BWW Review: HIGH STRUNG FREE DANCE AMPS UP DANCE FILM POPULARITY AND DELIVERS DYNAMIC CHOREOGRAPHY AND DANCING at ArcLight Cinema Hollywood
October 10, 2019
There's a new Dance Movie, which opened nationwide Friday, October 11th, that's sure to advance the genre in popularity. In the last few decades "Dirty Dancing," "Footloose," "Flashdance," "Saturday Night Fever," "Staying Alive" and more recently "La La Land" all caused quite a stir when they hit theatres, and many of them are still quite popular today.
"High Strung Free Dance" and it's predecessor "High Strung" (2016) has everything you could want to see and hear in a film about dance, music and dancers. Written and produced by professional dancer Janine Best Damian, "Solid Gold" and numerous film and television appearances, and her talented actor/singer/director/composer/husband Michael Damian (Joseph in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"/Broadway; 18 years appearing on "The Young and the Restless," among many other credits for directing, as a vocalist and creating soundtracks for films he's also directed). This latest film is one out of 13 films he has written and produced with Janeen, as well as directed; "Marley and Me: The Puppy Years," the "Flicka" franchise, and more.
There is some fantastic Cinematography, especially in the dance sequences. Viorel Sergovici, the Director of Photography, covering and not missing any of the movements in the dance sections, showcasing the artistic work of the various choreographers, one being the popular Tyce Diorio, of "So You Think You Can Dance," who is an Emmy Award - winning choreographer and has also been a guest judge for six seasons on "SYTYCD. " A multitude of other credits to his name, he heads up the amazing group of choreographers on this film.
There are many styles of dance to enjoy in this film, and many of the numbers combined genres, i.e. ballet and hip-hop, popping & locking. There's even a Bollywood Production number that absolutely sizzles, choreographed by Nakul Dev Mahajan who is one of the Associate Choreographers, and is a world-renowned Bollywood choreographer; also a long-time contributor choreographically to "So You Think You Can Dance."
Phillip Chbeeb, another Associate Choreographer , handling the Hip-Hop-ography, set some kick-ass moves; angular, clean lines, amazing control of isolated movements, many that just make you wonder, "how?" and nice musicality to the rhythms and undulations. Another "SYTYCD" Alumni.
My unmitigated favorite choreography was that of Myles Thatcher, Associate Choreographer, who constructed the ballet sequences. Myles Thatcher is a choreographer and corps de ballet dancer with the San Francisco Ballet . There is a recherché or elegant feeling to his work, filled with emotion, and the superb dancers in this film perform his sweeping, beautiful choreography all out, to the max.
From a Dance POV, "High Strung Free Dance" is a sublime treat. But if you are seeking something with an intricate, unusual plot line, filled with twists and turns, you may be a bit disappointed. The story is a familiar tale, which, looking back at other dance movies, follows pretty much the same synopsis.
Storywise, it's sort of a fairy tale, as in most of the events could never really happen the way they would occur in reality, but with all the talent being shown up there, and dancers dancing their hearts out, it allows your mind to suspend reality somewhat, and just behold all the wonderfulness coming at you.
The handpicked-with-wisdom cast, thanks to superb Casting by Carolyn MacLeod and the triple-threat leads also, with their immersion into their characters, not only internally but physically, lends a validity to the things that seem over-the-top, realistically.
The phenomenal Leads and Production Numbers will help carry this film into dance film history, and no doubt will become a cult classic. There is so much talent, rawly exposed.
Juliet Doherty, playing the main character, Barlow, is beyond exquisite, in every way. Stunningly beautiful with a lovely permeating softness about her, that makes you fall in love with her immediately; she dances like a dream and bares her feelings while doing that dreamy dancing, pulling focus with her extended reach technically, the beautiful lines through every motion, and, OMG, her feet/pointe!!!! Pure gorgeousness. She can also deliver the tough exterior her character needs when necessary, and her audition scene will knock your socks, or ballet slippers, off! (pictured at top) She has a litany of dance credits, starting her dance studies at the age of three, under her mom's, Krista, tutelage, and winning dance competitions all over the world, all before she was even considered an adult. She danced the lead in the film "On Pointe," and as well, speaks on "empowering young artists/people to achieve their dreams through mindful practice." She is a budding star, and has all the ingredients to a successful and meaningful career.
