Sunday, 29 September 2013

The whole nine stars

Performance Show Week 1 Part 2: 28 September 2013

Last night: six couples performed the very first competitive routines of the series, and many viewers needed to take a sedative after realising they weren't all going to be cha chas and waltzes. Queen of BBC Breakfast Susanna Reid got off to a good start with a jive that was a little bit unrefined but somehow all the more endearing for it (and also because a considerable percentage of us fell in love with Kevin and his glasses), while Tony Jacklin's lumpy waltz delivered with predictable will-this-do enthusiasm by Aliona was every bit as terrible as we all assumed it would be. (And if you wish to engage in conspiracy theories about the show trying to downplay Natalie Gumede being the ringiest ringer who ever rang based on the in-show recap singling out Susanna as the highlight of the night, despite Natalie being arguably more technically precise and scoring three points higher, then it's not like I can stop you, is it?) Tonight, the remaining nine present their opening gambits, and spoiler: it's going to be a long night for many reasons. This! Is Strictly Come Dancing 2013!

Titles. My concerns for my pre-show favourite Rachel Riley's rumoured total lack of co-ordination are heightened considering that all she has to do in her bit is move from one side of Pasha to the other and she seems to have a bit of trouble just doing that.

We open with a pro routine to Rihanna's 'Don't Stop The Music'. The men are all in white and sparkly black, while the women are in white and gold lamé. There's a strange countdown at the beginning where each number is accompanied by dancers striking a pose, first in pairs and then individually. Then the music takes on a slower, more mournful tempo as Janette is lowered from the ceiling in a giant floaty harness, while most of the rest of the women faff around with feathered fans, apart from poor Iveta who's stuck partnering Anton in Erin's absence. Then half of the men arrive, banging drums (and Artem's drum-banging face defies description, but it did make me think "poor Kara", so I will leave it at that) [He also had bugger all rhythm - Rad], after which the music briefly segues into the Strictly theme tune, then back into Rihanna again as the others bear Karen aloft, stretching out her dress into a giant hanky which we then view from above. The pros head over to the judges desk and lift Darcey into the air as she fans herself with more giant feathers, and then Bruno leaps onto the desk and starts shaking it every which way. Craig and Len remain in their seats, which is probably the safest outcome for all concerned. There's another drumming breakdown and a bit of samba action, and it's all very elaborate but also kind of strange. I can't explain why, but I'm sort of glad when it's over because as technically impressive as it all was, it was also making me very uncomfortable.

Speaking of uncomfortable, enter Bruce and Tess. I don't even know what Bruce is doing, but for some reason he decides not to walk all the way over to centre stage, which means that she's standing far too far away from him when the musical sting requires her to do the leg kick and she barely manages not to fall over. Daly Dresswatch: after the comparatively good sartorial start last night, we're back to standard "oh dear" territory. I can only assume that wardrobe didn't manage to finish her actual dress in time, and instead Tess had to fashion an emergency substitute out of the purple crepe paper that her new favourite fragrance, Topline by Darcey Bussell, comes wrapped in. Tess and Bruce discuss what a great night last night was (and on reflection, it was indeed an encouraging start), and then there's a joke about Bruce losing his mental faculties. The fact that Bruce feels the need to clarify at the end that he was only joking about not being to remember where he was or what he was doing here speaks volumes. Bruce then genuinely forgets the phrase "strut their stuff". I hope this is just because he's a little out of practice, and he'll warm up a bit once we're a few weeks in, but experience tells me I'm probably on a hiding to nothing with that one.

It's time to meet the stars of our show (but not before we see Tess hastily removing Bruce's hand from her waist the second she thinks they're off camera - oh, how I've missed that): Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Brendan Cole, Mark Benton and Iveta Lukosiute, Susanna Reid and Everyone's New Favourite Pro Kevin Clifton, Ben Cohen and Kristina Rihanoff, Natalie Gumede and Artem Chigvintsev, Julien Macdonald and Janette Manrara, Vanessa Feltz and James Jordan, Tony Jacklin and Aliona Vilani, Abbey Clancy and Aljaž Skorjanec, Ashley Taylor Dawson and Ola Jordan, Deborah Meaden and Robin Windsor, Patrick Robinson and Anya Garnis, Rachel Riley and Pasha Kovalev, Dave Myers (in a shirt unbuttoned to the navel, dear god MY EYES) and Karen Hauer, and Fiona Fullerton and Anton Du Beke. There's a slightly better turn-out in terms of stars shimmying along to the music tonight: this time Susanna, Sophie, Julien and Dave are all giving it a go. With any luck we'll be up to the entire cast by about week six.

