Our comments section following last year’s event reiterated the importance of staging, as fiveleaves noted just after the final. A return look at 2011 winner ‘Running Scared’ reveals a rather weaker song than I had remembered, but it was extremely well presented.
So, with rehearsals about to begin for the 2012 edition, here’s a look at some of the best and worst examples of staging in recent years between comparable songs. It might give us a few reminders about what works and what doesn’t – before this year’s entrants show us what they’ve come up with.
Song Type: The Upbeat Fan Favourite
Best Practice: Sweden 2006 – Carola ‘Invincible’
Bad Practice: Hungary 2011 – Kati Wolf ‘What About My Dreams?’
Here we have two songs that spend the first verse building anticipation for the hands-in-the-air schlager anthems to follow.
Carola, a former Eurovision winner, is a true professional on stage, ensuring eye contact with every camera shot, working the stage with purpose, able to move and sing well at the same time. Kati, on the other hand, is far more static throughout. When she does move in the final thirty seconds, it feels much more aimless, which is compounded by the long camera shots involved.
Now compare how each performance makes use of the backing team on stage. Carola’s enter with purpose using the big visual statement of the flags. These nicely mimic the fluttering gown Carola wore for the first minute, which both make use of the full-on wind machine Sweden have deployed. There are some nice co-ordinated moments between the dancers and Carola, especially after the second chorus and for the final flourish. Overall, there is a great sense of movement.
Instead of flags, Hungary’s backing dancers have the visual gimmick of wearing, erm, light thingies on their hooded outfits. Their moves are far more removed from both Kati and the song itself. They are static for the song’s most uplifting final part. There is no sense of coordination between the singer and dancers at all. The backing singers are not vocally that strong. Overall there is a very limited sense of movement.
Sure, it’s hilarious how Carola’s unruly lips quiver in the face of a sixty-knot gale, and the whole effect is ridiculously sparkly, but there’s no doubting that the Swedish team knew exactly what it was doing at every moment of presenting this song. On the other hand, it felt like the Hungarians were at a complete loss about how to stage their number effectively.
Song Type: Ethno Drama
Best Practice: Greece 2011 – Loukas Yiorkas ‘Watch My Dance’
Bad Practice: Croatia 2010 – Femminem ‘Lako je Sve’
On paper, the Greek song had a more difficult task given its uncomfortable amalgam of two different styles. Just how badly that could come across was displayed in the national final, yet it was transformed on the Eurovision stage, whereas the presentation of the Croatian number wasn’t.
The Greeks know their choreography. The dancers are busy for the rap parts, giving us something to distract us from Stereo Mike. They remain still for Loukas’s first and second part, so that we happily focus on him and his vocals. Loukas himself adopts a less-is-more approach, unbuttoning his jacket just before the dramatic bridge of the song, and briefly doing a Greek twirl himself but only by way of encouraging some excellent solo movement by one of the backing dancers for the instrumental. During the final chorus, the acrobatics and pyrotechnics are cranked up for a worthy climax.
What with the style of dancing and the ionic columns in the backdrop, I jokingly referred to the presentation as ‘My Big Fat Greek Eurovision staging’ in my rehearsal blog that evening. This played very well with its core support. Additionally, the fiery effect in the backdrop was blue rather than the more damaging red and black, which also provided a nice contrast with the copious fireworks in the final moments.
The staging of Croatia feels much more low-rent in comparison. The three girls, despite the nice bridal-style dresses, are incongruously shoeless and draped over a bench, as if for a production of ‘Barefoot in the Park’. It’s just them for much of the song until they are joined by two darkly-clad backing dancers.
At first it feels like the interaction is going to be effective here, with some decent co-ordination – until the gratuitous hugging. Then at the song’s big moment, the dancers run up to the singers and throw confetti over them, as if they are the emo bridesmaids at a polygamous lesbian wedding.
The overall effect is incredibly kitsch and lacking any gravitas for a song of this nature, as eurovicious pointed out, right down to the final shot of the three girls framed by the heart, with the one on the left even getting this bit wrong. Ultimately, if the Greek drama was a knockout, the staging of the Croatian one made me mockingly put a finger down my throat.
Song type: Ballad
Best practice: Iceland 2009 – Yohanna ‘Is It True’
Bad practice: Malta 2010 – Thea Garrett ‘My Dream’
I’ve mentioned the staging of Yohanna’s ‘Is It True’ before. It’s excellent, right from the opening close-up of Yohanna’s kissable lips, establishing the phwoar factor straight away. I wasn’t sure about the dress, but she’s pretty enough for it to be not too much of a problem.
There’s a guitar and cello being played on stage, just to remind us that this is, you know, a proper song. The flying dolphin does its Best Supporting Animal bit just over halfway through. There are more nice swirly shots at a big note later on. Everything is simple and allows the song to speak for itself. All in all, flawless.
Actually, coming up with an example of bad practice for a ballad was harder than I imagined, which just goes to show that there’s less to go wrong with a slow song. Nonetheless, I plumped for Malta 2010, mainly on the basis of seagull man, who wins the Worst Supporting Animal award.
There’s not much wrong with the first two minutes, save an unfortunate effect with dry ice that makes Thea look like she’s on fire. The backing singers’ movements are a bit clichéd, there are no instruments on stage to add a sense of musicality and you’d never guess Thea is younger than Yohanna, but that’s nothing compared to what follows.
In the final minute the Maltese team decided to work with a line from the song about “a seagull on the waves” and introduce a bizarre bird-like figure who emerges from behind Thea, looking likely to commit an act of avian molestation. Thea, unlike Tippi Hedren, takes it in her stride, and the seagull resorts to some bad contemporary dance, as if in a provincial ‘Swan Lake’. What a ridiculous distraction.
So what are the lessons learnt? If you’re presenting an upbeat song, movement is key; if you’re presenting something else, avoid the kitsch; and restrict any flying animals to the LED screens.
What are your thoughts on these cases, or better still, what examples would you put in a Eurovision ‘how to and how not to’ manual? It would also be good to hear what you expect from the staging of this year’s songs.