Sunday, 11 December 2016

Double jeopardy

Week 12: Top 4 Perform - 10 December 2016

Tonight's show begins in a lightbox as Danny, Louise, Ore and Claudia step up to the camera and begin making their case for a spot in next week's final. I would just like to say that the lighting set-up they've got here is really flattering for Claudia, she looks amazing - though sadly the same cannot be said for her line readings, which are still amusingly flat. I wouldn't have thought it would be that difficult to summon up some enthusiasm about being in the semi-final, but there we are. Danny points out that two dances means double the amount of work, pressure and effort, but then ruins it a bit by saying that he has literally spent every waking hour in the training room this week - unless he's been sleeping in there and it has a chamber pot in the corner, I find this unlikely. Ore and Louise point out that a single mistake could mean it's all over, although the way most of the scoring has gone this year, it'll probably just mean getting a 9 instead of a 10.

Titles! This week's "person I had forgotten was ever on the show in the first place": Tameka.

In the studio, Tess and Claudia arrive on the arms of Aljaž and Giovanni. Tess is wearing a black jumpsuit with a white band around the neckline, and Claudia's in black lace. A decent showing on both fronts from wardrobe, I think, especially after a couple of dodgy weeks. Tess asks if we're all ready for a night of double dancing - the answer appears to be "yes", which is good because the alternative could have been quite awkward - and Claudia reminds us that last week Ore and Joanne faced off against Judge Rinder and Oksana in the dance-off, prompting the OksanaBot 3.1 to refresh its Emotions app and produce "tears". (Just kidding Oksana, love you really.) The judges walk on, and Darcey is walking down the stairs even more tentatively than usual - when the camera pulls out to capture them all together in a long shot, it reveals she's got quite a long trip-hazardy dress on, and you'd think someone might give the poor woman a week off when they're blocking this thing.

Our top four Strictly stars enter: Louise and Kevin, Claudia and AJ, Ore and Joanne, and Danny and Oti. Joanne's outfit for the first dance is already screaming Breaking Glass to me and I'm quite excited.

Louise and Kevin are on first with their tango. In their VT, Louise tells us that she really enjoyed being Calamity Jane for her quickstep last week (and despite her protestations about the yee-hawing and thigh-slapping, I think she actually did). This week, she's loving the sharpness of the tango, though she's finding it weird in ballroom having to be flat-footed and stompy after weeks of trying to be light and elegant. Personally I think this was a missed opportunity for bringing in special guest teacher Ed Balls, but what do I know. As is customary in the semi-final, Kevin's brought in a tablet to show Louise some messages from her supporters out there in the big wide world, and I'm not really going to bother recapping these in any great detail because it's a long show tonight and they're mostly kind of boring, but Louise gets a bit teary watching them, which is quite sweet. [I was amused by each pair's demographic: Louise got the oldies and some kids mostly - Rad]

They're dancing to 'Glad All Over', and the bizarre theming has them as conveyor belt supervisors in a glitterball factory, ripping off their overalls and seizing the opportunity to tango. The most important thing to note here is that after a series of being routinely overshadowed by Aljaž, Gorka and to a lesser extent AJ, Kevin's Arse is very much back in town tonight and wants us to know it. I'm not really feeling the colour scheme here - Louise's red/black/white dress just doesn't work for me - but I quite enjoyed this routine. [I struggled with it and I think it was the chirpy music and the godawful costumes that put me off, plus the very obvious mistake.  I quite liked the weird ending. - Rad] Louise is precise in all of her movements like you'd expect, there's a lovely crispness to it, and there's actually some very good chemistry between her and Kevin here. She occasionally looks a little unsteady on her feet during some of the quicker turns, and the ending where she hops on the conveyor belt and rides it into Kevin's arms is...odd, but other than that - decent. Not spectacular, but decent. Whether that will be enough on a pivotal night remains to be seen, especially since she has party Latin for her other dance.

