Sunday, 11 November 2012

Ladies' night

Top 10: 10th November 2012

Last week: we all rejoiced that it was No Theme Week week at last, Denise and James wowed the judges (but not me, particularly, since we all know that my opinion is what counts) with their Viennese waltz, Artem got his Emergency Tits out, and Richard's foxtrot was more of a fox-not after he developed a severe case of dancer's block mid-routine. Ultimately though, it was Colin who went home after learning that "sequins aren't forever" - and while it gave me no pleasure to see him go, I can only hope that his absence from this point onwards means that terrible, tenuous James Bond references aren't forever either.

This week: it's Where's Bruce? week, meaning that Tess and Claudia will be hosting both shows this weekend, and what better way to celebrate that than with a comedy VT? (Yes, I know, there are about a million better ways of celebrating it, but I'm trying to embrace the occasion here.) The theme involves them practising "nice to see you, to see you nice" only to discover that Claudia can't deliver it properly at all. Yeah, because Claudia's the one we're all worried about in this partnership. Tess wonders if they perhaps need a second opinion, and Claudia declares "any excuse for a celebrity montage!" She gets on the blower to former runner-up Matt Baker and former semi-finalist Alex Jones over at The One Show, both of whom make it very clear why they were not selected for this particular hosting gig. Tess rings Shane Richie over at EastEnders, who does the same pisspoor Brucie impression that every second-rate comedian does. While Claudia's on the phone to Zoe (presumably as part of their ongoing legal battle to determine who gets full-time custody of Karen Hardy), Tess's phone rings and she notes with some surprise that it's her husband, Vernon Kay. I'm sure I can't be the only person who was worried that he'd accidentally hit the wrong button when trying to send racy messages to a Page 3 girl again, but it seems that on this occasion, it's all above board: he's just on the phone doing another crap Brucie impersonation and fuelling all of our fears that he's on the shortlist to replace Bruce if/when he retires [/is retired - Rad]. Weirdly, it then turns out that Claudia and Tess are having this conversation in the Ladies, of all places, and Su Pollard emerges from a cubicle to demonstrate how to deliver the line with more "razzamatazz", before exiting without washing her hands. That is, of course, assuming that she was actually using the toilet and not, y'know, "checking her make-up" or something. Finally, Miranda Hart knocks on the door and informs them that they need to say it with gravitas. That's funny, I usually say it with flowers. Expert counsel received, it's time to start the show!

Titles! Accompanied as ever by arrhythmic clapping. This is also the first time I've noticed that Denise and Richard appear to have the exact same backdrop for their showcase sections. Clearly, this is evidence of those BBC cutbacks hard at work.

Since the Beeb doesn't have worry about covering Bruce on its insurance this week, Tess and Claudia make the most of the opportunity and enter at the top of the stairs rather than the bottom, because dammit they can walk down them, even in these shoes. There's a reception of handsome men dressed in top hats and tails ready to greet them as they walk down, and at the bottom they're met by Robin (in Claudia's case) and Anton (in Tess's), both of whom pick them up in a rather ungainly fashion and carry them over to centre stage. Daly Dresswatch: possibly the worst thing she has worn in her entire life. It's a black dress that runs from her knees up to her boobs, at which point it becomes a sheer black layer of translucent fabric, paired off with a white collar and white cuffs. That sentence just got more terrifying as it went along, didn't it? It's like Tess is squeezing in presenting this show between gigs as a hostess in topless restaurants. And in the interest of equality, Claudia's wearing a simple white smock with a high collar. It's not the best I've ever seen her look, but compared to Tess she looks like Coco Chanel.

Claudia double-checks that Bruce is definitely not in the building, because let's face it: we all know what Bruce is like, he might have forgotten that he's on holiday this week, so he might be stuck backstage somewhere, possibly with his chin caught in the door or something. Having ascertained that Bruce is definitely not here, they take great glee in nice-to-see-you-ing, and the camera people take great glee in showing that Cheryl Cole is in the audience this week. Yeah, take that X Factor! How you like them apples? (Etc.)

Tess tells us that we're in the halfway point of the competition, and the couples are all dancing to make it to Wembley - but not everyone is going to make it that far. It's time to meet the stars of our show - and to notice how Tess really doesn't seem to object to being manhandled (womanhandled?) by Claudia as much as she clearly resents Bruce doing it. So here are our top ten: Kimberley and Pasha, Nicky and Karen, Fern and Artem (Artem's tits are only semi-on display this week), Michael and Natalie, Lisa and Robin, Louis and Flavia, Dani and Vincent, Denise and James, Richard and Erin, and Victoria and Brendan. They've clearly saved the best for last, as Brendan is dressed in a dorktacular bellhop outfit complete with the most ridiculous hat we've seen on this show since they fired Katya. "Nice hat, Brendan!" Tess crows, and Brendan disappoints us all by not informing Tess that Alex Owens called and she wants her outfit back. Claudia exhorts us to press the red button to receive expert commentary from Karen Hardy and this week's special guest Jon Culshaw, who's there because...he has a show with Debra Stephenson, who did the Christmas special last year? That's the best reasoning I can come up with. Frankly Karen's guests are getting more and more Six Degrees Of Strictly with each passing week.

