Blake HowardComment

Under pressure - “Dance Academy” (2017) Review

Blake HowardComment
Under pressure -  “Dance Academy” (2017) Review

During a contemporary ballet performance Xenia Goodwin's Tara Webster is finally getting an opportunity to showcase her talent at the highest level. Director Jeffrey Wright brings that camera close to Tara; we can almost feel the controlled breath as we see her focus up close. There's a dance going on in the wings too; Miranda Otto's Madeline Moncur is the choreographer monitoring their every step. Otto's face is ethereal, fading between sublime satisfaction and ferocity. Welcome to "Dance Academy" the critically acclaimed children's T.V show that's finding new life and new stories and all new stakes for the characters Tara, Kat, Abigail, Christian, Ben and Ollie as young adults.

Tara (Goodwin) was a once in a generation dancer who suffered what was thought to be a career ending spinal injury. She's offered a 'catch 22' choice. A lucrative legal settlement and she's never allowed to dance again or nothing. What's the problem? Her rehabilitation has been total success. Tara had to follow her dreams. After a stint of rehabilitation training with the help of her boyfriend Christian (Jordan Rodrigues) and Abigail (Dena Kaplan) she takes a trip to New York City to test her ability in the most prestigious and fierce arena. The Big Apple reunites Tara with Kat (Alicia Banit) living a Disney Channel whirlwind stardom and the struggling Ollie (Kenyan Lonsdale). 

Writer and TV series creator Samantha Strauss has got the right mix of diverse and engaging characters in her group. Strauss excels in encapsulating the conflict that these 'rebellious' millennials have inside the hierarchical structures of their art. Ballet is already a meat grinder, taking a near unbelievable resolve for physical and mental toil; but the glamour and prestige of success, exemplified by that NYC skyline is so hard to deny. 

The group definitely doesn't have to feign familiarity; it's evident in every interaction (including a cheeky fart shared between girls). "Dance Academy" slows to a crawl in the traffic jam of Tara’s obstacles. It feels like a whole TV series arc is being squeezed into 100 minutes. Tara faces injury that threatens her ability to walk, a break up with the love of her life Christian, rejection at every dance company that she rehearses for, the disintegration of long term friendship with Kat and finally one of her dearest friends risks infection and possible death from competitive dancing too soon after leukaemia relapse (you'll have to wait and see who). 

In speaking with director Jeffrey Walker, he was quite candid that the dancing scenes in Darren Aronofsky's “Black Swan” style influenced (and continues to influence) a formal method to close the distance between the audience and the dancer and to get inside that headspace. While "Dance Academy" is not a psychological thriller, the masochism of professional dancers is something ripe to explore. Add the existential angst of millennial dancers reaching emotional maturity after a life defined by the 'stardom or squalor' polarity; and you can see Walker attempting at every moment to bring their internal struggle into the creation of the dance. 

Xenia Goodwin's Tara bears the brunt of the dramatic work and is sure footed in the lead.  Rodrigues' Christian feels more like Tara's brother than her lover. 

Kenyan Lonsdale's Ollie does a working dancer's daily desperation really well. Alicia Banit's Kat Karamakov is the success of the group, navigating stardom and integrity the only way that Hollywood allows, leaking nudes when you're ready to get cast in something serious. Dena Kaplan's Abigail Armstong is the refreshing sass in the film that brings the characters out of the dizzying drama in their heads. Thomas Lacey's Ben is the charming heart of this reunion.

Miranda Otto reeks of malicious ambition. The camera is crystallising what you imagine is in the periphery of the dancers on stage. She's got a pinch of J.K Simmons from "Whiplash." Tara Morice is the dance royalty in the supporting cast. The moment that she appears, which I imagine is much more meaningful for fans of the series, I let out a quiet 'hooray it's Fran from “Strictly Ballroom”'. 

In the final stanza of “Dance Academy” it finally becomes the movie that you’re hoping it will be; it's a crowd pleaser that has surprises up its sleeve. 

★★★

BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.