Tess thanks the singers and the orchestra for their fine work, and then Len takes about ten seconds to remember what a conveyor belt is called. It's okay, guys, just one more week. He really loved the snap, crackle and pop in the opening link, though he did notice 'a little moment'. Bruno is surprised and thrilled that they managed to create a happy tango, and he loved the content and the accents in the performance. Craig would've liked to see more v-shaping in the frame, and he agrees with Len that Louise went off-balance slightly at one point, but it was dynamic, full of content, and he loves watching her dance. Darcey says the attack and the attitude were stunning, but Louise did lose her frame during the développés.

Louise, Kevin and The Spectacular Return Of Kevin's Arse head up to the Clauditorium, and Louise says that she's always nervous until she finishes a dance, but she really loved the tango. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 10 for a total of 37. Claudia has prepared a few subtle visual reminders for the terms and conditions to remind us that we cannot vote until all couples have danced twice, so everyone holds a load of number twos in the air (eww, not that kind) and Natalie and Katya are holding theirs back to front for a worrying amount of time.

Danny and Oti are next with their salsa. Danny says that he was terrified last week about doing a disco tango, and he's so glad that the public kept them in because he's just not sure he could've done it again. You know what, First Contestant Ever To Score Back To Back 40s Outside Of The Final, I think you probably would've been okay. Danny reminds us that their last Latin routine went really well, and he hopes he can reach that standard again. Danny watches his supporter video: one of them is a cute kid, but that's about it. [His demographic also appears to be all the youngish single people - Rad] Also someone wishes Danny good luck and he replies by saying "yes lad", and that's completely demolished any chance of me ever voting for Danny, sorry.

They're dancing to 'Vivir Mi Vida' by Marc Anthony, which does sound very "Portugal at Eurovision in 1998" and while it's still admirably performed, it's not really the 'moment' that his samba was. Again, I find my eyes drawn far more to Oti during their performances than they ever are to Danny: he's a great dancer, but she is a star - and every week seems to bring a new surprise in terms of the things she can do with her body. [I think they are both brilliant - she's brought something really fresh to the series and he just goes with it.  I was just thinking he was the best male (ringer) celeb they've probably had, when the camera cut to Harry as if to reinforce that.  And I liked Harry - Rad]

Harry Judd looks on approvingly from the audience and Bruno leaps out of his chair. He admires Danny's control when he span "Otti" in the underarm turns, and calls her in turn "a very naughty girl". Craig thinks it lacked figure-eight rotation in the hips during the forward and back basic, but that was the only thing missing. He was floored by the quality of the lifts, too. Darcey loved the intricate, fabulous lifts and the way both of them made the dismounts look so clean. She would've liked a little more wildness, though. Bruno exaggeratedly puts his head in his hands, then remembers that we're in the semi-finals and he's not fallen off his chair yet and stands to be in breach of contract if he doesn't complete that clause, so he stages possibly the least convincing pratfall he's ever done. And I don't say that lightly. Len says that like his porridge it was tasty and satisfying "with a bit of Oti flavour". I appreciate what he was trying to do there, but I don't really expect oaty flavour from salsa. Mmm, grains. He sees what Craig means, but he thinks Danny is a fantastic dancer, whatever happens tonight.

Up in the Clauditorium, everyone seems to be preparing for some sort of conga and Danny says that it's been a mad busy week, but that he resolved just to enjoy it in case it was his last one. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 10 for a total of 37.

Our third couple of the night are Claudia and AJ. Last week Claudia did a salsa and got a 10 for it, you may have heard about this. This week they've got the rumba, and Claudia says that AJ's had to work very hard with her on the slowness and control and discipline, and that people don't realise just how hard it is to unlearn 12 years of gymnastics training. It's almost as if the rumba is hard for women as well as men? That can't be right. AJ and Claudia watch fan messages [little girls doing gymnastics and Bristolians, mostly - Rad], and the whole "AJ, don't drop Claudia!" meme appears to be spreading.

