Monday, 21 December 2015

The Impossible Journey

This has been the strangest series of Strictly Come Dancing yet. The whole thing has felt very odd and bad feeling has been at a high. Allegiations - from the public, pros and celebs - that it's fixed, have left an odd feeling hanging over the entire show. Of course there has been a sense building over the past few years of 'over-production' that there has been an attempt to control every last detail - whether that includes the scoring or not, I don't plan to comment, but Strictly's charm, being live TV, was often its spontaneity (something Brucie was a pro at, I must say). Viewers do get a sense when they are being manipulated. They may not know the details, but it has certainly felt that something is amiss. And this year it came to a head. 

However, this series' problems may also boil down to one over-riding and quite simple fact: there were too many previously trained dancers in the competition. Now, I don't have a problem with a 'ringer' or two. In fact, I think they bring a lot to the competition. Firstly, they provide viewers with some excellent dancing in the early weeks of the competition when everyone else is getting to grips with the basics. Secondly, they set the pace and give the rest of the contestants something to aspire to. 

Two examples of this are Denise Van Outen and Natalie Gumede - both brilliant from week one, and did we mind? No. Did we enjoy their dances? Absolutely. Both made the final but were beaten to the Glitterball by celebrities who did not have the same level of dance background but - and this is crux of the matter - progressed more. I doubt either Denise or Natalie would complain about this - they had a great run - the full experience - and both appeared to enjoy it immensely. 

So why was this year different? In short, there were too many Denises. Georgia, Kellie, Helen, Jay and -arguably - Peter, all started the competition, week one, at a relatively high level.
It normalised that level of dance to the point that other celebrities' progress was lost somewhere in the middle. Jamelia (regardless of her level of popularity with the public) improved beyond measure. Anita, with no previous dance experience, did that absolutely wonderful Paso Doble, one of the best dances of the series. Now, yes, you could argue that the 'middling' contestants are the ones who usually get lost - but the problem is that Anita particularly shouldn't have been 'middling' at all - another year, she would have been right up near the top. 

Let's put scoring scandals to one side for a minute and assume that all the marks given to each couple this year were fair and square. Even in this instance, having four or five consistently getting 8s, 9s and 10s from the start effectively locks many others out of the final stages. From the very beginning. Anyone not already at that level was never really given a chance. We could have held the final at week three.

This is not a dig at any particular contestant. We do all have our favourites but they have all worked hard and all in the final were wonderful dancers. However, I think a terrible miscalculation when casting this series - amongst quite a few other issues - has caused many fans to question their loyality to the show. We may all mock the J... word but that's what Strictly's always been about. Only this year, a journey has been all but impossible. 

Sunday, 20 December 2015

A funny old final...

Here are at the final! The pros are dancing around the production studio like a super-spangly, super-camp version of Is This The Way to Amarillo - while the celebs cling on for dear life whilst suspended from the ceiling. Fun, but not a patch on the golden chariots of Blackpool.

As ever, we're not going to do the dances we've seen before, but will have a quick run-down. Jay's quickstep was a sensible choice to show improvement, and he sure did - he was even smiling! Georgia got the tricky choice of a rumba (I'd rather die than do a rumba in the final!), but certainly managed to pull it off, although again not perfect. Kellie got lumbered with a week one tango that I had completely forgotten was supposed to be a tango, and it was just as annoying as last time - despite the technique being great, it's just not a worthy routine. Cue national eye-rolling for the 40. Thank goodness Katie and Anton arrived to give us a bit of ballroom class with their lovely old-school quickstep, admittedly full of mistakes, but so likeable.

The first four dances were all a little meh, despite the judges' feelings about Kellie's. I think they possibly got carried away there because she displayed more oomph than the other three put together. Jay's quickstep, Georgia's rumba and Katie's quickstep were all good, but weirdly lacklustre. But I guess that's what happens when the judges make them do dances they'd struggled with initially. Problem is, it was the final and I wanted to be wowed. I wasn't. 

