Strictly: The Live Tour at Wembley Arena 20.01.14

With glitterball looming large over the dancefloor,Strictly‘s annual quickstep through the country is now in its seventh sequinned year, and with newly choreographed routines from Burn The Floor‘s Jason Gilkison, this bandwagon shows no sign of stopping.

Several years ago, tired of its schmaltzy scripted episodes that bordered on the cringey, odd couples and mismatched pairings I had vowed solemnly never to support such an endeavour again. Perhaps director and judge Craig Revel Horwood felt the same, as this year’s Wembley performance was a revitalised powerhouse brimming with treats for all lovers of dance. It boasted the most recent series’ show-stopping routines and original partnerships, featuring the three female finalists and dazzling choreography in the professional numbers.

New hostess Lisa Riley is joined by an all-male judging panel who, by now, all have finely honed critiques of the routines they are about to see, complete with all the usual innuendos and alliteration. Needless to say there are jokes for young and old.

The standout performance of the night was, of course, Natalie Gumede and Artem Chigvintsev’s much anticipated and until now unseen jive, which didn’t disappoint. Full of sharpness and precision but remaining a lot of fun, it included some of Gilkison’s signature “Proud Mary” moves – it was crowd-pleasing stuff with the applause nearly as big as Natalie’s hair.

The pair were voted winners on this particular evening in the audience text vote and it was heartening to see Natalie receive the support she sadly lacked on the show.

There was, as well, the forgotten brilliance of Nicky Byrne and Karen Hauer’s Charleston. Even a Strictly fanatic such as myself found my memory of the routine in the 2012 series was more than a little hazy, but with some challenging lifts showcasing Karen’s delightfully quirky side, this was the surprise of the night.

Another audience favourite was Susanna Reid and Kevin Clifton’s paso doble. They have performed this routine numerous times by now, but it hasn’t lost any of its intensity or impact. Susanna cuts a tiny but powerful figure with her technical ability growing all the time.

js31295091-6525203Professional routines were heavily Latin-based thanks to the input of former Latin champion Jason, but no one was complaining as they included a dramatic paso doble and a “Candyman” jive complete with giant lollipops, sticks of rock and the male professionals in bejewelled tie-dye costume – classic Strictly. I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for partnerless Natalie Lowe who did a sterling job in these dynamic pro dances with her fantastic energy and long limbs. My eye was always drawn to her and it was sad to see her underused.

The Strictly tour still remains an evening of high camp, scripted jokes, staged silliness and a result that lacks tension (as much as they try!), but under Craig’s direction it has certainly mastered giving the audience what they want with a combination of technical dancing interspersed with some comic relief. It’s not a groundbreaking formula, but everyone is more than happy to relive the Strictlyhighlights of the year gone by.

First published in Dance Today – February 2014

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