Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Politics of Dancing: Eurovision Dance Contest 2008 review

The second annual Eurovision Dance Contest took place at the SECC in Glasgow on Saturday night.
I've done a few rather blurry screencaps to illustrate this review, it's not the easiest thing in the world to photograph dancers !!

The hosts were Graham Norton (oh just go on and give him the Wogan Eurovision gig why don’t you, BBC) and Claudia Winkleman (one of the many annoying British TV-females who shamble along in a consistently embarrassing fashion.) Her dress was also shockingly wrong - we couldn’t decide if she was either a descendant of the hunchback of Notre Dame, or she was ready to go into labour. Thankfully she changed into a better dress later on for the voting.

The pre-song postcards were very good too, featuring a bit of background about each pro-celebrity dance couple. The rules this year had changed, as every couple had to have a professional dancer and a non-professional. Some non-professionals were very 'professional' indeed though - we were impressed by the standard tonight.

Firstly, Sweden, represented by Danny Saucedo and his partner Jeanette (pictured above). A good start, although in places Danny appeared curiously static in their dance to "Hung Up". First on is a poor draw position though, and this was maybe reflected in the holding-back score of 31 from the neutral international jury.

Incidentally, I wish the contestants’ names had been displayed on screen and not just their countries!

Austria next (pictured above) with a musical and dancing mixed bag ranging from The Third Man to You Can’t Touch This. They were good fun though, and he kept up that deadpan humour all night, even to those interviews in the green room. 21 points from the jury - no wonder he was deadpan.

On to Denmark, OMG it’s the Twin Peaks theme!! It’s those trousers and bare feet from the lyrical routines on "So You Think You Can Dance" but although that’s not my type of dancing, they were excellent. So fast that they're a blur! (see above) Best so far. The jury thought so too, awarding 48 points.

Britain’s TV commentators were Craig Revel Horwood and Len Goodman from the "Strictly Come Dancing" panel. At this point their commentary was irritating me as much as Ms Winkleman’s frock, but as the night went on I quite enjoyed some of their biting sarcasm.

Newcomers Azerbaijan - with the first professional male dancer of the night - made their mark with a routine to "Phantom of the Opera" and had the ultimate publicity stunt as he proposed to her following their dance which got 42 points from the jury.

Ireland gave us a Riverdance-fusion routine spoiled by awful music which didn’t go with the dancing. 29 points from the jury, which was about right I guess.

Last year’s inaugural winners Finland came back with that most Finnish of dances - the tango, which is a national speciality in that northern country. However, the actress/dancer combination performed well but it was a bit too clinical and lacking in passion. 34 points awarded.

The Netherlands provided a twist. He’s a singer, and he’s singing "Angels" instead. Or at least a bit of it. He was a little static though, and the jury wasn’t too impressed either - 28 points.

Lithuania - the female half of the duo was the first of many to go down the Bucks Fizz route (i.e. Taking off one garment to reveal another) This was a routine of two halves, with the second half being more rewarding. She was good though for a non-professional.

Revel Horwood: "I didn’t like it (the gimmick)" Goodman: "A lot of people don’t like you!"
The jury liked it though: 42 points.

And so to Royaume-Uni, represented by Louisa Lytton and Vincent Simone (pictured above). I’m not being patriotic but I thought they were excellent in their sharp, speedy and dramatic routine to Lee Mead’s version of "Paint It Black". They also went down the dress-ripping Bucks Fizz route. They were undermarked - no, make that robbed - by the jury, I thought. It deserved much more than 34 points.

Next, Russia. Just the mere presence of Russia would be enough of course to guarantee a high placing. Cynical, moi? They were very good though - she’s an ex-Olympic figure skating champion. However I didn’t like their music and the whole thing was a bit overloaded, all drama and throwing their arms around. Commentator "Uncle Len" didn’t like it, but the jury did - 42 points.

I’m not sure if the people of Greece would be too happy to have two Aussies representing them, although I suppose it doesn't really matter - half of the British couple was Italian after all! Like most of the acts it was a bit of a fusion of styles, and I thought it lacked cohesion however the jury liked them and gave them 44. Goodman: "Never trust a man with a sequinned tattoo".

The Portuguese couple looked very nice and danced a dramatic and skilful routine. She’s a fado singer incidentally. Horwood was grumpy about this, but I thought they were undermarked - only 30 - and there was the odd boo heard from the crowd in response to this low mark.

Poland were in with a good chance with their crowd-pleasing routine dancing to Michael Jackson’s "Black or White". Another dress-rip routine. They were very good and the jury thought so too - 40 marks - but best of the night? I didn’t think so. You couldn't write them off though - and dancing second from last was a dream draw.

Finally, Ukraine. She was a gymnast and it showed. Yet another crowd-pleasing routine - a mix of jive and folk (!) They both looked as if they were having fun. Revel Horwood: "too cheesy and open-gobbed".

Following all the dances there was a behind-the-scenes feature which showed Glasgow off very well, and there was another chance to see all of the dancers perform in a group number before the voting started.

The interval act was a good opporunity to go off and do something else. Was Lesley Garrett and the ensemble cast of "Carousel" the best that the Beeb could do? Definitely not my taste - I’d have preferred if, say, they’d got the Joseph and Maria finalists for a medley of musical theatre hits.

On with the voting. I had hoped that the combination of a professional jury system (awarding 25% of the final mark) combined with a reduced number of competitors (14 countries) would maybe help to avoid the neighbour/diaspora voting which has dragged the song contest down in recent years.

Despite Denmark’s top marks from the jury, they soon dropped from the top of the scoreboard once the public voting began, which brought some predictable scoring, e.g.:

Sweden: 12 to Finland.
Azerbaijan: 12 to Ukraine.
Ireland (wasn’t that Brian Ormond from Pop Idol 2 giving the votes?): 12 to Poland.
Finland: 12 to Russia. (Goodman: "I’ll never set foot in Finland again!")

And so on. By 10.00 pm Poland were running - or should I say dancing - away with it. Carol Smillie - herself an ex-Strictly Come Dancing contestant - delivered the UK vote which predictably threw 12 points at Poland, and subsequent votes from other juries delivered the Polish couple victory.

Yes they were good, but you can only wonder if their high votes across Europe could be attributed to the Polish migrant workers’ communities across the continent, who may just have realised the power of the diaspora vote. If that is indeed the case - everyone will have their own view on the matter - then, possibly, get ready for a Polish victory at next year’s ESC.

Don’t think this is sour grapes - I’m not in the business of sour grapes when it comes to any of these contests, and was watching Saturday's show as a determinedly neutral Eurocentric viewer - but it only leaves a bad taste when something as non-political as singing and now dancing becomes an international political barometer of who your friends and neighbours are. Have a look at the final scoreboard (above): the ‘Western’ countries are now firmly in the "no one likes us" camp.

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