Jay and Aliona
He's upside down, oh the drama! Not sure about Aliona's yellow pants. And this song makes me feel old cos I have no idea what it is. I quite liked this as a whole, it was a tight routine rather than a frantic hyper-active showdance like so many of them are. But with that, you lost a bit of the razzmatazz. As a few people said on Twitter, they tried to be cool and it didn't really work, SCD is not a place to try and be cool.

The hipster of showdances, it was like the dance thought it was too cool to be there. Jay is an exquisite dancer, and turns like a professional. This was slightly odd and uncharacteristically clinical. A bold move by the couple that sort of backfired. Beautifully danced, though.

Georgia and Giovanni
It was Coldplay, it was contempo, there was a blindfold - and yet it worked! It was pretty and there was hefty amount of ballroom in there for a showdance, which is always brave. Also, Georgia's dress was gorgeous and not a showdance glitter-bucket. Again, not a knock-your-socks-off performance, but still very good and they tried to do something different without being overly gimmicky. They've worked hard, this pair, and deserve to get to the very end.

Twitter wasn't keen on this, but I thought the beginning at least was very powerful. Mostly though I was just snorting at Frankie's interpretation that Giovanni made a blind woman see by the power of dance alone. I was on the wine by this point. Georgia danced splendidly again and this showed she would have been a very worthy winner.

Kellie and Kevin
The training footage looked great, and like an actual dance, which is always a good start. And the porn train came back, the most infamous prop ever! I was still super-cross about the 'tango' but they totally won me over with the showdance, I loved it. It's what I want to see from a showdance; energy, technique, personality, joy. Yes it was jazz-handy, but not gurning, how they managed that I do not know.

I expected nothing less from these two. Gusto. Razzmatazz. With aplomb. Slightly annoying but my goodness, they were both fighting for it and I can't knock that. 

Katie and Anton
Oh my stars and garters, it's an Anton showdance! We'd waited for it for literally years, and he wasn't going to disappoint us, I do not see how he could possibly have given anything more. It was cram-packed full of content, brought the wow-factor and had some death-defying moves. And Katie got to be Roman and haughty, in a Game of Thrones on acid dress, some people have all the luck. Still wobbly, but I don't think Katie's ever going to overcome her natural wobbliness. If they do go, it was a pretty cool dance to go out on.

This was high camp and dramatic. Katie was just an accessory in this crazy, epic showdance that Anton's probably been planning in his head for years. 

So we're back after our trip to the loo, make a cup of tea, wrap some Christmas presents break. And the person to leave us is.......KATIE!

Sad to see you go Katie, you always had an amazing time and your pairing with Anton was very special. And you had some blummin' fabulous frocks.

Bye Katie. I kind of wanted you to win because it would have annoyed the judges so much. 

So we're back down to the final three dances. Jay oddly did his paso, which was a mistake since the first show did not go very well. Saying that, I loved this paso first time around and thought this was even better - his technique was so good, especially on the Spanish lines and jetes. However, Georgia just went and knocked it out of the park! This was the proper boom moment of the final, her Charleston had everything you would want to see, and you just felt for her when she was so excited and happy she couldn't actually speak. And then after that, Kellie and Kevin did they're Charleston - another bad choice, it couldn't help be underwhelming after Georgia blew the roof off.

The only one of these three I really loved was Georgia's charleston, and despite not being a particular fan throughout the competition, I sent my three web votes her way after that. Jay's paso was good, of course, but we all just wanted to see that jive. Kellie and Kevin's charleston just looked like kid mucking about after the clean performance from Georgia.

And as for the group dance, I love the mess it always is - and this one was no disappointment Leaves me on a happy high for the end. Highlights included Jezza on his horse, Jamelia sassing it up with a backflip followed by Peter rolling is hands like a dad-dancer, Pasha on his cloud of ultimate randomness, Daniel reminding us he existed, and everyone looking gorgeous!

They don't even bother making them dance any more do they? Apart from Jamelia. Jamelia was fabulous.

After what seems like a million monologues, we finally hear our's JAY!

Was this expected since that jive? Quite possibly. But either way, he's been one of the most talented males we've ever had on the show and kept us on our toes the whole way. And his crispy perm hair was forever immortalised in the opening titles.

