Sunday, October 19, 2008

"You were my second favourite": Strictly Come Dancing, Week 5

Well, this week marked a threshold, in that this was the first time SCD's dance-off really made me upset. Don Warrington and Lilia Kopylova were comfortably my favourite pair in the competition, and I'd kind of hoped they might (might) go on and win the whole thing. They had a chemistry together, with Lilia working her hardest to bring out the grace and charisma Don had inside him, and Don equally determined not to let his partner down. They really properly worked as a double act, and it made their dances captivating.

Their American smooth didn't live up to their tango, admittedly. Unfortunately, Don's command of performance and character was rather blunted by the two compulsory lifts that the routine requires - you could see in his face that he spent the entire routine dreading having to hoist Lilia on top of his shoulders, lest he should drop her. He needn't have worried - the lifts were slightly laboured, but generally pretty safe - but the tension reverberated through the rest of his performance. Not enough to wreck it, seemingly - not, at least, until the public had their say and decided that, despite picking up 25 points and finishing as the third-highest scoring male contestant by a country mile, they'd rather be watching the three that finished behind him next week instead.

Thus did Don find himself in the dance-off with the similarly nerve-addled Heather Small, whose aggression and assertiveness seems to have dissipated after the knocking her quickstep took last week. Both came out re-energised, but Craig, Arlene and Bruno decided they all thought Heather was the re-energisedest, and just like that, Don and Lilia were out.

Now, not to get all Daily Show-audience on you or owt, but I really don't think I will ever understand anyone who would have somehow thought Andrew Castle was more deserving of a place in the next round than either Don or Heather. Andrew does not want to be there. He appears to have cribbed his movement and posture from the singer out of Heaven 17. His partner, Ola Jordan, appears to be chiefly concerned with informing him he is rubbish. His performance of the American Smooth appeared to consist of him stepping from side to side and clicking his fingers. A lot. At the end, he attempted to hoist Ola onto his shoulders, and made it look as though she was trying to mount a donkey. He readily admitted that he thought he'd been dreadful. But somehow, the public does not agree. Somehow, Andrew Castle is what people want.


Admittedly, his routine managed to be more varied than Mark Foster's. Having been told by Arlene Phillips to find him an acting coach (whilst pointing, repeatedly), Hayley Holt roped in John Barrowman in order to teach Mark the art of yelling. Newly liberated, Mark spent his entire routine with a huge smile on his face, which was nice to see. He also spent his entire routine shaking his shoulders and thrusting his pelvis. Occasionally, he would do some sidesteps whilst giving it some of the old Donkey Kong arm movements. At the end, for some reason, they lobbed in the looking-over-the-shoulder move that Gary Rhodes made all his own (because no bugger else would want it after that) in week 3. Oh, and did I mention he was wearing a see-through mesh shirt? Or that the house band was having a go at "Spice Up Your Life"?

(Amazingly, not the house band's low point this week. That will be along later)

Anyway, them two should have been the bottom pair, with Castle going, even though John Sergeant scored less than them - 16, the lowest score of the series so far, and one point behind the gruesome twosome. I am in two minds about John, to be honest. On the one hand, the feller is easily the wittiest, most entertaining participant in a programme that's a bit short on witty participants, and he always gets the loudest cheers in the audience by miles. When it was announced that he and Kristina Rihanoff were safe, Kristina's joy was unconfined. Usually it's the celebrity halves of the couples that are the ones expressing most relief; here, John cracked his mile-wide smile, while Kristina was jumping up and down, hugging him and punching the air as the crowd bellowed its approval.

On the other, I do wish he'd take shit more seriously. True, expecting A SIXTY-FAWA YEAR OWWLD MAYYNNN to do a samba at full pelt is perhaps a bit much, and he was sweating like a pig at the end of it, but there seems to be a certain amount of complacency creeping in with the feller, because he knows that the public vote will almost always save him. Entertaining as he is, as the field gets smaller and smaller, it's going to become increasingly difficult to shake the impression that John's taking up a space that could be occupied by more deserving participants.

For let us make no mistake, John's in a very strong position to progress in this competition. Public support is key, and one must stand out in order to get it, because the middle of the pack is becoming a very crowded place indeed. Now the male and female halves of the competition have been merged, the standard has got higher, with 7 out of the 12 couples scoring 30 points or over this week. Heather must be odds-on to at least be in the dance-off next week, if not gone entirely, and since Mark can't dance in see-through mesh every week, he'll probably follow her in short order - but who's next after that? If John and Castle's fanbases are strong enough to keep them in, then the likes of Jodie Kidd, Christine Bleakley and Rachel Stevens - all of whom scored 30 points this week, with each getting the exact same mark from each judge (which was rather weird) - must be looking over their shoulders with a certain amount of trepidation, knowing that, for reasons not entirely in their hands, their best may well not be enough.

