BWW INTERVIEWS: Anton Du Beke

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BWW INTERVIEWS: Anton Du Beke

You and your professional dance partner Erin Boag are doing your show, Cheek to Cheek, at the Coliseum - what a fantastic venue.

Isn't it marvellous? I am really excited - Erin as well - because the premise of the show when we started it was to do "An Evening With..." - an intimate evening with Erin and me, doing what we do, proper dancing with a wonderful orchestra. We wanted to make it lush, and for people to sit there and say, "Isn't it lovely?" Wonderful music, a 30-piece orchestra, Erin and me dancing, a bit of chat, just that sort of stuff. And now we've ended up at the Coliseum! It'll be slightly more tricky to retain intimacy. It does give us the opportunity to swing out and dance properly. We've toured the show around the country, and it's been successful - well, people clap and the houses are full, so I presume that's successful. It's whether they ask you back - that's how I gauge my success. In those venues, it's been marvellous, but the stage has been a bit small. Here, we won't have that problem.

What can we expect from your show, then?

Me in a tailsuit. "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I have a tailsuit." That's it, really! No, it's going to be us doing what we do. We'll be dancing. It'll be familiar tunes, wonderful music, a lovely singer, Chris Marques and Jaclyn Spencer. It's been very well-received, and the audiences have been great. I don't know if the London audience will be any different, or more difficult to please. The people who come to the show are fans of Strictly, or of ballroom dancing, and it's nice inasmuch as you get something a bit different. I like the intimacy; I like that we chat. In the second half we do a Q&A, which is fun.

Do you get the same questions coming up?

You do. You get lots of the same questions. It's lovely, though. People are really into it - where do you get your outfits from, who's your ideal partner, what colour is your underwear? I hope it works here. It's worked in the other venues - we've done the Symphony Hall in Birmingham, the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow, the Sage in Gateshead, the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, the Pavilion down in Plymouth, the De Montfort in Leicester, Fairfield Halls in Croydon, even! Just all over the place.

How did it transmogrify from something on a relatively small scale to this Coliseum show?

We were guests for the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and during their show they had a section of swing and a big band section - they thought it'd be quite nice if they got a well-known dancing couple to come along. We were talking about it, and it was selling all right, and suddenly when we got attached to it, it sold out. I don't mean to say that we're marvellous box office, but it shows the appeal of Strictly - it could have been any of us, it could have been Darren and Lilia [Darren Bennett and Lilia Kopylova], or Ian and Camilla [Ian Waite and Camilla Dallerup]. So as soon as the promoters heard about this, the bulbs went off in their heads, and we got a tour. We've got a 30-piece orchestra, we've got a singer, Richard Shelton, and Chris and Jaclyn who'll do some Latin numbers, and we do a couple of ensemble pieces, all four of us. It's nice.

And now you're part of the Spring Dance season here at the Coliseum.

That was added on at the end. The tour sold out, and it's an opportunity to do something different.

Have you had chance to see any of the other shows?

I haven't - we've been busy with the tour. I'd like to have seen all of them, really.

I saw Swan Lake here a few weeks ago.

And how was that?

I liked it - I'm not an expert on ballet, but it was so pretty!

But that's all you need to know. Did it look nice? Then that's all you need to know. Anyone who tells you that you need to know more than that needs a poke in the eye with a blunt stick. There is nothing more to it. You don't need to know the ins and outs. You just need to know if it moves you. Did I feel anything? Did I have a nice time? Did I hate it? There's really no more to it than that. If you had a brilliantly moving experience and you sobbed all the way through because it was so tear-jerkingly wonderful, even better. If you didn't, it's OK. I get grumpy with people who make it more than it is. Dance, art, whatever you want to call it, is what it is. It's something going on in front of you that you watch, and either enjoy or you don't. You don't have to define it.

When you dance with celebrities on Strictly, you do seem as if you think the important thing is for them to enjoy what they're doing and try their best.

It's the only thing I ask of a partner. The thing about Strictly is that you don't have any time. People either grasp something quickly or they grasp it slowly. If you're with someone who gets it quickly, you're in luck. If you're with someone who gets it slowly, you're out of luck. It's as simple as that. You can't force someone to learn something more quickly. You can use better techniques to get your point across. You can improve your teaching technique. My motto is "Find a better way". If you can't get it by what I'm doing, I'll find another way. But at the end of the day, you're only as quick as you are. You either have an ability to do it or you don't. That's it.

Do you ever get frustrated?

