Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Strictly is back - my tweets from Week 1

I have not been very good about blogging through Strictly these last few years. So, for 2012, I'm going to use the old Storify trick and let you have the benefit of my tweets instead. I'm dusting off the cobwebs on my Strictly blog, but I'll publish my views on the main shows on here.

Some brief extras to mention:

  • Darcey is very constructive - needs to be sitting next to Craig, but  the constant "yeah" needs to go. Would have preferred Karen, though.
  • Denise can act, and she's been on the West End stage, but she's taking some pasting online for being a professional. I don't think it necessarily gives her an advantage. I mean, Lewis, as a gymnast, has had to master complex physical routines which would give him just as much of an advantage. Denise and James are fighting back with the funniest Twitter banter ever. Even better than between Jordan and Brendan Cole. 
  • Lisa is fantastic. Bright, bubbly and a great sense of rhythm and awareness of where her body is. She could do really well. 
  • Jerry and Anton's partnership isn't as god-awful as I'd feared. Last year I almost wanted him to leave the show to get him out of Nancy's clutches.
  • I have a bit of a crush on Michael Vaughan which I think will only grow and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

No Claudia on ITT this year. Sob.

Just when I thought May couldn't have any more bad news, I read confirmation on Strictly Come Blogging that the irrepressible Claudia Winkleman will not be presenting the Strictly Come Dancing Companion show, It Takes Two this year.

This is hardly a surprise. I couldn't imagine her giving birth to her third child in August and then doing a 5 nights a week show from mid September. I'm glad she's still going to be doing the results show on a Sunday evening, though.

It's telling that the quote from her in today's Mirror offers a glimmer of hope that she might come back in subsequent years.

“Everyone who watches Strictly knows how much I love the show and enjoy presenting It Takes Two.
“This year I’m dipping out, but can’t wait to watch it from the sofa.”
 Claudia's pretty much irreplaceable and I don't know how the BBC will do it. Names in the frame so far according to Twitter have been Kate Garraway, Kate Thornton and Miranda Hart. I think that it might be fun, if she is only going to be away for a year, to have guest presenters for a week at a time. I'm not sure there's a studio around that could contain Marian Keyes, but she'd be good. So would Pamela Stephenson. Even Widdy. For a few days she could be tolerable and quite fun. Camilla Dallerup or Matt Cutler could also do a stint.

Or, and this is controversial and Billi will kill me but what about giving the show to Anton Du Beke? Then we get to see him 5 days a week and he could still do show dances on a Saturday night.  That might be the best way to carry on the Claudia tradition.  Is there anything not to love about that idea?

There's also always the option of giving Alesha ITT and bringing Arlene back on to the judging panel, but I won't hold my breath on that one.

Let's hope that the producers consider the fans when they decide on Claudia's replacement. ITT is watched mostly by hardcore fans so they need to be sensitive.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Strictly's Karen Hardy to judge Barclays Live Dance Competition in Glasgow this weekend

Former Strictly professional Karen Hardy, who won with Mark Ramprakash in 2006 and who has one of Strictly's most fondly regarded partnerships with Bill Turnbull to her credit, will be in Glasgow this Saturday, 22 January.

She's going to be one of the panel for the Barclays Live Dance Competition at the St Enoch Centre. She'll be leading a dance masterclass too - I wonder if it will be the same routine as featured in the BBC ident and the Strictly Roadshows. Karen is one of the most talented and creative choregraphers I know and all my friends who've had lessons with her say she's a fabulous teacher, so if you like Strictly and want to meet her, get down there on Saturday. There is some vague connection, I think, to the opening of a new branch of the bank in Glasgow at 83 Argyle Street, but you can just ignore all of that and concentrate on the dancing.

Karen will be judging 10 of the city's top dance acts who will be whittled down to 5 by the judges. There will then be a public vote on the web and the winner will win £1000. They will then progress to a further stage of the competition where there's another £1000 up for grabs.

This is the first time the competition has been held in Scotland. I can't think of a better way to brighten up a miserable January day.

