Back in 1981, when I was a mere pup, I went to Earls Court to see The Royal Tournament, a combination of gymnastics, music, soldiers, horsemanship, physical peak, and without doubt the largest display of military theatre anywhere in the world. I wasn’t that enamoured with war and killing, the same can be said today, but I was enchanted by the team ethic and the exhibition of muscle as the teams from each service competed, carrying cannons over obstacles, precision and power. Breathtaking.
I also recall the band of the Royal Marines, white helmets shining, the music and tempo as beguiling as the competitions. So, when they appeared on the telly on Saturday night amidst smoke, fanfare and bedlam I did a dubble take to check that I had my dates right. Sure enough, once the egregious clips began I knew that everything was okay. We had a cameo from the juddgies, Operation Sequin, two appearing in the arena on wires, feigning parachutism. Had they really leapt from a plane and hit the arena that would have been impressive. Especially as the roof doesn’t open.
Lord Len and Darcey emerged through the smoke and we all hoped they would dance. Sadly they didn’t. Brucie appeared, the bedlam increased, a standing ovation and mild hysteria in what can only be described as a great precursor to a spectacular show.
Last year the Beeb took Strictla to Wembla, Arena, for the first time, and they struggled with the sheer size of the venue. It was disappointing; the camera angles were askew, the stage mis-set, the dynamic totally wrong, the dancers like ants, stars in a Lowry paintwork. How they have learned. In a time when Auntie is getting some well-deserved stick it was great to see them at their best, evening the books, Children In Need raising a record total (£26m) the Friday before, and this show providing much needed respite for the 6000 spectators in the arena. And those at home.
The theme was ‘Dancing Through the Decades’, from the twenties to the noughties, a great excuse to dance to . . . well . . . anything. And they did, the music captured pop, rock, jazz, Motown and the Great American Song Book. The dancing featured many styles though still the Rumba is in exile. Maybe there’s a Fatwa out on it?
First upp was Lisa, her outfit like a strawberry and orange Mivvy, dancing the Samba to ‘Car Wash’. Her partner was dressed like Jeb, the village idiot, a straw from his mouth, in red daps and blue dungarees showing his chest in a bid to take over from the ousted R-Tem. You could say that he looked a right tit, but it was actually his left on view. I don’t know why they didn’t black up, copying the film. That would have been more suitable.
What followed didn’t work. When you aren’t dressed to dance you don’t. An old school master once said ‘you’d better look like a rugby player even if you aren’t going to play like one’ and this adage runs true. Dress like a dancer, dance like a dancer.
Lisa did a dance that is now beguilingly called ‘The Lisa’, a hybrid of the Cha, Jive and Charleston, with plenty of performance and panto. It happens nearly every week now, one metamorphosing into the other. She finished with a splits but that couldn’t resurrect her even if she did score 32. Her shoulder roll was lame, her knees hardly bent and this was definitely Rochdale not Rio. Please don’t watch it again, it’s painful.
Just two points ahead in the Samba stakes – it is a bizarre world that we live in – was Kimberley whose display was stylish, funky, feisty and, to be fair, the kind of party you’d want to be invited to. The points difference does her a disservice. Her pink and gold outfit was perfect, she was at ease with the stage, bouncing her hips for love not money, the routine containing a nice mix of steps and rhythms. The only two issues were the music and me old mate Pash.
‘Livin La Vida Loca’ is a Salsa song not Samba. Try and pick the traditional Samba rhythm – one a two – and you’d struggle. And as the dance moved from start to finish Pash undid his buttttns until his shirt was ready to drop to the floor. Must be something in the water in Russia?
Louis has hovered around the 30 mark for much of this series, 35 for a Tango being his high spot in week 4. Bring on the American Smooth, Quick Step style, the music, ‘I Got A Woman/Gold Digger,’ and you’d have thought he’d break this barrier again. But no, 30 left him third from the bottom. That will have been a shock.
When a routine starts to include tricks, as well as the legitimate lifts, you can sense the struggle between these two. Who on earth wants to see a pommel horse routine in the middle of a Quick Step? Certainly not I though I’m sure the GBP whooped it up. That said it was the only part of the routine when Louis wasn’t thinking, the cogs dominating much of his dance content. Sure, he has light feet, the tempo was never a challenge to this Olympian, but there seemed little connection between the two or between he and the dance. Maybe they’ve had a spat? Where was the sophistication, the charm, the delivery, the smooth?
The other Olympian struggled too, Vic dancing a Paso to ‘Bicycle Race’. I say it every week, you couldn’t make it up. This venue was crying out for a bullfight, reds, blacks, shaping, arching, staccato feet, appels and power, drama and passion, and REAL Paso music. Instead we got Vic on a wire, on a bike. Okay, her outfit was fabulous, a homage to the red, white and blue of Team GB and the Paras (Paralympic GB), and seeing a Kiwi do some great cape work with a Union Jack went down well. But that was about it. The judggies were friendly enough, all offering tips on spotting, twist turns, arms and shoulders. She scored 24 and was in the bottom two. No one gave her advice on how to use the remote control on her telly, something that will come in handy very soon.
