Wednesday, 30 December 2009

And so to the Christmas Special...

....Or which ones do you fink wuz robbed the most?

After an early panic that a triffid had got let loose in the studio and was about to start devouring my fave pro dancers (yes of course I had been drinking. It was Christmas Day. Bear. Shit. Woods. OK?), I realised it was Tess Daly with an enormous, potentially flesh devouring bow attached to her left shoulder and nibbling at her ear. That was ok then. Finish the series as you started it, Tess. I guess it is a symptom of the BBC cuts that they employed a Year 10 Arts and Crafts kid as your personal stylist this year.

Shock of the programme number 1 - Tess thinks she can do comedy. Really, Tess, leave it to the one with 70 years experience in the trade. The problem with your timing in the introductory shuffle says all you need to know about the potential problems with the timing in comedy....

Shock of the programme number 2 - where is the Darce? What have they done with the bit of class? Did Alesha finally finish her off in the after show for the final? Never explained. Well I missed you, Darcey.

So first up we have Ricky and Natalie. I always feel so sorry for the finalists of this years' SCD in the Christmas Special. They are obviously always knackered, have had no time to rehearse, and are only there because their contract specifies it. Ricky and Natalie jogged through their quickstep, threw in a couple of lame samba rolls to annoy Len, and got patronised by the judges into joint second from bottom.

Does Christmas get any better than this? Christmas Day, Erin dancing with Austin, doing a paso doble. None of this lame, let's do a waltz/trot/step to sugary Christmas music and pretend we are being creative for my girl Erin. She brings out the paso of attack, and proves once again that she is the most creative of pros choreographically. I think we have here proof perfect that Ms Boag is a Queen fan, because not only did we have One Vision from her earlier in the series, we were treated to a section of Bohemian Rhapsody as our Chrissie Pressie. It takes a brave woman to take a section from the middle of the song and turn it into 90 seconds of something special for the Christmas Special, but Erin sure did it. Only thing she could have pondered more closely. There is a reason Queen never performed that section live. So that reason should translate to the house band for Strictly never performing that section live. Just saying.

But it was wonderful, and the clever minx even sneaked in 20 extra seconds of dance as they walked across the stage to take up their position. By some Act of God, someone in the village was letting off fireworks, and in my red wine addled state, the bangers fitted perfectly with the timing of the dance. A-MAY-ZING. And worthy of 4 10s at least. 5 if they hadn't snacked on Darcey for Christmas lunch.

But then embarrassment in the Tess pit. The Tess-bot's handler had obviously had a snifter of sherry for lunch and was having a bit of a lie down, and therefore unable to prevent the sexual harrassment that followed. Poor Austin. Poor pecs. I would keep out of the way of Mrs Austin if I were you, Tess.

They was right robbed by those judges. They should have won!!

What happened next? Oh yes. Ali and Brian did a perfectly nice Viennese Waltz. Just like their perfectly nice Viennese Waltz in Blackpool. And their one in the quarter final. And I bet I know what they are dancing on the tour!

More malfunctions in the Tess pit. She cannot stop going on and on and on about the lovebirds. Even to the point of saying that they could do that as their first dance at the wedding. Or saying she has a nice hat. Reboot. Reboot the Tessbot with immediate effect.

Next up Gethin and Flavia - Gethin revisiting the old rivalry with Matt just for a gentle stir. And you know what? I actually loved them dancing together, and thought they were far better suited than Gethin and Windmilla. What might have been in Series 5, eh? I am sure that thought had crossed Alesha's mind as well, as she snidily greeted them with "I had forgotten how good you were", and refused to get her 10 paddle out.

She refused to get her 10 out for Rachel and Vincent' Rumba as well (oh now who was it that got the most 10s ever then, Alesha?), and you know what? Rachbot has improved! She now shows emotion, and can project that emotion to the crowd! Well done Rachbot, and you should have won! (Well apart from Erin and Austin of course).

And we ended with Team Cola - not at their best, but do you blame them? What we didnt' need was Len Scrooge sneering at their recent win, and rubbing the public up even more, on Christmas Day of all days..... Ramps or Goughie for head judge next year anyone?

Sunday, 20 December 2009

And so in the David versus Goliath final ...

David actually won. Now there is a surprise!

For the first time ever this household was split on who we wanted for the SCD. Boyfriend was Whitlowe and I was firmly in the Team Cola camp. But call himself a fan! He only voted once for Whitlowe, whereas I got in a whole 16 votes for Cola...let's hope he starts talking to me again by Christmas Day at least.

Wow, Natalie Lowe's training methods verge on the kinky/cruel spectrum. But she gets the results because that quickstep will go down in Strictly history. And the lovely dancing hobbits foxtrot actually stood up quite well. He was making an effort to improve his hands, although their default mode is splayed, and to smile naturally. Definite signs of improvement. I was scanning the audience for the VSG, but no signs. Why only wheel her out for ITT and not the final itself?

And so the parade of losing celebs from across the series. There are some internet theories that state that Martina Hingis could have won the series if left in long enough (well so could Craig Kelly if eveyone else got injured and he was the last one standing), and that her performance was lacklustre due to illness. Well, judging on last night's brief return, she is still lacking in musicality, purpose in her movements and core strength. She also went wrong quite a lot. So that's that theory scotched then.

Oh Diddy Dunwoody and Lil' Lilia - sweetest couple ever.

Ravioli - proving again that he really was the victim of poor choreography, a pro with an over sized ego, and his own over sized thighs.

Oxo Mum and Goody Two Shoes - looking lovely and relaxed and as if she were finally able to enjoy dancing.

And what's this - Joe di Calzaghe and the Monroe-alike have actually improved quite a lot actually. But then they may have had more time for "practice".

