Saturday, 9 p.m.
Human Rights Campaign
1640 Rhode Island Ave., N.W.
Reel Affirmations, a program of the D.C. Center
$10 general admission
$30 VIP pass for all four films this weekend
$50 host committee tickets
“Five Dances” is two movies in one. One is an exquisite exploration of a choreographer and four dancers creating a new 10-minute modern dance piece. The other is a rather underdeveloped coming-of-age/coming out story.
The story centers on Chip (the appealing Ryan Steele), an unsophisticated Midwesterner who comes to New York to work with the Joffrey Ballet. He is quickly cast by Anthony (Luke Murphy) to be part of his new work. The other dancers include Katie (Catherine Miller) a kindly dancer who takes Chip under her wing and into her apartment when she discovers he is sleeping in the studio; Cynthia (Kimiye Corwin), a former student of Anthony’s who has recently gotten married, and the Australian Theo (Reed Luplau), who of course becomes Chip’s love interest.
These perfunctory plot points never really form a coherent story and the characters remain ciphers. That’s not the death knell it could be, though, because the movie works best when it focuses on the making of the dance and the working relationships between the dancers.
The film takes flight (literally) when writer/director Alan Brown focuses on the bodies of the dancers, which are finely tuned instruments working together toward a common unspoken vision. It’s fascinating to watch Anthony develop movement patterns for his company and then see the dancers perfecting the transitions between the steps. This is when their essential selves emerge, subtle sexual tensions flowing between the intimate intricate steps of the dances, petty rivalries over solos, gentle companionship and generous offers of food or help working through difficult combinations. Underlying all of this is their deep pride and joy in their craft, which delightfully erupts in a spontaneous tribute to the trashy delights of “Showgirls.”
Brown’s beautiful exploration of dance is wonderfully supported by his partners. Choreographer Jonah Bokaer creates stunning movements for the five talented dancers. (Hopefully the DVD will include a complete version of the unnamed piece.) Composer Nicholas Wright assembles a rich soundtrack combining contemporary music that subtly underscores the movement and eloquent silences as the dancers work out the steps. With lovely patterns of light and dark and a very effective use of the mirrors that line the studio, Director of Photography Derek McLane creates memorable visions of the hard work and deep rewards of artistic creation.
Brown’s work as writer too often gets in the way of his work as director. Chip’s story arc is best told by three almost wordless sequences that frame the film: his warm-up exercises in an empty room, the intimate choreography of his first sexual encounter with Theo, and their first date when they dance in front of the mirror in the candle-lit studio. It’s in these moments that the film finds it surest footing.