First up this week are Denise and James with their paso doble, which Tess points out is a dance that involves "a lot of foot-stamping". Well, at least she's picked up something over the last ten years, I suppose. Anyway, do you suppose that the gods of irony might have blessed James with a really unfortunate injury this week? Let's find out. Denise loved her Viennese waltz last week, and was so pleased to get it right because she'd messed it up so often in rehearsals. James announces that he injured his ankle badly last week and could hardly walk, so rehearsing was out of the question - so while he was going back and forth to the doctor, Ian Waite was standing in to rehearse with Denise. Denise declares that Ian is a total dreamboat, and then we're off sailing on the SS Comedy VT as Denise reveals how Ian is completely superior to James in every way and they have so much chemistry, as 'Jealous Guy' plays on the soundtrack. Then one day (/the same day, since they're all wearing the same clothes) she arrives at rehearsals to discover Ian is missing, and there are some muffled cries for help coming from...somewhere. Denise disappears off to investigate, and returns with a bound-and-gagged Ian hopping angrily behind her, telling James that he's got some splainin' to do. Frankly, if the explanation isn't something along the lines of "Ola just isn't fulfilling my needs any more", I'm not going to believe it.

They're dancing to 'Seven Nation Army', which is an excellent choice of song for a paso, and I have to say that I'm impressed with what James managed to choreograph this week considering the restrictions of his ankle and the fact that he wasn't going to be the one rehearsing it with her - there's a lot of content in here, and some excellent shaping and a real sense of attack from Denise. There's one section of spins that go badly wrong because her legs are all over the place and her centre of gravity is clearly all wrong, but that's the only real problem I can spot technically. And yet...I still feel a bit unmoved by it. I can appreciate that Denise is a good dancer, RINGER or not, but something about her as a performer just doesn't engage me. I'm just waiting for that one dance that's going to take my breath away, and it hasn't happened yet. [I think the problem might be James to be honest - Rad]

They tread carefully over to Tess, who enquires about the state of James's ankle; James replies that the doctor has told him he can't damage it any more than he already has done, and that he should just "take the pain". Which I imagine is also what James was saying to Ian during this week's VT. Tess asks for a big cheer for the judges, "Bruno, Len and Darcey", and a big boo for Craig. I think I'll probably be booing all four of them at some point before the night is over, Tess. Len opens with: "Paso doble? I can hardly pass a comment," which is one of those Len-isms where you can never quite tell whether it's an insult or a compliment until you hear what comes after it. Fortunately for Denise, it's the latter: there was flair in the movement, care in the technique, and a chair underneath Bruno that will be getting very little use tonight. (He may not have said that last bit.) Bruno thinks Denise is a "red menace" who got it all together, and the way that she finishes her Spanish lines with a slight hint of flamenco was wonderful, because very few people can do that. Craig spotted the balance issue in the side-by-side section, but he loved the shaping and the chaine turns, and he thinks that working with Ian has done wonders for Ian and that Denise should consider swapping partners. Denise says that she'll keep James, thanks, which I think we all agree is the wrong decision. BRING BACK IAN! AND KATYA! AND LILIA! AND...okay, maybe just those three [Poor Matthew Cutler and... well him, anyway - Rad] [Shit, I forgot about him. Of course Matthew can come back as well. - Steve]. Finally, Darcey thinks it's the most exciting role she's seen Denise dance, though she doesn't expand on how many of Denise's numerous dance-heavy West End roles she's actually seen prior to this. She also enjoyed the chaine turns, and at this point I realise (with a little help from google) that the chaine turns they're all complimenting are the bit I think she completely messed up. Well, I suppose art is subjective and all that, but I'm still clearly right: they were bobbins. Darcey declares it "a great paso dobble". Yes, she pronounces it "dobb-lay". Don't look at me like you're surprised.

They head up to Claudia's Counselling Centre where they're joined by Ian, who's looking resplendent in a blue pinstripe suit. Denise says she's had a lovely time this week, and Ian's been amazing. Ian explains that it's been tough for Denise because he's a fair bit taller than James so that took a lot of adjusting to for her. James "jokes" that he was going to blame Ian if it all went wrong. Scores are in: nines all round for a total of 36, the highest score of the series so far. "Guess who's going to get all the credit?" says James, mugging at Ian.