Extremely talented dancer. Probably the best male celeb who's ever been on. But yeah, his best dance was week three - so did the show peak then? We love to see a journey and I suppose his journey to confidence was a big one.

Thanks to everyone who's read the blog this year, it's been a bumpy ride, but great to have you along with us! See you on Twitter for Christmas!

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Semi-interesting, semi-spectacular, semi-final

The semi-final is upon us already! This year seems to have flown by, like Craig Revel Horwood ostentatiously pirouetting past the camera every week. There's hardly anyone to come down the stairs for us to go 'oooh' at, and everyone's a wee bit knackered. Remember the snore-fest of last year's semi-final? Hopefully we're up for a bit more drama this year...

Katie and Anton
Anton gives good Charleston. You wouldn't think it at first, but the man has been quickstepping half his life. And I mean old school Charleston, not hyperactive gurning. Unfortunately, Katie was not giving us good Charleston, she looked like a gangly drunken spider. Although a drunken spider having a good time, I'll give her that, but it was rather out of sync. Also, are their outfits intentionally supposed to clash?

They really did get out of sync but given the over-inflated scoring (for some contestants) this series, even I think Craig's four was nothing short of ridiculous. Unfortunately, that set me on the back foot for the rest of the show. I beg to differ that she had no swivel. One side was fine. The other was a little awkwardly jerky, but hey, everyone has a good side. 

Jay and Aliona
Starting with a fleckrl, how nice. Of course this is Aliona, so there was wafting, but I do actually like to see Jay wafting. And spinning, gosh, how that boy spins. Although now we're all on boob watch: Jay seems to put his head on Aliona's boobs in every dance, I dread to think how that's going to turn out in the Charleston. Lovely waltz moves in there too, the song was appropriate. It didn't set the world on fire, but it was rather nice.

Jay gives good waft. It was lovely but strangely static in parts. I expect a VW to swing around the room with sway and momentum, and I can't say this did. When he's out on his own, he's exquisite, but in hold (and I know that is hard for a bloke) he's not as good as he could be. Jay has really allowed Aliona to flex her choreography muscles this series though. I haven't been a fan before but I have to admit, she has come up trumps this year. 

Georgia and Giovanni
I wish I looked like that when I had a stinking cold...I assume this routine was brought to us by the incredible healing powers of Lucozade. Problem with doing a late cha cha is that expectations are way too high, like Alesha high. There was plenty of choreography in there, but it did feel a bit like they were going through the motions.

I know cha cha action is difficult, especially at the end of the series when we care about it more, but Georgia's technique was as iffy as 6 week old cheese sandwich that's accidentally been left in a teenager's locker. That's fine, she was poorly. But, the judges should have marked accordingly. Yet another example of the extraordinarily inconsistent comments and marking this year. Yes, Georgia is talented and probably should make the final. But if she has a bad week, maybe not. That's the game. But no one's really playing ball this year, are they?

Anita and Gleb
Antia looks amazing, even with the random arm streamers. It's a toughie to do a foxtrot at this stage, but getting a showstopping number like New York New York is always a help - remember when Natalie pulled off an actual miracle to it with Michael Vaughan? And as foxtrots go, this was one of the more memorable. Don't care what Len says, compared with many other routines this was jam-packed with work in hold and proper foxtrot.

Gleb's coming in for a lot of criticism from Anita fans. But tell me this, how is he supposed to keep to the rules when the rules change on a weekly basis? Len, I just wanted to scream STFU at you. Not because you were wrong - you weren't - you were spot on right, but this had more foxtrot content than Kellie had Viennese Waltz last week, yet there were no comments there. And why was it OK for Georgia's routine to be packed full of disco, then this get penalised for being out of hold too much?

Kellie and Kevin
Never sure about a rumba where you can see someone's pants. Other than that, quite a nice dress and colour on Kellie amid the shockers she's had this series. I thought this was going to be really cringey, but it was actually quite sweet. And it looked like an actual rumba, with lots of flowing steps. She did have that proper wobble that made me gasp though, thought she was going to face-plant down in the middle of the floor. All in all a pretty good turn is a rather patchy first half to the show.