Bruce turns his attention to Ben Cohen, and Ben Cohen's Arms, and Ben Cohen's Luxurious Chest Hair and...sorry, where was I again? Oh yes, and he tells him that they've had rugby players on the show before, like Matt Dawson and Kenny Logan, so he's got something to live up to. Just so we're clear, that's Matt "Couldn't Lead" Dawson and Kenny "Couldn't Dance" Logan. And I can't believe that we've now reached a point where Austin Healey has not only been robbed of his rightful series six victory, but also of being mentioned in terms of rugby-playing former contestants to aspire to. Bloody hell. Natalie also has a lot to live up to, because of former soap stars like Letitia Dean and Kara Tointon. Again, the devil's in the detail: they were both from EastEnders, and Bruce neglects to mention that former Corrie stars like Brian Capron and Craig Kelly didn't fare quite so well. And for the punchline, he turns to Susanna and says that they've had breakfast presenters before like Fiona Phillips and Kate Garraway, so she's got nothing to worry about. So apparently the "GMTV presenters can't dance" meme has now extended to "all breakfast presenters are terrible" and we're just going to gloss over the wins of Natasha Kaplinsky and Chris Hollins entirely. (I mean, I'm sure nobody is going to argue that either of them was the finest dancer this show has ever produced, but the fact remains that two former breakfast presenters have won this show, and no former Coronation Street stars or rugby players have won it. And now I'm the asshole who sits here going "but the joke isn't funny because it isn't true!", so let's just move along before I embarrass myself any further.)

Tess reminds us that nobody is going home this week, but the judges are still voting, and then it's time for our first dance of the evening from Ben and Kristina. Bruce reveals that Ben has never seen the show before and doesn't know anything about it. Bless the show's determination to have a female winner this year by hobbling the most attractive male contestant from the outset with the tag of "doesn't like or care about this show and hates you all for watching it". Although given that Ben's already got his chest and his arms out, I'm not sure if anyone was even listening.

Ben's VT informs us that he's a family man, and his wife and children are very important to him. Meanwhile, The Gays are all "STOP REMINDING US THAT YOU'RE MARRIED TO A WOMAN", apart from those for whom that's all part of the attraction. I think Ben talks about his children loving to dance and how he wants to be able to join in with them, but to be honest I can't really focus on anything because GOOD LORD THOSE CHEEKBONES. He is a very handsome man indeed. Kristina declares that she's very happy to have Ben, but then we see him in training and those hips don't appear to be moving at all, so I wonder if her excitement is a tad premature. Ben says that he's determined to get his hips loosened, and in typical comedy VT fashion, we see him attempting to sway as he does the weekly shop. I don't know about the rest of you, but "Ben Cohen in a sleeveless top in Waitrose" is pretty much my ideal fantasy, so I may need to go and have a little lie down before I can continue. However, it's not just his hips that are the problem, as Kristina explains to Ben that her primary concern is his hearing, which Ben responds to with the obligatory "pardon?" joke. Ben explains to those who are not in the know that he only has 50 per cent hearing, and Kristina says that she has to be extra loud in rehearsals, which makes her feel bad because it's like she's yelling. Ben just hopes he can hear the beat on the night.

They're dancing a cha cha cha to 'Love Me Again' by John Newman, and despite gratuitous deployment of Ben Cohen's Arms and Ben Cohen's Lovely Smile, it soon becomes clear that he is a disappointment of Calzaghe-esque proportions. There is nothing happening with the hips at all. As a reader of several gay periodicals, I'm used to hearing "Ben Cohen" and "stiff" in the same sentence, but it's rare to have to say it with an air of disappointment. However, the bright side (because I'm REALLY desperate to find one) is that his footwork seems decent enough, so hopefully Kristina can wrestle some decent ballroom out of him in future weeks. It looks like Latin isn't going to be his forte though, and Kristina ends up resorting to the obligatory "just repeat these two or three very basic steps while I twirl around you and hope nobody notices that I'm doing all the work" choreography of desperation. [Poor Kristina - Rad]