As we cut back to Tess, she stumbles over her enthusiasm for that "red heart-hot" opening dance, and for a minute it's like Brucie's still here. Next we have Richard and Erin doing the charleston: unsurprisingly, his VT recaps all those moments in his foxtrot last week where he blanked out and he and Erin started openly laughing at each other, and he says that being in the dance-off was actually a relief because he got a chance to do it properly - and as a result, he was saved by the judges. He thinks the charleston is a dance that's more him because he gets to do funny faces and jazz hands. I love that "gurning and waving" is basically what passes for a charleston on this show. I blame Chris Hollins. He can't quite believe he's at the point of the competition where he's within sniffing distance of Wembley, so he hopes he can pull the charleston off and survive one more week - but he's worried because this is also the first week where he has to do a lift, and he's worried that he might end up dropping Erin on her head. If I were Erin, I'd be asking the costume department to make my fascinator out of springs just to be on the safe side.

They're dancing to 'Pencil Full Of Lead' by Paolo Nutini, and I wonder what it says about the charleston that it's only been around for four series and we're already reusing songs for it [Poor the beleagured Charleston.  As with Halloween week, I shall be its lone flagwaver - Rad] [I actually like the charleston too, I was more just thinking that there aren't exactly an abundance of pop songs that suit it. - Steve]. Anyway, it opens with Richard as Erin's hairdresser (again, let's hope he's put lots of hairspray on her barnet for maximum cushioning properties) before they launch into the routine. There are a couple of early stumbles - nothing major, but parts where Richard's feet don't quite seem to be in exactly the right place. Fortunately they manage to sort those out and by the time they get to the side-by-side section they've sorted out all the timing problems that Ian pointed out on It Takes Two earlier in the week. The whole thing could do with a little bit more energy, but the lift goes according to plan and they make it back to the chair in time for Richard to threaten Erin with a giant pair of prop scissors. I believe Erin requested those just in case he forgot his steps again, only she wouldn't have been pointing them at his head, if you know what I mean and I'm sure you do.

Tess points out that Richard was a gangster last week and a hairdresser this week, and asks which suits him best. "Trolley dolly, probably - so wait for next week!" quips Richard. Ooh, nice tactics there. I'm impressed. Bruno says it was like "two go mad at Nicky Clarke's" and that there were plenty of highlights (geddit?) - he particularly liked Richard playing the bongos on Erin's bottom, and the running at the end: "it was like Miranda Hart running for a bus." Craig thought it was quirky, eccentric, goofy and character-driven; he loved the shunts and the trucking step. Craig! Mind your language, there are children watching. He, personally, could've done without the spanky bottom. "Are you sure?" Richard shoots back. All things considered, Craig thinks it was his best dance yet. Darcey loved the choreography, but warns Richard to watch his flat feet. She tells Erin to do rises on the edge of the stairs to strengthen those muscles, and then he'll understand what she's talking about. I resolve to do rises on the edge of the stairs, because I'd dearly love to know what Darcey's talking about, generally. Len says that Richard can always give him a haircut - "a number two off the back and a bit off the top". Blimey, Len's aware of the number two - you wouldn't think it to look at his scores over the last nine years. Even Quentin Willson got a three. He thinks this dance suited Richard - light, bright, fun and frivolous.

Up in Claudia's Counselling Centre, Richard talks about how much he'd love to get to Wembley because it would make his dad very happy, since his sporting prowess isn't up to much. Erin's impressed that she landed on her feet, because she was nervous - not that she didn't trust Richard, she hastens to add. Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 8, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 29 - a personal best for Richard. Claudia confirms with Richard that he doesn't want to be in the bottom two again, and he pouts that he's had enough, before looking around the room and declaring "I know a few who would, though." Heh. Claudia declares that Richard's pouting face makes him look "like an otter that's slightly unwell".

Our next couple is Louis and Flavia. He explains that it was a relief for things to go so well last week, because he was ill on Friday and Flavia was ill on Saturday. Well, it sort of went well: he still got a six from Craig, which he thinks was a little bit harsh. This week's VT is a lite-comedy one about how Louis is always naughty in rehearsals, so Flavia was very pleased to have his mum turn up to make him behave. (Louis Smith is 23. Just pointing that out. Also, when I went to Wikipedia to double-check his age, I discovered that apparently his nickname is "Lou-Lou". BLOODY LOU-LOU.) Ultimately he hopes to get to Wembley and make his mother proud. I'm so disappointed that we have no "I just want to make it to Blackpool" this year, because Wembley is no substitute at all.

They're dancing the waltz to 'Moon River', and Flavia is perched on the Aliona Vilani Memorial Swing. Poor Aliona: first Iveta steals her man and her life, now Flavia's been rooting through her possessions. Is nothing sacred? Obviously, this sort of choreography is a slam-dunk for Flavia, and she's crafted a lovely, lyrical routine which Louis executes with style and precision. It's just a shame that he always seems so glazed-over when he dances - if they had any chemistry together, they'd be unstoppable. I mean, they're probably unstoppable anyway (I think Denise is the only contestant who poses even the slightest threat to them in terms of winning the whole thing), but even so, it'd just be nice to see some emotion in the performance.

