Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Strictly week 7: Immortal, darling

Each time I sit down to write a recap of the previous weekend's "Strictly Come Dancing" action I ask myself: "What was the one thing that stood out most? What sticks vividly in my memory?"

Usually, whatever comes to me, I take as the highlight of the weekend. If it lasts through the port-induced haze, it must be amazing, right? But this week the thing I recall most is Claudia Winkleman's hair in the results show. Honestly. I mean, I have always loved Claudia in part because she is so wonderfully un-TV. For a woman who shows up on myriad television programmes, she frequently has the look and demeanour of someone who's just been pulled from a dressing room at an Asda on a Sunday morning. Fuzzy-minded and questionably attired in ridiculous prints and oversized tops she muddles through in an endearing way. One can't help but like her. On Sunday, however, when the camera first came to her she looked as if she had just been rolled down a hill and forced to wrestle a zebra before being allowed to effuse about the quality of attempted fleckerls and sashays.

In terms of the actual show, though, the highlight came, of course, from Mama Rose. How can you not respect a 10-second costume change followed by a gold-plated queen leaping into the air? If that didn't make you happy, you don't know how to feel, my friend. This is the sort of thing that makes Britain great.

Here's a look at all the weekend's dancers, starting with the exiting couple:

Audley Harrison and Natalie Lowe ~ Cha Cha Cha ~ 20
I predicted this exit in last week's recap, though I was wrong about who would be there with him.
The phrases "cha cha cha" and "Audley Harrison" fit seamlessly with the words "no" and "stop;" it was never going to be a good dance. And with the list of any other forgettable or awful dancers now exhausted, Audley's departure was inevitable. This dance would have been acceptable in week 1, but so far down the line it had all the excitement of a park bench.

Russell Grant and Flavia Cacace ~ American Smooth ~ 26
Many moons ago, I was an extra in a Guthrie Theater production and had the strange distinction of being in every scene of the play, performing four different roles. At one point I had to exit down the vom then run full pelt beneath the stage and up again to enter stage right some 45 seconds later, in a different costume. I always took extreme pride in that. 
I would argue my costume change was far more complicated than that pulled by Mama Rose, but still 10 seconds is 10 seconds. Respect.
But here's the thing: that was effectively the meat of the performance. Mama Rose and Flavia moved around a bit, he changed into a shiny gold suit and then leapt about. I'm not saying I didn't like it, but, well, I don't know. 
Maybe I'm expecting too much from Mama Rose. I mean, on the results show he mentioned having a big entrance planned for the next week's dance, to be performed at Wembley. And in my mind I immediately imagined fireworks and tigers and the cast of 300 singing the Pet Shop Boys' "Go West." This is unlikely. Sadly. Perhaps what I want of Mama Rose is not realistic.

Robbie Savage and Ola Jordan ~ American Smooth ~ 31
Since I'm in the mood for praising the Strictly costuming department for their speed in Mama Rose's dance I will praise them, as well, for their thrift in making Ola's dress. With a bit of last Christmas' tinsel, a bed sheet stolen from grandma and a roll of cello tape they were able to fashion a lovely frock. Well done, BBC. It's good to see you are making the best use of every penny you get from our license fee.
Robbie was also involved in this dance, making a number of weird faces, but I wasn't really paying attention to him. I have decided I no longer hate him, and may even find him to be affable in some sort of way, but I still am not really a fan. Those ultra-white teeth disturb me.

Alex Jones and James Jordan ~ Jive ~ 31
Jenn and I disagreed on this dance. Jenn felt it was well done but I found it to be lacklustre and awkward. I didn't get the strange mix of dolls and high school themes in the dance. And, most upsettingly, Alex doesn't really look good in a cheerleader outfit. She looked too much like the cheerleaders at my high school, who weren't totally the stuff of teenage fantasy. Not that it stopped me from dating two of them, mind. And to that end, were I a single man I don't suppose I would bar the door if Alex were to show up dressed as a cheerleader. But the point is: like the dance, it just didn't work.
The whole thing felt uncomfortable. One could sort of see Alex thinking: "OK, now I do this. And then this. And the fist pump. And spin around. And this. And this. Then over here." It was procedural rather than feel-good.

Anita Dobson and Robin Windsor ~ Argentine Tango ~ 33
Poor wee Anita's face when she found herself in the bottom two. I hope you feel good about yourself, British public. You did that to her. And, well, perhaps Jenn and I did, too, because we never vote.
Len was distinctly wrong in suggesting this Argentine tango was in any way superior to Harry's but it definitely ticked all the boxes. 
I was mildly confused, however, by the first two moves Anita did in the routine: sitting in a chair, she seems to dramatically point to her legs, as if to say, "LOOK AT MY LEGS." Then she shifts, another dramatic bit of pointing, "LOOK AT MY LEGS," and Robin comes flying in from off camera.
I think a big part of success in Strictly, unfortunately, is connecting with the audience both within and outside the dance. I'm not sure how well Anita and Robin do that. They tend to just come out, perform and then clap cheerfully for all the other contestants. I fear that won't be enough as the final nears.

