Posted on November 2, 2015
Bitter experience has obliterated all possible hope for Strictly’s annual fright fest – best watched several dozen drinks in, when the more disturbing details begin to blur round the edges – but this was an abysmal show even by Halloween standards. It’s hard to know who to pity most: the dancers, stuck with the impossible challenge of marrying ballroom’s noble soul with bargain basement B movie knock-offs; the judges, grumpily sifting through the resulting hodgepodge; or us viewers, subjected to this retina-searing chaos.
Unsurprisingly, it was no one’s best night – only three couples scored over 30, and two hit a new low. Hey, it’s almost as if introducing tenuous theming and overbearing styling doesn’t actually improve dance performance! Fancy that. The real worry is that some of Halloween’s most egregious aspects (“comedy” VTs, over-production) are creeping into regular shows too. If you need a Ghost of Christmas Future warning about where that strategy leads, I have four words for you: Dancing with the Stars. Now that’s truly scary.
Other hits and misses:
Best in Show
There was a group dance. The unholy union of Natalie and Brendan tore a hole in the cosmos and resulted in a particularly sub-par zombie apocalypse. Craig rocked up in a veil because apparently gay marriage is good for a laugh. The end.
Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Claudia donned cat ears and a tail and yet still outclassed Tess in the fashion stakes, as the latter’s unreciprocated love for asymmetry continues.
Katie and Anton – Phantom menace
Halloween VT: Katie is visited by the ghosts of Anton’s former partners. There’s approximately 80% too much Widdy, never enough Drunk Nancy. Annoyance level: 7. The best part of this routine was the graceful exit of the gondola. The rest was a stiff, schlocky mess, lacking paso shaping, power and proper dramatic accents. Yes, the music choice (from Lord Anti-Tax Credits) was challenging, but didn’t excuse the murky approach to timing from both dancers. A feast of missed connections and confused transitions, and more evidence – if it were needed – that Latin isn’t Anton’s bag, baby. His “But we’ve got quickstep next!” bleat illustrated his level of commitment to addressing that problem.
Song: “The Phantom of the Opera”, Andrew Lloyd Webber (COPYCAT KLAXON: Kara Tointon and Artem)
Judges’ comments: Len said she wasn’t sharp or aggressive enough. Bruno agreed, and her feet were very insecure. Craig called it stiff and awkward, with balance issues and accidental illegal lift. Darcey suggested using her eyes more. Cheers, Darce.
Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 6, 5 – 21
Kirsty and Brendan – Bat out of hell
Halloween VT: Kirsty’s turning into a vampire. Brendan is fed up. Annoyance level: 4, as this actually seemed to reflect the current state of their partnership. Well, Brendan got to fly. That was nice. He’s taking panto bookings now. Otherwise this was a miserable flop of a Charleston, its flat-footed, off-time galumphing seemingly mocked by the crisp tap sound effects of the track. Heavy, unnatural, mistakes galore and one lift abandoned entirely. (Brendan explained he “couldn’t get it up”. No sniggering, now.) You can’t fault Kirsty’s laser-focussed work ethic, but sometimes willpower just isn’t enough.
Song: “Bad Romance”, Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox (COPYCAT KLAXON: Pamela Stephenson and James)
Judges’ comments: Bruno: “What a mess.” Needed to be much sharper and up on her toes. Craig said it was flat-footed, lost the swivel, and the kicks were horribly out of time. Darcey praised the effort and Kirsty’s cartwheels. Len thought she coped well with the mistakes.
Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 4 – 17
Jeremy and Karen – Thrilled to death
Halloween VT: Jeremy is becoming a zombie. Then he drinks the right tea and everything’s fine. Is this a stealth PG Tips ad? Annoyance level: 6. Now, we know Jeremy’s about as good at dancing salsa as Lord Chilcot is at meeting deadlines, so it seems almost pointless assessing him on those terms. (If we were: no hip action, flat-footed shuffling, jagged as a mirror smashed to smithereens.) But you’ve all come here to see Thriller, and that was every bit the brain-melting comic treat we hoped it would be. Bonus points to Karen for choreographing the speech part, and Jeremy’s eternal optimism that THIS time he’ll get it right. He’s like Charlie Brown returning to the football again and again.
Song: “Thriller”, Michael Jackson (COPYCAT KLAXON: Colin Jackson and Erin, Jimi Mistry and Flavia. They did pasos, which makes far more sense.)
Judges’ comments: Craig noted the lack of hips and flow, but it actually worked as a zombie. Darcey called his characterisation spectacular, but he needs to soften his knees. Len praised his “awkward charm”. Bruno loved the Thriller moves, but salsa is “dead and buried”.
Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 6, 6 – 22
Anita and Gleb – Scream queen
Halloween VT: Anita learns to fly. Annoyance level: 2 – if you squint at it, it’s almost like actual training footage! Gleb, his inner moody boy king finally released, brought us an ultra-stylish conceptual dance: Essence of Waltz from Dior. It looked stunning – Anita should spent the rest of her life dressed as Maleficent – and was thoroughly engrossing, though the combination of evil plotting bathed in queasy green light and romantic waltz was always going to be weird. Strong storytelling, expressive arms, some decent footwork (hello, heel leads!), and just the odd wobble and loss of topline. I disagree with Craig: you can’t tell a spooky tale without some spikiness, but actually the theming – hazardous horns excepted – was mainly kept under control.
Song: “Once Upon A Dream”, Lana Del Rey
Judges’ comments: Darcey loved the drama. Len didn’t understand the story (because he hasn’t been to the pictures since they introduced technicolour), but fabulous footwork. Bruno said the underarm turns need work, but she immersed herself in the story. Craig wanted more grace and flow, though liked the storytelling.
Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 8, 7 – 29
Jamelia and Tristan – Warp speed
Halloween VT: Jamelia controls Tristan. Annoyance level: 3. This seems sadly true. Free Tristan! Another loose, wild, messy dance from Jamelia, who, like several celebs this year, makes no differentiation between styles. Heavy, weight too far back for jive, got behind the beat as she ran out of energy, legs bent continuously, and very flat-footed (I know, I’ve used it already, but really – it’s synonymous with this year’s Halloween). Jamelia seems less nervous, which is nice, but there’s not much else to enjoy here – she was chasing the dance and the music the whole way. The skeleton had better rhythm.
Song: “Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (COPYCAT KLAXON: Michelle Williams and Brendan)
Judges’ comments: Len said it felt under-rehearsed. Needs sharper kicks and straighter legs, but good energy. Bruno wants her to point her toes on the flicks, otherwise all the steps look the same. Craig noted she’s flat-footed and sickled, but fantastic energy. Darcey said she does tire, and needs to get on the balls of her feet.
Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 7, 7 – 26
Jay and Aliona – Sheep in wolf’s clothing
Halloween VT: Story time. Annoyance level: 3. Got to admire Aliona’s “There was a perfect princess and everyone did what she told them THE END” reading. Also her wringing every last drop of sexual subtext out of the fairy tale in a racy routine, though I don’t remember Little Red Riding Hood seducing the wolf. Smooth, suave and musical out of hold, and the lifts were excellent, but looked uncomfortable and constrained in hold – not enough drive and some frame issues. As that’s the area where Jay is actually untrained, it would be great to see more focus on it. Being generous, the OTT wolf make-up hid most facial performance; being realistic, we’ve been stuck in Act I of Jay’s Great Acting Journey for far too long now. Improvement, please.
Song: “Li’l Red Riding Hood”, Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs
Judges’ comments: Bruno loved his elegant lines. Craig praised his timing and control, but wanted more characterisation. Darcey loved the lifts, though agreed he needs to sell it more. Len pointed out footwork errors, but well danced.
Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 8, 9 – 34
Kellie and Kevin – Remedial class
Halloween(ish) VT: Kellie is very busy spoiler-ing future episodes of EastEnders, and Kevin does a Danny Dyers impression. Annoyance level: 9. I’m not sure where to start with this ghastly, headache-inducing mash-up, which showed no commitment to either paso or its supposed Harry Potter theme. Some answers to burning questions: does sticking a giant dining room table in the middle of the floor improve a routine? No. Will dancing on said table look like anything other than a 3am bar brawl? No. Is there a good reason why Kevin was branded with an ‘S’? No. Though we could make it a ‘P’ for crimes against paso. Stompy, stiff, disjointed, no shaping, and dismally lacking in coherent characterisation. Sidenote: can we stop indulging Kevin’s preteen fantasies now?
Song: “School’s Out”, Glee Cast and “Hedwig’s Theme” from Harry Potter, John Williams
Judges’ comments: Craig wanted more Spanish line. Darcey agreed, though praised the energy. Len said the table was too restrictive. Bruno thought she lost the lines and finesse.
Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7, 7 – 28
Carol and Pasha – Creature feature
Halloween VT: Carol has managed to clone Pasha. Annoyance level: 1, as long as she shares her secret. So…yes. Frankenstein rumba to The Partridge Family. It was never going to end well, was it? Taking the prize for Most Incongruous Song/Dance/Theme Combo of the night, against stiff competition, we then added to the nightmarish, psychedelic mix a celebrity entering a fugue state. Carol maintained her cultish smile, but seemed barely present, for which you can hardly blame her. No hip action, obviously, because of the heel leads. Certainly no countenancing of seduction. Positives, positives… Well, she was mainly on time. With the INSANE music. So there’s that. Sidenote: Carol’s towering salt ‘n’ pepper fright wig, my LORD. The higher the hair, the closer to God?
