With the original Strictly spin off, Strictly Come Dancing Live! Now in its ninth year, the pressure is increasingly on producer Craig Revel Horwood to entice dance fans back year after year. However from the moment new host Mel Giedroyc emerges from a giant cake and welcomes us to ‘The Great British Dance Off’ the audience knows the next two hours will remedy any winter blues.
The 2016 tour has a strong line-up in terms of dance talent featuring 2015 contestants, Helen George, Georgia-May Foote, Anita Rani and ever popular winner, Jay McGuinness. They are joined by 2014 contestants Frankie Bridge and Jake Wood and light relief is provided in the form of charismatic tryer Ainsley Harriot.
Having witnessed the majority of past Strictly tours, it was refreshing to see so many original partnerships intact and many of showstoppers from the last two series featuring; Georgia’s Charleston, Jake’s Salsa and of course Jay’s Jive are all present and correct and best of all they are performed with ease having been perfected night after night at previous venues before finally arriving in London.
Unlike past tours, the couples perform their favourite two routines, regardless of whether they are ballroom or Latin American. As expected, the Latin routines transfer well; Jake’s Salsa with those dramatic drops with Janette’s head is a fast-paced crowd pleaser, just as Jay’s Pulp Fiction Jive, turning flick ball changes et all closes the evening leaving the audience euphoric. However in such a setting, the Ballroom numbers feel a little show and pedestrian, Helen George is undeniably an elegant and talented ballroom dancer but after a couple of dynamic opening numbers a Viennese Waltz feels like too much of a gear change.
Other highlights include Anita Rani’s Pasodoble and Ghost themed Viennese Waltz, the latter of which of course features the much mimicked ‘rampant crab’ move and is met with cheers and applause by the delighted audience. Anita is not only impressive thanks to partner Gleb Savchenko’s choreography but she is one of the only complete beginners here to take on the challenge of Strictly and has no problem matching the likes of Helen and Jay with their stage school training.
Each act is topped and tailed with an energetic group number, the pedantic Strictly fans amongst the Wembley audience will have observed that many of these were rehashes of group dances featured on the television show earlier in the year. Repetition or not, the Hooray for Hollywood number is hugely entertaining.
Despite the occasional unevenness in performances, Mel Giedroyc keeps the whole operation rolling along seamlessly, bringing much needed Claudia Winkleman style self-deprecation. Another highlight is her recreation of Gleb’s above mentioned crab move, something she’s reluctant to do as she reveals some unflattering surgical socks underneath her glittery trainers before surrendering to crowd pressure. Combine this with scripted banter from Craig, Len and Bruno, all of whom are permitted to be slightly more lewd than at tea time on a Saturday and you begin to build up a picture of this feel-good evening, you’d be hard pressed to leave without a smile on your face.
First published in Dancing Times – March 2016