Len's got his SPORTSMAN goggles on already because he's all "Big Ben, ding dong!" and says that this week's competition is like a rugby game because it has two halves. No seriously, that's it. That's the comparison. He liked Ben's footwork and his attitude, and also that he is a SPORTSMAN, but points out that Ben got ahead of the beat because of his nerves. Bruno slavers all over Ben's body and tells Kristina to call him if she needs any help handling those muscles. Oh Bruno, I think there's a very long queue in front of you for that. He tells Ben that he needs the help because he has a lot of bulk to move, and he was a bit stiff at times and he wasn't on the beat,  but as a first go it was full of promise. The promise of several weeks of disappointing Latin mostly, but still. Craig tells Ben he's seen breezeblocks with more movement, and that it was leaden and laboured. Ben puts his hand on his heart and stagily declares that Craig is "killing him" and that he's "not going to come next week". Well, that's all the gays tuning out, then. Darcey tells Ben that he should use his impressive frame and be proud of it rather than worrying what to do with it. I think a little more detail might be helpful there, Darce.

They head up to the Tess Circle, where Ben says that two weeks ago he couldn't put one foot in front of the other, so Kristina's done well to even get him this far. (Except I swear that there were points in the opening group routine where he actually looked pretty good. Maybe I was just dazzled by The Arms as per usual.) Tess asks him if it's hard to shed that "macho rugby" attitude and become a performer, because this show for some reason keeps insisting that there's something inherently unmanly about dancing, and Ben affirms that it is indeed "a transition". It occurs to me that there is one advantage of Ben only having 50 per cent hearing - he only has to hear half as much Tess as everyone else does. Maybe that'll keep him sane. Scores: Craig 3, Darcey 5, Len 6, Bruno 5 for a total of 19. Ben says he's happy with that, since he doesn't watch this show and doesn't know that there's something seriously wrong if you're a SPORTSMAN and Len can't even bring himself to give you a seven. Despite that being the first dance of the show, we go to the leaderboard to see how Ben fits in with last night's dancers. The answer is "not great, Bob": Natalie, Susanna and Sophie are currently at the top, while Ben is only three points ahead of Tony Jacklin at the bottom.

Up next are Fiona and Anton, for a dance in which she'll play a Bond Girl and Anton will be James Bond. So I guess they're not hugely confident of Fiona's chances of a long stay on the show, if they're ushering in all the Bond references in week one. In her VT, Fiona says that being on the show has taken her back to an era when she was famous an actress, but it's been 17 years since her daughter was born in 1995 and she changed careers to spend more time at home. Fiona explains that it's strange for her daughter, who's never seen her performing before, to suddenly see her up there dancing. I'm not entirely sure how that sets her daughter apart from the entire viewing audience. Anton, meanwhile, is glibly thrilled about having a Bond girl, and wonders if this might finally be his time to dance all the way through to December. Anton's previous partners who have lasted until December: Patsy Palmer, Laila Rouass, Widdy. Still, poor Anton, etc etc etc. Fiona thinks she will have to overcome her nerves. Also: not being famous. In rehearsals, Anton encourages her to tackle her self-doubt by playing a character like, say, A BOND GIRL, and turns up in a tuxedo to help her with the fantasy. I think it'll take more than that, dude.

They're dancing their tango to 'A View To A Kill', because that's the Bond film Fiona was in, she might not have mentioned it. If we were strictly following the theme of the film, Fiona would be in this dance for about eight seconds before being replaced by either Tanya Roberts or Grace Jones, but we all know how this show likes to exaggerate its links to the Bond franchise, so let's let them have their moment. (Also, Grace Jones and James Jordan for Strictly 2014, plsthx.) Despite all the pre-series talk about Fiona having ringer tendencies of her own, this is a fairly low-key start. The footwork is mostly there, but the posture is all a bit limp, except at the times where it's far too stiff even for the tango, and at times there are gaps between them through which you could pilot a helicopter. Also, the singer's voice cracks hilariously at several points, which has nothing to do with the dance but is worthy of chronicling. [I'm still having shivers from last year's BOND BOND BOND DID WE MENTION BOND so everything about this whole sequence can bugger right off - Rad]

Bruce invites us to thank Dave Arch and his wonderful orchestra, and does the weird "look, they're real people!" schtick that he did last night, as though the lack of space in the old studio meant that they were secretly cardboard cutouts for all those years. Bruno enjoyed the vampish roleplay (of course he did) and thinks that Fiona started well, but got herself into a muddle and it was clear at points that Anton was placing her into position rather than Fiona getting herself there. Craig thinks it's lovely to see Anton actually dancing with a partner with co-ordination, though the routine was occasionally rough around the edges. Darcey was impressed with the level of content and how well Fiona recovered from her mistakes, but warns her to watch her top line. Len agrees that it's great to see so much going on, and Fiona was nice and sharp early on, but that she did lose it at times.