They're doing a rumba to 'Bleeding Love', which has been slowed down just a smidge to make it more rumba-esque. The routine begins with Claudia on a chair doing a bit of a Sharon Stone right at the camera, so forgive me if I can't quite take the whole thing seriously. I think this is actually the most I've ever enjoyed one of Claudia's routines, because something about the utter earnestness of it really amuses me, but it's also very elegantly performed so I feel like I can enjoy it on several levels. There are a few issues - it doesn't flow as much as I would like it to, and also there's a weird black smudge on the arse of her dress that I find distracting every time her back is to the camera.

Tess hoots "what a mature performance!" like we should expect to see it on Pornhub after the show. Craig calls it "a bit square" and says that the held moments seemed to stop dead rather than maintain the flow, and he felt it lacked chemistry (which I'm not entirely sure I agree with). He did love the control though, particularly in the développés. Darcey also liked the développés, but she felt the emotional intent was lacking - she charts it up to "a lack of life experience", which seems fairly patronising. Len tells her she's dressed like a Quality Street, and that was a quality rumba. He then says that he doesn't "know the technical term, but there was a lot of cocking your leg up". Jesus Christ, Len, both Craig and Darcey just called it a fucking développé, that is what it's called. People called for Alesha to be fired for less than this. Anyway, Len wanted more hip action, but she's a lovely dancer. Bruno loved the beautiful shaping and lines, but points out that the hip action needs to flow through the body. He says that it produces more maturity that way, and Claudia is a very young girl. SHE IS 19 YEARS OLD! SHE CAN DRINK ALCOHOL! SHE CAN PARTICIPATE IN A MEDICAL STUDY! SHE CAN STAND FOR PARLIAMENT AND SERVE ON A JURY! For the love of god. [I'm just glad they didn't do a cutesy rumba as that's totally what I was expecting.  I guess reformed purist Brendan has that sewn up - Rad]

When I recover from my rage blackout, Claudia and AJ are already in the Clauditorium, where Claudia W tells her that "your fellow professionals" were outraged by the judges' comments. Claudia F says that she really felt there was a connection and they worked really hard on that, so she's a little bit disappointed. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35. There are cries of "undermarked!", and she's not even dancing with a Clifton!

Tess is sitting with Ore's wife and parents in the audience, though sadly they aren't quite as disruptive as Judge Rinder's grandparents. In his VT, Ore says that he thinks the pressure of the quarter finals got to him last week, but he's willing to put everything on the line to get through this week. He wants to really wow everyone with his quickstep by covering lots of ground and going really fast. Yep, that's pretty much what people want from a quickstep. His fan messages are full of people who don't seem to be in agreement on how his name is pronounced [and also the most diverse mix of supporters in terms of age, ethnicity, single/couple-ness, if that means anything - Rad].

Their quickstep - to Jet's 'Are You Gonna Be My Girl?' - begins with Ore in leathers on a motorbike. I'm not going to lie: into it. Then a sirenish Joanne appears and coaxes him away from his bike and into a quickstep which is, as promised, very quick and covers the floor admirably. The footwork could be neater and his frame is a little bit loose at times, but for energy and impact this one is pretty impressive. It's a big hit in the studio, certainly, with lots of cheering and stamping of feet when it ends.

Darcey thinks he really came alive there and is impressed that he kept his composure with a song that would've been easy to get carried away to. Len says the motorbike may not have been a Triumph, but that quickstep was. He thinks Ore nailed the secret of the quickstep, which is to move quickly without ever looking rushed. Tess: "Did that get you all revved up, Bruno? It doesn't take much." Charming (although not unfair). Bruno says that they were like the Hell's Angels of quickstep, and he loved that Ore had the character of the theming but still kept the character of the quickstep. Craig says that Joanne set a very high standard for Ore here and didn't make it easy for him, but his posture suffered a little bit because he was dancing a bit too much with his leading arm. Len shrieks "You make it up! You just make it up!" This from a man who pretended not to know what a développé was 10 minutes ago because he doesn't want to look like he knows the airy-fairy words. Anyway, back to Craig who says that one of the running jumps wasn't in sync either. Tess tells him that Craig's the only one who saw that. Well, I imagine that's why they have more than one judge.

