Posted on February 13, 2008
Having enjoyed the quick-stepping action of “Strictly Come Dancing” both from the comfort of my own sofa and live from the BBC studio itself, I wondered how the O2 Arena – with it’s whopping 20,000-person capacity – would compare in terms of intimacy. Can the simmering intensity of Argentine tango really come across in full if your vantage point is the lofty heights of upper tier seating, rather than the eyes of a BBC cameraman?
Well, yes – as proved by a mesmerising performance from Argentine Tango and Ten Dance Champions Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace. And, what’s more, you can choose to watch the choreography in full, footwork included – something that’s often lacking in the TV version.
In fact, the arena format works remarkably well across the board, perhaps because Strictly Come Dancing: The Live Tour is designed to mimic the studio experience rather than exploit the possibilities such a vast space has to offer. The obligatory glitter ball sends silver flecks of light around the arena’s 1km circumference, and a few chandeliers twinkle high above the dancefloor, but that’s about as special as the effects get. It’s not particularly ambitious, but then it doesn’t really need to be.
Two huge screens mounted above the stage follow the action on the floor, as eight professional/celebrity partnerships do battle with a brief ballroom and Latin number each. TV judges Arlene Phillips, Craig Revel Horwood and Len Goodman glide through their scripted one-liners with surprising verve, and Bruce Forsythe’s non-presence – perhaps a precursor to his rumoured departure from the TV show for series six – is barely noticed.
And then there are the dancers. The slightly random assortment of celebrities hail from various years of the show, and most hold the ambiguous title of “runner-up”. At the bottom of the pile there’s the hilariously awful Chris Parker, showing marginal improvement since reaching second place in series two; and series three not-quite-runner-up James Martin, whose progress seems to have gone in the opposite direction. Whether or not his unfortunate trouser-splitting incident was all part of the act I don’t know, but row AA certainly got more than they bargained for.
Somewhere in the middle there’s the self-deprecating Zoë Ball, who, with with Ian Waite, gave a fairly mediocre performance along with an endearing Letitia Dean partnered with Darren Bennett, and a talented but unexciting Denise Lewis with Matthew Cutler.
The only celebrity in the tour to have won a series (and two Christmas specials) is cricketer Darren Gough, who, with Lilia Kopylova, opened the competition with a dazzling foxtrot to “Big Spender”, and later wowed the audience with “that lift” in a group Dirty Dancing number while the votes were totted up in the second half.
For the trophy at the O2 though, it was a challenge of the East Enders. Dubbed “Mavia”, series five runners-up and regular tabloid fodder Matt Di Angelo and Flavia Cacace topped the tour’s overall leaderboard. Challenging them were Cacace’s professional partner Vincent Simone with series four runner-up Louisa Lytton. Sparkling in the “Alesha Dixon” jive dress (small, green, and very sparkly), Lytton dances like you’d hope an ex-Sylvia Young student might. Probable “triple threats”, both Lytton and Di Angelo will no doubt be treading the boards in the West End soon. But, it was Lytton and Simone who walked away with the trophy on the night, to the delighted cheers of the audience, who had happily parted with a 70 pence text message to make it happen, on top of a hefty ticket fee and another ten pounds for the bumper programme (although why the latter carried a scorecard is anyone’s guess).
Ballroom purists won’t be impressed by some of the musical choices – The Killers’ “Somebody told me” provided a brave if slightly lumpy foundation for Chris Parker’s tango – and as far as dance terminology goes, it’s less Feather, Telemark, Open Natural Turn, more “get your bum going and your finger pointing” – the words of ballroom veteran Mr Len Goodman, no less. All in all, while Strictly Live may score a zero for originality, it definitely delivers a ten for sheer entertainment. And another ten for glitz. And maybe a nine for glamour – I deducted a point there for James Martin’s little accident. It seems I’ve found a use for that scorecard after all.