How refreshing to have a first-love film that easily, innocently brings a couple together as they toil—in extra-close proximity—to create a work of art.
Five Dances lives up to its name in several ways. Following a stop-start solo turn by Chip (Ryan Steele’s first venture into film is an unqualified success: his radiant glow in the closing scenes can’t help but warm any heart that has experienced the heady heat of first love) to subliminally set the stage and tone, the production begins its strategically choreographed (Jonah Bokaer makes the most of his talented charges, marrying the movements to the music with aplomb: “fallen arms” works wonderfully) journey.
The conceit is newcomer Chip joining the ranks of four other dancers as they prepare for an upcoming festival. Luke Murphy makes for a believable dancer/choreographer, Anthony, who isn’t above bedding his female students past or present (yes, Virginia, many, many male dancers are straight). The two women both have unsettled love lives: Katie (Catherine Miller) has just broken up with her beau after seven years (this time, an unmarried itch), making her the ideal candidate to house Chip whose sleeping arrangements have gone south just as he begins his sojourn with the troupe. Cynthia (Kimiye Corwin) is unhappily married and equally bothered by an Achilles tendon that may force her out of the ever-competitive spotlight.
But it falls to Theo to capture both Chip’s professional attention (there’s a wee bit of sparing for an important solo) and his personal interest. Reed Luplau delivers the challenging part with a series of looks that speak volumes and a totally believable infatuation, then love, for the 18-year-old boy from Kansas whose lonely, demanding, separated mom adds a slight bit of tension to the few subplots.
Not surprisingly, the best parts of writer/director Alan Brown’s portrait of same-sex romance in New York City are the quintet of dances that come at key moments along the way. Keeping all of the dancers in their rehearsal garb (the performance matters not) adds much to the deliberate informality of the scenes between numbers. The lyrics to the various songs are rendered with a certain engaging breathiness by Johnathan Celestin (Nicholas Wright deftly pulled together the original score, if only the cellos had been more centred in their idyllic lines) were creatively reflected in the movement (notably the discussion of “name” in Three and “it turned out wrong” in Four. Indeed it would be fascinating to edit together only the film’s Prelude and five dances to see just how much of the themes’ ideas would come through on their own.
While the overall ensemble is not as tight and clean as McKane imagined (yet another reason to keep one and all perpetually at rehearsal), the physical movement between Chip and Theo lifts the film to an emotional climax that will delight everyone, so rare these days on or off the screen, a vrai happy ending that can’t help but give those struggling with their sexuality the courage to accept an invitation to the dance.