In the Clauditorium, Claudia reminds us that Ore's dad flew in early from Nigeria to see this, and he was screaming watching that performance. In a good way.  Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 38. Ore says he just wants to do his parents proud, because they've never seen him do anything, let alone dance. [Bless, but his dad looked so unfazed the whole time - Rad]

Halfway leaderboard?

1. Ore & Joanne - 38
2=. Louise & Kevin - 37
2=. Danny & Oti - 37
4. Claudia & AJ - 35

After a preview of everyone's second dances (which mostly involves everyone screaming "TWO DANCES NARGH SO CONFUSING!" apart from Claudia F, who's just really enjoying her quickstep), it's time for Claudia's Comedy Prop, Now With Added Meta: this time she's got a fishing line (because Danny and Oti's American smooth is set by a lake). Tess lectures Claudia that every time she goes near a prop, she lets it go (meta!) and it's a disaster, and Claudia assures her that this time she's taken precautionary measures and glued it to her hands. Cue someone offstage yanking on the line and Claudia falling forwards with a yelp. The best bit of all of this is that Tess finally breaks, experiencing human emotion for the first time in many years at the sight of Claudia sprawled on a crash mat in front of her and dissolving into giggles. Needless to say, it's the most likeable she's been all series. [I agree, it was adorable - Rad] The director even cuts to a long shot so we can see Claudia in view again, lying on the mat, just to really ram the whole situation home. Best Surreal Prop Interlude of the series, I think, for the reaction if not the joke itself.

Tess then of course launches straight back into her scripted intro, because you can't keep a good TessBot offline for long. The intro for Louise's samba begins, as the second dance in a semi-final generally does, with the judges evaluating her journey thus far. Louise has been consistent, but that hasn't always been a good thing because Len thought she plateaued mid-series. Craig singles out her rumba as a low point, and Len says that her Argentine tango was the breakthrough moment. Craig thinks she's really grown in confidence, and that's all she was ever lacking (cough ringer cough). This week she has the samba, and needs to marry a party atmosphere with the requisite technique, and Darcey isn't convinced that Louise is a party animal. No, Louise is the one running to and from the kitchen, refreshing everyone's drinks, making sure there are always enough nibbles being circulated and standing by at the end to ensure nobody goes home with the wrong coat. (This is not intended as criticism by the way; I am also that person, and it is a role that somebody has to take on.) In training, Louise struggles a bit because she feels like all parts of her body are doing something different, and she really needs to just let go with this routine.

Another slightly retro theme for this one, as Louise plays a Brazilian woman who seduces tourist Kevin (arse once again standing out in his casual slacks) into dancing the samba with her, to 'Aquarela do Brasil'. I think the samba was always going to be a tough sell for Louise, as Darcey said earlier, and while she dances it well enough, there's something rather cold and non-committal about it - and there's a bit in one of the samba walks where it looks like she forgets where she's meant to be. It just needed more abandon than she gave it, and as a result it's quite disappointing. Tonight was a good showing from Kevin's Arse, but a mediocre showing from Louise - and I think this will be the first real test of her public vote, because I'd imagine she's going to be in trouble on the leaderboard. [I was wondering what she did to piss off Vicky Gill and team this week because by God both of her outfits and hairdos were vile this week. She just looked embarrassed throughout this, and who could blame her - Rad]

Jamie claps nervously in the audience, and Len says that there was lots of quality content in this one - even the maypole, which he's never seen. He likes that she's really performing the dance, but she did come a bit unstuck in the pivots. Bruno says it's very easy to capture the flavour of the samba, but Kevin put a lot of content in there - he agrees with Len that Louise lost her way in the pivots, but he likes that there was so much samba in there. Craig thought it lacked upper body energy and resistance, and he would've liked to see more bounce, but he thought it was vivacious. Darcey loved the joy in Louise's face (okay, sure) but wants her to keep the detail to the end - she can always tell when Louise is coming to the end, and she doesn't want to know that. We've all been there, amirite ladies? Darcey says that she also thought she saw a hint of flirtation there, at which point Kevin steps about a foot away from Louise and makes "not me, guv" gestures at Jamie in the audience. Heh.