They BOND their way up to the Tess Circle, where Fiona questions whether Len's comment of "as sharp as a lemon tart" is actually a compliment or not, and says being here is like she's just walked inside a television set. Presumably it's cramped and full of wires? Anton says that Fiona was outstanding. Scores: Craig 5, Darcey 6, Len (double 0) 7 and Bruno 6 for a total of 24.

Next it's Dave and Karen. The main thing we can learn from Dave's VT is that he is genuinely thrilled to be here, which is rather sweet. He's enjoyed being dressed up and looking suaver than he's used to, and he's somehow managing to cope with the hardship that is swapping Si King for Karen Hauer. Dave describes his dance style as "dad dancing, crossed with a gyrating troll". Self-deprecation, or honesty? We're about to find out. In rehearsals, he explains that someone's got a sense of humour because he's dancing the cha cha cha to 'Moves Like Jagger'. Karen tells him that she needs to correct his horrendous posture, and tries to sort it out by tying up his shoulders with one of her scarves, but Dave - and I actually really like this as a gesture - is concerned about ruining her scarf with his sweat and volunteers his belt for the task instead. After a series of increasingly weak Rolling Stones puns, it's the moment of truth.

Well, it's certainly unique: Dave serves as his own hype man by skipping out onto the floor going "WHOOOOAA! WHOOOOAA!" like he's trying to round up a particularly energetic herd of horses. He then gestures emphatically to Karen - who's posing behind a mocked-up set of turntables - to join him, puts his hands on his hips and struts into position. The whole thing is hilariously bad - Dave is apparently incapable of moving subtly, so everything is rather stompy and takes twice as long as it needs to. He's also got even less movement in his hips than Ben had, but do you know what? I have no problem with bad dancers as long as they've at least tried to be good - it's the Sergeant/Widdecombe school of doing the absolute bare minimum and then scowling when you don't get any praise for it that annoys me - and Dave has clearly worked really hard on this routine, and I applaud him for that. The other main selling point of this whole experience is Karen's face throughout the routine, because she is giving her all to making it look like she's having the time of her life, despite the very real possibility that Dave's going to accidentally kick her in the shins at any moment. I wasn't entirely sure about Karen last year, but based on her handling of this whole routine, I'm starting to really like her. Also, she's choreographed in a bit where she basically sits on the floor with one leg in the air and has Dave drag her along by the ankle like she's got worms, so I think we can safely say she's not hugely concerned with her own vanity this year. In all seriousness, I like the way she's risen to the challenge of tackling a celeb with little dancing ability - rather than the obvious approach of making him stand still while she dances around him, she's choreographed a routine of basic but still challenging moves so that while Dave's unlikely to win many points for technical excellence, he's got something to work towards and a routine that he clearly enjoys. So brava, Ms Hauer.

Of course, Craig is the first one to comment on this routine, and he declares it "terrifying", saying that he recoiled in horror when Dave headed over to the judges, and he had a feeling of revulsion during the booty shake. He also advises Dave to stop counting and saying "two, three, cha-cha-cha". What, no "beans-on-toast"? Darcey says that she was "crying with happiness" during the routine, and advises Dave to "watch the enthusiasm" because it was bordering on out of control. Heh. Len tells Dave that "you dance like I cook - just chuck it all in and hope for the best". Bruno declares it "the most insanely hilarious mess ever". And he should know. Bruce tells Dave that he's his favourite. Karen and Dave are thrilled.

They receive a rapturous reception in the Tess Circle, where Dave says that he thinks all the steps were there, just not necessarily at the right time or in the right place. Scores: Craig 2, Darcey 5, Len 5, Bruno 4 for a total of 16. Dave's philosophical about it all: "the only way is up, Tessa." I hope he thinks that's her actual name. Tess reminds us that nobody is leaving this weekend. Can't imagine why she would've thought of that at this moment in time. (Prediction: Dave makes the top five. I've just got a feeling. Then again, my premonitions about this show are usually hilariously inaccurate.)