I'm gutted that I probably can't go as I have a meeting in Edinburgh on Saturday morning, but I'll certainly try and get across later if time and energy permits.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

See Pamela and James' Argentine Tango

Even though the series has ended, still those nice people in the BBC Strictly Office are giving us some little presents to make us happy.

All Pamela and James fans were as dismayed that we didn't get to see their Argentine Tango as they were that they didn't get to perform it during the Final on Saturday night. Here it is, though, as they recorded it in training.

Even though they're in a gymnasium, with a crew of at least 3, this is one smokin' hot dance. Can you just imagine how it would have been with them in full hair and make up and costume and atmospheric lighting. It would have been better if they'd put up their dress rehearsal, but then our laptops might have spontaneously combusted.


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Pamela writes about her Strictly experience and her crush on James

As her beautiful showdance told us all, Pamela had the time of her life on Strictly.

She wrote about the final, her regret at not getting to do her Argentine Tango (I feel her pain, really),  her crush on James and how they and their spouses handled it with honesty and humour in her Guardian column. Enjoy.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The Strictly Finalists 2010; Pamela Stephenson and James Jordan

As we wait for the most exciting Strictly Final in years, this is the last of my profiles of each of our deserving finalists, with a look at their pre Strictly life (as if that actually matters), and Strictly story with their first, best and my favourite of their dances. Kara's is here, and Matt's is here

Pre-Strictly Life

The first I ever heard of Pamela Stephenson was actually some time in the 70s as the wife of Nicholas Ball, the guy who played Hazell, the Cockney Private Detective who was the Minder of his day, I suppose. I can't really remember much except I thought he was quite good looking. 

It wasn't until Not the Nine O'Clock News started that I really got to like Pamela. That show was my first real introduction to irreverent political and satirical humour. It felt very grown up and very wicked to be watching it. I really can't resist the opportunity to show a bit. In the making of this profile, much time was wasted watching great moments such as these. Here's Pamela in one of their fabulous parody songs, I believe:

It was during this programme that she met Billy Connolly. This man has been making me laugh since I was a tot. There was not one single long car journey that didn't feature the car cartridge gadget thingy playing one of his shows. He's hilarious.  The two of them seemed exceptionally well suited and that's been borne out by the longevity of their relationship. 

Pamela has also stood for election to Parliament, in 1987, for Windsor and Maidenhead, for the Stuff Blancmange down Terry Wogan's Trousers Party. Not something I'd ever want to waste a moment doing, but it takes all sorts. The proof comes courtesy of Mr Derek Payne, on Twitter, who very kindly responded to my plea for definitive evidence of this result. 

If you're going to be a successful comedian, you have to have an interest in and understanding of human nature. It made a lot of sense then, that Pamela has been a respected psychotherpaist for the last 16 years. She specialises in sexuality and has done research as well as had a private practice. 

As well as that, she wrote a super and frank biography of Billy Connolly, not an easy thing to do when you are so close to the subject.

That's not to say she's just spent the last 16 years sitting behind a desk. She decided to take a year to go sailing in the South Pacific. With that sort of adventurous spirit, it's not surprising that she's done so well on Strictly. She doesn't do anything by half measures, embracing every challenge put to her. 

Strictly Partner

It's been quite a job to learn to love James Jordan. After his treatment of Georgina Bouzova in 2006, which verged on the bullying, I absolutely loathed him. He reminded me of some training footage of ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean in which he absolutely ripped her to shreds and made me wonder why on earth she'd put up for him for so long. It was literally years before I could even look at him again after I saw that.

It took me a while to find his redeeming features - and there are plenty. He is a fabulous dancer and an inventive, intuitive choreographer who is capable of really suiting routines to the people dancing. His Rumba to Songbird, with Cherie Lunghi was utterly beautiful and tasteful when I suspect someone else (that'd be you, Mr Cole), could make it look brash and inappropriate. He is very funny, as his testosterone fuelled Twitter Banter with Brendan often shows. 

He looked to be on course for victory with Gabby Logan in 2007, but while they were technically good, the public didn't warm to them because they made no secret of their desire to win. We British are strange - we're quite happy to encourage ambition, as long as we don't, at any time, show that we want success. Had they had any other dance than the Samba, always a difficult one to impress with, I suspect that they would have beaten Penny Lancaster in the dance off.

It was the Samba that saw him off last year too, in week 7, with Zoe Lucker. 

By a little bit of luck, or producer sleight of hand, do you want to take a guess at which dance he and Pamela haven't done?

His wife Ola won last year with Chris Hollins, so will he be able to take home another glitterball to even up the mantlepiece tonight?

Strictly Story

Every so often, the producers put a couple together who have an absolutely magical partnership, bringing out the best in each other. Bill Turnbull and Karen Hardy were one example. Chris Hollins and Ola Jordan were another. 

Pamela and James are another great match. Pamela has enough life experience, poise and balls not to take any of James' nonsense. They are two very strong personalities and it could have gone very badly wrong, but Pamela has really got James laughing and toning down his harsh competitive edge while he has appreciated the talent he's been given and taught her extremely well, giving her choreography that shows her at her best. He's appreciated that he has a partner who, despite being past her Diamond Jubilee, will try any challenge given to her and has an inner grace and radiance that is beautiful to watch.

It may be that with her psychological knowledge, she's ensured that she and James have been playing the audience like a fiddle, manipulating us into loving them. But even if that's the case, I don't care. I still love them regardless and could watch them dance all day. And train. And laugh. And talk to Claudia on ITT.

Pamela had a wee trip on her first journey down the famous Strictly stairs, which didn't bode well. Her waltz in week was one of  the most beautiful, elegant dances we'd seen. The judges raved about her arm placement, which gave me some confidence as that's what I'd been saying too. The question after week one was could she do Latin?  She came out the next week in a scarlet dress and showed that she could deliver an amazing Salsa. The fact that she stumbled, and while she seemed to be on her way to hit the deck, gave a radiant smile and a shimmy before she righted herself and carried on with the dance earned her many fans. "Don't throw Granny on the floor" she said afterwards. And then on It Takes Two the next week, she literally spent five minutes giggling about it with Claudia. I think that moment showed her spirit and even then set her on track to the final.

We knew that she had public support from the unfortunate incident on Hallowe'en. Ok, so she lost her place a couple of times in the Jive, but she actually jived down the stairs. The judges undermarked her, giving her only 27 when she desrved much more leaving her in a perilous bottom of mid table position. She made it through and that was her only real wobble and her only sub 30 score..

She always manages to capture the spirit of the dance and has used her acting skills and comic timing to great effect in her Tango, her cheeky Charleston and 40-scoring magical, ethereal Viennese Waltz to Unchained Melody. Last week she excelled with a dramatic Paso to Lady Gaga's Bad Romance but scored another perfect 40 for a complicated Quickstep which involved a routine with canes at the beginning, a costume change in the middle and a spot of tap dancing on her own.

Pamela's the finalist who's had the most improvement, who's surprised us the most and whose radiance has grown with every dance she's done.  In an age obsessed with youth, she's struck a blow back for women with a certain age.

The Dances

First Dance - a beautiful waltz

Best Dances perfection for their Viennese Waltz and Quickstep

My Favourite

It has to be the Charleston. Of course it plays to her comedic strength, but look at how intensely difficult this choreography is. And it shows the depth of trust between them. Those lifts are dangerous. She had to pick him up, then end up a split second later upside down doing a tumble off his back. That takes guts. And to portray the cheeky, slapstick spirit of the dance while you're doing it is remarkable.

I suspect her showdance will have Hollywood panache, elegance and glamour, with a splash of comedy and some outrageous tricks. She's the one I'll be voting for as soon as the lines open tonight and I hope that the whole country will vote for a brave, spirited, funny woman who brings beauty and grace to the dance floor.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Strictly Finalists 2010: Matt Baker and Aliona Vilani

As we wait for the most exciting Strictly Final in years, this is the second of my profiles of each of our deserving finalists, look at their pre Strictly life (as if that actually matters), and Strictly story with their first, best and my favourite of their dances. Kara's is here and Pamela's is here.

