How Strictly Come Dancing will still sparkle with social distancing

Quarantining dancers in hotel for £10,000 a day, make-up artists in PPE and bare-bones crew with no entourage: How post-lockdown Strictly Come Dancing will still sparkle with social distancing

Break out the sequins, Strictly is set to return to our screens — but it won’t be as we know it.

Rehearsals have started — the dancers are pre-recording their big numbers — and they are quarantining in a hotel in Elstree, Herts, before the official launch of the show in late September.

Meanwhile, contracts are being finalised with celebrity contestants who will be asked to ‘bubble’ with their dance partners for the duration of the series.

It will be shorter — nine weeks instead of the normal 13 — and quieter, with no live audience to clap and boo, and no Bruno Tonioli in person — he’ll be dialling in from Los Angeles for the first five weeks.

Strictly Come Dancing rehearsals have started and the dancers are pre-recording their big numbers before the official launch of the show in late September

The BBC’s head of entertainment, Kate Phillips, said: ‘Strictly absolutely is coming back. It is a slightly shorter run but, apart from that, I don’t think it will be a lesser show at all.

‘If anything, I think this series will be rather special.’

But will it still sparkle? And will the ‘Strictly Curse’ pose as big a threat as Covid-19?

ALISON BOSHOFF has the lowdown . . .

A bubble of trust 

Executives investigated the possibility of quarantining all dancers, celebs, judges, presenters and crew in a hotel ‘biosphere’ together .

This is what The Great British Bake Off did earlier this summer, with 120 cast, crew and bakers all holing up together at an Essex hotel.

The BBC team are thought to have considered the idea, but shelved it due to the prohibitive cost — up to £5 million for 12 weeks — probably to the relief of spouses, worried about the opportunities for illicit liaisons.

Instead, each pairing of a dancer and a celebrity will ‘bubble’ together. 

‘They will bubble as if they are a household and will dance and practise together during the day and then go back to their homes or to a hotel, depending on where they are from,’ says a source.

Every judge and dancer will be tested frequently and they’ve been told not to mix with anyone who has not been Covid-19 checked. 

Judge Bruno Tonioli says: ‘We have to take responsibility for our own actions.’

THE £275,000 HOOFERS’ QUARANTINE

Strictly dancers including reigning champ Oti Mabuse have been seen arriving at The Manor in Elstree, Hertfordshire, a historic hotel which stands on the site of an old Tudor house dating back to 1540.

The hotel is set in ten acres of gardens and was a private country club in the Thirties. 

The front door was previously part of the dungeons in Lewes Castle, and some of the wood in the entrance hall is said to come from ships involved in the battle of the Spanish Armada.

Previous guests include actors Tom Cruise, Peter Sellers and John Cleese.

There are 49 rooms, and the hotel has been block booked — a notice on its website says: ‘The hotel will be closed for an exclusive booking from Monday, August 24 until Sunday, September, 20, 2020. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.’

The dancers — Aljaž Škorjanec, Amy Dowden, Anton Du Beke, Dianne Buswell, Giovanni Pernice, Gorka Márquez, Graziano Di Prima, Janette Manrara, Johannes Radebe, Karen Hauer, Katya Jones, Luba Mushtuk, Nadiya Bychkova, Nancy Xu, Neil Jones and Oti Mabuse — will quarantine here for two weeks before pre-recording all their group dance routines for the entire nine-week series.

A source said: ‘The dancers are isolating so that they will count as one house- hold. They are rehearsing in a huge marquee space where the hotel often holds weddings.

‘After 14 days, they will be able to go to Elstree studios and film the group dances.’

A physiotherapist and a couple of choreographers are also staying at the Manor, but not the hair and make-up team or the rest of the production crew.

Bed and breakfast plus dinner costs from £200 a night, meaning that it may be costing the Beeb £9,800 a day, or £275,000 over the required period.

Sources indicate that once the dancers have finished and gone home, the hotel will be used to do recorded segments, promotional shoots with celebrities and for costume fittings, too.

Strictly dancers have been seen arriving at The Manor in Elstree, Hertfordshire, a historic hotel which stands on the site of an old Tudor house dating back to 1540

For the first five weeks, Bruno Tonioli will film comments from Los Angeles to be shown in the results show and not deliver a mark for the contestants, before returning to the UK 

MOTSI’S BIG COMMUTE

Last year, new judge Motsi Mabuse decided to commute to London each week from her home in Germany, where she lives with husband Evgenij Voznyuk. 

She said at the time: ‘I have to travel because I have a little baby and I really don’t want to stress her, so it’s better to stress me.’

She will continue to commute but plans to move to London if there is a realistic prospect of Germany going into lockdown.

MASKS, SCREENS . . . OR NEITHER?

The German version of Strictly — Let’s Dance — was filmed when the pandemic was raging this spring. Motsi is also a judge on that show. 

There was no audience and the judges sat behind a desk with Perspex screens between them.

Celebrities under wraps 

As rumours circulate, the celebrity line-up is still secret. There have been reported ‘no thank yous’ from Brooklyn Beckham, 21, actresses Michelle Keegan and Tamzin Outhwaite and singer Jessie J. Fitness coach Joe Wicks has denied having signed up.

Apparently the money on offer is capped at £60,000, and the BBC is struggling to tempt celebs out of lockdown with such a sum. 