Thomas Doherty, who is from Edinburgh, Scotland, and no relation to Juliet, is very convincing as the Choreographer who ultimately hires Juliet to dance in his upcoming Broadway show. He plays Zander Raines, (a perfect name) the tempestuous Director/Choreographer who of course falls in love like everybody else, with Barlow, but his drive for success keeps getting in the way of their relationship. He is a passionate, wonderful dancer, gorgeous to look at, and plays his character to the hilt. Also, adding to his varied talents, he sings the closing credits' song, "Masterpiece," and after meeting him at the after-party, he is charming, interesting and definitely fits the role of "matinee idol." He has appeared in several movies, most notably as "Captain Harry Hook," in Disney's "Descendants 2," which he will reprise in the upcoming "Descendants 3."
One of the most gifted young pianists I have ever heard, Harry Jarvis, plays the other male lead in this terpsichorean saga; Charlie. Good-guy Charlie works at "Artistry Deli," riding his bicycle to make deliveries all over Manhattan, literally running into Zander and Barlow, and before you can blink, he becomes the virtuosi, save-the-day accompanist for Zander's show, turning in a monster of a performance on the keys. His improvising and innovative riffing are truly amazing, and made my heart skip a beat as he clearly demonstrated his immense talent. He's also a heart-throb in the looks department, and his charming screen presence is sure to secure his future in a variety of ways. He has extensive credits in the UK, where he is from.
Jane Seymour ("Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," "Live & Let Die," "Somewhere in Time," "Wedding Crasher," etc.) plays Barlow's mom, Oksana, a dance teacher who trained her daughter, and is the only discernible link from the original "High Strung (2016)." A similar to other dance movies relationship between mom and daughter ensues, and she gives us just the right amount of motherly concern and pride to round out her character.
One of my favorite Dancers in The Universe, Desmond Richardson, the Artistic Director, Creator and star of "Complexions Contemporary Ballet," and an off-the-charts performer, plays Sammy, the assistant to Zander, enabling us to see his magnificent presence in motion in many of the rehearsal scenes. His extensive credits will blow you away, as does his dancing. Bravo, as always, Mr. Richardson.
"One of the fastest rappers in the world," Ali Tomineek has a fun role that shows off his talents, and has been at it since he was 13. His solo walk-down-the-street (totally not) turn is bursting with energy. Accolades galore, and "Best Rapper of 2017," he also speaks to students around the country, performing his 45-minute motivational hip-hop performance, following up with inspiring words about the power of believing in yourself. He is also the composer of two of the original songs from the movie.
Rounding out the cast are Ace Bhatti as Ravi, who has put his money on the line as the producer of "Free Dance," the show that Zander is creating, and Kika Markham who plays Rose, an elderly musician whom Charlie delivers sandwiches to and plays piano for, as she is a recluse, and comes away having gained her wealth of advice and support. The picture also features Jorgen Makena as Kayla Jordan, the celebrity pop star hired to headline the "Free Dance" production. Additionally, there are featured performances by Nataly Santiago and Kerrynton Jones ("Dance Moms") who play Barlow's roommates Paloma and Kekeas well as Joshua Sinclair-Evans, Thomas Doherty's fellow cast mate from "The Lodge," and Leslie Garcia Bowman, Charles Lee in London's West End production of "Hamilton."
All the music in the film is original, blending original orchestrations and reimagined classical pieces along with rap and pop. Nathan Lanier is at the helm; and his compositions are musically intense and exciting; a perfect match to the enticing choreography. He is well-known as among the top chosen composers for choreographic work worldwide.
Nice editing, by William Honeyball, especially for the dance numbers. It's obvious there was much collaboration between the different departments, really letting the choreography shine and embellish the script.
As a professional dancer myself for many years, it was a joy to see every one of the 80 or so dancers listed individually in the closing credits. They work the hardest, get paid the least and add the most to any production. Yeay, Gypsies!
Janeen & Michael Damian have put tremendous effort into the making of this film, and have gathered a most talented and devoted team of dancers, actors, musicians and vocalists. Hats off to keeping dance alive and making it more entertaining than ever!
Go see for yourself, and tell me it isn't exciting to watch ~ I dare you!!
Photos Courtesy of JoBee, Cos Aelenei, and Valerie-Jean Miller