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Movie screen dancing teen

By Graig Uhlin
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
April 21, 2000
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New film exposes the lives of dancers

In so many sports movies, football is life. In so many teen dramas, high school is life.

And in "Center Stage," director Nicholas Hytner's new film, ballet is life.

As long as life is made up of waif-ish, often snotty dancers and egotistical, womanizing choreographers.

"Center Stage" combines all those teen dramas that feature Warner Brothers network stars with generic sports movie formulas.

It replaces high school with the American Ballet Academy - a prestigious dance school. It replaces the big game at the end of the film with auditions for ballet companies, and it replaces the overbearing, pushy parent desperate to live vicariously through their children ... well, it does have that.

The movie centers around a group of friends who have just entered the highly competitive Academy to fight it out for limited spots in a renowned ballet company.

The cast is largely composed of unknowns - probably because the actors had to be proficient in ballet.

The biggest names the film offers are Peter Gallagher as one of the aforementioned egotistical choreographers and Ilia Kulik, a medal-winning Russian figure skater, who trades in his skates for those famously snug tights.

The ballet dancers in this film - besides being very attractive people - prove to be adequate actors. Most notably among them are Amanda Schull who plays the film's sweetheart and Sascha Radetsky who plays her eventual sweetheart.

It appears that dance has taught them how to convey emotions to an audience, even if their delivery is at times stilted and awkward.

While at the Academy, these friends learn all those life lessons that teenagers in movies are always learning over and over again.

Number one dance student Maureen (Susan May Pratt) learns to follow her own heart despite the wishes of her mother.

Jody (Schull) learns to struggle against any adversity and always follow her own heart. Eva (Zo‘ Saldana), a gifted dancer with an attitude, learns to deal with authority figures and, of course, follow her own heart.

Basically, it is a lot of dancing teenagers trying to find themselves and searching for their own identity - which does not make for good drama.

So many of these current teen dramas mistake grouping dissimilar personalities - the bitch, the gay guy, the sweetheart, the heartthrob - for dramatic situations and pathos, but it really makes for some dull plots. Instead of being engaged, the audience is reduced to just watching.

Much to the audience's relief, however, Hytner fills his screen with beautiful people dressed in tight clothing and a lot of elaborate dance numbers - and a lot of elaborate dance numbers, at that.

A number of full-length dances are sprinkled throughout the film and are there mostly to showcase the talents of the actors.

Hytner, however, treats the dancing with the same intimacy and adoration as directors of sports movies treat football scenes. They are not the overproduced fanfares of 1940s musicals. He lets the characters develop at their own pace, allowing the audience to marvel at the display of physical prowess and agility.

What results from this curious mixture of handicapped drama, mediocre acting and elaborate dance numbers is a sometimes hokey, sometimes sweet, always pretty to look at teen drama.

Graig Uhlin can be reached at catalyst@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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