But conceivably, any of those three could also have a solid shot at the title. Rachel, for instance, had a slightly off week by her standards, and is perfectly capable of getting in the top two or three next time. Jodie's progress through the competition has been rollercoaster-esque: having had major collywobbles about her height impeding her before her first dance, she pulled it off marvellously, only to then find herself in the dance-off, which she survived; she then got drubbed by the judges for not being passionate enough in her rumba, but this time wound up getting saved by the public; this week, her American smooth was praised, even earning her The Arlene Phillips Shit Pun Of The Night accolade: "I know you like horses, and I'll tell you what - you are the DARK HORSE of Strictly Come Dancing!" It's the way she tells them, really it is.

Christine has had ups and downs, too - it's just that everyone else's have been more dramatic than hers, so she ends up getting overshadowed a bit. She's probably got the best smile on television at present (behind Fulham and England's Jimmy Bullard, obviously), and her personality is utterly winning - her habit of thanking the judges after every comment, for instance. She's basically completely adorable, but while her dancing's been good, she's just not quite stood out from the crowd yet. She needs to start bursting into tears or something. She's enjoying herself far too much.

Her case wasn't helped by having two people burst out of the pack this week. Austin Healey slipped down the order a little with a couple of fudged steps in his samba, while a rogue 7 from Craig knocked Cherie Lunghi down to third, despite her routine incorporating a dazzling lift by James Jordan which saw him pick her up, rotate her head-over heels and then bring her to rest on his back.

This meant that the leaders of the pack thus far found themselves getting usurped, first by a resurgent Lisa Snowdon, who really does seem to run entirely on confidence. Having had her customary tearful crumbles in the training montage, she came out completely on top of her game in the American smooth. The smile stayed on her face throughout, and there was no doubting its heartfelt nature; she and Brendan Cole were in total concord this week, with Lisa moving across the floor with total assurance and no shortage of grace. Where once there was stuttering, now there was flow, and it was beautiful to watch. Obviously, once the dance was over, she was right back to being a gibbering wreck, but onwards and upwards.

And then, right at the end, there was Official Rocktimists Candidate Tom "Our Tom" Chambers. Previously, this column may have given the impression that we were regretting hitching ourselves to Mr Chambers' bandwagon. We would like to assure readers that this impression was complete bollocks. Turned out immaculately in a period American suit with pomade side-parting to match, which had the effect of making him look half-Guys & Dolls, half-Paul Heaton (it's a remarkably good look, actually), Our Tom proceeded to sweep all before him with a ten-ton whack of pure suave. There had been question marks over how he'd adapt to the ballroom dances after having done so well with his Latin numbers; turns out he's even better with his shirt buttoned up. He glides, he floats, he flows. He moves from one phase to the next with total ease and confidence. Where once he had the demeanour of a child actor suddenly discovering he has the ability to fly, Our Tom is now utterly at home on the dance floor. He and Camilla Dallerup seem utterly thrilled with each other, and look set to inspire each other to even further heights. He's finally managed to get his nose in front of Austin on the scoreboard, too.

So yeah, at the moment, seven potential winners - maybe even eight if John can survive long enough - separated by a five-point spread. As Len Goodman said, it really is impossible to pick this. I'd say that, if you've not watched yet, this episode really is the ideal place to start - your iPlayer link is here. Individual dances are available on YouTube as always, but I'd seriously recommend watching the entire episode this week, and maybe the results show too. All the elements that make the Strictly universe such an oddly compelling place to visit are present and correct, soundtracked, as Our Matt has pointed out in the comments, by Dave Arch And His Fantastic Orchestra And Singers. Aside from their assault on the Spice Girls, Dave and friends also had a crack at "Hips Don't Lie", "You Know I'm No Good" (during Andrew Castle's routine - how much more of a hint did they need, dammit?) and "Move Your Feet" this week, but most of all, there was this cracker from the Sunday programme. The professional dancers were out to demonstrate the paso doble, described on the official site as "very dramatic. Marching beat, matches movement of the bodies. Sharp movements. The dance should have elements of Flamenco dancing - this is all in the footwork."

Dave Arch And His Fantastic Orchestra And Singers chose to accompany it with this:

The full show also features Alesha Dixon performing her new single, which is excellent; Ian Waite bumping arses with Jodie Kidd, which is less excellent; and Heather Small's afro, which is about as subtle as the programme ever gets. Really, make time to watch it; except when Will Greenwood turns up again to advise Austin on his training. Skip the hell out of that bit.

(also, a correction: in the preview post, I said that Christine Bleakley wasn't the youngest woman in the competition. Turns out that actually she is: 28, two years younger than Rachel and Jodie. Lisa Snowdon is 37. Crumbs)


Yo! MattS! said...

mike said...

It was Our Tom's (*) best week yet, I do agree.

(*) Or "Ex-Holby Newlywed Hunk Tom Comma Thirty-one Comma", as my weekly press round-ups for the village blog have trained me to call him.

mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mike said...

(And I'll bet his dad has read this. His dad has Google Alerts! He reads EVERYTHING.)