I had been kind of dreading the gurn city that is the lindy hop, thinking it would really show Chris up, but he more than held his own, even without the Ricky/Natalie lift that went so horribly wrong. He wasn't outdanced at all, and I loved the whole dance and thought that the choreography was really witty.

Now I know that there was a bit of overmarking going on, to make it seem as though Chris wasn't actually that far behind in the dance stakes, but I thought the marks for the lindy and the showdance were justified.

And so to megamix 2 - Skippy and her Bush Kangaroo doing a VW and illegal lift, Zoe and Mr Presenter actually getting the timing right for their AS lift, and Flavia looking gorgeous in pink. But what no Tuffers! Ill in bed with flu..... Tufty, I can come round and nurse you. I'll even bring a nurse's uniform with me!

Next the real highlight of the evening - that Tango - the One That Might Have Been. Gorgeous and the only dance of the series to actually give me goosebumps. I still think as the only couple of the series to combine techique, performance and journey, they were a shoo in for the final, and could very well have won it. Poor, poor Jade and Ian.

And the first half finished with Alesha sticking two fingers up at Darcey with a "Screw your ballet pseudo jive malarkey last night. I can sing and dance and do comedy and help the aged all in the same routine!"

Megamix 3 had Ricky and Natalie showing us all how to do performance, and Ali and Brian doing lovely, gorgeous, floaty ballroom. But no Laila - cue the CONSPIRACY THEORIES!

Loved the Cola Charleston - was it worth 50? Well, no, but the probable winners needed a high score, and it finally feels as though Christmas might be here.

I know that Ricky is a really accomplished dancer, and his musicality is second to none, but best male dancer ever? Better than Colin Jackson? Better ballroom hold than Austin or Gethin? I just don't buy it personally, but understand the show's need to have a Best Evah every series. For me, I felt that his free arm has not improved all series, and the arm position in the New York section was still way out of synch with Natalie (and could have been easily fixed). He may have good hip action, but his torso is always rather stiff in latin. Anyway, Darcey managed to bitch slap Alesha back with her "I wish I could cha cha cha with you" to Ricky.

How clever is Ola with her choreographic decisions? Dirty Dancing track - lots of boxes ticked; appropriate lyrics (Do you love me - now that I can dance?) - more boxes; witty choreography; fun; good dancing with nothing beyond his ability; lifts well integrated into the dancing - many ticks. And the final big tick - a one armed lift, that no-one could have predicted Chris would be able to pull off. One of the best show dances I have seen

I always worry when a female turns up for a showdance dressed in a swimming costume. I worry about the waxing issues, and I worry that, just like Adventures in Bacofoil last year, they are about to emulate the acrobatics of the pro showdancers. I was wise to worry.

I think Natalie's choreo really let them down at this point. From the self-important, slow beginning on the steps, to the gynaecological lifts, it seemed to be just a cha cha with a shopping list of lifts and tricks added. I know that it was amazing to see Ricky spin with Natalie balanced on the nape of his neck, but I just didn't feel anything.

And so to the inevitable. Team Cola won!!! I know the internet will be full of moans about the death of SCD, and dumbing down, but for me, they saved a dull series. I think there is a balance between technique and performance, and the best dancers will have that. But technique on its own is not enough. And it is hardly as if Craig Kelly or Jo Woods has just won Strictly!

Dance is magical, and I want to feel part of that magic when I watch it as an audience member. I want to feel what the couples feel about the music, about each other, about the show...but more than that, I want to know that they feel the joy of dance.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Jumped the shark?

So, left floundering in the ratings by the X Factor, largely ignored by the media, and subject to constant criticism by even its most avid fans - what went wrong with SCD7?

The judging panel - or more succinctly, the way the judging panel was presented to the viewers. It was obvious after last year that something had to give in the judging panel, not so much as a result of the John Sergeant affair (I still maintain that it was part of the judges' brief to try and generate controversy and therefore public and media interest in the show in as many TV/radio/press interviews as possible, and that the producers were actually rubbing their hands with glee, with an all publicity is good publicity hat on, especially when Strictly hit the One o' Clock news...), but as a result of the semi final fiasco.

I can imagine the producers not being particularly impressed at quarter final stage, with two incredibly popular contestants, and two unpopular contestants, when one of the public favourites got voted out ahead of the least popular. When a carefully crafted semi final leaderboard threatened to put out the other public favourite, but actually resulted in the phone lines being frozen to avoid accusations of fraud, an embarrassing last minute backtrack, and public apologies from head honchos, the producers must finally have seen red.

I can imagine that the judges felt pretty secure, taking an all stand together position. After all, how many dancers also have enough "brand recognition" to be invited to judge the BBC's flagship autumn show? Well, the producers actually side stepped that rather neatly by signing up the one dancer that everyone in the UK has heard of, albeit a former ballet dancer, and taking it one step further by dispensing with the dancer bit altogether, and signing up a celebrity with a bit of dance knowledge under her belt as the other replacement judge. The message was clear - celebrities are ten a penny, and no judge on this show is safe.

But what could have been a good tactical move backfired spectacularly with the way that the decision was presented, leaving the BBC wide open to accusations of sexism and ageism. Surely by that stage the plans for So You Think You Can Dance were in an advanced stage (particularly as the auditions were held in October)? The BBC may not have wanted to reveal all about the show, but a little hint that actually Arlene Phillips was crucial in launching a new dance show to be screened in January, and therefore was being promoted rather than dumped, could have been a better way to play it. It might also have been kinder to Alesha to have presented her role as an experiment with a new style of judging, rather than as a permanent addition to the panel, to allow her to save some face if it all went wrong.

Strictly definitely needs some decent PR/media management for next year to avoid further fiascos. I hear Chris Hollins has a Very Serious Girlfriend who knows the odd thing about PR......