Song: “I Think I Love You”, The Partridge Family
Judges’ comments: Darcey wanted more fluidity and sensuality. Len criticised the heel leads. Bruno quipped she might get to keep the frock. Craig: “It was like watching a barn dance.”
Judges’ scores: 2, 4, 4, 3 – 13
Georgia and Giovanni – High spirits
Halloween VT: Georgia gets a new (ghostly) partner. Annoyance level: 2, because frankly she’s earned it. She also did well to hang onto a too-fast track in this tango, maintaining a decent staccato, hold and solid technical grounding throughout. The semi-Argentine tango midsection was a bit dubious, occasional gapping, heel leads came and went, and neckline issues in hold, but real confidence and conviction, and by far the night’s best balance of fun goofiness and ballroom content. Sidenote: costuming had an unfortunate Gestapo vibe. Let’s avoid that in future, shall we?
Song: “Ghostbusters”, Ray Parker Jr (COPYCAT KLAXON: Sid Owen and Ola)
Judges’ comments: Len dubbed her “The Queen of Halloween”, and praised the content. Bruno loved the staccato, footwork and speed. Craig thought it was feisty and (consults Word of the Day Calendar) “incandescent”. Darcey liked the powerful performance and exact movement.
Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35
Peter and Janette – Once you pop you can’t stop
Halloween VT: Camping. Annoyance level: 10. Camping is basically my worst nightmare, plus Andre hamming it up egregiously for The Blair Kitsch Project. Six weeks in, the judges have finally noticed that he’s dancing exactly the same way in every single performance. However, they haven’t given him much incentive to change by actually reflecting that criticism in scoring, which is a bit like noticing an oil company has polluted your entire water supply and fining them 10p. Again too heavily accented – essentially “How a foxtrot would look at the MTV Awards” – shoulders raised, footwork occasionally good (nice heel turn) but often fudged, and only really convinced in the random pop break.
Song: “Ghost”, Ella Henderson
Judges’ comments: Bruno said that like all performers “who’ve been around for a long time” (Bruno burn) Peter retreats into his pop dance safety zone. Foxtrot needs a gliding quality instead. Craig noted his shoulders came up and should be much smoother. Darcey agreed on the shoulders, but he works hard. Len praised some of the footwork, but right hand too high and too horizontal.
Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7, 7 – 28
Helen and Aljaž – Walk like an Egyptian
Halloween VT: Deluded Nurse Helen keeps injuring and then bandaging Aljaž. Annoyance level: 8. Uncomfortably close to a full-on Misery scenario. Wardrobe outdid themselves with this bridal shower loo roll game styling, which may or may not have contributed to Helen’s rather rigid, straight-legged samba delivery. Still, the “She’s meant to look like a stiff mummy!” ruse was pretty genius. Great timing, coped well with tricky rhythm changes other than one glaring error, decent samba rolls, crisp lines and some hip action, though still needs to get down into the floor more and connect through the core in Latin. A respectable effort.
Song: “Take Your Mama”, Scissor Sisters
Judges’ comments: Craig praised the choreography, and some bounce action. Darcey thought she “really came out of her box”. It’s a sarcophagus, Darce. Len called her a “yummy mummy”. Bruno sang some ABBA, because why the hell not at this stage, and said it was very inventive.
Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 8, 9 – 34
Georgia and Giovanni – 35
Jay and Aliona – 34
Helen and Aljaž – 34
Anita and Gleb – 29
Kellie and Kevin – 28
Peter and Janette – 28
Jamelia and Tristan – 26
Jeremy and Karen – 22
Katie and Anton – 21
Kirsty and Brendan – 17
Carol and Pasha – 13
Georgia hits the top spot for the first time, while Kellie, Kirsty and Carol tumble.
There was chess. There was not ballroom. Here endeth the pro dance update.
Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
LBD with protruding bra straps and a giant hole in the middle, Claud in party frock both sparkly and sombre.
James Morrison warbled tediously. Gleb and Kristina contempo-wafted. Was there ballroom? There was not.
Len’s lens highlights:
In the dance-off: Kirsty and Brendan, and Jamelia and Tristan – the public making their feelings on both clear by this point. Kirsty managed the missed lift, but it wasn’t really worth the wait. All the judges saved Jamelia.
What did you think of Halloween Week? Did you like the theming? And did the right couple go home? Leave your thoughts below or get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain
See you next week for a non-Halloween show. Thank the lord. In the meantime…keep dancing!