However, Made In Chelsea star Jamie Laing, who was due to compete last year but had to drop out after a foot injury, looks certain to return. 

Also hotly tipped is Westlife singer Mark Feehily, who may be part of the show’s first same-sex dance partnership. Others in the frame include weatherman Owain Wyn Evans, YouTube star Riyadh Khalaf and Sunday Brunch presenter Tim Lovejoy.

Interior designer Kelly Hoppen has considered an offer and former Coronation Street actress Lucy Fallon is said to be keen to take part.

This year, stars will be matched with dancers on the basis of height, rather than taking part in the famous ‘chemistry circle’ where celebrities swap partners. The first celebrity contestants will be revealed next week.

The professional dancers and celebrities danced in hold without face masks, as is the plan for the British series.

However, a BBC source says it is possible that a screen could be used for the judges — Craig Revel Horwood, Motsi Mabuse and Shirley Ballas — but that the set is still being designed.

No one on camera will wear a mask: not the judges, presenters, celebrities or dancers.

Presenters Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman will keep a distance from each other and the competitors.

This week, Daly, 51, shared a photograph on Instagram of her and co-star Winkleman recording a ‘Best of Strictly’ special show — seated some way from each other. 

She wrote: ‘Dreamy being reunited with @claudiawinkle today for some (socially distanced) filming for our ‘Best Of’ Strictly shows — on TV in September.’

STILL DANCING CHEEK TO CHEEK

Because the dancers and celebs are ‘bubbling’ together, they will still partner as normal — without the need for masks — sequinned or otherwise.

Judge Bruno said: ‘The hold is a huge part of the routine. No one will wear masks because everyone will be tested regularly.’

BBC boss Kate Phillips said: ‘I’d say Strictly is probably the hardest show to do in the current circumstances — a live weekly show that relies on body contact.

‘Having said that, I think studios have really risen to the challenge and there’s that old line, necessity is the mother of invention.

‘I would say that across all the entertainment shows, we’re seeing constant good ideas and surprising ways of working to overcome the challenges.’

SO WILL IT BE MAKE-UP IN PPE?

Kate Phillips said the corporation is having to ‘look at how hair, make-up and costume will work backstage’.

Sources say dancers and contestants will have access to professional make-up artists, led by Ant McPartlin’s ex-wife, Lisa Armstrong. 

The make-up artists will, though, have to wear PPE. Bruno says he is ready to do his own make-up, though he won’t be in London initially.

LET THE MUSIC PLAY, DAVE

It wouldn’t be Strictly without director of music Dave Arch and his band playing live for the performances, as they have done since 2006. The band features up to 15 musicians, including three trumpets, two trombones and three woodwind/saxophones, as well as four vocalists.

No one on camera will wear a mask and presenters Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman (above) will keep a distance from each other and the competitors during filming

The celebrity line-up is still secret but interior designer Kelly Hoppen (above) has considered an offer and former Coronation Street actress Lucy Fallon is said to be keen to take part

There are strict social distancing regulations for indoor musical performances.

Sources say Arch will be ‘pretty much in the same place’ as normal in the studio, as will the band, but that his singers will probably have to stand further apart from each other, or be separated by screens.

BARE-BONES CREW AND NO ENTOURAGE

There will be a smaller crew than usual, and less elaborate staging and sets. It’s said the aim is to have 75 per cent fewer people on set than usual. 

Bruno’s on his own 

Bruno Tonioli, 64, generally flies to Los Angeles and back every week for eight weeks during the Strictly run as he is also a judge on the U.S. version of the show (where he is paid £1.5 million a series, compared with £250,000 from the BBC, making the permanent jet lag worth it).

This year, travel is impossible, so for the first five weeks Bruno will film comments to be shown in the results show and not deliver a mark for the contestants.

He said: ‘I won’t be part of the main show giving scores as I’m not in the studio. That would be unfair — you have to be there to do that.

‘They are sending me a link featuring all the dances which I’ll watch and then give my opinions for the results show.

‘I’ll leave the scores for the three other judges — they know what they’re doing.’

He will then fly to the UK and return to the panel for the semi-finals and final after quarantining for two weeks. The judges will all sit a socially distanced two metres apart, just as the Loose Women panellists do.

 

Celebrities — including pop singers who record a performance for the Sunday results show — will be told they cannot bring an entourage.

Some singers may pre-record their performances several weeks in advance, as setting up the stage for them will take longer with fewer crew. 

A source said: ‘There will be no agents hanging around, no friends or family members. It will be basic crew and talent on set.’ 

As for the live audience, the BBC has said it is ‘impossible’ to have an audience, but this week Kate Phillips said she is hoping to have a small audience in the studio. 

A final decision will be taken nearer the time.

WHY LESS WILL MEAN MORE

There will be fewer episodes of the show than usual. 

Last year, Strictly started airing on September 21, but this year it won’t come to the screens until October 24. 

The final will be on December 19 after an overall nine-week run, rather than the usual 13.

As a result there will be fewer celebrity contestants, and the two landmarks of Halloween and Blackpool will come earlier in the run. 

There was talk that Blackpool, which is filmed at the legendary Tower Ballroom, may be scrapped due to the pandemic, but at the moment — local lockdowns permitting — the plan is to go ahead as normal.

The shorter run is partly in order to minimise risks and quarantining, and partly to allow for as much as possible to be pre-recorded in order to keep the Elstree studio working.

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