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BBC Strictly Come Dancing – There’s No Trouble With Harry

 

Harry and Aliona - Champions 2011

 

Strictly Come Dancing – There’s No Trouble With Harry

Singin’ In The Rain, Top Hat, It’s Always Fair Weather, Royal Wedding, On The Town. Test cases: anyone who watches these immortal examples of popular movie art and isn’t captivated by the sheer magic, sense of fun and joie de vivre captured in finite moments of time and preserved for ever through the prosaic miracle of film, lack’s romance, or soul – or both. That’s not criticism – it’s sympathy.

Of course we know that Fred Astaire didn’t really dance on the ceiling in Royal Wedding and that Kelly’s iconic dance in Singin’ In The Rain and his even better dance on roller skates in It’s Always Fair Weather (yes better – check it out on Youtube) were seamlessly edited together from a multiplicity of takes. We also know that 2-minutes of perfection were the tip of an iceberg of 100’s of hours of dedicated hard work and a professionalism defined by the desire for perfection.

And yes we also know these were commercial artefacts, what we would now call products, pitched at a market, designed to make a profit. But perfection costs money that comes off the bottom line: even then and infinitely more so now, technical trickery could create the illusion of perfection. Both Astaire and Kelly defined their professional integrity through a determination to get their dance performance as perfect as possible before the technical polish was added.

This Year’s Strictly Final transcended its commercial, even partly cynical format. Strip away all the glitter and hype, the BBCs relentlessly professional promotion and the different forms of self-interest, some more reputable than others, of professional dancers and celebrities alike and we had left three pros and three unexpectedly likeable celebs taking risks and defying the logic of competition. Harry and Aliona rightly took the Glitter Ball bauble but Chelsee and Jason were winners too: second best to no one by the standards that matter most. The ranking list is a measure as crass as it is crude when applied to any human activity of any depth such as the arts; or even we might say in passing, as socially complex as a school.

The tension between entertainment and art is inherent to the Strictly structure especially with people like Russell Grant. The cleverness of the format has ways to accommodate both: the judges’ marks and comments preserve enough of the dancing criteria to retain a real sense of a proper dancing competition; while giving equal prominence to the audience vote throughout and then definitive weight in the final judgement, strikes exactly the right balance between the two. Oddly the British public has been on a learning curve in this: still learning, they didn’t know when to stop with John Sargeant; whereas this year they got it absolutely right with the irrepressible, puckish Grant.

The competitive framework to Strictly is therefore essential: it provides edge and fires enthusiasm, especially for the pros; and to be honest, we love that wistful sadness we force on ourselves when one winner defines two ‘losers’. The entertainment element has its good side with the ‘top that’ high camp kitsch of what for a few weeks became the Russ and Flav show. This was a triumph of result over intention for we aficionados knew day 1, that Russell was there for us to laugh at. He triumphantly invited us to laugh with him instead with an engaging mixture of self-deprecation and humility.

The Show Dance seems to me to be the real Strictly Ballroom fraternity’s effort to create a structured dance to meet popular criteria and like most things conceptually confused it is neither one thing or the other: part gymnastic pairs, part acrobatics, with a bit of weightlifting uneasily woven into a standard dance. Lifts work best in dancing when they flow from the music and the steps: the show dance encourages lifts that flow from lifts and is almost always ugly – the more so with the professional show-dancers who are strong enough to link several lifts but not artistic enough to make them flow with the music.

The wily Kristina kept Jason’s lifts to a minimum and their show dance rightly gained best marks. The younger couples went for multiple lifts, because they could and for both it was their worst dance of the night though Harry and Aliona jived wonderfully OTT to Jerry Lee; whereas the inspired Kristina finally channelled Jason’s passion for work into passion for expression and achieved a perfect 40.

My only doubts about the show were two crass misjudgements that followed one upon the other; each involved and I suspect affected Chelsee. Although pretty much impeccably professional throughout, Bruce decided to tell a patronisingly unfunny, unkind joke at Chelsee’s expense before her last dance. Worse was to follow when on large screens visible to the Blackpool audience and dancers alike some BBC ‘hype it up’ jerk decided that was the moment to picture Chelsee’s prematurely deceased dad to milk a few more tears out of the audience. What this surprisingly insecure, immensely likable young woman made of that I can’t imagine: but it was stupid and unnecessary.

The first half saw Kristina and Jason eliminated after perhaps the performance of the night with a Quick Step based Show dance that had Kristina literally fizzing with sexy energy and dragging Jason into the zone with her, finally clad in about one tenth of the dress she started with. When my wife said she’d better not go any further, I must confess dear reader I demurred. That they were voted off after this show-stopper may have had more to do with voting demographics than anything else – Jason was the oldest competitor left.

In the dance-off Harry’s perfectly timed and tenderly performed romantic Viennese Waltz based American Smooth just edged Chelsee’s still impressive Rumba. A stunning Argentine tango with so much passion even Len finally got it, sealed the result despite Chelsee’s fast and furious Quick Step.

So it is all over fellow addicts. It is unseasonal to have to go Cold Turkey on Strictly just as the weather chills – especially as the Christmas Special is always a kind of pastiche of a pastiche though should be enlivened by the latest delicious conjunction of Flavia’s Choreography and Russell’s chutzpah.

I guess everyone’s moment of this year’s series was Wembley, Russell and that bloody canon. Dance-wise I find myself remembering a number of Holly and Artem’s risky adventurous efforts, especially the one based on Swan Lake and an Argentine Tango of superb class and style. Holly was in the end beaten by the banality of a body shape that while beautiful could not move fast enough or sharply enough to meet the more exacting aesthetic demands of some dances.

I can see Fred Astaire, as well as iconically doing all the ballroom dances; excelling at the rumba and the tangos. Gene Kelly the same. It is hard to visualise either having a go at the lighter Latins of Salsa, Samba or Cha Cha Cha without playing it for laughs with a bowl of fruit on their heads. That Harry and in her very different way Chelsee, have excelled at every dance in the book, both starting from scratch, and performing all of them live with no editing back-up has been vastly impressive to watch.

It doesn’t make Harry an Astaire or a Kelly, or Chelsee a Ginger Rodgers; but in sharing a dedication to hard work, commitment to perfection or as near as they can get, and delivering live performances with such assurance and courage I can see in my mind’s eye a couple of the world’s best known and most loved popular dancers nodding their heads with approval and saying “welcome to the club – you’ve earned it.” Moments of magic for memory to cherish.

 

 

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