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Strictly Speaking week 12

Posted on December 14, 2015


Ah, two dances. Either double the fun, or a gruelling reminder that these people have lives and jobs and adding a cha cha to a Viennese waltz at the end of a long series is just asking for a nervous breakdown on live TV. (That’s the producers asking. Preferably during the X Factor overlap.) Pretty much everyone fell victim to the two dance curse, whether producing at least one lacklustre performance or – in Georgia’s case – becoming a carrier for the plague. Was it a banner show? It was not. Did anyone scream “OOM PAH PAH” loud enough to wake the dead? They did not. Let’s take it as a win and move on.

To the dance-off, our very own plague. Loath as I am to add to the petition culture, surely we’d have almost universal support for ditching it, at least at this stage? The judges’ scoring has reached a level of surreal artistry that suggests a late bid for the Turner Prize, so we can hardly accept their critical faculties are far superior to ours, and when you have dancers like Katie and Anita whose presence is more about public engagement than technical prowess, doesn’t it make sense to let viewer votes decide that outcome? Also, why on earth have a two dance week testing the celebs’ consistency across ballroom and Latin (and whatever the hell Gleb was choreographing), but then make a final decision based on just one dance? Strictly logic does not resemble our Earth logic.  

Other hits and misses:

  • Welcome back to Musicals Week! No, really. Another batch of musicals-based song choices proving last week’s arbitrary theming was total nonsense. MISS
  • Yeah. The judges. We need to talk about the judges some more. Here’s an idea: establish a rule in Week 1 and apply it throughout the series, to everyone. Was Anita’s foxtrot way too American smooth? Yes. Could you say the same about nearly all of this series’ ballroom numbers? A thousand times yes. MISS
  • Like the Tory Government and its evaporating arts cuts, some bizarre scaremongering going on here. Tough comments should equal tough scores – put your paddle where your mouth is. MISS
  • Some vintage baffled Tess pick-ups from Claudia jokes this week. Truly my favourite part of the entire series. HIT
  • Bah. Do wish we could skip the annual Great British Public platitudes bonanza, AKA the thing that ate the VTs. Unless their messages are solely “More training footage. Now. Please and thank you.” MISS


Best in Show

  • Best performance: Jay’s Charleston Yes, he spectacularly dropped his partner, and his face still registers “Mildly concussed toddler”, but a wow moment in a night sorely lacking them.
  • Best costume: Katie’s red-hot number The only redeeming feature of her tepid Charleston.
  • Best move: Jay nuzzling Aliona’s bosom, again. Really not sure why she keeps choreographing that in, unless she’s actively trolling the tabloids.
  • Best line: Claud’s “The dolphins are in charge.” Which would explain a lot of the production decisions. More Claud runners-up: “It’s Week 12 – I’ve run out of similes” and, in reference to hair, “I once found half a breadstick in mine.”



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

claudia-tess-bbc-guy-levyAnother gem from the Flash Gordon knock-off cosplay collection. Claud in ill-fitting asymmetric black sack.














Katie and Anton – Hot mess


katie-derham-anton-du-beke-charleston-bbc-guy-levystruggles sparkleKatie VT Stress: everyone else’s Charlestons were amazing and she can’t possibly match up. Sadly, this proves true – not so much that we’ve had a series of vintage Charlestons, but that hers is something of a dance disaaaaahster by comparison. Littered with errors and went completely out of sync several times, plus rather too slapdash for a semi-final. The usual smiley Katie performance, even if there was an air of indulging an eager child in a game that’s really beneath her, but harshly spotlighted that she and/or her partner lack the versatility to properly challenge at this stage of the competition. 

Song: “Too Darn Hot” from Kiss Me, Kate (COPYCAT KLAXON: Audley Harrison and Natalie)

Judges’ comments: Len said it was a struggle – the lifts were clumsy and she looked outside her comfort zone. Bruno called it “loosey-goosey”, and she went off timing. Craig found the swivel non-existent, awkward, stiff, uncomfortable and the kicks were out of time. Darcey said it started well but faded.