With the herculean task of following that up, it's Rachel and Pasha. In her VT, she explains that she was a tomboy and enjoyed things like football and hockey, "all the sports where you didn't have to worry about what you look like". So pretty much everything except beach volleyball and professional wrestling, then? Rachel says that she can't wait to train with Pasha because he's so caring and gentlemanly: "it's like having a puppy that can speak to you." That's pretty much the best description of Pasha I've ever heard. Pasha explains that Rachel has never danced before, but that's what makes this exciting for him. They're doing the waltz, and Rachel says that she thought this would be a gentle way to start, but WRONG. Pasha notes that she's behaving rather aggressively, so Rachel explains her sporting background and then has to explain to Pasha what "boshing" means. Hee. They're having a problem with gapping in rehearsals, so Pasha unveils his secret weapon (no, not THAT, get your minds out of the gutter): some age 5+ maths tuition books, which they have to hold between their chests and ensure they don't fall to the floor. This engages Rachel's competitive side, and she says she'll consider it an achievement if she at least manages to look elegant, even if she doesn't get all the steps right.

They're dancing to 'When I Need You', so this is basically Waltz 101. I don't even know if I can judge this fairly because I've spent the last two weeks fretting that Rachel, who I really like as a TV personality, didn't seem to be giving out much to get confident about in the brief clips we'd seen of her dancing. So it's possible that this benefits hugely from me having very low expectations, but you know what? It's actually pretty good. She's got a long dress on which hides her feet for a lot of the time, but as far as I can tell, she seems to be getting most of it right. There is some gapping, which is a concern, and she does look a little bit glassy in the eyes, but she at least seems to be dancing with Pasha as opposed to being dragged along by him, so there's enough in here to at least make me quietly hopeful that she might surprise us all - at least until I see her Latin.

Darcey starts for the judges and saying that the key to the waltz is to glide and be graceful, which Rachel did, but she lost her core in the transitions, so she needs to work on that. Len thought the dance was very pretty, but it was a touch on the careful side - he cautions that careful "will get you through three or four weeks, but you won't win Strictly being careful." Kara certainly didn't. So she's going to need a bit more passion in future. Bruno enjoyed the grace and the fragility, but thinks that mostly came from Rachel's nerves, so she does need to be more confident in future, and also extend her lines. Finally, Craig thinks her head didn't always look like it belonged on her body, and her hands are a bit spatulistic, but it had beautiful flow, gorgeous rise-and-fall and was full of elegance. Rachel visibly breathes a huge sigh of relief, and I'm sorry I ever doubted Pasha's abilities as a teacher.

Up in the Tess Circle, Rachel says that she was terrified and sort of can't remember any of it. Also, based on this and the launch show, it appears she's not a natural quipper. Bless. Scores are in: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 27. Rachel is extremely happy with that, and vows to shake her hips in her salsa for Len next week.

Our next couple are Julien and Janette. Janette bellows "HELLO!" down the camera by way of introduction. I'm already in love. Also, her "responding to one of Bruce's jokes" face is pretty accomplished despite this being her first competitive appearance. Julien says that he's always loved dressing up thanks to his mum and sisters, but his dad always thought he'd be a SPORTSMAN. With Julien and Ashley, Len must be furious at all the near-misses he's had on the SPORTSMAN front this year. Janette says that Julien is one of the most "energetic" people she's ever met, so she was very excited to be paired with him. I do like that the casting process here seems to have been "oh, let's just make the two most obnoxious people dance together" - at least until they realised that James Jordan was already down to dance with Vanessa, and gave Julien to the runner-up instead. In training, Julien explains that he's got a fashion show in a few days, so his mind is elsewhere. Janette compromises by going to his studio to work (and also going to his fashion show, because let's face it, it'd be rude not to), and then once that's out of the way, it's time to crack the whip. Julien admits that dancing is a lot harder than he expected, and he might just have to blind us all with sparkles so we can't see what he's doing.

They're dancing a cha cha cha to 'Vogue' (of course), and it's every bit as gaymazing as you would expect it to be. The dancing is pretty much an afterthought, it's all about Julien wearing as much glitter as possible and getting to vogue on national television. Like pretty much all of the men cha cha-ing in this opening weekend, he's pretty stiff in the hips, yet he's very loose in his torso, which makes for an odd combination. I will say this much, though: it was quite a spectacle, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. What can I say? It's opening night, my standards are low. You can either impress me with your skills, or you can just entertain me. Either way, I'm good. They whoop and holler loudly to celebrate it all being over, and Julien yells "I DID IT!!" to Bruce.