Holly Valance and Artem Chigvinstev Brendan Cole ~ Rumba ~ 34
As sexy as a bathmat, but it didn't really matter. What cold soul (of those who vote) wouldn't have voted for Holly this week? It's the phone-in version of a get-well-soon card to Artem. And one hopes he does get well soon because the Holly and Brendan mix wasn't great.
It started out with the two of them sitting on a bit of IKEA office furniture, which -- perhaps I'm weird here -- isn't the sort of thing that I really think of as sexy. It looked as if they were inappropriately dressed whilst waiting to register their new car. Soon enough, though, their ticket was called and they stepped forward to the Counter of Unsexy Manoeuvres, bending and turning with the grace of rugby players. Then Holly sits down, Brendan walks away, changes his mind and runs up to her, audibly says "OK, here we go" (Really. At 1:30 in the dance), heaves her to her feet as if she were a drunken pal rather than a lover, and then ends things with a bit of acting that Shaquille O'Neal would criticise.
I would assume the sympathy vote would hold for another week if Artem's not yet better by Saturday and then, of course, they will go through easily upon his triumphant return, but I feel at some point soon Holly is going to be in danger of leaving. She seems to be aware of this herself. In a recent interview she said: "I thought I'd probably be a bit better than this - to be honest I think I've been average."

Jason Donovan and Kristina Rihanoff ~ Viennese Waltz ~ 35
I've said time and again: the Viennese waltz is a boring dance. I'll admit to liking it in a romantic way because it is so much older than all the other dances but I don't like it in a sit-and-watch-it way. It's boring. The J-Train and Kristina avoided this issue by simply not dancing the Viennese waltz. Not much, anyway. I would guess they performed the absolute minimum of required content, the rest of the time spent flailing about.
I'm not sure how I feel about this. True, it's not a great dance but it's hardly better to avoid the dance.
Also, the J-Train didn't really look dapper in that tux; he looked like a waiter at a casino restaurant.

Chelsee Healey and Pasha Kovalev ~ Foxtrot ~ 36 
Jenn and I got lost in a discussion about Chelsee's hair during this dance and had to watch it twice. The overall gist of the conversation was that I think Chelsee's hair shorter makes her less aesthetically displeasing. Upon watching the dance a third time, I can't help but notice that her dress was rather flattering to her form. What I'm getting at is that I find her less and less annoying to watch. What I think this means, really, is that I am allowing myself to appreciate that she is a good dancer.
I still can't stand to hear her speak, and her vapidity makes her ugly to me, but when she is simply performing -- moving to the music and hitting the steps and making it seem natural -- I enjoy it.

Harry Judd and Aliona Vilani ~ Argentine Tango ~ 37
Len was on some really bad drugs. That can be the only explanation for his criticism of the dance. Sure, it's true Harry's not exactly the man of 1,000 facial expressions. He tends to wear the same look through every dance. But in this dance, it worked. Harry looked intense and arrogant. Len said there was nothing of the sort in the performance and was bitchy with both Craig and Claudia Winkleman over it, and he was wrong. Throughout the performance, Harry maintains unwavering eye contact with Aliona, his movements are sharp, his jaw is locked -- you can't be more intense without having it look like a pantomime villain.
Perhaps Len's wife, like my girlfriend, swoons wildly for Harry and he simply can't stand it, but he was way off the mark in his comments and scoring.

Elsewhere:

  • Is Wembley this year's Blackpool show? And how the hell did I not get tickets? There are supposed to be 6,000 people there. I applied on the BBC website to be put into the draw for tickets to each of the shows; I am heartbroken that I don't get to see the show live.
  • The band was really missing the mark this weekend, weren't they? In a number of songs the singers were off-key. The Guardian blog loves to criticise the band but normally I have no complaints. They are a live band who have to perform a song to exact timing. You're going to lose a bit of passion when you do that, but overall I think the songs still turn out pretty well. This weekend, however, was probably the worst they've ever been.

Predictions
  • I'm guessing Alex and Robbie will be in the bottom two next weekend, and Robbie will be the one to go.
  • I'm feeling less and less sure the J-Train will make it all the way to the final; he seems to have hit a plateau. But, for the moment -- unless Holly suddenly improves -- I'll still expect him to be there with Harry and Chelsee. 

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