Judges’ scores: 4, 7, 7, 7 – 25 


Jay and Aliona – One good turn 

jay-mcguiness-aliona-vilani-viennese-bbc-guy-levysimply so soJay VT Stress: a simple mistake could destroy the fluidity of the number. Well, that might be more of a concern in a continuous Viennese waltz, but this was a routine that screamed “We’ve got two dances – no time to mess around with new technique”, leaning heavily on his pre-Strictly experience. Beautiful lyricism and balletic contemporary movement, including an impressive pirouette, but much weaker in the actual ballroom sections. Right arm sagging in hold, posture variable, and still lacking a strong lead and real drive – too passive in the rotation. The music didn’t help, trapping them in a sluggish tempo.

Song: “Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?”, Bryan Adams (COPYCAT KLAXON: Peter Schmeichel and Erin)

Judges’ comments: Bruno thought he took care of Aliona, but needed more drive. Craig loved the opening, but wanted more exaggerated topline and he didn’t smile once. Darcey felt the romance, but needed larger steps. Len said it had lovely movement, but he didn’t close his feet on the natural turns.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 8, 9 – 34 


Georgia and Giovanni – I’m a survivor 

georgia-may-foote-giovanni-pernice-cha-cha-bbc-guy-levysimply so soGeorgia VT Stress: she’s dying, and that cuts into training time. Judging this cha cha solely on technique, it was basically a sloppy Week 1 effort, but credit to them for getting through it on what sounds like two minutes’ practice while in strict quarantine. Good rhythm, no obvious errors, nice arm placement and strong on both fun, sexy presentation and disco (which apparently is now an official aspect of Latin technique…). But weak foot pressure and bent legs, so hardly any hip action generated via the actual cha cha basics, and more marked through than fully danced. Commendable effort, but underwhelming.


Song: “I Will Survive”, Gloria Gaynor (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jason Donovan and Kristina)

Judges’ comments: Craig said she didn’t straighten her legs and so lost the hips, but adored the disco. Darcey praised their energy and connection, but agreed on leg action. Len thought it lacked polish, but great considering their limited training time. Bruno agreed, enjoying the feistiness.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 9 – 33 


Anita and Gleb – Taking the rough with the smooth 

anita-rani-gleb-savchenko-foxtrot-bbc-guy-levysimply so soAnita VT Stress: she’s got a mental block about the floor spin. Here’s an idea, Gleb – take it out. No one’s ever marked down a foxtrot for lack of floor spins. So, this was indeed more American smooth (though less so than Kellie’s Viennese last week, AHEM), which seemed an odd gamble given that it didn’t really benefit Anita. Yes, it added some entertainment value, but the interminable Fabulous Baker Boys piano opening was awkward, while she actually looked great in the foxtrot sections – improved movement, footwork and hold, though still losing her topline on occasion. More focus on that and less on tricks might have led to a real ballroom breakthrough. Still, bonus points for styling out the corpses of 100 flamingos.

Song: “New York, New York” Frank Sinatra (COPYCAT KLAXON: Colin Jackson and Erin, Michael Vaughn and Natalie)

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised her style, but she sank into her neck. Len said it was too American smooth. Bruno thought she connected with the music, and it had a wonderful flow. Craig liked the foxtrot more than the smooth – Gleb should have focussed on the former.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 9 – 32 


Kellie and Kevin – All in the family 

kellie-bright-kevin-clifton-rumba-bbc-guy-levysimply so soKellie VT Stress: struggling to take romance with Kevin seriously. That was the major weakness of this rumba, which – as Bruno pointed out – was more like a brother and sister dancing together under sufferance than a grand passion. Also working against her: hard to be sexy in visible green pants. On the upside, Kevin finally rediscovered his choreographic mojo, managing to keep it (relatively) simple with a nice mix of gimmick-free basics and more challenging figures. A few stumbles, as she kept locking her legs rather than pushing into the floor and settling her weight fully, and a bit too stiff and deliberate, but decent hip action on basics and coped well with a tricky, exposing dance.