There's a standing ovation featuring Cheryl Cole, and Tess takes this moment to introduce the band. Since Bruce is away, she makes a point of doing it properly, putting all the commas in the right places and even naming all the singers individually. Tess asks Craig if he got "into the swing" of that waltz, and the reaction is "not entirely": in fact he didn't like the turn at the top which he found pedestrian, which the other judges react to in horror. Craig continues, saying that if you're going to do something like that, you need to be really good at it. "Because yoooooou are nooooooot," yells Bruno from the other end of the row in Craig's general direction. How mature. Craig felt that he was getting a bit out of time in the middle of it, and there wasn't a clear downbeat, which prompts Len to yell "shaddap". He thought there was lots of rise and fall and good pivots, but Louis's head needs to go to the left a lot more, and his free arm is graceful now, but he thought it was a little bit "saccharine sweet". Darcey disagrees - she thought the ronde de jambe at the start into the chaine was excellent because that's difficult to do. Craig retorts that a pointed foot would've been nice, though, and Darcey's response is "yeah, but he didn't hop - I mean, I've seen so many people hop doing that." Great, so Darcey's now grading on a scale of award points for not fucking up in the way she expects you to. This should be interesting. Darcey says that he does have a slight wandering head and needs to keep it to the left, but he won her over with his posture and control.

I can't quite believe I'm taking two paragraphs to cover the judges comments, but this bit goes on forever and it'll be an unreadable block of text if I don't break it up somewhere, and this seems as good a point as any because Len's pinching his temples and looking like he's about to stab someone (ie Craig) with his pencil. Len declares Craig's comments "a load of bolognese" and then snorts that Craig just says things for effect. Unlike saying "a load of bolognese", of course, or indeed "pickle me walnuts", "from Len, a ten", "sev-URNNN!", or any number of archaic references to the East End of London - all of course things that Len would never do. Len then goes on about how it's hard to do spins in a tail suit (of all of Len's bizarre excuses over the years, I'm fairly certain this is a new one) and he thinks it was lovely. Bruno tells Louis that he's waltzed his way into the heart of the nation, and that Craig hasn't got a clue about timing, because the waltz is about gliding and not emphasising the musical phrase. "Am I right?" he appeals to the audience, as if they'd have a bloody clue. Also, for the love of God, Bruno, SIT THE FUCK DOWN. Otherwise your chair will be the next thing to disappear in the BBC cutbacks, since it's clearly surplus to requirements. Also: Tess? Hi. This bit has gone on forever. It's your job, as host, to stop that happening. Stop being the substitute teacher who tries too hard to be liked by the class and assert some actual authority, for all our sakes. I swear, she's become the Dermot O'Leary to Brucie's Kate Thornton: the one you think ought to be a much more suitable and efficient replacement but really just makes you realise how much better the other one was at crowd control.

They head up to Claudia's Counselling Centre, where Claudia asks the question that's on everyone's lips: "what were you thinking?" I mean, it's a question the rest of us were directing to Tess regarding her outfit, but I'll take what I can get. Louis says he listens to all the comments, good and bad, and he'll take them on board and try to fix things for later in the show. Scores are in: Craig 6, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 33.

When we return, Tess is swaying gently on the Aliona Vilani Memorial Swing, thinking about Artem's Emergency Tits. And who can blame her? That's right, it's time for Fern and Artem, and Fern openly admits in her VT that the secret of their success was Artem's torso. Artem says that apparently his naked chest "caused a lot of distraction", except in his accent it sounds more like "distruction" - frankly, I think it works either way, because judging by my Twitter timeline, a lot of people were wrecked by Artem's tits. Fern, bless her, says she's all in favour of Artem getting his tits out if it gets results. There's a reference to Bruno always commenting on how she looks like she's dusting, which will become relevant shortly, and then we get into comedy VT territory: Artem's got a couple of friends in to help Fern think about salsa all the time, which means she's basically being followed everywhere by a mobile salsa band. Fern says that thanks to Artem, salsa is definitely in her head this week, and she just hopes it gets her to Wembley.

They're dancing to 'You'll Be Mine (Party Time)' by Gloria Estefan, and the routine begins with Fern in a frumpy overall, polishing the camera with a duster. See? See how they're referencing Bruno's comments? Then the music kicks in, at which point Fern strides up to the judges and dusts them all with a feather duster, before removing her overall to reveal a hot pink salsa dress and shaking her thang. This routine is a bit of a revelation for Fern, actually: it's a bit sloppy - actually, it's a lot sloppy - but it's the most energetic and engaged she's looked all series, and as a result it's her best dance by far. [She looked like she was loving this one and actually trying for once - I really enjoyed it - Rad]

There's a fairly feeble explosion of confetti as Fern and Artem make their way over to the judges, and Fern quips about how she's got to clean all of this up now. Heh. Darcey says that this is definitely Fern's party, but she needs to keep her concentration in her feet during the underarm passes. Len thinks it was definitely a party dance, and this was her best dance by far. Bruno thinks this was an interesting turn of events - "from casual duster to saucy strumpet" - and he likes that she really got into the feel of the dance. There's a random shot of Bobby Ball applauding in the audience (frankly I think it's a disgusting demonstration of ageism and reverse-sexism that he's not getting as much attention as Cheryl Cole is) and Fern and Artem are dismissed without Craig getting a chance to speak.

