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Strictly speaking

Posted on December 8, 2014

Week 11

square-openerWe love a good Strictly scandal. In a year sadly devoid of both romantic chemistry between partners (no CURSE OF STRICTLY break-ups on the horizon) and genuine drama, the producers finally managed to manufacture some of the latter in an otherwise lacklustre show – although perhaps not in the way they intended.

Or maybe this was the master plan? The only thing we love more than a scandal is a good conspiracy theory, and this week inspired more than JFK, Roswell and the moon landings combined. Was this year’s fix-a-thon, the woefully camera-unfriendly waltz-a-thon, an attempt to boost the celeb girls, safely led by their partners? If so, was the lack of votes for Pixie a backlash against perceived bias? Did the three-way leaderboard tie scupper voting patterns – and if so, was that intentional? Did the tour casting have any influence on the judges’ decision, and on Len directing his random rant at Pixie? (Simon’s touring, Pixie is not.)

What is certain is that Week 11 produced one of those landmark “shock” results: more divisive than the John Lewis ad, more outrage-inducing than a Daily Mail editorial about breastfeeding in public. It also highlighted the increasing disenfranchisement of the voting public, with the judges having extra (seemingly arbitrary) influence over the leaderboard and also getting final say with the (ugh) dance-off. Pixie might have had fewer votes anyhow, but if the judges saved Simon –for the THIRD time – against our wishes, it’s clear the system is flawed.

On the other hand, we’ve been short on genuine J word contestants in this ringer-tastic series, so perhaps the rise of Mark and Simon’s spluttering redemption arc will lead to a more satisfying final, even if one of the best dancers isn’t there to share it with them. Farewell, Team Lannister. Winter is coming.

Other hits and misses:

  • Seriously, Len – we’ve had WEEKS of illegal lifts. Either consistently penalise them or pipe down. And while you’re at it, maybe cast your eye over routines with worryingly little dance content if you’re going to “get tough”. MISS
  • The judges’ entrance has reached amazing levels of competitive madness. By the final, we’ll have Bruno vaulting off the stairs onto a pyramid of scantily clad men, while Craig howls in despair mid-pirouette. HIT
  • What’s with the black-and-white “Please adopt this lost dog for just £2 a month?” VTs? Guys, I hate to break it to you: there are worse things in this world than not getting to the next stage of a celebrity dance competition. (Unless you’re Kristina. Who may actually combust by the end of this series.) MISS
  • Tess, if you really want to be useful, don’t worry about destroying Craig’s 5 paddle – locate the other judges’ 1 to 7 paddles. MISS
  • Pixie is the cover girl of this month’s fabulous Dance Today. Pixie, if we jinxed you… our bad. But your hair looks GREAT. And I’m going to back away slowly… MISS

Best in Show

  • Best performance: Caroline’s Argentine tango Not perfect, but a lovely fusion of trad music, trad choreography, zero props, zero gimmicks and HOLY GOD, HAVE I SLIPPED INTO A PARALLEL UNIVERSE?
  • Best costume: Frankie’s bedazzled helmet Available in all good Flashdance fantasy stores.
  • Best move: The return of Janette’s insane lifts Does the woman not have a spine? I’m genuinely asking.
  • Best line: Claudia’s “If you enjoy Frankie dancing with a tool…” Runners-up: “Ts and Cs – they’re always together. So romantic.” and “I’ve brought him a toaster.” The latter is obviously the new “I carried a watermelon.”

Saturday

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Morticia Addams’ bedspread run through the shredder, plus earrings made from the skin of a runner who was late with her tea.


Simon and Kristina – Cold snap

simon-7712454-low res-simply so soSimon took a field trip to the excellent Dirty Rotten Scoundrels to leech off the suavity of Robert Lindsay and Bonnie Langford. Instead, they exhibited more charisma in 11 seconds than Simon has in 11 weeks. Bonnie for 2015, please. Anyhow, yet another old Hollywood number, featuring Kristina the red-hot vamp and Simon the socially mobile waiter, but somewhat underwhelming: opening section on the stairs messy, lost character and energy whenever it went into hold, approximately 27 too many high kicks, and more finger snaps than a West Side Story marathon. Improved technique and good attempt at performance, but set the tone for a rather plodding, disconnected night. Also: disaaaaahstrous final lift.