The selection of pros was another bone of contention. This series definitely missed some of the pros - big characters, good teachers and great choreographers - with Karen and Camilla leaving, and Matthew, Lilia and Darren all voted out early. At times, it has felt that Ola has been carrying the show on her own! I don't see why the BBC can't make more of an effort to recruit pros who are either British, or have been based in the UK for some time. Natalie, Katya, Aliona and Brian have all come in for a lot of bashing, and I am sure that it is because they all come from different cultures, and are simply not used to presenting themselves to a British audience. It seems actually rather cruel for the BBC to expect pros to travel thousands of miles to a strange country to work for four months, and as well as the dislocation and homesickness, to be subjected to a level of vitriol because they come across on screen as different.

Selection of celebs this year has also proved to be riddled with errors. Maybe it is time to introduce secret auditions to ascertain who has some dance talent, and make sure that a few of the people with ability who are signed up also come with a bit of personality. Last year, there were five celebs who would not have looked out of the place in the final - Cherie, Rachel, Lisa, Tom and Austin, all of whom had dance talent, and two of whom (Tom and Austin) got the public vote. Jodie or Christine would also not have looked out of the place as a wildcard in a three person final, and had bags of public support.

This year the real dance talent has been restricted to Ricky and Ali, neither of whom has lit a fire in the audience. The mid tablers (Chris, Natalie, Ricky and Tuffers) had all the personality, stage presence and journey stories, but ultimately were weaker dancers, and there was precious little in between to bridge the gap between dance and popularity. Laila was too random, and Zoe had a big "Shock early exit" arrow pointing directly at her from the get go. The only bridge couple were Jade and Ian - good dancers, improving technically and with a storyline to engage the public. And look what happens when the producers put all their eggs in one basket.

But the biggest blooper of all has got to be the fumblings that led to a two person final. Again. It is not as if a person dropping out is an entirely new scenario, and the rules this year stated that if a person dropped out due to injury, the latest couple to leave, or a previously high scoring couple, could be reinstated. So why didn't the producers introduce this option?

I realise that the day of injuries was a fraught day for the SCD team, with Bruce ill and Mariah Carey allegedly pulling out at short notice. But they must have had a contingency plan in place at the beginning of the series for "what do we do if anything happens to Bruce", (surely you have a contingency plan in place when your main presenter is an octogenarian?) and it should have been a simple case of following a pre ordained plan......

And as for a singer pulling out....well given the calibre of most of the guest singers this series, would anyone have really cared? And it is not as though SCD didn't have another singer close at hand, one who was currently touring, and rehearsing for a Children in Need appearance with the pro dancers, who could have stepped in at the last moment. Cue headlines of "Alesha saves the day" which might have been a bit of positive press for the poor girl.

So really these two issues shouldn't have been occupying too many brains, leaving the producers free to figure out how to deal with the obvious crisis, ie two injured dancers. After all, a presenter or musical guest down has an impact on that show only, whereas a dancer down impacts on the whole series.

And so to rate how this series ranks compared against all other series. For me, my al time favourite series is a tie between Series 2 and Series 5. Runner up is Series 4, then Series 6, Series 3, Series 1 (and I didn't even watch half of that series!), with Series 7 trailing in last place. Now that on a graph says that the brand is in serious trouble, and needs some major surgery for next year...

Don't get me wrong. It is still my favourite show, and the only one that I would never watch. And ITT and the wonderful Claudia has been on top of their game all series, without a doubt. But the sequins are losing their sparkle, despite the best efforts of the dancers, and poor decision making and a rather stale air about the format means that it has lost its innocence. The fact that I actually get more pleasure from analysing the mechanics than from losing myself in the shows, is rather telling.

But there is a faint glimmer there still, and after all, we do have have that one A-MAY-ZING show from this series. We will always have Blackpool!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

So what do DJ Spooney, Gabby Logan and Zoe Lucker have in common?

The curse of James Jordan! Spooney went out early in Series 4, courtesy of sympathy vote for James and Georgina. Gabby and James went out criminally early in Series 5, and Zoe Lucker was arguably this year's shock exit, partnered with, of course, James Jordan. Who is married to Ola. Conspiracy theory!! Clean sweep for Team Cola in who they want to see win!

But to redress the balance, Lilia and Darren were bigging up Ricky and Natalie, and Lilia went to great lengths to stress that Ricky too has a fun personality and is not just technically brilliant.

My goodness, were Zandra Rhodes and Hilary Armstrong separated at birth? Voice, looks, mannerisms, spooky!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

"You can ask for kittens, goats, anything you like really"

So said Claudia when enquiring what the Legend That is Bruce Forsyth asks for on his rider. What would ITT be like without the incomparable Claude?

I thought it was a lovely interview with Bruce, showing off his enthusiasm for the show and for the business in general. He was at pains to stress that he paid for his own champagne though (stung about newspaper comments about how much he earns?) and how come he gets about 8 tickets for his showbiz mates for each show, when the general public can't get in for love nor money?

He seemed to be doing his best to defend Team Cola as well - stressing their teamwork, improvement, entertainment value. I suspect this could be part of the BBC strategy of not getting too much egg on faces if they do go on to win.....the much revered elder statesmen of SCD has praised much of what Team Cola are about, so maybe a Team Cola win wouldn't look that out of place in the annals of Strictly.

I do think though that for the sake of impartiality, as well as his own reputation, James shouldn't really be on choreo corner (or midweek panel) at this point. It would be good to have as much objectivity as possible, and we do have quite a few pros who would do as good a job as James. The forums are alive with the charges of hypocrisy on James' part as it is, vis his criticism of John Sergeant last year compared to his support of Ola this year, so why give further material to the stone throwers?