Up in Claudia's Counselling Centre, Fern explains that she loved it because she can't do all the neat, elegant stuff, but what she can do is shake her rack in everyone's faces. Claudia inquires innocently whether that band from the VT was driving her mad, and then they suddenly appear on the balcony, strumming and drumming away much to everyone's delight. An unusually-engaged Artem says he was very pleased with that reaction, because it was Fern's best dance. Scores are in: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 27. Claudia tells us that the lights at Wembley are in the shape of reindeer, and that if we want Fern to see them, we'll have to vote.

Next we have Victoria and Brendan, who has removed his hat for the sake of his own dignity. I know, it's odd to think of Brendan suddenly being concerned with his dignity after ten series of this, isn't it? Especially when his previous partners include Fiona Phillips and Bloody Lulu. Last week, Victoria loathed every second of the samba, but she survived, and she's pleased that Brendan stood up for her with the judges. This week she's got the quickstep, which means she's back in hold, which in turn means that she's a lot happier. Victoria talks about how being from a sports background is a hindrance, though doesn't really do a particularly good job of explaining why: summat about coming from a physical job that she's good at and ending up in one where she doesn't have any of the skills. I dunno, I'm sure it made sense in the Pendlehead. Anyway, she feels like she owes it to Brendan to get the quickstep right this week because it's one of Brendan's favourites, and she's very grateful to the public for keeping her in this far even when she's not one of the strongest dancers.

Their routine, danced to 'Luck Be A Lady', paints Victoria as a glamorous New York socialite with Brendan as the bellhop enraptured by her arrival, to the extent that he starts ballroom dancing with her even though such actions are explicitly forbidden in article 43b of the hotel's employee handbook. Obviously, Victoria looks a lot more comfortable than she did last week, though her movement is a little skippy at times. Her posture still needs a little bit of work, but it's generally a good show from Victoria - though by far the most memorable part of the dance is when they're running back to the stairs and Brendan trips on the lowest one, falls face first, and recovers without missing a beat. He's a real pro, is Brendan. He even apologises to her at the end, bless him.

The crowd are on their feet, which is more than can be said for Brendan. He brings over a box for Craig, saying "I believe this belongs to you." The comedy bit is at risk of total failure when it looks at first that Craig can't get the box open even with Darcey's help, but eventually he gets into it and discovers...a ten paddle, covered in cobwebs. Craig does a lot to sell the gag by eying the paddle suspicious before tossing it impassively over his shoulder. Len tells Victoria that her quickstep was quick and had steps in it, and all of them correct as far as he could see, though he would like her upper body to be a bit more toned. Have you not seen her abs, Len? Bruno points out that Victoria transforms when she's in hold, and that her footwork is good, but she has to maintain this confidence that she has now in all of her dances, because sometimes she gets lost. At this point Tess shrieks "don't say the s-word!" and I have no idea what she's on about. Like, at all. Shit? Samba? Sabotage? I haven't got a clue. Craig says that her left shoulder raises sometimes, that she lost her frame on occasion and he can sometimes see her footwork in her upper body, but she moved across the floor with gusto and great timing. Finally, Darcey thinks Victoria gets more confident every week, but she just needs to control her shoulders like Craig said. Tess says "better than last week, better than the samba - NO DON'T SAY IT!" Oh, okay, so "samba" was the s-word. Still, there's no need to be quite so Basil Fawlty about it, Tess. At least he'd recently sustained a blow to the head when he kept going on about the war - what's your excuse?

There is much celebration up in Claudia's Counselling Centre, where she checks to make sure that Brendan is uninjured, but that's all there is time for before going straight to the scores, because this thing can't even keep on schedule even when Brucie isn't around to derail it. Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 7, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 30. And let the wank about Craig giving Victoria a higher score than Louis commence. Claudia makes a joke about Victoria "quickstepping" into next week, and then follows it up with "I'm genuinely just reading out loud". Good old Claudia. She's so much more natural in this role than Tess is.

We're halfway through, so it's time for a quick look at the leaderboard: Denise and James are at the top, Louis and Flavia are second, Victoria and Brendan are third, Richard and Erin are fourth, and Fern and Artem are currently at the bottom.

Trying to carve themselves out a place high up on that board are our next couple, Dani and Vincent. Dani declares last week's jive to be her favourite dance of all the six years that she's been alive, and she's thrilled to get good comments and good scores from the judges - particularly that nine from Len last week. This week she's got a tango, where the story is that Vincent is cheating on her with another sexy lady. Apparently Vincent's chat-up technique, as demonstrated in rehearsals, is saying "Hey bella, how you doin'?" Sometimes I genuinely think that this show is the only time Vincent ever interacts with other people. In English, at least. Vincent declares that the tango is his dance, and Dani says that she wants to go to Wembley, because she's never even been there before. Honestly, these younglings with their O2 arenas and their Blackberry smartphones and their television-on-demand - they have no respect for their cultural heritage.