Len starts: "I don't know about Vogue, it was more like Woman's Weekly." Oh good, the veiled LOLGAYs are starting already. He describes it as being "prim and proper and neat and tidy", which are words I really would never use to describe that routine, but okay. He advises Julien to straighten the legs (AND NOT JUST THE LEGS, AMIRITE LADZ) and says that Julien scared him at times, but it was good. Julien bellows "I'M HAVING A HARD TIME BECAUSE I'M NATURALLY QUITE BENT, I NEED TO BE STRAIGHT!" and suddenly I wonder if the reason Ben Cohen only has 50 per cent hearing is because he once stood too close to Julien Macdonald. I think Julien needs to learn quickly that what works on It Takes Two (i.e. shouting) doesn't necessarily work on the main show. Bruno enjoyed the posing and posturing, but says that the cha cha cha needed a makeover. "You can't be bent all the time, my darling. Trust me, I know. Sometimes it pays to be straight. Sometimes you have to play straight for the money." I think I'm getting a migraine. Craig tells him that it was hideously flat-footed. Julien screams (again) "BUT CRAIG, THERE'S ONE THING YOU MUST LIKE, LOOK AT MY FABULOUS TOP! THERE'S 20,000 CRYSTALS ON THIS TOP, THAT IS FABULOUS!" I think I'm witnessing the birth of a denizen of the Dance-Off right before my eyes. Darcey tells Julien that she loved the joy in his face, and he's better come back with the same joy next week - and then she cracks up. I'm starting to like her. (Also, if the public votes Julien out before he gets to do a paso doble, I'm telling you now that I will be furious, because I need to see that.)

Julien and Janette cackle their way up to the Tess Circle, seemingly knowing they're going to be an early boot and not giving a shit, and Julien tells Tess that he's here to have fun, do it with a big smile, and also HAVE FUN! Tess wisely stands at a distance. Scores: Craig 3, Darcey 5, Len 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 20.

Next up we have "Deborah Meaden, and her partner Robin Windsor - yes, from Dragons' Den!" Oh, the Brucie syntax. How I have missed you. Deborah says that being on the show is like stepping through a looking glass, and she no longer recognises herself when she looks in the mirror. Robin thinks that Deborah might be more of a pussycat than a dragon. In training, Deborah admits to finding it a struggle, and that she can basically get one thing right at a time, but no more than that. Robin gives Deborah some homework to do, which seems to basically amount to "learn the routine please", and a Deborah-cam at home reveals that her husband has banished her to the guest bedroom because her feet were twitching and keeping him awake.

They're dancing a tango to 'Money Money Money', of course, and it opens with Robin doing a series of aggressive pirouettes by himself, which is not really my favourite way for a routine to start. Once Deborah gets to join in, she seems to spend quite a lot of her time being dragged around. I hate to bang on the same old drum all the time, but I have the same problem with Robin's choreography that I've had so often in the past: it doesn't really seem to take the ability level of his partner into account. Deborah can't keep up with the speed he needs her to go at, so she's being pulled from place to place rather than dancing. Possibly the song was forced upon them by the producers rather than being personally chosen by Robin, but I'm sure there's still a way the routine could've been choreographed at a speed that Deborah could've managed more comfortably. It doesn't need to be SLOW, per se, just slightly less rushed. Maybe the same speed, but with fewer steps? I realise I'm no choreographer and that it's all very easy for me to sit here eating crisps and pull the routine apart, but at the same time, if it's this obvious to me that this routine, at this time, was too much for Deborah, shouldn't it have been obvious to Robin? [Oh Robin and his inappropriate choreography - Rad]

The routine ends with Deborah returning to her chair and saying "I'm in!", although I'm a bit disappointed that Robin doesn't shout "I'm out!" and do jazz hands. (Obligatory reminder of Robin's first year on the show when his intro VT was all "LOCK UP YOUR DAUGHTERS, HERE COMES ROBIN WINDSOR!" Oh, Strictly.) Bruce cracks that this is the first time he's ever seen a dragon out of puff. Bruno thinks it was a good pitch, full of determination and power, but Deborah messed it up in the middle. "You have to carry on a pitch to the conclusion," he tells her. Craig thought she was lagging behind Robin for most of the dance, but he was surprised by her performance. Pleasantly, one presumes. Darcey liked the attack, but advises Deborah to pull up out of her waist. Len liked the attitude and enjoyed it, though he reiterates that Deborah needs to lift her diaphragm a bit more.

In the Tess Circle, Deborah says that she thinks Robin's probably still got some work to do with her, but her main objective was to have a good time and not let him down. Scores: sixes all round for a total of 24. Deborah's happy with that.