Claudia wants to ask Louise about her journey because she was always so shy and retiring at the beginning, and now she's wearing a fruity hat. Louise giggles that she keeps catching sight of her own reflection and wondering who it is dressed like that. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 36, giving Louise an overall total of 73.

Danny and Oti are next, and the judges are full of praise for his efforts so far: he looks great, dances brilliantly, and he's a real showman. That Samba is obviously singled out for being the first one ever to get a perfect score, and Len also wants to talk about his Argentine tango which lacked a bit of mood but had such great precision and storytelling. His Blackpool charleston is also included, with Darcey saying that she really couldn't tell he wasn't the professional dancer here (cough cough ringer). Interestingly, his foxtrot isn't discussed (although it is shown in an overall montage when Len frets about the dances getting "too complicated" for Danny at this stage, wtf) which you'd think they would've wanted to flag up as a rare humanising misstep on his otherwise amazing journey. This week, he's got the American smooth and Craig thinks it will really suit him because he's got Gene Kelly qualities. Oti says that they'll really have to bring something special to the table to impress the judges if they want to get to the final, and Danny says that to go out now would be devastating.

They're dancing to 'Misty Blue', as this is a Viennese waltz-based American smooth, and there's lots of dry ice swirling around the floor as Danny sits on a makeshift pier helping beautiful stranger Oti to recover her dropped arm hanky. This is a really beautiful routine - elegant, haunting and exquisitely danced with some impressive lifts. Again, though, it's Oti who draws my focus for the closing seconds of the routine as she leaps off the jetty and swandives into Danny's arms. That woman has nerves of steel, I swear. [Such a heart in mouth moment - with that and their Charleston, they've had more impressive gymnastics than Claudia - Rad]

Danny giggles that he's been terrified about that all week, and Bruno tells Tess that he was completely swept away by the motion, and by the emotion. He liked the contemporary-jazz elements, and thought the storytelling was exquisite. Craig loved it, and has nothing negative to say at all. Darcey says it was smooth and controlled, but she thought the lift where Oti swivelled around Danny's waist looked a bit clumsy. Len agrees with Craig - he points out that there weren't any reverse turns in there, but because the natural turns were so beautifully done, he's going to overlook it on this occasion.

Up on the Clauditorium, Anton is giddy with excitement and Danny is just speechless. Shall we just go to the scores? Craig 10, Darcey 9, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39, giving Danny a total of 76. [So random that Darcey 9 - normally she'd be all over that kind of dance.  If anyone, I'd have expected Len to be the outlier - Rad]

Time for Claudia and AJ's second spin of the evening. In her school report, Len loves how she comes out and gives it her all, and Darcey thinks her movie week charleston was a real breakthrough point. Len doesn't think he's seen a girl do better footwork than Claudia's American smooth in Hallowe'en week - take that, Lisa Snowdon! - and Bruno loves her incredible energy. Craig thinks she doesn't commit emotionally to the dances and wants to see more storytelling from her. He is, however, really looking forward to her quickstep because she's fast and furious, and Claudia says that she really wants to tell an amazing story with this dance and touch everyone's hearts.

Their quickstep is to 'When You're Smiling', and I'm so happy to report that despite looking like a bit of a mess in training [and her terrible hairstyle - Rad], they've absolutely pulled it together when it counts. It is vivacious, quick, light, lyrical and - dare I say - the first time that Claudia has really felt like a dancer to me, as opposed to a gymnast doing some dancing. The whole thing just looks so beautifully effortless - even the floor slide at the end has a little touch of style to it as she manages to incorporate a twist. Dance of the night for me, easily.