They're dancing to 'Rumour Has It' by Adele while a giant pair of lips pouts on the screen behind the band. I do hope they got Patricia Quinn in to do that. As you'd expect from Vincent, this is a very crisp and sharp tango - I'm not sure I entirely approve of the narrative of the philandering boyfriend physically pulling his angry girlfriend into her place and dragging her around the room, but I suppose it's best not to read too deeply into these things. They finish a few beats too early, but it's a very dramatic and effective routine that gets another standing ovation.

Bruno calls it "finger-licking good". I don't think I'd want to lick Bruno's fingers - can you imagine where they must have been? He loved the staccato nature of the dancing, the sharpness and the cleanliness of it as well as the overall performance. Craig thinks she's a lovely technician, but it was just a shame the dance finished earlier than the music - it's a small thing, but Dani's fantastic. Darcey didn't like the beginning, because she thought Dani came across like a moody teenager instead of a feisty woman (I can't believe she didn't get booed for that, but maybe people are so used to Darcey being "the nice one" she gets away with a bit more than the other three), but once she got into hold it got better and better, and she loved the end even if it was a bit early. Len liked the light and shade of the routine - that some parts were fast and clever, while others were slow and still.

Dani and Vincent make their way up to Claudia's Counselling Centre, where Dani says that there was a lot of pressure on both of them to deliver this week, and Vincent makes another joke about how she wanted to kiss him at the end but he refused. At least, I think he's joking. Scores? Craig 8, Darcey 8, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 34. Once again, Claudia informs us that we mustn't even make eye contact with the phones yet because the lines are not open. [Love Claudia so much - Rad]

On the dancefloor, Tess cackles that the phone numbers have never been so interesting - apparently not realising the damning critique she's just delivered on her own performance in that role every week. Next up are Nicky and Karen, and since it's bring-a-bandmate week, Tess points out that Shane from Westlife is in the audience - another person whose presence has been sacrificed at the Altar Of Cole. Nicky recalls last week's trials, as James and Brendan showed him how to rumba backstage shortly before he went on - so he went out and did everything they said, and still got criticism from the judges. Yeah, not nearly as much as criticism as you got from me, Byrne. You were being READ FOR FILTH in my house, let me tell you. Karen points out the incongruity of Craig giving it a 4 and everyone else giving it a 7, but seems to be suggesting that the 7s are the more accurate mark, when I thought even the 4 was generous. This week they've got the foxtrot to 'The Best Is Yet To Come' by Michael Bublé, and Karen's choreographed some business with a mic stand into the routine - so this week there'll be times when Nicky has four points of contact with the floor instead of the usual three.

There's a real transformation at the start of the routine as Nicky begins by himself, and delivers some really fancy solo footwork. He beckons Karen over, and while they're alone they're both so animated, but the minute they take hold the energy level of the whole thing really starts to sag. It's all so slow, and deliberate, and I'm sure the footwork and the posture and everything has improved, but the dance itself is so dull I just can't bring myself to care. It gets animated again towards the end as they get out of hold and there's a real showstopping end, which momentarily reignites my interest. That's so disappointing: if the whole dance had been as enjoyable as the first 15 seconds and the last 15 seconds, it probably would've been the best routine of the night - and this has been a strong night overall so far.

Nicky turns to face the judges, seems like the costume department have finally found an outfit that hides all traces of his gargantuan penis. Shame: playing "spot the trousersnake" was becoming one of my favourite Saturday night games. Oh, not like that. You're all disgusting. Anyway, Tess reminds Craig that he gave Nicky a 4 last week, and there's a hearty boo from the audience, which Nicky claims came from Cheryl Cole, but probably came from Shane. Still, there's no harm in dreaming. Tess asks Craig if he saw any improvement tonight, and Craig says "no", because he saw "a vast improvement". Uh, Craig? That's still "any" improvement, you goon. I know you feed on those choruses of boos, but at least try to generate them in a way that actually makes sense. He thought the opening promised excitement that they delivered when they got in hold, but he could have done with a bit more drive around the floor. Darcey thinks they set the mood well, but she missed the slow-quick-quick because Nicky doesn't travel so well. He's a bit like So You Think You Can Dance in that respect. Len wanted Nicky to move more, because he's always a bit flexed in the knees, but he thought Nicky had great style, and like the track said, "the best is yet to come". God, let's hope so - I can't face more of what he's been throwing out over the last couple of weeks - and for once, I don't mean his penis. Bruno thinks the opening was "pure Vegas" and that Nicky is getting better every week.