Song: “Heartache Tonight”, Michael Bublé

Judges’ comments: Len liked the mix of steps. Bruno enjoyed the Rat Pack elements. Craig thought he lost frame and missed the last lift, but he’s come a long way. Darcey praised the phenomenal footwork, though needed looser shoulders on snaps.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35


Caroline and Pasha – Instant classic

caroline-7712467-low res-strictly sensationalThis week, Pasha unleashed Olly Murs upon us. I may never recover from this betrayal. Unsurprisingly, he contributed nothing but reality show clichés and the vacant smile of one whose mouth is “consciously uncoupled” from his brain. That idiocy aside, another fantastic week for Caroline, gifted a strong, stripped-back, intense Argentine tango with simmering drama, elegant lifts and intricate leg decoration. The odd wobble and too much anticipation – in this, of all dances, you really want to see organic lead and follow – and needed looser legs in the ganchos, plus lacking a little in the sexual tension department, otherwise an all-too-rare example of authentic choreo danced with respect and conviction. Unfortunately, the effect was slightly marred by Caroline’s baffling oil slick hair. The Strictly gods giveth, and they taketh away.

Song: “La Cumparsita”, Gerardo Matos Rodríguez (COPYCAT KLAXON: Lesley Garrett and Anton, David Dickinson and Camilla, Lisa Snowdon and Brendan, Ann Widdecombe and Anton)

Judges’ comments: Bruno wandered around a Stradivarius metaphor and said they pitched it perfectly. Craig noted loss of balance, otherwise thrilling. Darcey loved the mood, music, “divine” leg shapes and effortless lifts. Len praised the intensity, hint of passion and clever footwork.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39


Pixie and Trent – Pink elephants

pixie-7712556-low res-simply so soPixie’s VT hinted at her struggles with the cha cha, but unwisely traded this human vulnerability for a cynical cute kids hit with a trip to her old primary school. Their routine can be summarised thusly: pink, pink, OH MY EYES THAT’S PINK, and wow, Trent, I don’t know what you smoke before you choreograph, but I want to live in the world of your imagining. This camp, quirky, frankly unfathomable number (why Russell Grant’s living room furniture? What is trapped in Pixie’s hair and when will she shake it out?) relied too heavily on illegal lifts, tricks and posing, rather like their early routines, but lots of solid cha cha as well, if hampered by her struggles with leg action. Decent attempt and certainly more content than some of her competitors, but a bad time to get one of her weaker styles.

Song: “Love Shack”, Glee version (COPYCAT KLAXON: Richard Arnold and Erin)

Judges’ comments: Craig was impressed by her dancing all the accents, but legs too stiff and straight. Darcey loved the zest and details, though leg action inconsistent. Len had his lift moan and agreed on the leg action. Bruno enjoyed the Swinging Sixties vibe.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 8, 9 – 35


Mark and Karen – Puppy love

mark-7712582-low res-simply so soMark’s heartstring-tugging, oh-so-romantic VT consisted of his fiancée literally phoning it in. Riveting stuff. Their foxtrot/pretty much a smooth (nothing to say, Len? Really?) had more charm and flair than Simon and Kristina’s oversold number, plus this pair has a far more natural connection, but lacked swing and sway, too constrained in hold and didn’t travel. Slightly safe for a quarter-final dance, with the wow factor coming from the canny music choice, styling and ginormous letters spelling out U-N-D-E-R-D-O-G. Or was that just me? Definitely most improved, though I’m not sure he’s the life-changing emerging butterfly contestant of our dreams. Particularly not when he makes hackneyed Oscar speeches every time he opens his mouth. Strong entry in this night of pre-pre-final malaise, but lands in the “good not great” district. (A part of town looking mighty busy right now. We’re erecting extra tents.)

Song: “L-O-V-E”, Nat King Cole (COPYCAT KLAXON: Austin Healey and Erin)

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised his topline, style and transitions. Len and Bruno thought it was charming, and Bruno said he finally got the timing and ease of movement. Craig liked the energy, but too square in hold.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35


Jake and Janette – Send in the clowns

jake-7712949-low res-simply so soThe game is over: Jake has won all the Family prop points. Adorable Strictly superfan kids playing dress-up? Good luck, Mark and your absent fiancée. Their circus-themed Charleston wasn’t as horrifying as that descriptor suggests – other than the trapeze entrance and cocktail umbrellas shtick, the theme was relatively unobtrusive – and it had good sync, strong performance, decent swivel and brave, innovative lifts, with just a couple of wobbles on entry/exit. On the downside, Jake was gurning for England. Either he’s been told it’s just too subtle (for a laugh. By someone who hates him) or he had a piece of toffee stuck in his molar the entire routine and was absolutely determined to dislodge it. Fun, energetic slapstick, though not so much dancing as – appropriately enough – a circus act.

