While reality dance shows are increasingly popular on television, director Sue Bourne’s look behind the scenes at the 40th Irish Dancing World Championships provides a riveting account as to how contestants, young and old, prepare themselves to compete in up to three, short—35 seconds in most cases—rounds on a Glasgow stage.
The real stars of the production are the entrants’ legs and feet. For hours-on-end they are cajoled into learning then executing steps, jumps, kicks and hits (clicked into engaging aural life by their hard shoes) on the way to giving substance to their lives and vicarious satisfaction to their parents.
The camera frequently zooms in on the flying lowest limbs. During the opening sequence that marvellously establishes the mood and tone even as composer Patrick Doyle’s orchestrations (curiously of the mystery/suspense-film hue, reinforcing the unbearable drama to come when the marks are announced) are almost perfectly in sync with the mesmerizing rhythms—a wonderful, if unintentional, metaphor for the extra work required to take first place. When the closing shots roll—many of which are from the same angle—the synchronization is world class and features a marvellously crafted edit between 10-year-old John’s weeks’-ago rehearsal room drills and the actual performance.
Especially welcome are the solo interventions. Violinist Thomas Gould readily soars to the E-string heavens whenever the Russians needed a boost; Gareth Davies’ flutes delight the ear with every melodic flight; when more reflective moments are required, John Parrcelli’s guitar work is just the tonic, and the closing credits are beautifully graced with Abigail Doyle’s well-rounded rendition of the aptly titled, “Now Is Your Time.”
The dancers zeroed in upon come from widely differing backgrounds and parts of the world. They all understand that a huge amount of time, patience and money is required to earn a place at this challenging bar. $2,500 for a dress and frequent travel eat away into the finances of parents (a second job often pays for the extra costs) or “senior” participants (eight Russian “mature” dancers far over the age of 20) but the allure of the pageantry and requisite skill sets (not to mention the invigorating music) assures the sacrifices on all fronts.
Through subject selection (6,000 annually attend), Bourne is also keen to point out that while predominantly a white-bread art, globalization is gradually making its mark. Adopted (by a Dutch couple) Sri Lankan Sandun lives for the dance. Working through the ravages of puberty and temptations of booze and drugs, the young man with a compelling smile seems to decide that even as his world ranking slips away his vocation won’t: “I’ve got to finish something,” he offers after receiving the final scores.
Sexuality also works its way into the cinematic choreography. 10-year-old John “loves the shoes,” endures gay taunts at school (professing ignorance to their meaning) and boldly works his way to the admiration of all who witness his talent. Co-student Joe has moved from California (along with his devoted parents) to the U.K. where, under the tutelage of eight-time champ John Carey, the determined youth clearly sets his sights on topping his teacher’s accomplishments (Joe’s Round 3 performance is nothing short of magnificent: the entire body flows with the greatest of ease—no drama required for this category’s winner). Still, the two-legged dynamo admits to never talking about his primary passion to his buds, echoing his mentor’s decision when he was on top of the world.
As fascinating as the road to Glasgow is, the film truly scores its own “10” as the 2010 competition unfolds. From last-minute practices in the hallways, to Teddy Bear hugs, through expectant moms doing their own body movements watching their babies perform from the audience, the sense of enormous pressure leading to tears-in-your-eyes elation and dream-bursting defeat is palpable.
Anyone who has ever attempted to put body, mind and soul together, hoping desperately to achieve undisputed excellence (even if only until next year) will revel in this production’s honesty, integrity and love. JWR