It is difficult for him, but I do believe he is trying to be balanced, in admitting that Ricky is the better dancer, techically, but that Chris and Ola have a lot going for them. Flavia was brilliant on ITT - she is really coming into her own as a commentator - and I learnt so much about the technicality of the AT from her.

And as for the Master Class with a twist - Len looks like a saint compared to Bruce - who already seemed to be losing patience with Claudia after just one session. How many episodes has Len suffered?

Monday, 14 December 2009

"I just wanted to see if I could get away with it"

So that was the explanation for THAT KISS!

Fair enough. So are they, aren't they? Do we care, should we care? All I saw on ITT was too gutted young people, coping with public rejection, especially after what should have been the high of achieving an SCD record - the first ever perfect 50. Two young people coping with disappointment at having come so far and been booted off a show they loved the week before the final.

It was one of the most emotional exit interviews I have seen on SCD, more so because I really do feel that they were the sacrificial lambs in the BBC production agenda. So why didn't the public fall for the Cinderella/Prince Charming story? Was it over wariness about falling for showmances? Was it nausea about the way the BBC were playing it? Anyway, I reckon they are in for a good shot at the title for the Xmas show - although the theme for that may well be which celeb woz robbed the most (Rachel, Gethin, Austin, Ali) and they may well win a good few tour dates, depending on whether the girls get a look in next to the bandwagon that will be Ramps/Austin, and depending on whether the Divine Mr C manages to cancel out and overcome the anti Kelly Brooke vote.

I have finally worked out what it is about Ricky's topline that bothers me (Tuffers had the best topline!). He dips his left shoulder and ups his right shoulder on every turn. He leads with the shoulders and not the full frame!

Poor Team Cola - I have never seen finalists look so deflated and so guilty at having won, fair and square, a place in the final. Someone actually rang up a radio phone in and said that Chris had ruined their weekend! For winning a popularity contest. Get a life. That is so very very sad - that light hearted entertainment can result in someone feeling crestfallen instead of fired up and excited, (I am talking about Chris and Ola here) and that they almost don't want to be in the final.

Well, here we go again, just to spite the nay sayers. Team Cola, Team Cola, Team Cola, Team Cola Rock!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

How hard were the BBC trying to get Ricky in the final last night?

From speeches from the judges, to standing ovations from the pros, to shots of Natalie Lowe's tears, to shots of Mr Whittle bursting with pride, they threw it all in. Of course, by far the easiest way would have been to give the public what we wanted and put him through to a three person final.

And so to the dancing. Team Cola has a risky strategy in revisiting the rumba, and I was crossing fingers, toes and eyes that it paid off. I don't think that it did. The emotion and intensity were there, but Chris was in a supporting role to Ola, and didn't really dance much. There was no real technical improvement, no hip movement and his splayed hands were a real distraction. The judges were kind.

Ali and Brian's AT was a bit of a wet weekend of a dance. She was visibly shaking (how is she going to cope with the tour?)and it lacked emotion and even purpose in the moves. Nice choreo, stunning dress, but otherwise pretty unmemorable.

Ricky and Natalie came aht and performed a technically very accomplished waltz, but it lacked emotion and connection. The fact that the song they danced to will still be in the SCD collective memory as the song of Vincent and Flavia's heart rending "farewell waltz" did not do them any favours.

And so to the Cola AT - which had everything - intensity, mood, focus, a real sense of a partnership. It suited Chris' posture much better than the traditional ballroom, and I wished that Bruno had not got on about the gurning so much. Yes, it is off putting at times, but it is one element. And overall Chris can act the emotion of a dance so much better than the two actors can!

Ali and Brian were back with a perfectly nice AS that really played to her strengths, and she even managed to sell the dance. And they had a real kiss at the end - looked likes tongues in as well! Have they finally decided to come out as a couple? Or was it one last outing for the showmance card?

Ricky and Natalie were everything that an AT should be. They had the music, the drama, the passion, the moves, the lifts (and we can be in no doubt now that Natalie has had a Brazilian....). Dance of the night.

Darcey was very, very brave. Big respect to her for actually having a go at another genre of dance (more than Craig and Bruno have ever done), and of course, an accomplished performer will be able to sell anything. I would have preferred to see her dance a rumba or a paso, which would have showcased her shaping more, rather than a very slow, very nice, very poised jive-inspired piece of ballet. With no bounce. But Ian Waite was divine!

And so to the results via a lovely pro foxtrot, an exuberant jive with the cast of Hairspray and Austin Healey (compensation for his lack of inclusion in last year's semis), and some warbling from Lily Allen. Oh yes and a display of acrobatics (wonder how much they are insured for).

The inevitable happened. The female celeb with the record of perfect 40 and perfect 50 got knocked out in favour of a two hander between the entertainer and the hunky man. Could the BBC have got this series any more wrong? Well yes they could because it was announced at the end that they are throwing a brand new dance into the mix for the final. The lindy hop.

So as well as making the two couples dance 5 dances in one night (with one celeb who struggles to remember choreo for one dance, and the other who makes mistakes in most dances), pull off a stunning show dance, and remember to smile nicely to camera at all times, they are making the poor couples learn an entirely new discipline. Proof at last that the SCD production team are actually X Factor fans, and probably don't even watch Strictly.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

So has ITT joined the Team Cola juggernaut..

... or are they doing a bit of devious double bluff, hoping that the overkill will kill the votes off?

Seriously, Thursday has a long interview with Chris and Ola, Friday has three panellists supporting Chris and Ola, a whole segment in how they give birth to a dance, and questions to James Jordan on how nervous Ola is feeling.