Song: “Songbird”, Eva Cassidy (COPYCAT KLAXON: Cheri Lunghi and James)

Judges’ comments: Len loved the content, but noted a wobble. Bruno thought it was too prim and proper and wanted fuller arm extensions. Craig praised the work she’d put in. Darcey said it was lyrical, but wanted more chemistry.

Judges’ scores: 9, 8, 9, 8 – 34 


Katie and Anton – Facing the music 

katie-derham-anton-du-beke-waltz-bbc-guy-levysimply so soJudges’ notes: she looks great (oh, do let’s stop defining Katie by her appearance), but weak in Latin and makes mistakes. Though Len hilariously called this waltz “quiet and understated”, Anton threw everything at it: opera! Harp! Smoke monster large enough to cover every last bit of rogue footwork! Unfortunately, this was not the perfect dance of his dreams. Copious gapping, stutters and stumbles, lost her frame, and got on the wrong foot which messed up an entire section. A real shame, as there was some lovely movement and strong pivots, but again lacking the consistency for a semi-final. Anton’s face afterwards was basically a 10 paddle slowly sinking into a swamp.

Song: “O Mio Babbino Caro”, Puccini

Judges’ comments: Bruno said it didn’t live up to the music – threw away her arms and lost the arch of her back. Craig thought she redeemed herself after the Charleston, but balance issues. Darcey praised her transitions, but too upright. Len agreed there were mistakes and unstable moments.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 7, 7 – 31 (Really, Darcey?) 


Jay and Aliona – Just what the doctor ordered 

jay-mcguiness-aliona-vilani-charleston-bbc-guy-levystrictly sensationalJudges’ notes: great technique and musicality, struggles with performance. How will he cope with gurn-fest Charleston? All credit to Aliona – and the determinedly cross-promoting BBC – for providing a Doctor Who framework that did a lot of the character work for him, plus the fast and furious routine meant little time for his (total lack of) facial expression to really register. Fantastic, seemingly effortless delivery, great swivel action, impressive spins and mainly strong lifts, plus he did at least recover from the one failed lift pretty smoothly. The most satisfying routine since their oft-referenced jive, and great to see such a confident number in a night of fraught effort.

Song: “Doctor Jazz” from Jelly’s Last Jam

Judges’ comments: Craig said it was brilliant, and you almost couldn’t tell whether he’d meant to drop Aliona. Darcey praised their use of accents. Len said he didn’t seem under pressure, and loved the routine. Bruno, on brand: “Exhilarate! Exhilarate!” and “You’re the time lord of the dance!”.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 10 – 37 


Georgia and Giovanni – Swept away 

georgia-may-foote-giovanni-pernice-viennese-bbc-guy-levystrictly sensationalJudges’ notes: she’s a great all-rounder and improved performance, but can lose her topline. Slightly random opening shot of a tree, which made me wonder if Countryfile was the next piece of cross-promotion, otherwise a lovely uncluttered Viennese. All the romance missing from Kellie and Kevin’s rumba, and the drive lacking from Jay’s earlier effort, plus well-maintained frame, fantastic fluidity, and good combination of storytelling and ballroom. Could have done without the endless standing spins and breaks of hold – unnecessary when she coped so well with the basics and produced a good fleckerl – but a ravishing number.

Song: “Runaway”, The Corrs

Judges’ comments: Darcey called her a breath of fresh air, and praised her frame and exquisite transitions. Len said it was full of content, rotation and lyrical movement, and he’s full of admiration. (Though not full of 10s, for some reason.) Bruno said the romance was totally believable, and if she’s in the dance-off he’ll do it in speedos. Threat or enticement? Craig: “I could watch you dance all night. Gorgeous.”