Up in Claudia's Counselling Centre, Nicky says he's enjoying the competition so much and that he's really working hard, so it's nice that it's all starting to come together. Scores are in: Craig 7, Darcey 7, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 30.

Kimberley and Pasha are next, and they've got a Viennese waltz for us. Kimberley enjoyed being lowered in her hoop (not a euphemism) last week and getting a nine from Bruno. This week they're dancing to 'A Thousand Years' by Christina Perri, which is apparently something to do with Twilight, which explains why I've never heard of it. This week, Kimberley has mostly been finishing off her solo album (plug plug) so she's not had a lot of time to practice, meaning that she and Pasha had to dance in a tiny recording studio at Universal Records. She plays Pasha a sneak preview of her album (entirely for his benefit, I'm sure, and not at all to plug it to the viewers at home), which consists of a cover of 'Somewhere' from West Side Story, which immediately sets alarm bells ringing for me, and yep, sure enough, it's an album of showtunes. I can't really see myself buying that, and I say that as someone who bought Nicola's solo album. And Nadine's. [Nicola's is the only GA solo album I own.  I think I've listened to it precisely twice though - Rad]

Kimberley's got that dreamy, faraway look in her eyes as she stands on the steps waiting to begin the routine, and the dance delivers everything that that opening promises: it's sweet, romantic, tender and of course very well-executed. The eros spin that was much-discussed on It Takes Two is a little unsteady and feels generally out of place within the routine as a whole, but that's the only real misstep as far as I'm concerned. That was probably my favourite of the night so far, and as I said earlier, it's been a strong night.

Darcey was pleased with the emotion of Kimberley's performance as well as the beautiful extension of her neck. She did spot a stumble with the promenades, and advises Kimberley to push down through her supporting leg to stabilise them. Len decides that he's going to call her "Kimberley Waltz" because she's got more spins than Alistair Campbell. Her transitions were good, as were her fleckerl and her posture, and he liked the gentleness of the whole thing. Bruno says that it was "achingly romantic" and he loved the sense of longing - he loved the sequence of spin, and it was near perfection apart from a tiny wobble. Also, Len would like to add, Kimberley didn't cross her feet on the reverse turns, but Tess tells him he's had his turn, lest things get out of control yet again. Finally, Craig tells Kimberley that her head was a little too high and that her "snout was pointing to the ceiling", which feels rather unnecessarily personal and rude, and she hopped three times in that eros section, but he thought that overall it was delicious.

Up in Claudia's Counselling Centre, Claudia expresses her own fondness for Kimberley's long neck, as do several of the other dancers. I sincerely hope they're all just saying that to be supportive, and not because they're secret vampires. Scores are in: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 34. Kimberley goes completely nuts at Len's score, and Claudia notes that Cheryl is lucky. "What, to be Cheryl?" a slightly nonplussed Kimberley responds, and Claudia clarifies that she meant Cheryl is Kimberley's lucky charm. Although Cheryl Cole herself probably is quite lucky, all things considered.

Our penultimate couple for the night is Michael and Natalie, and it's his return to Latin after two weeks of success in ballroom. Michael admits he was nervous last week because the foxtrot was very difficult, but he was pleased to get Len's approval. His VT is all about how he's worked really hard this week to make sure that he's improving. "You need to have a performance face," Natalie instructs him. "Not a clown face." In old-fashioned Strictly style, they go to a salsa club to learn how the experts do it, though Michael ends up doing a lot of dad dancing, so the educational value of the visit may have been negligible.

They're dancing to 'I Want You Back' and it starts out all right, if a little laboured, but then there's a section in the middle of the floor where Michael loses his flow and can't quite seem to pick things up. Natalie's incredibly brave response to this is to recognise that the next big flourish in the music is where Michael lifts her, so she hurls herself at him like a human missile - and luckily, he remembers and grabs hold of her. While this doesn't signify a sudden improvement in his ability to dance the salsa, he does seem to get his mojo back a little bit, so much so that the second time that Natalie leaps at him (WRAPPING HER LEGS AROUND HIS NECK), it's a little bit less suicidal on her part.

Mark Ramprakash is in the audience, and gives it a standing ovation. He and his companion appear to be the only ones. Len says that compared with some of Michael's other Latin dances, this was a vast improvement - it was a bit mechanical and there was clearly A Serious Incident, but he thought Michael had great content and the lifts were excellent. Bruno thinks we can now say that Michael can bat for the Latin team as well as the ballroom team: "it's great to see you going both ways, it's about time". His timing's still not perfect, but it's so much better than his previous Latin dances. Craig points out that it must be hard to dance the salsa with Ramps in the audience because he was so great, and Michael was so automated. He too points out the section in the middle where Michael went horribly wrong, and adds in that it wasn't so much that Michael recovered, it was more that Natalie got him out of it by sheer force of will - and by chucking her own body at him. Despite the timing issues however, he loved the lifts, the energy and Michael's commitment. Darcey liked it - it wasn't saucy, but it was cute and she was very impressed to see him using his thighs to prepare for the lifts, so if he was lifting her, she'd feel very confident. Indeed.

