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Strictly Speaking: Week 9

Posted on November 22, 2021

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You can always count on Strictly’s Musicals Week for some decent drama, although most of it was off the floor on this occasion – from Craig’s COVID-19 test (poor Craig, I hope he was doing furious jazz hands while watching at home) to some excitable overmarking and a mildly controversial exit. 

As for the latter, I don’t think Tom was necessarily the weakest contestant left (ahem Dan), nor the one who can only deliver one type of performance and is fast running out of dances that will suit it (hello, Rhys). However, he has been puttering through the series in a nonchalant, perhaps slightly entitled fashion, and that lack of a committed performance was really crippling this week. There’s just no way you can half-arse Les Mis, the most extra of all musicals.

So yes, it’s not entirely fair, and I very much hope we ditch Dan soon; the backlash after Tom’s exit will probably do for him, but I did think Tilly deserved a reprieve, if not a 40, and AJ, John and Rose are still the holy trinity of this season. Onwards…!

Other hits and misses:

  • I did miss Craig, although it was interesting that the other judges scored more moderately on the whole without him. Are they consciously overmarking to balance out Craig’s sometimes miserly marks? MISS
  • On the other hand, Cynthia Erivo! Now this was a quality booking, and I thought she did a great job – she grew into the role as the night went on and offered some really constructive criticism. Also rather pleasing to have a female-majority panel for once. See, we can do better than just hiring Len Goodman sound-a-likes…  HIT
  • Did Russell Crowe lose a bet? How on earth did we get him for this VT? He clearly had no clue who Tom was, what he was dancing, or why anyone would want Russell – the infamously terrible singer who torpedoed the Les Mis film – to offer musical advice. Hilarious all round. HIT 
  • Anton: stop trying to make The Lady Captain happen. You’re not a retired hedge fund manager naming the yacht you bought for your third wife after she caught you cheating with your Pilates instructor. MISS
  • Two fab-u-lous musical numbers from our pros: a sultry Cabaret (with excellent turns from a slinky Giovanni and show-stopping Oti) and a Wicked number celebrating the real-life friendship between Luba and Katya – though hopefully theirs involves less romantic rivalry and, you know, murder. HIT
  • Max Harwood and The Feeling treated us to “Out of the Darkness” from the brilliant musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – now a film and also out on tour. It’s well worth catching if you haven’t already. HIT
  • Kai’s dorky impressions: delightful. Rose’s Gio impressions: even better. Spin-off series please. HIT

Best in Show

  • Best performance: AJ’s waltz Simply gaw-jus.
  • Best costume: Motsi’s incredible pink suit Since Craig isn’t here, I shall have to fangirl over Motsi myself. 
  • Best move: Cynthia signing some of her comments to Rose I’d love to see all of the panel doing this. 
  • Best line: Shirley’s advice to John on the, er, receiving As ever, our head judge is blissfully unaware of double entendre.

Saturday

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Tortured Barbie-pink sequins with a missing sleeve and… has Tess grown a tail? Good god. Claud in a sparkly black dressing gown.


AJ and Kai – Second to nun

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Another week, another teased kiss from these two. If they’re not snogging in the final, I’m writing a stern letter to Ofcom. Now, this was definitely the night’s best combination of theme and ballroom: I loved how they got straight into hold and communicated the characterisation through their movement. As the judges noted, her technical prowess means she can really express feeling through dancing, and that connection with Kai works so beautifully for a tender tale like this one. Great footwork, just missing the odd heel lead, lovely flow, and exquisite balance of power and controlled delicacy – even in the midst of a random blizzard. Sidenote: the rainbow rehearsal leggings are a triumph.

Song: “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music (COPYCAT KLAXON: Simon Webbe and Kristina)

Judges’ comments: Shirley thought it was beautifully executed. Anton said it had immaculate footwork and emotion. Cynthia: “How do you solve a problem like Maria? You cast AJ.” Watch this space. Motsi said she used her technique for expression. 

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 9 – 38 


Rhys and Nancy – Loose cannon

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Ah Rhys. Bouncy, bouncy Rhys. I’ve now given up hope of him ever drilling down into the technical details of a specific dance instead of just piling on yet more enthusiasm, like a Russian doll set of leaping Tiggers. I’m not sure whether that’s down to him or Nancy or both, but it means their Strictly J word is a cul-de-sac. Anyway. A jive with – you guessed it – lots of energy and personality but otherwise a mess. Needed to point and get clear direction on those wild kicks, still sickled and flat-footed, huge basics steps that stomped down rather than springing from the floor, and got ahead of the beat, particularly with one big mistake. Rinse and repeat.

Song: “Footloose” from Footloose (COPYCAT KLAXON: Colin Jackson and Erin, Alison Hammond and Aljaž)

Judges’ comments: Anton said it was too footloose. Cynthia found it joyful. Motsi loved the rhythm and energy but lacked attention to detail. Shirley noted the error and his feet are too turned in.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32 


Tom and Amy – The glums 

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Well, given that Tom basically sold musicals as the entire basis for his family and his marriage, this Christmas might be an awkward one. Unfortunately, little sister Carrie showed more emotion in their VT than he did in his entire routine. Now, picking a song where the girl is ripping her soul out and the guy is just a clueless numpty (sorry Marius, it’s true) didn’t help, but presumably Tom was meant to be conveying some of this I’ll-die-for-you love as well – not wandering round the stage like he was searching for his car keys. It was nicely executed paint-by-numbers contempowaft, but the critical lack of connection between them meant we lost the whole conflict.

