Posted on December 15, 2014
This was a long, long, looooong semi-final. It made War and Peace look like a Tweet. It made the Oscars look like a Saturday cartoon. Stars in distant galaxies went through entire lifespans. And still we came no closer to deciding what rumba actually is.
All of which would be forgivable if Strictly had treated us to a feast of gripping performances heralding a thrilling battle for final places. Instead, we got a nervy, risk-averse night high on schmaltz, low on entertainment value. After a number of tedious, spot-the-dance routines (rumba? Foxtrot? Rumba again?), there was a sudden burst of activity from the likely final three: Caroline’s salsa, Frankie’s Argentine tango and Simon’s (saccharine but technically strong) foxtrot.
But do three good dances justify that running time? And does anyone see a flaw in the plan that allows couples to avoid hated dances until the semi-final, when they all pile up like a disaaaahster on the M4? Rumba doesn’t have to be the dance of death, but it’s pretty grim viewing in this Friend Zone series, and it is hard to create a wow moment with Viennese or foxtrot, particularly when rampant over-theming replaces weekly improvement.
Let’s just thank the Strictly gods that no one indulged in a) human props, b) flying or c) actually dragging a family member on to the dancefloor (though it is coming – mark my words). Len’s psychotic rants have their uses.
Speaking of which…
Other hits and misses:
Best in Show
Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
The solution to that pesky “How to go from day (at a braless wedding) to night (pleated coffin shroud)” sartorial problem.
Jake and Janette – Blame it on the boogie
This week, Family prop points got real. Jake grabbed a few for his cute kids at school with other cute kids being cute (“BE CUTER! DADDY WANTS A PART IN DOWNTON!”). Oh, and Barbara Windsor popped in to share the wonder of her giant hair nest. Their cha cha to “Boogie Shoes”, featuring actual boogie shoes (semi-final = not so much playing safe as building a bomb shelter, bulk-buying baked beans and joining every religion going), was just OK – more Week 1 than polished end-of-series Latin. Clompy footwork, sticky locks, forced hip action and a pot stir that suggested Jake’s begun a new career in fracking. And how can you have a Red Shoes-esque narrative that doesn’t end in mutilation and moral preaching? Underwhelming.
Song: “Boogie Shoes”, KC and the Sunshine Band
Judges’ comments: Len enjoyed the lively mix of disco and cha cha. Bruno liked the enthusiasm, but the hip action was more salsa. Craig called it “an unruly drunken explosion”, lacking finesse. Darcey praised their connection, but needed better leg action.
Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 8, 8 – 30
Frankie and Kevin – Toy story
Family prop points: 10 for cute baby in cute hat. (“BE CUTER! MUMMY WANTS A SOLO CAREER!”) If you wondered why that song made you want to self-harm, let me enlighten you: it’s not the current John Lewis Christmas ad animal controversy, but the previous one – bear forced out of hibernation by bunny with a death wish. This rumba would send the bear back into deep sleep: stately, passionless and alternately blocky and floppy because of this week’s idiot theming. Is that how a toy soldier with skin condition and zombie ballerina doll with damaged batteries might rumba in a dark, soulless universe? Possibly. Is it what we want to see on Strictly? Hell to the no. Lacked hip action, grounding and reason for its existence.
Song: “Somewhere Only We Know”, Lily Allen
Judges’ comments: Bruno liked the innocence and unusual interpretation. Craig found it sterile, heavy and lacking in reach. Darcey wanted more body tension and expression. Len noted they have to choreograph to the music they’re given (HINT HINT), but still “a match made in heaven”.
Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 9, 10 – 34
Mark and Karen – Flora and fauna
Family prop points: -100 for Mark “crying” at the “surprise” appearance of his sisters. If he hasn’t sewn up a Kleenex ad campaign, I’ll be astonished. Aliona’s Swing of Sickly Sweetness returned, but that was only the beginning: white picket fence, ghastly ghostly projections, all the flower petals in the world, and Karen being eaten alive by lilac tulle. This wasn’t so much Viennese as David Lynch: The Musical! If you could watch for more than 10 seconds without vomiting violently and/or scouring the screen for Laura Palmer’s killer… congrats. You might have seen a serviceable hold, attempted fleckerl, skippy footwork, excess rise and fall, and lack of drive.
Song: “I Got You Babe”, Sonny and Cher
Judges’ comments: Craig said the transitions lacked grace and it wasn’t smooth enough, but improved hands. Darcey agreed it needed to glide more. Len recapped the “Mark came from NOTHING. His legs weren’t even attached to his body in Week 1!” underdog narrative. (Mark took 10 years’ worth of classes at Sylvia Young. Just FYI.) Bruno wanted more flow, but nice performance.
Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 8 – 33
Simon and Kristina – Wild thing
Family prop points: 0. Another visit from the Blue boys. Apparently they are his only friends. Simon, who seemingly waded through a rotting swamp before hitting the floor, opened his samba by nearly cartwheeling into Craig’s lap, setting the tone for an enthusiastic hot mess of a dance. Decent voltas, body action and high energy, but heel leads, messy transitions, bizarre off-kilter wiggling and the samba rolls equivalent of someone driving the wrong way round a roundabout. On a tractor. Blindfolded. Shame, given the potential displayed in his rehearsal footage, but this partnership has never entirely gelled, so live errors tend to spell doom for them.
Song: “I Like to Move It”, Reel 2 Real. (Check out Julianne Hough and Apolo Anton Ohno’s version on Dancing with the Stars.)
Judges’ comments: Darcey noted they got out of sync, but great solo work, body isolations and “relaxed vibe”. Len agreed it was a shame the rolls went wrong. Bruno said he let the animal out of the cage, but then couldn’t get in back in. (That’s no way to talk about Kristina.) Craig said he had a good groove, but overshot the round-off and went horribly wrong.
Judges’ scores: 6, 9, 8, 7 – 30 (Oh DARCEY. You’re just embarrassing yourself.)
Caroline and Pasha – Rough diamond
Family prop points: 6, with visit from cute nieces. (“BE CUTER! AUNTIE CAROLINE WANTS A PROPER PRESENTING GIG!”) Their emo foxtrot/ contemporary/ rumba/ interpretative dance expressing Caroline’s angst at wearing a shredder-ravaged tinsel skirt while her love for Pasha goes unrequited was lyrical and emotive, but the odd wobble, some strange footwork and a hold that was still, like, trying to FIND itself. A lot of the blame lies with the music choice (HINT HINT), which made finding foxtrot timing one of the Labours of Hercules, so impressive work from Caroline in navigating the fusion confusion. Oh, a possible uncommented upon illegal lift (with camera cutting away artfully). Pixie and Trent… still can’t muster any anger. We will do it for them.
Song: “Diamonds”, Josef Salvat
Judges’ comments: Len pointed out a feather step error and needed more lift out of frame, but plenty of sparkle. Bruno praised her emotional intensity, though a couple of shaky moments. Craig wanted more arch in her back and consistent head placement, but she styled it out. Darcey loved the expressiveness, though wants her to lift her eye level.
Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35
Jake and Janette – Stuck on you
Judges’ summation: Exciting to watch, great hips, dodgy technique. Their forecast for his Viennese came true, with another example of clever partner work and strong performance not quite covering a multitude of sins. Improved lines and charming in close embrace, but stiff and constrained in proper hold, dicey footwork, some strange free arm moments and lacked fluid rotation. Bonus points either given or taken away, depending on my mood, for the ginormous gauzy curtains lifted from a 1980s movie coy sex scene. Nice feeling and connection, but without lifts or gimmicks, inarguably weak for this stage of the competition.
Song: “When a Man Loves a Woman”, Percy Sledge (COPYCAT KLAXON: Matt Di Angelo and Flavia)
Judges’ comments: Bruno praised his elegance, but his neck was too stiff. Craig said he’d improved the frame, though agreed it was too tight in hold. Darcey warned him to watch the free arm and, like, BELIEVE in yourself. Fly with the wind! Be every colour of the rainbow! Len said he looked paralysed.
Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31
Frankie and Kevin – The fifth element
Judges: She’s weaker in Latin and struggles to change character and tell a story. (Basically, she’s the anti-Jake.) But the only thing needed to unlock Frankie’s inner actress was – who knew? – a visit to Kevin’s hairstylist: with the pair bouffant-ed to the high heavens, they finally produced a genuinely engaging dance. This wasn’t the steamiest Argentine tango we’ve seen (they’re still tediously platonic), and a few technical issues in a frenzied number – legs placed rather than moving in reaction to Kevin’s lead, footwork could have been crisper and hold variable – but good use of accents, committed storytelling, some great shapes, and the leftfield music choice actually worked. (OK, producers. You win this battle. BUT NOT THE WAR.)
Song: “The 5th”, David Garrett
Judges’ comments: Craig praised the drama, though transitions not seamless and free leg should have been freer. Darcey said they maintained their intensity and lovely leg action, but topline showed the effort too much. Len loved the mood and passion. Bruno was impressed by them matching the details of the music.
Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38
Mark and Karen – Footloose
Judges: He’s ON A JOURNEY. UNDERDOG. JOURNEY. Have we all got that? You there, at the back? Anyhoo, your reaction to this dance will depend on whether the words “barefoot rumba” make you coo like a well-fed dove or keel over by Victor Silvester’s grave screaming “WHY GOD, WHY?” I’m in the latter camp. I have a permanent tent and a tray of s’mores. Calling this “rumba” breaches the Trade Descriptions Act – it was more freestyle t’ai chi in quicksand and/or spectator sport, with Karen doing all the work while Mark meandered about chucking in heel leads and Bambi eyes. He FEELS all the FEELINGS, you guys. Well sold, but no hip action and no basics. When this reasonable criticism was made, Karen wept (it’s a joint Kleenex contract) and her partner made the Mark speech to end all Mark speeches. Can you imagine what would happen if he won? The programme would go on until Easter.
Song: “Fields of Gold”, Eva Cassidy (COPYCAT KLAXON: Kenny Logan and Ola)
Judges’ comments: Darcey, Len and Bruno liked the performance, but wanted basics and correct foot placement/hip action. Craig, poisoned by his felt tip goatee, ranted about breaking tradition and redefining dance and THE REVOLUTION WILL BE TELEVISED.
Judges’ scores: 9, 8, 8, 8 – 33
Simon and Kristina – Guys and dolls
Judges: He’s gained confidence, but hip action and travelling issues in Latin and ballroom respectively. Big improvement in the latter in his foxtrot, with genuinely impressive footwork (the odd fluff, but practically professional by this series’ standards) leading to nice fluid motion, consistent frame other than the odd issue with his right shoulder, and confident transitions. Lacked the natural charm and/or depth of other performances, as this pair still doesn’t quite connect emotionally with either each other or the audience, and the saccharine, retro framing didn’t help. Kristina, please join us in the 21st century. Nevertheless, a solid technical achievement.
Song: “My Guy”, Mary Wells (COPYCAT KLAXON: John Barnes and Nicole)
Judges’ comments: Len praised his footwork. Bruno thought he led with conviction, but a slight error. Craig: “You’re back.” Darcey said it would be crazy if he didn’t make it to the final.
Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 9 – 38
Caroline and Pasha – Hot to trot
Judges: She sells it, but needs to work on frame and show a real will to win. This salsa certainly held nothing back, with intricate armography, risky side-by-side sync work, multiple spins, and more gyrations than a Chippendales world tour. Great combination of passionate performance, engaged musicality and sharp, precise technique, though could have used a bit more grounded footwork and thus hip action, and the energy dipped noticeably towards the end. Still, a welcome wake-up call at the end of a snooze-worthy show, and a great display of connected partnering that bodes well for next week.
Song: “Maria”, Ricky Martin (COPYCAT KLAXON: Emma Bunton and Darren)
Judges’ comments: Bruno: “She bangs, she bangs! You’re a super-charged engine fuelled by sex appeal!” (Jeez, come off the fence, Bruno.) Craig: “I thought it was very good.” Darcey thought the spicy upper-body isolations were amazing, and it was “one hot salsa”. Len: “Full of rhythm. I’ll see you next week.”
Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40
Caroline and Pasha – 35 + 40 = 75
Frankie and Kevin – 34 + 38 = 72
Simon and Kristina – 30 + 38 = 68
Mark and Karen – 33 + 33 = 66
Jake and Janette – 30 + 31 = 61
Caroline stays at the top, Simon and Frankie rise, and Jake plummets.
The pros hit the D-I-S-C-O. Highlights of a fairly ropey number: Aliona “choreographed” to sit there looking bored, Anya burning up the floor, Louis Smith modelling the goatee Craig can only dream of.
Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
LBD with plunging V straps. When placed next to Claud’s asymmetric LBD, it created a geometric corkscrew neckline series that hurt my brain.
Paloma Faith threw on her best Christmas wrapping paper and warbled down a well while Aljaz and Janette slithered around one another like oiled-up monkeys. Marvellous.
Len’s lens highlights:
In the dance-off: Mark and Karen, and Jake and Janette. Both routines well performed, both fundamentally lacking in real Latin content and technique. Craig and Len saved Mark, Darcey and Bruno Jake, though Len acknowledged it was pretty much a coin toss.
Perhaps not the public’s pick for finalists given how many dance-offs Mark and Simon have survived, but a fairly interesting line-up. My prediction for glory is Caroline and Pasha, as they seem to have the momentum, but Frankie and Kevin could snatch it with a great showdance.
What did you make of the semi-final? Did the right couple go home? And who’s your pick for the trophy? Leave your thoughts below or get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain
See you next week for the grand final. In the meantime… keep dancing!