But considering how well they come across, perhaps it is no surprise. Chris is by far the most articulat of the three celebs left. Even though they are actors, and he is a presenter, he comes across as much the more confident of the three. Perhaps this is because he is used to speaking his own lines as opposed to delivering lines written for him by others. Ali for example often seems to have a slight wobble in her voice when being interviewed. Chris is forthright and honest, as well as very funny on ITT and his VTs, and it is easy to feel a link to him.

Ola is definitely coming across as the most three dimensional of the remaining pros. She was even shown crying on Thursday's ITT. Brian on the other hand is being edited to be the earnest, slightly hectoring young American teacher, and Natalie the uber competitive new girl (this week for example she talked about doing the most full on routine ever in the history of SCD). Compare this with Chris and Ola, who admit openly that one of the reasons they work so hard is because they are bottom of the leaderboard. They know that each dance could be their last dance, and so go out and do the very best dance that they can.

And this is the secret of their success: they are not coming across as competitive, with any rivalry with other couples, but they are shown as being in a little bubble in which they appreciate every week, enjoy every dance, and just love what they are doing.

As for the Friday panel, from the music choices, my money is on Ricky and Natalie to top the board with their choice of AT music. But like Natalie Cassidy, I think they could well be going home on Saturday, possibly with the first perfect 50 score in their pockets.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

So the battle of the celeb dads was won by..

..Mr Hollins! For the gorgeous line "He was 13 at the time" when displaying a photo of toddler Hollins....

I still don't get Ali and Brian - are they? Aren't they? Is it a showmance? Is it a romance? Am I interested?

I guess what has been bothering me about Ali and Brian is that Brian just seems to intense and earnest, and Ali so "meh". Someone the other day remarked that Ricky W smiles from the mouth, but never from the eyes. Ali is the same - she is expressive with the mouth, but the rest of her doesn't move. Surely the root of stage presence is the eyes?

And so the mid week report.

Chris commits so much to the dance, but we all know this. His AT should be full of intensity and rawness, but will it? And also, the real surprise of his rumba was how much a male celeb was prepared to commit emotionally in week 1. We know that now, and the surprise will no longer be there. The only surprise might be how little technique he has acquired along the way. (Harsh words for my fave couple).

Ricky - I am still put off by his headline, as I have been since week 2.

Ali - still lacking performance.

So considering all of the above - am I really invested in who gets into this final?

OK - one last time. Team Cola, Team Cola, Team Cola, Team Cola.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

So that is where Darren and Lilia were this weekend!

Darren was appearing on Celebrity Mastermind, with his specialist subject as Star Wars. I do like it when mysteries are solved. I was touched as well to see that his nominated charity was the Caron Keating Foundation, a lovely nod towards his Series 3partner, Gloria Hunniford.

So Ricky and Natalie have been short changed again in terms of interview time. I guess this was better than a phone interview, but whisked off behind the scenes to do an interview straight after the dramatic events of Saturday, which saw them plummet from top of the leaderboard to dance off, must have been hard. They had not had time to reflect and formulate their responses, and James Jordan, although very good, is still learning on the job as an interviewer. Mind you, all the pros on ITT today did seem to lean over backwards to praise him, so maybe the balance was slightly redressed.

Choreography Corner doesn't have quite the same sparkle without Karen, but Erin and Ian still had plenty of interesting things to say. I thought Erin made a good point in saying that Ali's tango probably had too much content, and that her centre of weight is too high.

She also cited Ricky as one of the best SCD boys ever, which coming from the pro who partnered Colin and Austin is high praise indeed. Ian chimed in with the fact that Ricky is way out ahead, and is concentrating on the finer points, whereas some boys are still just remembering their steps. Well, BBC it is too late now - you have made the decision for a two person final, so you have to live with the consequences that one of the most talented males may not make it into that final.

And please - can someone change Len's script for the Argentine Tango? I am fed up with hearing gauchos, sweaty, pampas....etc, etc, year upon year upon year. How about something about the contemporary tango scene in Buenos Aries? Just an idea....

Monday, 7 December 2009

Yay - Team Cola have won SCD7!!!

But hang on a minute. What are we going to be doing on a Saturday for the next two weeks?

So the Beeb have come up with a solution in an attempt to save face and preserve ratings. As a solution it is half way there, and smacks of loss of nerve rather than real decision making. A three couple final would have been so much better and would have ticked all the boxes - but that would have involved filling a half hour slot this Saturday (how hard can that be? Everyone will be watching X Factor anyway), and presumably negotiating some compensation with the company providing the phone lines for loss of revenue (again, voting and therefore revenue will be down because of the X Factor). Not that hard surely?

But no they have gone for the compromise option of no dance off, which will ensure Chris gets through as long as he maintains his share of the public vote. And the forums are already awash with conspiracy theories about the BBC fixing it for their employee to get through. Oh well, I suppose it is something to do on a cold December night.

But this of course will leave the producers open to even more accusations of incompetence. First off there was the prevarication over the Jade injury, and the refusal to have a roll over week; then this changing of rules in the week before the semi final. After last year's cock-ups, Strictly can't take much more of this, and with X Factor trouncing it in the ratings....wonder whether some of the producers will find themselves working on BBC4 documentaries in the future, rather than prime time Saturday night autumn TV.

So questions, questions, questions from this night's ITT. Is Laila remotely concerned to be leaving SCD? Did she ever have her heart in it? Does she like Anton? More to the point, does Anton like her? Because his goodbye VT was very muted, and hers was a mismatched attempt at gushing. Will we ever know, and do we really care?

Furthermore, is Darcey too classy for ITT? Does Alesha hate her guts? I felt that Darcey came over as much more natural and warmer in ITT than she did at the weekend, and it was brave of her to admit her nerves. It is a tall order for her to settle in at this stage of the show and make her mark with the public, and I think she is in for a pretty rough ride. Alesha seemed to want to talk over her at every opportunity, but Darcey had some good points to make, especially about Ali and her nerves. She has noticed immediately that Ali holds her breath, and that is having a really negative impact on her dance. Arlene would have had her off to breathing techique classes in week 3!