For a rumba, it was very good. Didn't blow my socks off, but my feet were pretty cold anyway so that would have been tricky. I liked that it genuinely had rumba steps in it, and despite starting the show as my least favourite pairing, by this point, this was my favourite dance. 

Right, let's go round again!

Katie and Anton
Oh what a delightful dress, it was even good for sweeping away the overload of dry ice, the audience probably needed gas masks. As Len said, it was a nice classy routine, but it just wasn't neat enough to be beautiful. Maybe if it was a different week and they'd had time just to focus on the one dance, they could have nailed it.

This should have been perfect. If you're going to ace a dance with Anton, it should be the waltz and I thought she had kind of lucked out getting it so late in the competition. Nevertheless, there were issues. Gapping, being one. There should be no gapping at this stage. Having said that, I would love to see both of them in the final. Katie is not a trained dancer, and to me that is what Strictly should be about.

Jay and Aliona
We've been building to the Jay Charleston Redemption for weeks now, and we got it! The theme was actually pretty cute, although not sure what Aliona's wig was about. And Len was right, it had a sort of casual charm in it that was great to see. And oof that footwork, Jay's knees obviously have an extra hinge in them. Too bad about the clumsy lift near the end, I think they could have taken at least one lift out at the moment. At the moment, this is the standout dance of the night by a long way.

Now Jay is a trained dancer. I'm not going to make a deal of it, but he is. But sometimes a trained dancer is so unbelievably good, it ceases to matter. I adored this charleston. I loved the modern, cool feel to it and Jay's legs are extraordinary. Hurrahs. 

Georgia and Giovanni
I kind of wished they'd actually dressed Georgia as one of the Corrs, but then they might have made Giovanni be Jim. It was lovely and cute, and they do lovely and cute so well. A nice routine, and her top line has definitely improved. Not much else to say really, the question is whether it will save her from the bottom 2.

A beautiful song to use and quite shocking it hadn't been used before. This was quite adorable. As Len had been getting picky over people's footwork this week, I'd expecting a comment about that good or bad. I couldn't tell from the camera angles but I know I saw a standing spin instead of a flerkerl. If it had been good, would Len have not commented on it? Maybe. Seems like it matters for some contestants but not others. 

Anita and Gleb
What were those outfits about? A tribute to Gwen Stefani's Hollaback Girl? Also, I was expecting there to be a latin version of this rather odd song, but no...So we just had to go with it, as did Anita, throwing herself quite literally into one of  the most surreal SCD moments ever. She was very good with what she was given, she always is, but it was odd odd odd.

Anita is one of my  favourite contestants this series and completely sums up to me what Strictly should be about. I rarely care for the celebs who have come in week one and danced almost perfectly, than hardly improve. I like to see those who haven't had previous dance experience learn. It's why I loved Goughie, and Ramps. Having said that, I despised this dance. It was the furthest thing from salsa I think we have ever seen on the show, and that is saying something. The music was the wrong rhythm and impossible to dance to. How DARE the judges ask for fluidity when they had been expected to dance to an extremely 'unfluid' song? Now someone on Twitter claimed that they had been given a charleston choreographer? If that's true, added to the fact the music was ridiculous, it is totally unreasonable to have a go at Anita (or Gleb) saying there was no salsa in it. This to me summed up everything that is wrong with the show. It failed Anita. And it failed dance. 

Kellie and Kevin
See what happens when you're given an appropriate song choice and theme? Well, the theme was basically just doing the actual dance. This was blummin good, the jumping lifts near the start were an actual delight. And I as watching Kellie throughout, not Kevin, which is always a good sign. I been pretty meh about Kellie most of this series, but tonight she totally raised her game and deserved to go through, even if it means a Kevin Clifton showdance. 

Lovely. But I think most of our couples could have done a great job with this number. I don't want to take away from Kellie though who thoroughly deserves to go through to the final. She was the only contestant who seemed to be fighting for it and that's admirable. As I said earlier, she's been my least favourite for a while but if she gets through, and ups her game next week, with the same pluck, vim and vigour, I can see the public getting right behind her. 