Song: “On My Own” from Les Misérables

Judges’ comments: Cynthia said the emotion wasn’t there in his movement. Motsi praised the technique but he controlled himself too much. Shirley agreed and quoted Elsa – let it go! Anton said he was thinking about it too much.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31 


Rose and Giovanni – Just meant to be

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These two always leave me feeling happy. There is such total joy in their partnership, and it really feels like they’re constantly learning from each other. If not as much of A Moment as last week’s number, this quickstep was still very much their routine, incorporating BSL into the intro and ending. Kudos also to Gio for his choreography since the song didn’t really fit with a quickstep – which might be why it was lacking in dynamics. A gorgeous frame from Rose, though, they moved smoothly together, and I liked that it expressed the giddiness of falling in love without overdoing it. Sidenote: Did that CGI castle give anyone else crippling vertigo, or just me? 

Song: “Love Is an Open Door” from Frozen

Judges’ comments: Motsi praised Rose’s improved posture and performance, but a tiny mistake. Shirley channelled Craig with a “Fab-u-lous”. Anton loved the combination of Frozen and ballroom. Cynthia praised the characterisation and feeling.

Judges’ scores: 10, 9, 9, 9 – 37


John and Johannes – Smoke show

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I don’t think John is getting enough credit for learning two different ballroom positions: leader and follower. He’s the only one taking on that challenge. And Johannes trusts him with really tricky choreography: this routine had complex transitions and open work as well as the Viennese basics, all of which John handled with aplomb. Yes, he needs to work on his follower posture and the footwork was a bit tentative, but Cynthia really nailed it: John’s energy is too contained, whereas Johannes always projects outwards. He just needs to sell it more and find those little moments to add something extra in the performance that connect with everyone watching.

Song: “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from Mary Poppins (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ricky Groves and Erin)

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised his spins and musicality, just missing some heel leads. Anton thought the performance was too safe. Cynthia suggested sending his energy up and out. Motsi wants more resistance and accents to add light and shade.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32


Tilly and Nikita – Top of the class

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You could really feel the struggle for Tom and Tilly to inject pathos into their Couple’s Choice VTs, particularly after Rose’s. There’s not much you can do with “My dad is famous and now I kind of am too”. Nor was this really a basis for choosing Matilda, other than “Hey, that’s my name!” BUT. This was the most committed performance of the night: Tilly really got into the rebel schoolgirl persona and threw herself into the routine. She fought for her place on Strictly. Dance-wise? Who knows. It was too heavy and flat-footed for jazz and not grounded enough for street, but great synchronisation and tricks. She delivered what she’d been given well – I’m just not sure it was a perfect anything.

Song: “Revolting Children” from Matilda

Judges’ comments: Anton called her an inspiration. Cynthia said it was awesome. Motsi thinks she’s a force to be reckoned with, and she showed another side of herself. Shirley said she couldn’t tell who the professional was. (Really?)

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40


Dan and Nadiya – The morning after

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Well, on the plus side, Dan did not completely destroy one of my all-time favourite musicals. Yay? This was a fairly charming performance and it’s nice that he broke into the 30s with it. However, if we’re getting tough on the others for tiny technical details, we must apply the same here. Decent swivels from Dan and he’s getting better at lifts, although the one off the sofa looked very precarious. I guess Nadiya at least had a soft landing if he’d dropped her on her head. However, very scrappy and snatched: needed to be much sharper and more exact in all the footwork and lines, and lacking in musicality, flair and abandon: he still moves like he’s trapped in an ironing board.

Song: “Good Morning” from Singin’ in the Rain (COPYCAT KLAXON: Susanna Reid and Kevin)

Judges’ comments: Erivo felt relaxed watching, but he needs to finish his lines. Motsi noted a better performance but he should have his weight forward so the movement can be freer. Shirley said it was his best dance so far. Anton is enjoying watching someone grow.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 9, 8 – 31 


Leaderboard

Tilly and Nikita – 40

AJ and Kai – 38

Rose and Giovanni – 37

Rhys and Nancy – 32

John and Johannes – 32

Tom and Amy – 31

Dan and Nadiya – 31

A good week for the girls: Tilly and AJ are up, Rhys, John and Tom are down.


Sunday

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Apparently Tess is launching a new range of summer tent trousers. Best of luck, Tess! Claud: Victorian ghost.

Dance-off

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Interesting: John and Dan were scooped up by the viewer votes (yay and sigh respectively), leaving Tom versus Rhys in the dance-off. They were just separated by a point going into this, but Rhys had the easier job of fixing that one glaring error, whereas Tom had to learn how to access vulnerability as a dancer – something that was never going to come in the space of an hour.

Three judges chose Rhys, though once again Shirley stirred the pot by saying that she would have saved Tom – but not explaining why. Is she just doing this for the sheer drama? Respect if so. It must be annoying when your vote doesn’t count. 

Anyhow, I’d imagine Rhys isn’t long for this world either; he doesn’t have the popular support, so one brush with a slower dance and he’s a goner. It’s just a question of whether he or Dan run out of chances first.

What did you make of Musical Week? Did you agree with the scoring? Who would you have sent home? Get in touch on Twitter to share your thoughts: @mkmswain

See you again soon for more fun and games. In the meantime… keep dancing!

Photographs: Guy Levy courtesy of the BBC.

Marianka Swain is a freelance writer and social dancer at several London venues. You can find more of her work at mkmswain.com.

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