Up in Claudia's Counselling Centre, she feigns ignorance of having spotted any Incident, but Michael and Natalie know that the jig is up and confess. Michael says that Natalie's very trusting, because he dropped a lot of balls in his cricketing career. Claudia wins comment of the night with "Darcey says she wants you to lift her: that's the wrap party sorted." Scores: Craig 5, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 26 - not exactly a personal best, but still Michael's highest Latin score.

Finishing off the show are Lisa and Robin. Lisa recalls getting a 7 from Darcey last week, and how that made her week. (You know what else Darcey gave a 7 to last week? Nicky's rumba. I'm just saying.) This week, she really wants to get all of her footwork right in her foxtrot, and in rehearsals they spend a lot of time practising a heel turn, which is something that Len always looks out for. Lisa explains that this involves putting your feet together, and turning with your toes in the air and all of your weight on your heels. She points out that, in her case, this is a lot of weight and she's already broken one pair of shoes. Alexandra Burke's 'Broken Heels' plays on the soundtrack (a nice effort from the editors, but it's still nothing on playing 'Baby I Don't Care' during Holly Valance's VT last year) as Robin explains that they've put two heel turns in just in case Len misses one of them.

They're dancing to '(This Will Be) An Everlasting Love' by Natalie Cole, and it's fitting that the main thing I associate with this song nowadays is Dida Ritz's amazing Lip Sync For Your Life on RuPaul's Drag Race, because I think Robin thought he was choreographing for a drag revue when he came up with this routine. It's just all tits and teeth and exaggerated movements and playing to the back of the room. There is some nice stuff when they're in hold (and the camera goes to great lengths to capture those all important heel-turns, but then it all goes wrong again with a lot of mugging and scampering across the room at the end. It's basically the exact opposite of Nicky's routine: good in the middle, but ruined by a rubbish start and end.

There's a standing ovation, of course, and Bruno tells Lisa that her feet were on fire - he thought it was pure Broadway, but he reminds Lisa again that she's not supposed to lead. Her energy and performance was great, but she must remember not to push Robin around and let him lead. Craig thinks Lisa had impeccable timing and ferocious footwork, and he loved the lines she was making. Darcey says that Lisa has worked really hard this week, and this was a fast and enthusiastic foxtrot, and Lisa's best ballroom dance. Finally, Len says that he saw the first heel turn by the judges, but the other she attempted later on in the routine went a bit "cranky". And trust me, Len knows cranky when he sees it. He thinks Lisa has the F factor, for foxtrot, footwork and fun. Thank goodness he didn't say the other f-word, and I don't mean "fuck".

They scamper up to Claudia's Counselling Centre, but Robin slides and loses his balance at the foot of the stairs. It's a very accident-prone night tonight, isn't it? [Maybe Ian Waite's been applying grease to the floors in the hope of scuppering one of them enough that he can come back furrealz - Rad] Lisa says she's been working so hard all week, and they've had a ball. Claudia asks Robin if he's in pain, and Robin blushes that he isn't hurt, he's just embarrassed. Aww. Scores are in: 8s all round for a total of 32, Lisa's highest score.

Right, let's check that final leaderboard then:
1st: Denise & James (36)
2nd: Dani & Vincent (34)
2nd: Kimberley & Pasha (34)
4th: Louis & Flavia (33)
5th: Lisa & Robin (32)
6th: Victoria & Brendan (30)
6th: Nicky & Karen (30)
8th: Richard & Erin (29)
9th: Fern & Artem (27)
10th: Michael & Natalie (26)

So all things considered, a pretty good week for everyone. Claudia summarises this as "at the very top we've got Denise and James there with the maximum 10 points, at the bottom Michael and Natalie with three points, and then the other people in the middle." I love Claudia so much. She declares the lines officially open (only for 20 minutes tonight, it seems - I'm sure it's normally longer than that) and we get a quick recap of the evening's action.

That's it - only nine couples will make it to Wembley next week, and we'll be finding out who those couples are tomorrow night. I would've thought it could be anyone from the bottom three on the leaderboard going home, but given that everyone was of a fairly high quality tonight, I wouldn't rule out some sort of shock appearance in the bottom two as the lower-ranking couples get a bit of a boost. We shall see tomorrow, anyway.


Anna said...

Bang on prediction on the shock in the bottom two!

Steve said...

Small confession - I did actually know who was in the bottom two by the time I wrote that bit because I'd seen the spoilers, but I felt like I was justified putting that in because I'd predicted a shock bottom two even before I found out. My apologies if this peek behind the curtain has ruined the whole blog for you... :)

Anna said...

Sorry I posted thrice! Watched results on record and had seen a tweet which made me believe that Victoria had gone (would that be bad?) so it was a massive shock when they were safe first!