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Maybe This Time (Anita Won't Get The Death Slot - Oh, Wait.)

So MUSICALS week. Now, I do like a musical. However, it's a theme week. And I don't like those. In some ways, musicals week is the least offensive of all the theme weeks, but in one crucial respect, it is the worst. This is where the production of each routine takes precedent over everything else. Think along the lines of Frankie Bridge's tango (although not in musicals week, as kindly pointed out by Mr Monkseal!) - there was no concern that the music was the wrong time signature, or that after all the faffing there was little time to choreograph many real steps - all that seemed to matter was that it replicated the stage production of Wicked. I don't tune into Strictly to see a poor reconstruction of a West End show. If I want to see that, I'd head to my local am dram society's latest play. They say if you can't do, then teach. But if you can't do theatre, you apparently end up as a frustrated producer on Strictly. But aaaanyway...

The dances... 

Georgia and Giovanni

I have to admit, Georgia did look very much like a Disney Princess. She wouldn't look out of place on a 5 year old's lunch box at all. Giovanni too looked rather dashing as the (rather unhairy, now I think of it) beast. It was a beautiful dance despite the distraction of the human props wandering aimlessly around in the background (this was Peak Prop - I mean, a dancer dressed as a clock - does it get much weirder?) and I was somewhat surprised it didn't score higher. Then, who can tell this year at all?

Anita and Gleb

Ya'll know I've been a fan of Anita from the beginning. I was concerned for her after the rumba last week, and I am concerned again. This was not good. It was also not an argentine tango. The music was too hard. A strong theatrical piece of music has no place with an argentine tango, which should be quiet, and smoky, and sultry. Gleb looked, like Anton, to be having trouble with the hold. I would be interested to know whether this was his first go at this dance too. All in all, I didn't want to be disappointed, but I was. 

Kellie and Kevin

Oh dear. This was like watching a Year 8 production of Oliver. Only the participants were not 12 and certainly old enough to know better. Kevin and Kellie both singing along as though they were auditioning for I'd Do Anything. I was yelling at the TV "You've got the wrong show!" (well I wasn't actually, because my neighbours might have thought it a little strange, but you can imagine the picture) Honestly, I'd do anything not to have to see that again. Apparently on theme weeks the 'rules' (whatever they are these days) don't apply at all, and breaking hold and lifts are just fair game. Which again begs the question WHAT THE FLECKERL IS THE RELEVANCE OF THE 'AMERICAN SMOOTH'? Oh, oh. This wasn't danced badly. But oh. I genuinely despair.

Jay and Aliona

Jay, the lumbersexual with limited facial hair, and Aliona, the Bassetts Fruit Salad chew. They meet, they move, the audience applauds. Thank the gods of latin that this rumba had some rumba in it. I thought it was beautifully choreographed and wonderfully performed. It was understated, quiet and tender. Dance of the evening. 

Katie and Anton

I was semi-dreading this dance purely on the basis that once this song is in my head, it refuses to leave. For weeks. MAYBEEE THIS... and just creeps into conversations at random intervals TIIME, I'LL BE LUCKY... Anton managed to make the choreography stand out over the production in this (this is where Gleb sorely failed) MAAYBE THIS TIME... and it was generally extremely pleasant to watch. I still like this couple and Anton looked to genuinely HE'LLLL STAAAAAYYYY delighted when receiving positive remarks from the judges. I would like to see Katie in the final.

Helen and Aljaz

Again, the production completely overshadowed Helen in this. However, in this case it may have gone in her favour because the judges didn't mention her lack of spanish line, the fact that it was too placed and dainty, that grimacing doesn't necessarily equate to feistiness. At one point, she was being dragged about by Aljaz like Linus dragging his blanket. Thankfully they did mention her balance and timing issues, though they didn't reflect that in their scores. Helen isn't a bad dancer by a long way but she hasn't improved, and I see that as a problem at this stage.