Patrick and Anya are next. Bruce makes a joke about how Patrick was in Casualty for almost eight years, with the predictable punchline about NHS waiting times. Bloody Tory. Patrick's VT is a little on the dry side - he admits that he's quite shy, and he probably became an actor because he found being himself quite tricky. He's turning 50 in November, and wants to be the oldest person to win Strictly. (Current oldest person to win Strictly: Chris Hollins, at the age of 38. The three winners since him were 27, 26 and 23 at the time of their respective victories. In short: good luck, Patrick!) Anya gets all about being paired with Patrick, saying she "felt the connection right away". Patrick talks about FRED AND GINGE and is all very earnest. Patrick has the jive for his first dance, and frets about having had a knee injury not so long ago. As someone with dodgy knees who desperately yearns to be able to jive, I cry, INSPIRE ME, PATRICK! His knees manage to survive rehearsals, thankfully. This is about as exciting as Patrick's VT gets, unfortunately. Let's hope he can dance, because he and Anya are not so much with the banter so far.

They're dancing to 'Runaway Baby' by Bruno Mars, and the dance suffers from a lot of the same problems that Susanna's jive had yesterday: the basic ability and the energy are both there, but the execution is still quite sloppy. Again, he gets points from me for the effort he's putting into it and for having the performance panache to cover up the shakier moments.

Bruce compliments Patrick on remembering to point his toe in the flicks. Craig thought the rhythm and energy were fantastic, but he needs to sort his flat feet out and "get up onto your balls". Somewhere in a posh London hotel, Nicole Scherzinger's ears are burning. Darcey compliments Patrick on his energy and fitness, but warns him about his flappy feet on the kicks. Len thinks that what he lacked in technique he made up for in energy and enthusiasm. Bruno loves that it was "a powerhouse of energy" and advises Patrick to just work on refining it all a bit.

Up in the Tess Circle, Tess informs them that they've got the first standing ovation of the night - not entirely surprising that it's taken this long considering what we've witnessed - and asks Patrick how it was to be himself on the telly. Patrick says it was scary but fine. Thanks Patrick. Scores: all the sevens for a total of 28.

Our penultimate performance of the night comes from Vanessa and James. In her VT, Vanessa talks about doing it for the grandmothers and all the women of a certain age. (Women Of An Age That Is Certainly Higher Than Vanessa's in this series: Fiona and Deborah.) Vanessa's thrilled to have James as her partner because he's "oozing testosterone". Sounds nasty. James is not confident of his chances of getting Vanessa to do what he tells her. Strangely, this ends up working out almost too well for him: Vanessa is very compliant in the training room, which doesn't fit with the assertive routine that James has laid out for her. He asks her, in Vanessa's words, to "try to be more like the Vanessa that the public thinks it knows". My brain hurts. Vanessa declares that trying to act like she's unimpressed by James "requires the thespian talent of Dame Judi Dench". I'm fairly certain I could do it. Just saying.

As you might have guessed, their cha cha cha is to 'That Don't Impress Me Much'. Initial impressions of Vanessa's dancing, as far as I can tell, is that she's got a decent grasp of rhythm, but she looks rather lost a lot of the time, and seems to not have complete control of her own legs. Also, her "unimpressed" acting is pure pantomime. James has already resorted to choreographing in a move in which he rips his shirt open, and it seems like all he can do not to laugh for most of the performance. It's odd how much more likeable James is when he knows he's got no chance of winning.

Darcey thinks it wasn't lively or cheeky enough, and does the "there's always one dance that won't suit any given person" thing. Yes. This is the sole dance that Vanessa is going to struggle with. I think you generally need to save that comment for when someone has actually managed to do one dance successfully, Darce. However, Darcey believes that Vanessa will do a much better job in ballroom next week. Len thinks it needed more "flash bang wallop", but she didn't lose her timing and got through it without any glaring mistakes - not that he's damning with faint praise or anything. Bruno thinks that she was trying so hard to get it right - which she did - that she didn't manage to give it the "va va voom" that it needed. Craig tells her that it's a shame she doesn't dance as well as she speaks, because it was too much acting and not enough dancing. Vanessa: "I defer, sir, to your perspicacity." Hee. If nothing else, I appreciate Vanessa shoehorning a sentence like that into primetime Saturday night BBC1, especially since I suspect the only other time most of us have ever heard that word involved Lisa Simpson. Vanessa adds that she's having a hot flush (WHICH LADIES OF A CERTAIN AGE WILL UNDERSTAND) and it's very hard not to be impressed when James gets his tits out. I can only imagine how difficult she found it to watch Atlantis, in that case.