Already on that metaphorical sofa is Richard, earmarked to exit once it was discovered that he was given Salsa, not the Solsa. As mentioned last week this dance can be the death knell for the male celeb and Richard didn’t disappoint, somehow getting 24 points, ‘Club Tropicana’ the music of choice, the dance off and his departure inevitable.
The setting was terrific, the stage an island, the surround the sea, amazing lighting, only spoiled by Richard’s white trousers, Hawaiian shirt and a few blokes on the stage dressed in their undies. Didn’t get that. It got the gay voat but surely, in the name of balance, there should have been a few topless ‘Page Three’ babes in thongs, maybe rubbing oil on each other?
Anyway, the dance came and went, stompy and full of errors, clunky would describe it. That said Richard had a good time and a life wish came true when he actually got to shout, ‘Wembley, make some noise’.
The eerie quiet that followed probably wasn’t the response he wanted.
Nicky Byrne has played Wembley Arena 27 times in his life as a pop star; there is even a print of his hand outside on the walk of fame. Now he has done 28 and of all of them this was probably his finest hour. Of course, the fee earned with Westlife would have been a smidgen more but for his credibility, esteem, confidence and future this will go down as a great day in the Byrne household.
‘Jailhouse Rock’ always works in the dance hall, it’s a floor filler. With Hottie Hauer at the helm, her in yellow and brown, he in denim and a black and white hooped top pretending to be a jailbird, the only downside to this 30 was Nicky starting on the juddgies bench doing an Elvis. Not a great Elvis but nonetheless, there he was in the building. And then he had to jump down.
Once descended he cut the dash of Jimmy Dean, pre-accident, full of energy, bounce, character and with a glint in his eye. This wasn’t a Jive; it wasn’t Rock and Roll, there wasn’t much in hold but it was performance and Nicky needed it. If you want to be picky you could have a skegg at his flicks and compare them to Hottie’s, hers with a concrete boot aiding refraction, his short and thankful. But it was great fun and that seemed to be all that mattered. And it was enough to get him through the dance off.
One thing that does matter is the scoring that the dancers have to suffer. I have mentioned the Sambas but let’s have a quick look at CRH, the Aussie pedant. He marked Lisa and Kimberley the same, an 8. Staggering. He then scores Nicky a 6, only two dancers getting lower than him during the night. There’s something not right here.
And then came Denise.
‘That’s the best Charleston I have ever seen on Strictly,’ he said.
And gave it a nine.
The other juddgies all scored 10, 39 the top score of the series so far. Dressed in blue and gold, Egypt’s home kit, Denise was Cleopatra, James, no mention of his ailing foot that plagued him last week, an explorer who entered the dance like Tarzan, on a swing. It’s a boy thing, I guess.
Inspired by Howard Carter and the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922 this Charleston was to the pre-Bangles version of ‘Walk Like An Egyprian’ and Denise produced an inspired performance, polished, smart, sharp, the choreography matching the skill. And just a 9.
When Dani and Vincent appeared I thought it was an audition for The Pink Panther, he in a full suit the colour of a wafer with black trim, her in a soft pastel two piece, her midriff exposed, dressed like a ballerina taken from a music box. And then The Supremes kicked in, ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’, and the fun beagn.
This arena was made for the Quick Step and they didn’t disappoint, covering every inch of the grass. Sorry, wrong Wembley. There was masses of content, great content, it was fast, high quality and another sign that Dani really is in this competition. Four nines will worry a few, a great time for a personal best, and she is almost in line to be forgiven for bringing Tracy B*st*rd Beaker to our screens. Well, maybe not.
A big arena needs a big finale and who better to deliver than Vaughany. No, that’s not a joke. Who better?
When I saw Vaughany in a tail suit I relaxed and thought, ‘straight through to next week’. Nat wore the frock of the night, a gold and glitter number, the backing dancers, girls, wore red blouses and hot pants, white jackets and matching top hats. Then our Frank started, ‘New York, New York’. How could this get better? A performer’s dream, a Fox Trot American Smooth with all the production and the glitz of Vegas.
It really was a proper job and the ex-England skipper duly delivered, pizazz, style and three lifts, the second brilliant, 35 points, his best to date, the Italian end of the table offering an 8. Just bonkers.
Let me talk you through the second lift. Nat went into the traditional ‘Chuck Out’ position. Then, as he pulled her back in he bent down, her right leg went over his left shoulder, the other straddled him as he dragged her backwards, her head inches from the floor. Awesome.
The last lift was similar but instead he took her legs and before you could say ‘Howzat’ she was on his left shoulder in the Bluebird position, so I am reliably informed that it’s called. Add in more fantastic lighting, a common theme all night, the tiller girls queuing for the washing up rights at Travolta Towers, and it couldn’t have been better. Brought the blinking house down!It really was a triumphant show, the best ever. And then there was the results show, a fantastic opening set, mainly from the pros but the celebs joined in too, and once more the lighting team produced displays never witnessed before on this show, hats off to Mark Kenyon, the Lighting Designer and his team. Add in Kylie, that’s Minogue not Jeremy, and Girls Aloud and you have one mighty fine crescendo! And the audience, twenty-four hours later, were still as upbeat as the crowd from Saturday.
A show when everyone was a winner.
November 22nd 2012