I knew why Erin was my favourite pro for a reason! She too has an ageing and beloved teddy bear! And mine must be standing up quite well because so far he has only lost an ear and an eye, unlike Erin's, whose legs and arms have needed to be sewn back on....Bless.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

So I turned on the TV last night at 6:40, and thought I was watching My Fair Lady

And there seemed to a quirk in the staging because the before and after Elizas were both appearing at the same time. But then I realised that this was the week that Darcey joined the panel, and we were treated to good diction, excellent grammar and classy delivery. Good job that Len was placed strategically to protect the fragrant Darcey from the upstaged Alesha.

And so we kicked off with a lively cha cha, with Ian dancing with Erin (now there is a thought for next year, should Natalie choose to stay down under where she is appreciated and Anton chooses to "retire"). Highlights for me were Kristina showing us that her gynaecologist has a dream patient, and Matthew almost dropping Aliona on her head. Shame Rav wasn't in the studio audience to witness it.

Ken and Barbie kicked off the competitive element of the night, with an act of sabotage by one of the producers in terms of the music choice. So which sadist chose "Born to be wild" for a tango then? It would have been bad enough for any tango, but for a tango danced by Ali, it was just ludicrous, highlighting as it did her delicate china doll bearing, and Brian's manic attempt to gurn fiercely enough for two people. It was a nice dance, with her left elblow finally sorted, but I would term it Ballet Tango. No staccato, no snaps in the head turns, lack of body contact, no fire with the perfectly placed chaine turns. Len summed up the whole situation with his dismissal of Ali as a "one trick pony".

Charm and smarm were next with what can only be described as a lack lustre American Smooth. I have thought for weeks now that Laila has been getting by on style over substance. People think that she looks the part, and that she must be dancing beautifully in ballroom. But I have never even felt particularly wowed by her ballroom, and this AS showed up all her weaknesses. Lack of musicality, bad topline, floppy arms out of hold, and shaky on her spins, and indeed any move out of hold. And why have this couple not danced first at all this series?

And what is this? Criticism from Len - well I am off to pickle me walnuts. Conspiracy theorists may note that the judges were acting slightly differently this episode, almost as if the producers had drawn attention to the fact that a semi final or final without the juggernaut that is Team Cola would be a huge public turn off, and that the judges would just have to suck it up. Len was subtly laying the foundations (as he did at this stage in the competition in Series 3 with Darren Gough) for the judges to accept Chris and his journey as a potential winner, and it was obvious for the show to retain any credibility that Chris and Ola needed to avoid bottom place in the judges' rankings. For that there needed to be a sacrificial lamb, and Laila and Anton made it pretty damn easy for them with two poor performances.

Team Cola!! And they have indeed improved, although Chris needs to work on his topline, because within 30 seconds his elbows were sagging. But he commits emotionally to a dance in a way that no other celeb does, and their waltz struck a real chord with me. And for that reason, this was the stand out dance of the ballroom section.

Adonis and Blonde Ambition were justly rewarded for the best technical dance of the night, and his musicality stood out. I just wish I could like their partnership more, because he has talent. The BBC have done them no favours this week though. A phone interview on Tuesday was short change for a "saved" couple, and the overrunning World Cup draw thingy meant that their Friday interview was dropped. I would actually be pretty peeved if I were Ricky or Natalie.

And so to the latin, with a Ballet Samba from Ken and Barbie which rivalled Zoe and James for slowest samba of the season. I liked her dress, I could tell that her technique was good, but I hope I never get invited to a party thrown by Ali.

And so to the highlight of the evening. Salsa by Anton. Just how bad was it going to be? Was it going to be Kate Garraway bad? Or could it be worse even than Kate Garraway bad? Well the first ten seconds were disappointing, because Laila danced on time, wiggled her hips in a vaguely latin type way, and even remembered to smile at the audience. But then it all went horribly wrong, she forgot the routine, she went out of time, she was pulled around by Anton, and the only emotion on her face was a loud, clear signal to the producers "I'll collect my pay cheque on the way out".

And I had to endure seeing Phil Tuffnel, Ricky Groves and Natalie Cassidy going out in order to see that dance in the quarter finals.

Anton slapped Tess down in the Tess pit with the witty one-liner "It may be a joke to you, love, but it's a career to me". But, Anton, love, some of us work a bit harder at our careers, and don't rely on coasting through on the same old same old for years.

Thank goodness for Team Cola! Well, I know what song I am going to be singing for the next week. So the music, steps, camp performance and some rhythm all came together in a cacophony of samba-lite. What more could you want from a semi-finalist? Well a little technique would be nice, but you can't have everything. Darcey spoke for a huge chunk of the viewing public when she said "I want to see you in the final".

She then had to give back all the public good will that was washing her way by giving out a 10 for Adonis and Blonde Ambition's cha cha. Nice, but it didn't light my fire, and what was the ending all about? Their arms were out of sync throughout and his free arm needs a lot of work.

And so I was left wondering how on earth they were going to fill up 30 minutes of results show. Surely just a clip of Anton and Laila getting their coats would suffice?

But it turned out to be worth it, because Vincent and Flavia were doing the Argentine Tango demo. Every year, just as I am wondering how they are going to top their performance from last year, they take the AT to new heights. Just stunning.

I had some weird kind of nightmare that Bruce Forsythe attempted a strip tease when introducing Bette Midler. I really must watch the red wine consumption. One of my favourite moments this series was to see the Divine Bette Midler standing applauding James and Ola for their dance to her song. Now she is one class act.