Up in the Tess Circle, Vanessa says she thinks she did okay, since she managed to keep breathing and not fall over. She calls Craig a "meanie". Scores: Craig 3, Darcey 5, Len 6, Bruno 5 for a total of 19.

Thus our final couple is Abbey and Aljaž. In her VT, Abbey tells us that she loved to sing as a girl, BUT NEVER DID ANY TAP OR BALLET OR ANYTHING, IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR A RINGER THEN LOOK ELSEWHERE SIR OR MADAM. She says that despite people's assumptions, she leads a normal life like everyone else, doing nursery runs, cooking, cleaning and picking up her husband's dirty underwear. She neglects to mention that she does all of this while having considerably more money than any of us. She's pleased to have Aljaž as her partner because he is hotter than fire, even if it does make her feel like an "old bag" in the process. Abbey says that Aljaž has obviously got what it takes (yes, that's why he's the professional),  but she doesn't know if she has. They're dancing the waltz, which as we know is a graceful dance, but she feels "like a sack of spuds" dancing it (prompting Aljaž to ask her what "spoodz" is). She's having trouble telling her left from her right, so Aljaž gives her a glittery L and R to help remind her.

They're dancing to 'Kissing You' by Des'ree, which feels like another very unimaginative choice for a waltz soundtrack. [And also a song I hate outside of the context of Romeo+Juliet where it just about works - Rad] Also, I'm generally not a fan of white trousers because they are not remotely practical in 99 per cent of situations, but the one time they're handy is when you have an arse as impressive as Aljaž's and you want to show it off to its fullest, because DAYUM. (I am going to be drooling over the pros a lot this year. I'm not even sorry.) Their waltz is beautifully controlled, very elegant and graceful, with Abbey doing an excellent job with the choreography, but...I can't help finding it just a teensy bit boring. Sorry, I'm just not really a fan of waltzes in general, and the main thing that held my attraction through Rachel's was the fact that she was dancing much better than I expected her to. With Abbey, I never really had any doubts about her ability, so I don't really have that fascination to maintain my interest. It's certainly an excellent routine, danced exceptionally well for a first week, but emotionally it just didn't really engage me. Sorry. I'm a terrible person.

Len says that the waltz is a big dance of flowing movements, and Abbey's was the dance of the night. Bruno calls it "dreamy" and "deeply felt", adding that it's an incredible debut. Craig declares the routine "gorgeous". Darcey finishes by saying that Abbey has excellent posture, which made for some beautiful lines. For some reason Bruce asks Abbey if she has any family here tonight, as though she's just joined him on stage for his matinee show at the Margate Winter Gardens, and Abbey says that her mum and her 96-year-old nan are here. Steady on, Abbey - I know that getting her nans out on this show worked well for Alesha, but don't give us too much too soon.

They retreat to the Tess Circle, where Tess and Abbey agree that rubbing up against Aljaž is a very satisfactory way to spend one's Saturday evening. Aljaž says that he's very proud of Abbey. Nobody asks Aljaž about his arse, which seems like such a missed opportunity. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 32. Abbey is...surprisingly unresponsive. Nerves? Maybe, I don't know.

There's a trail to remind us that It Takes Two begins again on Monday, and then we look at the leaderboard for the whole weekend, which runs as follows: Abbey & Aljaž (32), Natalie & Artem (31), Susanna & Kevin (28), Sophie & Brendan (28), Patrick & Anya (28), Rachel & Pasha (27), Ashley & Ola (25), Mark & Iveta (24), Fiona & Anton (24), Deborah & Robin (24), Julien & Janette (20), Ben & Kristina (19), Vanessa and James (19), Tony & Aliona (16) and Dave and Karen (16). I'd say those scores are mostly fair, although I'd be inclined to move Mark and Vanessa a little higher than their current positions. We get a reminder of all the weekend's dances, even though we don't really need one because there's no public vote this week, although it does make me realise just how terrifying Artem's teeth are in HD.

The credits roll, and I'm both amused and terrified by Bruce getting a writing credit (although it does explain a lot), and Bruce and Tess remind us that next week is when it gets serious because it's 15 couples in one night and one of them's going home on the Sunday. Rad will be here to see you through the whole thing, because she's ever so nice like that. We end with Bruce screaming at everyone for not doing the final sway properly. It's like McFly storming the stage all over again.


Soph said...

Deborah is only 3 years older than Vanessa. Clearly having lots of money and power is AGING.

Steve said...

It's probably more spending so much time in close proximity to Duncan Bannatyne.