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July 15, 2014

Five Dances

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Alan Brown - 2013
Wolfe Video Region 1 DVD

I might be exaggerating a bit here, but I think Alan Brown was very daring with Five Dances - he allows the camera to be still while filming parts of the dances, and even has shots of the four dancers in full frame. I know I've harped on this before, especially when some directors who have been former choreographers, think that the cuisinart style of fragmented editing makes the filmed dance look more cinematic. Actually, it just makes the dance look like an incomprehensible jumble of movement. There is something to be said about keeping things simple.

The first time we see the main character, Chip, he's doing a solo in the studio. When his dance ends, Brown ends with a close-up of actor Ryan Steele's face. There are a few beads of sweat. What a lot of films miss is the physical effort of performance dance, whether it's "Swan Lake" or something like Twyla Tharp's "Sinatra Suite".

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What hobbles this film is the bit of narrative that holds the dance scenes together. Chip, an eighteen year old, fresh from Kansas, is now dancing with a small company in New York City. He's suppose to have a scholarship, yet he's sleeping on the floor of the dance studio, not going to any kind of school, and describes what he's doing to his mother as his job. I don't mind some implausibilities in movies, but Brown, the director, should have let, Alan Brown, the screenplay writer, work with a collaborator to create a screenplay that made a little more sense in its setup. Also chafing is the portrayal of Chip's mother, only heard as a voice in telephone conversations, distraught at losing her home. There's a heavy Southern accent, and a strong hint of homophobia, the kind of stereotype of straight people from the landlocked parts of America, that is both unnecessary and offensive.

Brushing the narrative flaws aside, the film is, aside from dance, about loneliness and connection. Chip is invited by one of the dancers, Katie, to sleep on her couch. After tentatively rejecting the openly gay dancer, Theo, Chip gets hot and heavy and naked on the dance studio floor. Aside from providing a temporary home for Chip, the not to much older Katie becomes a surrogate mother when Chip asks her permission to be with Theo. Heterosexual couplings don't fare as well here: Chip's parents are divorced, Katie has broken up with her boyfriend of seven years, and the other female dancer, the married Cynthia, is having an affair with the choreographer, Alexander.

The dances of the title more or less coincide with Chip's evolution from a kid from Topeka trying to maneuver his way through New York City, to someone starting to get more comfortable with himself and his new environment. The film is at its best when Brown isn't trying to tell a story, but allows the camera to move back and let the dancers, through their performances, speak for themselves.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 15, 2014 07:15 AM