And so to the moment of truth. We found out that Ricky and Natalie are not going to win this series of SCD. They must be gutted, and the judges now have a real dilemma. If Ricky winds up in the dance off with Ali next week - will they save him as the best dancer, or realise that there is absolutely no point in putting him through to the final? Of course, it might not be too late to have a three person final after all, Beeb? Just rearrange the schedule, suspend voting, and let all three couples through to a ratings winner of a final...

Oh and Anton and Laila, finally, left the building. Yippee!

Friday, 4 December 2009

Oh my God I am going to call Ofcom

And I am stamping my feet, and then I am going to email the BBC and I am COMPLAINING. Because they cut my beloved Claudia down to 20 minutes of ITT, (that is the ITT before the quarter final), in favour of some blokes sitting round discussing what might happen in June next year, and then what might conceivably happen sometime in June next year, if such and such happens and then with a fair wind behind, what might possibly happen at some time at the end of June next year, possibly, speculatively, hypothetically... When we all know that what happens tomorrow is the really important thing, and now I have just realised we have two shows tomorrow, so I am going to have to cancel all social arrangements in support of Team Cola, and my boyfriend is going to have a hissy fit, and, and, and about crisis!

And somehow it wouldn't be so bad, if I had had a full half hour of Claudia, especially the only week in the last two months when she has had the Divine Mr C on the show. Does anyone know the number for Ofcom anyway?

So Natalie Lowe has thrown caution to the winds, and has said she was aiming for a 40 for each dance. Couple of points, love. You also need the public vote, especially at this stage of the competition, and you have just guaranteed yourself a 1 in the public vote. Second vote - they have shipped Darcey in this week, which means the scores are out of 50, so if you are happy with a 40 out of 50 - well you just go ahead, and foxtrot off out of the competition with the most talented male since Colin Jackson (and ask fellow Antipodean what happened there....just call it original and brave choreography, and don't mention the puppets).

OK, seeing that I had to put up with that rugby punditry thing, here is my punditry:

Darcey will swiftly replace Alesha as hate figure on the judging panel for daring to express an opinion on anything at all.

The leaderboard will be very carefully arranged so that Team Cola are in the Dance Off and the whole interweb will be going into meltdown circa 10pm tomorrow. Come on, there hasn't been a real meltdown since that time in the quarter final when Matt di Angelo decided he liked sitting on the steps rather than doing his dance. Twice. And got voted through. Or last year when Austin got dumped in favour of Lisa and Brendan. So we are overdue a real brouhaha. Just sit back and enjoy the ride!

Seriously, for Team Cola to survive, they either need to haul themselves off the bottom of the leaderboard for both dances (latin should be doable: have you seen Anton salsa?), or the public vote needs to fall in a very precise way.

So will the public votes defeat the machinations of the judges? Will the producers avoid the pitfall of getting the public favourite eliminated at this stage? (According to rumour they are getting 40% more of the vote than their nearest rivals). Or will it all turn into a bit of a make do and mend like last year? (Of course a three person final, as planned, with a five person quarter final, as planned, could have avoided all of this. But that would have taken decision making powers and forward planning).

I am calling Ofcom to COMPLAIN! What is that number again? I AM COMPLAINING!

Hope Mrs Fortuna wasn't watching ITT last night...

..Because Ali and Brian were seriously short-changed in times of the interview time allocated to them, especially considering they didn't have a real interview with the pair of them last week. Much as I love Ian Waite, Bill and Sian, and the training updates, I think one of those slots should have been dropped to give Ali and Brian a real chance to show some personality. I don't quite understand why we have JJ with training review on a Wednesday, when it is far too early to comment, then training review on a Thursday, showing not much improvement, then the Friday panel, showing not much more improvement, but with a chance to hear the music and see a sketch of the dress. Seems a bit drawn out to me (but beats most filler items).

Anyway, the updates themselves don't actually look that promising. Ali and Brian are lacking in body contact, attack, and staccato; Ricky's foxtrot is lacking finesse; Chris' posture is still a problem; and why is Laila training in Ugg boots? I can see the need for not training every hour of the day in high heeled shoes, but dance trainers or ballet flats would be better, because at least they would allow her to work on precision in her feet, and sloppy footwork is an area that she needs to improve.

Loved the recap on Bill and Karen - what a great relationship it was, and how he took the judges on fearlessly. He got in there with the knife a few times though - "Was that the VW waltz when they bumped into everyone else, and still got a 10?", and the insistence that Tuffers was far better in his A/S than Ricky Groves and should not have been voted off....Glad to see an independent view being expressed with such vehemence.

Please tell me that Laila and Anton are not dancing the salsa to Shakira? Please!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

"I would love to come out and do a salsa like that"

Anton, I think the whole audience were with you at the prospect of Laila imitating Kate Garraway's salsa. Best not to eh?

Highlight of the backstage footage so far - Ola running screaming backstage, emitting the most high pitched "yeah baby" ever heard by the human ear. Love hearing that Spandau Ballet liked the charleston too - Chris is now up there with the big boys! And how sweet of Karen Hardy to text him that they stole the show.

This is what I love about Team Cola's interviews - they are really comfortable with themselves and the interview, they have fun, but they have realistic expectations.

One of the best laughs so far has been their little VT on the training video by "The Jordan (not that Jordan) Ola Jordan". We are reassured that no Hollins were harmed in the making of this video. Brilliant! Someone on the ITT staff has been on humour overdrive this week.

Was it really wise of Natalie Lowe to say that if she hadn't become a professional dancer, she would have become a policewoman? Really - with all that has gone on with Ricky?

James on mid week training doesn't really pull any punches, especially when talking about "my wife" and Chris. I sometimes feel frustrated that so much of the footage is from so early in the week, and he really can't comment properly. But I suppose it is part of the BBC spin - to show how much improvement has been made from "mid week" to the big night.

So Ali's samba is looking nice - but as we all anticipated, samba shouldn't look nice. Bit worried to see Ricky doing heel leads in latin - surely that should have been drilled out of him by now. Neither Anton nor Laila were looking any good with the salsa - I saw absolutely no sign of dancing into the floor, nor of cuban motion. How on earth are they going to pull this off as a quarter final dance? Well, sympathy vote of course (and Laila referencing Kate Garraway is just pointing the public in that direction).

Glad to hear him criticise Ali's arm position in ballroom hold, and mention that she really needs to be using flexed knees throughout in the tango. Proof again that her ballet training is holding her back. Funniest remark of the programme "Obviously Anton isn't that strong"....

And contrast all the other attitudes in training (especially Brian and Natalie who are so scary!) with Team Cola hurtling merrily round the dance floor chanting "pivo, pivo, pivo" or "chass a sey, chass a sey, chass a sey". Who do you reckon might win this?

Just as I was starting to feel the JJ love...

...James has to go and ruin it all by saying that if he weren't married to Ola, and Vernon weren't married to Tess, he and Tess would be an item....Oh very dear.

Ricky and Natalie are suffering this series through lack of exposure on ITT. Because of his work commitments, and training in Liverpool, they are only ever on briefly on a Friday, and even on a Tuesday as the "saved" couple, he did a phone interview instead of a live interview. Surely, the BBC could have got one of their crews over from Manchester to interview him via live link, especially as he really would seem to be struggling for votes at this crucial stage. I guess as well that due to the pressured nature of their training, at the end of a busy day, they focus on getting the work done, and not on messing around, so that is why this partnership comes across as cold and uber-focused.

I am gutted - Karen on choreography corner is no more this series. She is off down under to judge the world championships (waving perchance a little two fingers at those BBC suits, who didn't/wouldn't/couldn't give her the contract as a judge this series?).

Anyway, she made some fabulous points as ever, especially about how tough it is for the professionals to have outside choreographers in at this stage, because the partnership is already so well established, and the pros know the celebs strengths and weaknesses so well. And yay - she thinks that Team Cola stole the show, and were undermarked! And I liked the way she pointed out the difficulty level in what they were doing, and that they weren't just relying on selling the goofiness of the dance.

Flavia really came out of her shell this ITT. I get the feeling that before now she has just been overshadowed by her celeb partner, or by Vincent, or even last series when she did a lot of stuff on ITT, by Anton. She has finally found her feet when being interviewed, and can let the real Flavia come out. She didn't pull any punches by calling Brian out for his bad floorcraft, but reverted to the tactful "on message" side by saying how she could understand how the judges could have missed it. I guess she wants to be invited back next year.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

"Exciting, magical and petrifying all at the same time"

...That was Natalie' summary of her time on Strictly, and pretty much sums up what a lot of viewers see in the show - the excitement, the magic, and being able to identify with a couple going through highs and lows to do something completely out of the celebs' comfort zone. I am also sure that was why Natalie was as popular as she was with the public - because she showed that she was loving every minute of it, and yet was still realistic about her level of ability. The feel good story of the ultimate SCD fan surely warmed many a heart this autumn.

I have never seen Vincent so gutted either, and have warmed to him even more. Loved the quip that Natalie finished on "We are training for our waltz just in case", which was a great way of finishing on a high, and making sure that the interview didn't descent into too much schmaltz.

So farewell Vincenzo and your patatina - one of the most genuine Strictly partnerships this year.

So it is the return of Bruno Tonioli - mad, bad and dangerous for live TV. Can we stuff the filler segments for the rest of the series and just have a Claudia/ Bruno double act - it would be so much more entertaining.

As well as being funny, this segment was also very interesting, with both CRH and Bruno giving honest, and insightful opinions. It was refreshing to hear Craig admit that it was slightly unfair to have the couples doing different, new dances at this stage, and that he would have preferred them all doing the same dance. It was also good to hear them both criticising Laila and Ricky for not being able to deliver a clean routine at this stage of the competition. My feelings exactly. Bruno was spot on saying that Ali has finally been able to unleash another side to her personality. In fact if she can follow through with the characterisation and looser upper body this week for tango and samba respectively, she may lure me into voting for her.

As ever, I very much enjoyed the peek into the nuts and bolts of what makes SCD, in this case a look at the way the music is produced. I am still not convinced that the pros are given that much say in the choice of music (this year some of the choices have been stinkers), and that they are "guided" towards recent music. I do take on board however that there are many considerations in the choice of music, such as getting permission, cost of using the piece of music, whether it is strongly associated with a previous dance, and whether the band will be able to perform it adequately. It still puzzles me why the producers seem to set such store on picking modern tracks for the actual dances (in a misguided attempt to woo the younger audience), but have such old-fashioned choice of guest singers - Andy Williams, Rod Stewart, Spandau Ballet, Bette Midler, the Bee Gees - none of whom are likely to float the boat of anyone under 40.

The whole process of the music editor cutting the music down to 90 seconds, passing it to Dave Arch, who takes 4 or 5 hours to notate each song (the first few weeks of SCD must be a nightmare for him!), and then to the pro is interesting but most be a nightmare for those involved. First off, for the pro, having to choreograph the routine on a Sunday, and not having heard that edit before, and secondly for the band, who only get the music on the Saturday ie the day of the performance. That leaves band call and dress rehearsal for the singers, musicians and dancers to pull it all together. The BBC really is lucky to have access to top class dancers and musicians who repeatedly pull it off on the day.

Last but not least, a bit of pointless filler with dance mats, totally redeemed by Lilia's indignation at getting nul points. Priceless! Get those two decent partners for next year - this series has been suffering from their early exits.