Craig says that he absolutely loved the end, and that she danced like she was dancing for her life. Darcey says that she loved the routine and the way they covered the floor, and Claudia's "very generous top line" throughout, whatever that's supposed to mean. There were tiny moments of gapping, she thinks, but this was definitely Claudia's dance. Len says she has gone "from gymnastic to fantastic" - he knows how it can be difficult when you have a height difference between the partners, but they overcame it in this routine and he congratulates both of them. Bruno thinks she was like a ray of sunshine, and her footwork was extraordinary - she never missed a beat. He loved that she had sway in her turns as well, which he hasn't seen this series.

There are screeches of joy for Claudia F in the Clauditorium where Claudia W reminds us of all the training that Claudia F had to unlearn to get to this point, and Claudia F says that AJ worked so hard to teach her how to be a proper dancer, and she can't thank him enough. Awww. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 38. I can't believe I'm actually going to say this about Claudia after everything I've said over the past few weeks, but: I think that was undermarked. Claudia's total for the evening is 73.

That leaves Ore and Joanne to close the show tonight. The judges' appraisal is that Ore (or "Oaray", if you're Darcey) and Joanne dance like one unit, and Len loves his emotion. Bruno thinks Ore's jive was the surprise of the season, and Len remembers how incredible his American smooth to 'Singin' In The Rain' was. Craig has some concerns though: Ore has a tendency to turn his feet in when he dances, particularly in the Latin dances - which is a bit of a pointless concern at this stage considering he doesn't actually have any left, assuming the show generally classifies the Argentine tango as ballroom which they seem to do in most cases. Ore says that he has to throw himself into this routine, and Joanne really wants to capture the intensity and passion.

They're dancing to a slowed-down, orchestral, string-led arrangement of 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head'. It's very moody and spiky, and Ore's got a touch of the Dannys here because Joanne's getting all the real showcase moments, but for the most part he does show her off very well, and the chemistry between them here is as strong as it's ever been. It doesn't get the rapturous reception that his quickstep did though, and I can't help feeling it might have been better punctuation for the show overall to swap Ore's two dances over and end with that instead. [I loved it.  How much of that was the music is debatable - Rad]

Darcey loved the passion, speed and intensity. She really loved the one-handed lift, and she thinks that Ore is a really attentive partner. Len tells "Orry" that you can make a case for the other three all having previous experience whereas he has none, and he comes out and dances with such precision. He thought it was a terrific, wonderful performance. Bruno says he was holding his breath throughout, and that Ore produced some of the most beautiful lines we've seen all evening. Craig says this was better than their quickstep, but he did lose balance on one of the lunges - but he should be so proud of himself, and Jo should be proud of herself for teaching him.

They get up to the Clauditorium as Joanne's dress starts to slip down her shoulder, so she quickly yanks it up while pulling an "erk!" face that I find deeply endearing. Ore says that he doesn't get to show that moody side very often, and Joanne has been so patient with him all series. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39, giving him an overall total of 77. Claudia tells Ore that he hasn't scored 39 since week 4, and Ore gets all verklempt about his parents being here to see this.

Revised leaderboard:
1. Ore & Joanne - 38 + 39 = 77
2. Danny & Oti - 37 + 39 = 76
3=. Louise & Kevin - 37 + 36 = 73
3=. Claudia & AJ - 35 + 38 = 73

An interesting one, then - Ore looking the safest of everyone when many of us had him tipped to go home, and Louise in a position of danger for the first time in the competition. I guess this weekend we'll find out just how strong her vote actually is. [And Danny's.  I'd lock on Claudia for B2 but open field otherwise - Rad] Claudia declares the lines open as confetti erupts everywhere, 'The Final Countdown' starts playing and most of the eliminated pros start waving inflatable guitars around everywhere - except Gorka, who just stands at the back bopping around indifferently. I love Gorka so much.

After a recap of the night's performances, we get a final "please vote for me" VT where Danny says that you never feel truly safe, wherever you are on the leaderboard, and Claudia says that every week under those spotlights, you assume you're in the bottom two. Louise is grateful that there's only one more elimination, and everyone really wants to be in the final. But which of them will make it? We'll find out in the final results show of the series...

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