Song: “Entry of the Gladiators”, Ken Griffin’s Circus Band Arms

Judges’ comments: Len said he’d taken a giant step into the semi-final. Bruno compared it with Fellini (ohhhh-kay) and “the turn of the night”. Craig called him a character dancer and liked the quirkiness. Darcey praised the sync and imaginative lifts.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38


Frankie and Kevin – All work and no play

kevin-7712975-low res-simply so soKevin has man flu. Unlike Karen, who just has flu and thus does not get an entire VT devoted to her terrible suffering. In other news, Frankie has a Saturday(s) job down at t’mill, inspiring her to unleash her gangsta side. Which… is unfortunate. Worse than Frankie attempting hip hop? Kevin attempting hip hop. This (checks notes) “salsa” was less prim and cutesy than their usual numbers and had some ambitious lifts, but traded fastidiousness for sloppy connection, confused transitions and lack of conviction in footwork and core – nowhere near grounded enough. Increasingly sketchy choreo from Kevin this year – has Joanne been “helping” him out? Oh, and Len, anything to moan about here? No? Just checking. Most problematic for this style, lacked chemistry between them – their relationship is far too platonic. And/or bland. Kevin’s sixth-former prepping for first job interview attire not helping.

Song: “Work”, Kelly Rowland (Freemasons Remix)

Judges’ comments: Bruno liked the passion, but troubled dismounts. Craig said it was haphazard and lost fluidity, though she’s incredible. Darcey thought it was spicy and packed, but lifts weren’t assured. Len found it rough around the edges.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 8, 9 – 34


Leaderboard pre-waltz-a-thon

Caroline and Pasha – 39

Jake and Janette – 38

Simon and Kristina – 35

Pixie and Trent – 35

Mark and Karen – 35

Frankie and Kevin – 34

Caroline retains top spot, Jake’s up, and Pixie and Frankie drop. Dangerous three-way tie.

Waltz-a-thon

Len introduced this time-waster by explaining they’ll be looking for proper technique and not allowing illegal elements like lifts. So… pretty much how you should be judging all the ballroom dances, yes?

Come Dancing kindly donated their entire Autumn/Winter Tulle Fruit Pastilles Collection, and the cameramen proceeded to make the entire exercise supremely pointless by hardly showing some couples at all and zigzagging past the rest as though simulating the after-shock of an IED detonation.

From what I could glimpse, Jake was a hot mess, Mark lurked in a corner, and Pixie and Trent were the only ones to honour the ballroom competition set-up: looking divine while ploughing through their opponents with razor-sharp elbows. This is the real contact sport, bitches.

Result: sixth Jake, fifth Mark, fourth Caroline, third Simon, second Frankie, first Pixie.

Leaderboard post-waltz-a-thon

Caroline and Pasha – 39 + 3 = 42

Pixie and Trent – 35 + 6 = 41

Jake and Janette – 38 + 1 = 39

Simon and Kristina – 35 + 4 = 39

Frankie and Kevin – 35 + 5 = 39

Mark and Karen – 34 + 2 = 37

The waltz-a-thon boosted Pixie and Frankie, and knocked Jake and Mark down slightly. And that three-way tie… is now just in a slightly different place. Well, didn’t the waltz-a-thon solve everything! Next up: world peace!


Sunday

Our pros (and guest pro Neil Jones) began their new careers as interpretative dance weather forecasters. This week: scattered showers, not ideal for open-toed stilettos. Cheers, guys!

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Down-with-da-kids black jumpsuit, and hair peculiarly plastered to one side of her face as though trying to draw attention to her right ear. Does it have magical powers? Is it where her “On” switch is located?

OneRepublic… were muted. Trent and Kristina semi-pasoed, giving us a chance to enjoy the combination of this series’ most laidback pro and most histrionic. It was like pairing Alex Salmond and The Dude.

Len’s lens highlights:

  • Len had another go at Pixie’s leg action. Someone’s not getting concert tickets
  • Darcey praised Mark’s transitions
  • Bruno lauded Jake’s acting AKA his amazing detachable eye sockets

In the dance-off: Pixie and Trent (surprising), and Simon and Kristina (less surprising). Slight improvements from both, making it the first proper close call of this series – I think Simon just edged it in the dance-off, though easier to fix an errant lift than find perfect goodbye-pixie-7713490-low res-
Latin leg action in one hour. Craig and Bruno saved Pixie, Darcey Simon, and “head judge Len” went full-on Cowell, milking the moment for all it was worth before saving Simon. He judged on the basis of that one dance rather than the series – is that fair at this crucial stage? I’m saying no. Discuss!

What do you think? Did the right couple go home? Are you glad the voters saved Mark? And who’s looking like a winner? Leave your thoughts below or get in touch on Twitter...

See you next week, when we go to two dances and I weep into my keyboard. 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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