of sync. Shirley thought the expression was lovely, and great footwork.
Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 8, 8 – 29
Trip home to Newcastle as a last-ditch voting effort. Given his lacklustre line readings, the tourist board will not be re-employing Graziano. And nor, on this evidence, should Strictly. A woeful cha cha routine, with little semblance of content, timing or technique (from either of them frankly), doomed Vick – a contestant who would be sailing into the final with a cannier, less self-absorbed partner. Graziano may be perfectly nice, and he has pretty hair, but he’s not equipped for what is actually a very skilful job; the good pros make it look easy. Sidenote: starting up top and then just…kind of mooching down the stairs is grade-A Goodman Memorial Messin’ Abaht.
Song: “More Than Friends”, James Hype feat. Kelli-Leigh
Judges’ comments: Darcey said there were moments of straight leg, but inconsistent. Shirley noted 16 bars before they started doing any cha cha, no straight legs or body action, and her expression didn’t match. Craig liked the energy, but the technique suffered.
Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 4, 6 – 20
Some understandable nerves from Kate post-Nightmare Safari, so being back in ballroom, and Aljaž’s arms, definitely a good thing. A nice (if over-familiar) story, too, giving her a character other than “African tourist who can’t remember her samba steps”. Viennese waltz wise, good fleckerls and pivots – though picked up feet on the latter and some gapping in the former – moved well round the floor, lowered into driving steps better as she relaxed into it, and improving frame if still constricted at times. Not quite at Jessica Rabbit levels, but a good return to form. Sidenote: Graeme took in a picture of that writing desk when he went to the fake tan booth.
Song: “Finally Mine”, Juliet Roberts
Judges’ comments: Shirley praised her light left arm, and frame better but inconsistent. Craig said it was mediocre – she’s capable of exceptional. Darcey found it sophisticated, but needs more feeling in her back.
Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 6, 8 – 26
OK, the VTs are nonsense, this isn’t news, but HONESTLY – Danny “dancing on” (read: strapped to) a plane?! Just let the poor man practise. Or have a cup of tea. He’s 58, you know! Anyway, a really impressive jive: light, bright, crisp steps, precise timing, much looser feel than his past dances, and his weight forward and into the floor, which meant a better connection with Amy. Slight stumble, one set of kicks out of sync (kicking up and out while she retracted), and not sure about the hand on the hip – felt like a solution to a problematic free arm. But a fast and furious routine brilliantly delivered.
Song: “Flip, Flop and Fly”, Ellis Hall (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jade Johnson and Ian)
Judges’ comments: Craig: “That is a dance for the final.” Darcey praised his precision and stretch on the kicks and flicks. Shirley thought it was absolutely amazing.
Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 9, 9 – 37
I will not mention the bridge again. It will make me crazy. Also maddening: seeing half a great foxtrot and then lots of bopping about. While wandering through a park, in a ballgown, because…Autumn is truly AMAZING? Global warming makes us appreciate seasonal change while we still have it? This number was a strange hybrid – not helped by the music. Of the bits in hold, some nice footwork from Faye, though needed more fluid drive, and a great topline emerging. I know it’s not the most impactful dance, but cleaning up those details would have made it stronger – without needing to break hold – and cemented her foundation for future ballroom.
Song: “Just the Way You Are”, Bruno Mars (COPYCAT KLAXON: Harry Judd and Aliona)
Judges’ comments: Craig noted some leg bumping, but otherwise gorgeous foxtrot. Darcey thought it was elegant and controlled. Shirley said getting Faye more to the right in hold would solve the bumping, but decent heel turn and footwork.
Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 8, 8 – 33
This was quite the X Factor onslaught from Charles, somehow packing in his hard-working mother, late father, a passing reference to Grenfell, Charles Venn Inspires Children, AND his lifelong devotion to James Brown. So, their street/commercial Couple’s Choice… I’m genuinely not sure what to say about this in the context of Strictly – it felt more like Let’s Pastiche For Comic Relief. Fun zoot suits. Good splits, body popping, hanky-ography. Pretty much all in sync. But no idea how much of this was in his repertoire pre-show. And given that all his ballroom has felt too similar to this Seventies groove, how on earth will it help him going forwards?
Song: “Get Up Offa That Thing”, James Brown
Judges’ comments: Darcey praised his dancing on the table, isolations and jazz split. Shirley called it a breakthrough. Craig noted he was late on the hanky.
Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36
Danny and Amy – 37
Ashley and Pasha – 36
Charles and Karen – 36
Stacey and Kevin – 33
Faye and Giovanni – 33
Graeme and Oti – 29
Joe and Dianne – 29
Kate and Aljaž – 26
Dr Ranj and Janette – 25
Lauren and AJ – 24
Seann and Katya – 24
Vick and Graziano – 20
Danny, Charles, Graeme and Kate up, Vick and Seann down.
Precariously strapless plum number, Claud more sequins.
With voters again following the leaderboard, we got Vick and Graziano versus Sean(n) and Katya. Craig went for Vick, everyone else for Sean(n).
A shame to lose Vick so soon, given her clear potential, but Graziano’s choreo doomed her here – a lot of the judges’ criticism stemmed from that, plus his disinclination to teach her basic technique.
Perhaps, given the time pressures of her job, he was going for flourish and distraction (like looooong stair descents) to cover up weaknesses, but this still seemed poor for Week 5. Shame on the BBC if they prioritised tabloid-friendly looks (and locks) over the ability to teach and choreograph in this highly specialised environment.
Who impressed you this week? Does Couple’s Choice get your vote? And who deserved to go home? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain
See you soon for (eek) Halloween. In the meantime…keep dancing!
Pictured, top: Craig Revel Horwood, Dame Darcey Bussell, Shirley Ballas, Alfonso Ribeiro – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy