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Strictly Come Dancing – November 29th/30th: perfect unison, total union

unison, union

unison, union

Strictly Come Dancing – Saturday 29th/Sunday 30th November 2008

Sacrilege: the professional dancers on Strictly produce something better than in their wholly professional environment, because they have to adapt their technique, their choreography to the personal, emotional and performance strengths and weaknesses of their talented but non-dance-professional partners.

For me the least appealing, least affecting dance of the last week was husband and wife partnership Lilya Kopolova and Darren Bennett’s Latin medley. The same was true for me of the world champion Latin dancers the previous week. When the professionals dance together except in the performance-driven group dances, they resemble Olympic gymnasts on the floor exercises, or worse the jerky precision of synchronised swimmers. Here emotional narrative gives way to technical depth and performance precision. The best example perhaps is ice dancing before John Curry revolutionised it. Curry put technical components to the service of emotional and expressive narrative. The result was a superb integration of physical expertise and artistic, musical interpretation.

I have yet to see any professional couple on this or any year’s Strictly come within a mile of the moving, expressive power of Rachel and Vincent in a series of dances from their Rumba, Quick-Step based American Smooth, Fox-trot, and this week the pièce de resistance – their romantic, simply ineffable waltz. Vincent and Rachel are nice enough people with their own personal quirks and eccentricities: but not essentially, dramatically, remarkable. However, the minute they begin to move in unison in dance they acquire a unique oneness: each gives and takes from the other in total trust and the result is simply breathtaking. If you had told me a few weeks ago that two people dancing in a schlocky competition like Strictly, would make me cry – I would have called you stupid. Yet for each of the last 4 weeks it has happened. They are simply a perfect expression of unison between man and woman giving themselves up to the dance and the music that expresses. Vincent and Rachel’s performances have at times recently crossed the boundary between performance and art. There is simply something deeply moving and genuinely timeless about certain of their dances. Two people – man and woman – become one: no mastery, no dominance, no submission, no subservience; just a few magical minutes – pure unison. Difference – but total equality.

Even at their very considerable best, the other dancers do not achieve this ‘one-ness’. Even Lisa is always separate from Brendan and vice versa. The same goes for the others. I have no idea whether this has anything to do with the dodgy criteria that are or are argued should be, the criteria for ‘winning’. Frankly it doesn’t matter: Rachel and Vincent are offering us the privilege of watching, sharing, something absolutely unique. It isn’t simple sexuality, though that is an element of the appeal: it has to do with total trust and a very special kind of intimacy and when that level of intimate connection is involved we are culturally and genetically conditioned to see sexuality as at least part of the play of forces involved – even if the minute the music stops, actual sexuality is not engaged. What we see when Rachel and Vincent dance is a level of intimacy at least the equal of their making love – but fortunately the displacement of these deep feelings into music and movement defuses our sense of voyeurism and their sense of betrayal.

Who wins is a bit of fun, and will be a considerable achievement. Nothing I have said implies it must be Rachel and Vincent. They have already achieved and shared with us something far more precious, far more affecting, than merely winning a competition – however important in its way and legitimately interesting though that will be.

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