Transitioning from a popular television series to a feature film can always be tricky prospect, and their success tends to be a mixed bag. It’s even rarer that an Australian series makes the leap to the big screen, but the Dance Academy series proved its legs over 3 season on ABC TV and international broadcasts. DANCE ACADEMY: THE MOVIE doesn’t just extend the narrative, but ups the scale for a satisfying theatrical run.
Following the dramatic events of the series, Tara (Xenia Goodwin) is recovering from her debilitating back trauma. While she could take a settlement from the Company and return to civilian life with boyfriend Christian (Jordan Rodrigues), who is now teaching inner-city kids the joy of dance, she still dreams of her lost career. At the urging of Madeline Moncur (Miranda Otto), the Artistic Director of the National Ballet Company, Tara takes strikes out on her own to prove that if she can make it in New York, she can make it anywhere. Lucky for her, the rest of the cast and her support network is now living and working in the US.
DANCE ACADEMY: THE MOVIE expands the scope of show, but also compresses an entire season’s worth of drama into a feature film. While Tara remains the focus of the story, each of the ensemble cast is given their dues. Despite the propensity for this to become unwieldy, writer Samantha Strauss and director Jeffrey Walker craft a convincing storyline that once again sees all their lives intersect. Kat (the incredibly likeable Alicia Banit) has made it big on US children’s’ television as a magical fairy (of course she has), but the storyline hits on the perils of being Instafamous. Ollie’s hustling his way through New York adds a comedic subplot, a minor irony given that actor Keiynan Lonsdale has hit the bigtime on The Flash in the intervening years. Ben (Thomas Lacey) and his return to the limelight offers a counterpoint to Tara’s arc. So another way of looking at this plot is via the lens of a carefully orchestrated dance routine.
As such, the photography and dance choreography are all top-notch. While series cinematographer Martin McGrath is incredibly in love with sweeping shots of the Sydney and New York skylines, his work is a microcosm of the film itself, liberated from the small screen and given a grand stage to play out on. The dance sequences are energetic and engaging, especially the modern ballet interpretations that centre on Abigail’s (Dena Kaplan) successful character. Ben and Tara’s energetic rehearsal moments are full of passion, and we get a rousing pay-off with a final number that looks terrific on the silver screen.
Aimed at an audience that has grown with the series, it’s not exactly Black Swan but it is nevertheless a satisfying drama. Almost positioning itself as the Rocky of Australian ballet films, a niche market if ever there was one, DANCE ACADEMY: THE MOVIE continues to have a broad cross-generational appeal. The conclusion leaves us in no doubt that these characters are where they are meant to be. More than that, it’s a grand jeté for the local industry that proves franchise success is simply a matter of great storytelling and a constant commitment to optimism.