Strictly Prom review: “As dazzling as the dancing was, it didn’t outshine the orchestra”

Last night Katie Derham and six Strictly Come Dancing pros danced up a storm at the Royal Albert Hall

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Yes, there is a glitterball hanging from the ceiling of the Royal Albert Hall.

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The traditionalists who squawked with outrage when they first heard of the Strictly Prom — or Prom 8 (b minor) as they’d prefer to call it — will be spitting marabou feathers at the thought.

But if you want to widen the opportunities for people to engage with the Proms — as new Proms director David Pickard wishes —  it can’t all be modernist music in concrete car parks in Peckham (see Proms at… Bold Tendencies Multi-Storey Car Park). You have to embrace the populist. And what could be more popular than BBC1’s Saturday night ratings-winner Strictly Come Dancing?

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Giovanni Pernice, Janette Manrara, Kevin Clifton, Aljaz Skorjanec and Joanne Clifton dance at the Strictly Prom

Does this mean that the BBC Concert Orchestra and conductor Gavin Sutherland were slathered in fake tan and clothed in sequins? Not quite. The Prom may use the Strictly brand but it’s no shiny-floor show. Yes, there is dancing, from Strictly professionals Joanne Clifton, Giovanni Pernice, Janette Manrara, Aljaz Skorjanec, Karen Clifton and Kevin Clifton, alongside host and 2015 finalist Katie Derham — yet it does not take precedence over the music.

If you were expecting two hours of hot footwork, you were always going to be disappointed. The point of the concert is to illustrate how classical music has been inspired by dance music, and how dance can bend different forms to its own devices. So while you’d expect to hear the music of the Strauss family in connection with the waltz, and Johann II’s Fledermaus overture does feature, it’s more unexpected music that accompanies the dancing of two waltzes.

Erik Satie’s lyrically melancholy Gymnopédie No 1 was the backing for a beautiful slow waltz by Joanne Clifton and Giovanni Pernice, while Katie Derham and Aljaz’s spectacular Viennese was accompanied by an arrangement of Elvis Presley’s closing number from his 68 Comeback Special, If I Can Dream. It was quite a varied programme.

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Katie Derham and Aljaz Skorjanec dance at the Strictly Prom 

There were huge, crowd-pleasing moments, from the opening when the rousing overture to Jule Styne’s musical Gypsy saw the dancers take to what looked like a rather small stage space in front of the orchestra from all around the auditorium, to a celebratory finale that saw all the dancers on stage performing to a medley from Irving Berlin’s Top Hat and an explosion of confetti raining down from the ceiling.

The biggest audience reaction, and the closest the night came to fulfilling Katie Derham’s hope that there would be dancing in the aisles, was when Karen and Kevin Clifton performed a scintillating samba to Ary Barroso’s irresistibly catchy Aquarela do Brasil. You may not recognise the name, but you’ll recognise the tune – think of a samba tune and Aquarela is what’s in your head.

Perhaps there wasn’t dancing among the audience because this crowd of prommers seemed transfixed by the music. Which must surely prove the worth of the concert. Yes, people turned out because of the Strictly brand, and Katie Derham kept reminding us of the link with amusing anecdotes from her time on the show, but ultimately it was for the music they stayed.

As dazzling as the dancing was, it didn’t outshine the playing of the orchestra — not even the glitterball could do that.

While it may not have been the most complex or demanding of programmes, you can only say to those audience members for whom this was an introduction to the world’s greatest festival of classical music, “Keeeeep Promming!”

You can listen to the Strictly Prom and all this week’s Proms on the BBC website

Win tickets to the John Wilson PromWilson and his orchestra are among the Proms’ sell out stars. We have two tickets to give away to his concert on Saturday August 13 celebrating the music of George and Ira Gershwin. Click here to enter

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