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 9, 10 – 38 


Anita and Gleb – Never a dull moment 

anita-rani-gleb-savchenko-salsa-bbc-guy-levystruggles sparkleJudges’ notes: she’s most improved and takes risks, but pigeon-toed. Well, the risk here was doing two semi-final dances that actively broke the (sometimes enforced) rules: American smooth foxtrot, and whatever the hell this was. Hip hop salsa? Early showdance? Promo for a death-defying workout video? The music choice and styling ensured Anita would never be able to produce proper salsa, as there was no Cuban rhythm to match and the wedge trainers pushed her weight back rather than forward, though I’d argue it wasn’t much worse than some of the high-scoring “disco salsas” we’ve endured. Next year: either do proper salsa or put it out of its misery. Anyhow, this was full of insanely daring lifts, high-energy performance and certainly memorable, but too big a risk at such a key stage.

Song: “Feel This Moment”, Pitbull feat. Christina Aguilera

Judges’ comments: Len liked the athleticism, but lacked salsa rhythm. Bruno praised their efforts, though shaky moments because of the speed. Craig called her brave, and strangely he enjoyed it. Darcey was impressed by how much she learned in a week.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32 


Kellie and Kevin – Blast from the past 

kellie-bright-kevin-clifton-american-bbc-guy-levystrictly sensationalJudges’ notes: good characterisation, but more convincing side by side than in hold. Kevin’s choreographic resurgence continued with this American smooth Fred n Ginger fanfic. Pastiche, yes, but a guaranteed crowd- and judge-pleaser, and the best use of his retro fetish this series. Pretty limited foxtrot – as per the intro, she’s definitely happier side by side – and still needs to both drive and stretch through her torso more, but lovely buoyancy in the lifts and jazzy embellishments. I still find her hard to warm to, perhaps because there’s such a relentless, brittle stage school competency rather than natural engagement in her performances (also the shrieking), but she was certainly the most consistent across a patchy night.

Song: “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”, Irving Berlin (COPYCAT KLAXON: David Dickinson and Camilla)

Judges’ comments: Bruno said Fred and Ginger’s legacy is alive and well. Craig called it a classic smooth danced beautifully – shame they were late on the end pose. Darcey praised her Hollywood flair. Len said she deserves to get to the final.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 



Kellie and Kevin – 34 + 39 = 73

Jay and Aliona – 34 + 37 = 71

Georgia and Giovanni – 33 + 38 = 71

Anita and Gleb – 32 + 32 = 64

Katie and Anton – 25 + 31 = 56

Kellie rises, while Katie falls to the bottom. 



Pitbull again. Joy of joys. And our pros competing with moving walls and props-a-go in da club. The walls won. 

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

tess-claudia-bbc-guy-levyCrack the broken mirror shards code to join MI5! Claud in a shambolic negligee.














kylie-bbc-guy-levyKylie and her genetically blessed troupe performed a vaguely sleazy Christmas number, providing plenty of equal opportunities ogling. God bless Kylie.








Len’s lens highlights:

  • Len had another go at Jay’s Viennese footwork
  • Darcey praised Georgia’s frame
  • Bruno explained Katie’s betrayal of the god Puccini
  • And a judges montage, because what this show needs is more montages

In the dance-off: Katie and Anton, and Anita and Gleb. Craig saved Anita, but everyone else saved Katie.

So. The point of the dance-off is to give the couples a second chance to improve on a number and win the judges’ votes. That works for Katie’s waltz (many visible mistakes first time round, one or two corrected). It does not work when the main criticism is of choreography and concept – how could Anita possibly improve those? I think she might have had a better shot of winning them over with the foxtrot than the salsa, but either way the deck was stacked against her.

Which means no Gleb-mazing insane showdance (can you even imagine?), while Katie – much weaker when judged across two dances – will almost certainly flame out early on, making for a far less interesting final.

Also: rather disappointing to see three dancers going straight through who all came into the competition with copious dance/performance experience. Strictly’s wonderful message is that anyone can learn to dance – that’s getting more and more muffled when the improvers are slayed by an ever-larger crop of ringers. Yes, it’s fab to see a close, competitive final with strong contestants, but even more inspiring when one of them has transformed over the weeks to earn their place.

Did you enjoy the semi-final? Do you think the judges made the right choice? And who will lift the trophy next week? Leave your thoughts below or get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain 

See you next week for the grand final. In the meantime…keep dancing!



Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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