No, not really. You've got to take a pragmatic view about this. You haven't got a lot of time. What you don't want them to do is hate the experience. Then they won't get it. If you love it, you've got more chance of getting it, and that's important. It's a wonderful experience. There are people on the street who'd give their right arm to do Strictly. It's like holing a putt at the Masters. Only a select few people get to do that. Scoring the cup final goal - that's what Strictly is. I love golf. I'm quite good at it. I'll never play at the Masters. I can't tell you how upsetting that is. And people feel that about dancing - even good dancers. If somebody comes out and says it's a nightmare, or doesn't take it seriously, or doesn't appreciate the opportunity they've got - just don't do it. Don't do it because you want to buy a kitchen.

Was it strange for you to go into doing TV presenting, not dancing, and without Erin?

Not really. I take the same attitude as I do when I'm dancing. I give it the same gusto. Dancing is really, really hard. If you can do it well at a high level, then you take that application for everything else. If it works for dancing, it'll work well for anything else in life. Nothing is as hard as dancing.

Erin's nicknamed Miss Whiplash on the show. Is she really that scary?

She's very determined!

Does she get annoyed with you being laidback?

I'm not laidback. I'm a mentalist. I'm a nightmare. It's just that I won't get grumpy with a celebrity on Strictly Come Dancing if they can't dance very well. It's not what they do. It's difficult. It's like saying to me, "Why don't you bungee-jump off the north face of the Eiger?" I don't like heights. It ain't gonna happen. I will get grumpy if I'm dancing with a professional dancer who's dancing badly, because it's their job. I will get grumpy with Erin if she's being rubbish, and that's as it should be, and vice versa - very much vice versa! I will get grumpy if someone doesn't come up to expectations if it's their job.

But you don't see that side of you on the television.

That's because I'm not in a situation like that! It's just your job to be something, so as long as you do that, then do it.

Last series, you were annoyed to be knocked out so early [Anton was partnering actress Gillian Taylforth, and they were eliminated in the first week of the female celebrities' competition].

I wasn't annoyed, I was disappointed. The ironic thing was that Gillian wasn't too bad, it was just that all the girls were good. If she was a fella, she'd have made it through, because the boys were terrible apart from a couple. It's difficult in the early rounds of Strictly now. You're only up against the girls or the boys, so you halve the chances of going through. There are so many of them now. It was a long series - perhaps slightly too long with 16 couples. I think a dozen is enough, 14 at a push. I don't like the separation of the couples at the beginning. I do love it whatever. I don't mind if I make it to Christmas or if I don't.

How do you find out which celebrity you've got?

As is. As you see on the telly. You open the door, and they're there. That's exactly how it happens. That's my favourite bit.

As you pros are getting more and more famous in your own right, do you think that there's a danger of you overshadowing your celebrity partners?

The show is designed to be all about the celebrities. As long as you know your place, you're all right. I don't mind. I enjoy doing the show, and it's all about them. I've got nothing to prove about myself as a dancer. If I wasn't any good, I wouldn't be there. That's just my attitude about it.

What will be the next project?

After that, I don't know. World domination, perhaps. Who knows? More of the same. I'd like to do something next year. I've always wanted to do some theatre - Chicago is one that I'd like to do. I'd like to do another book. I'd like to do an album of dancing music - not just a random album, but music to dance to. People ask me for songs to dance to, so I thought I'd do an album of tracks, with some duets with the guys from the Strictly band, maybe Brucie if he wants to do it, just some pals. It's all fun stuff that you never thought you would be able to do.

I guess when you started dancing professionally you never thought you'd be on television and a celebrity yourself.

No, you're quite right. I didn't know how competitive ballroom dancing would transcend into anything else. The lines were very firmly drawn. There was no correlation between what we did and telly. I wanted to do a musical movie; I wanted to do Singin' In the Rain; I wanted to be like Fred Astaire. They don't make those movies any more, so that was never going to happen. I thought maybe I could do some theatre, but I didn't know how that was going to happen. Then Strictly came along and changed the world. It's a funny old phenomenon, when you think about it. It's successful because it's brilliant. Dancing is a fabulous thing.

* Following a request, this article was edited on Thursday April 16 at 2pm (GMT) 

 

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Carrie Dunn Carrie is the UK editor-in-chief for BroadwayWorld. After spending her formative years reading books and ending up with a Masters degree in English literature from King's College London, it was inevitable that Carrie should be a journalist. Her pure and simple delight in the art-form of musical theatre led to the Guardian asking her to be their West End Girl. Since then, she's picked up a PhD, and also written for many other UK publications, including the Times and the Independent. She has many eclectic loves, including sport, karaoke, reality television, MMORPGs, three-volume Victorian novels, the British seaside, embroidery and Veronica Mars.


 

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