Pre-Strictly Life

Matt Baker is another Blue Peter boy made good. Like Simon Groom, who was one of my Blue Peter presenters, he was raised on a farm - but unlike Simon, he is also a accomplished acrobat and gymnast. He wanted to be a physiotherapist, but ended up presenting Blue Peter for seven years instead. Since leaving Blue Peter in 2006, he's been doing various presenting jobs, most notably The One Show and Countryfile. He's also commentated on gymnastics and participated in a previous reality series, Only Fools on Horses, for Comic Relief which was ultimately won by Jenni Falconer. He's also been on tour in a dance show before, Disco Inferno. 

So, coming into Strictly, we knew that he had a cheeky chappie side to him, he was incredibly fit and agile, and game for anything. All of these indicate huge potential to do well on the show and he has wowed us with tricks and acrobatic feats never seen before on the show, but which were there to enhance his already natural ability to dance. He's back-flipped off the Judge's desk and ridden a unicycle, for goodness sake. Sometimes the dancing hasn't been as polished as it could have been, but when you consider that he had a full work schedule as well, what he did achieve was spectacular.  He has thrown himself in to everything he's been asked to do despite the exhaustion.

Strictly Partner

We didn't learn much about Russian Aliona Vilani last year as she was out very early on after her partner Rav Wilding in the third week. I have to say that I didn't take to her at all. She seemed quite sulky and petulant with few saving graces. This year, it's been very different. She can sometimes be quite fierce and sulky, but anyone who is as obsessed with custard as she is has to have a lot of good in them. She is also very funny and quirky. Her hair is the most garishly unashamed shade of red I have ever seen - although she seems to have put some softer highlights in it for the final. It clashed with everything except her Austin Powers dress. Her inventive choreography has sometimes brought trouble and their marks generally haven't reflected how good their routines are.

Strictly Story

Matt's first move on Strictly was a double cartwheel. I don't know if he's the first ever to do that while wearing a tartan tank top but the evidence exists, so he could end up in the Guinness Book of Records. He could have been mistaken for a professional in that first dance - and he even beat Kara that week by one point. He threw down the gauntlet in style.

He has always been up there at the top of the leaderboard, but the judges' marks haven't always reflected the excellence of their performance. I think that maybe they didn't appreciate Aliona's choregraphy. Their American Smooth was a case in point. Aliona had captured all the drama of the song. It was very untypical to see a man do the Smooth without a suit on. 

I said at the time that whoever thought of doing an Argentine Tango to Bat out of Hell should be shot at dawn. Despite that mismatch, they did really well and deserved their 34. 

They have established themselves as the couple with the quirkiest choreography and spectacular acrobatics and were dead certs for the final from the very first show.

The Dances

First Dance

That show-stopping cha cha cha

Best Dance

There are two of these, a carefree, bouncy, Samba from Blackpool and a dramatic, edgy Tango from the semi-final. It was strange that Matt managed to achieve his highest and lowest scores in the space of 24 hours in week 11 of the show. His Salsa was uncharacteristically as insipid as the costumes he and Aliona wore on the Friday, but he came out and nailed his Tango on the Saturday.

First though, that spirited Samba, in which he demonstrated beyond any doubt that he knew where his hips were and what they were for. They also really captured the essence of  young hearts, running free. And getting a ten for a Samba takes some doing.

And the Tango, to Hung Up, one of my favourite songs.

My Favourite

I have hummed and hawed over my favourite dance. Charleston or Jive, Jive or Charleston. At one point I thought of copping out completely and putting up both. But, because Matt nailed his character so well, and he was so brave in doing the backflip off the Judge's desk on live tv, it has to be Austin Powers. There was next to no Jive content. And they'd spent half the week in the Outer Hebrides - the first week of the snow, too. It was just perfect for the theme and I loved it.

Matt has to start tomorrow night as the favourite - he's a boy, and it's women who vote, and he has charm, pizazz and lots of tricks at his disposal. Their showdance will be acrobatic and fast. He'll have all our hearts racing.