DANCE ACADEMY

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Jeffrey Walker

Stars: Xenia Goodwin, Alicia Banit, Jordan Rodrigues, Thomas Lacey, Keiynan Lonsdale, Dena Kaplan, Nic Westaway, Tara Morice, Miranda Otto, Julia Blake, Matt Day, Mitchell Butel, Lewis Fitzgerald.

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Unlike some recent feature film adaptations of television series, this big screen version of Dance Academy mainly gets the formula right.

The popular ABC series Dance Academy ran for three years, and it followed the triumphs and disappointments of a group of kids as they underwent dance training at the prestigious National Academy of Dance in Sydney. The series became a popular world-wide hit and was even nominated for a couple of Emmy Awards. It was also the launching pad for a number of new talents, many of whom have since gone on to bigger things.

This feature length expansion of the show retains most of the original cast and key creative personnel. It catches up with the characters some four years later as they try to make it in the adult world. Written by Samantha Strauss, one of the creators and writers of the series, this is a stand-alone movie, but it retains the spirit of the series. It doesn’t matter if you are unfamiliar with the tv series itself. This is essentially a feel-good film about following your dreams, friendship and loyalty, about perseverance and overcoming adversity, sacrifice, and the high price of fame.

The main story centres around Tara (Xenia Goodwin) and her struggles to return to dancing a couple of years after breaking her back in an accident on stage. But after she fails to make the cut for the National Ballet Company in Sydney she quickly packs her bags and heads off to New York hoping to try her luck there and prove that she still has what it takes. Her decision puts a strain on her relationship with Christian (Jordan Rodrigues), who runs his own hip hop dance school for local kids in Sydney.

In New York Tara reconnects with her best friends Kat (Alicia Benit) and Ollie (Keiynan Lonsdale, from Insurgent and the tv series The Flash, etc). Kat is now the star of a rather dodgy looking television show. She leads the good life with parties, red carpet affairs and her own luxurious high rise penthouse apartment. Until it is all threatened by a sexting scandal. Ollie meanwhile is desperately going from one thankless and disappointing audition to another, trying to land a spot with a theatre company.

Finding little success in New York, Tara then hops on a bus and heads off to Texas where she catches up with her friend Ben (Thomas Lacey), who is recovering from a kidney transplant and a bout of leukemia which threatens to end his dancing career.

Unlike the tv series, this feature film has a more grittier edge and an air of realism to it. Dance Academy has obviously been influenced by a number of the popular dance movies from the States, and it serves up some well-choreographed and dynamic dance sequences. Director Jeffrey Walker, who also worked on the tv series, has opened the material up beyond its television origins by shooting many scenes on location in New York. The film has obviously been aimed at the international market.

Cinematographer Martin McGrath, another veteran of the tv series, has shot scenes in and around Sydney, but he has also included some familiar NY landmarks like Central Park and Times Square. His wide screen lensing gives the material a strong local colour and flavour. There is also a great score from David Hirschfelder.

The youthful cast deliver enthusiastic performances, and Goodwin brings a mix of vulnerability and strength to her performance. Veterans like Miranda Otto (who plays Madeleine Moncure, the icy and aloof new head of the National Academy), Tara Morice (from Strictly Ballroom, etc), Julia Blake and Matt Day add some clout to the material.

★★★

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