Dance Academy sticks to a recognisable formula as it brings the hit teen TV series to the big screen.
Xenia Goodwin as Tara Webster in Dance Academy: The Movie. Image via StudioCanal.
Conformity versus creativity sits at the heart of the dance film genre, with many a movie exploring their intersection. Here, choreographed routines may be designed for performers to follow, but rules are always made to be broken as well. It’s a lesson that Dance Academy: The Movie walks its characters through as the gang of friends reunites to chase their dreams once more, and also one that the film also spells out to its audience in the process. Of course, by adhering to a tried-and-tested narrative, it’s not advice that the feature itself actually takes on its path from the small screen to the cinema; however, sticking to the established steps can have its own rewards.
Made for fans, unlikely to convert the unacquainted, but providing engaging-enough viewing nonetheless, Dance Academy: The Movie picks up 18 months after the TV show’s third season. Across Dance Academy’s 65 episodes between 2010 and 2013, Tara Webster (Xenia Goodwin), Kat Karamakov (Alicia Banit, TV’s We Were Tomorrow), Abigail Armstrong (Dena Kaplan, Soul Mates), Christian Reed (Jordan Rodrigues, The Fosters), Ollie Lloyd (Keiynan Lonsdale, The Flash) and Ben Tickle (Thomas Lacey, Winners & Losers) toiled away in their preferred field at Australia's National Academy of Dance. Now, after a heartbreaking fall stopped her career short at the end of the program’s run, Tara stands at a crossroads. Pouring her pain into a creative writing class isn’t working, and accepting a sizeable compensation claim for her back-breaking troubles is tempting, but would mean she’d have to admit that she’ll never dance again – and what she really wants is to leap back into that world.
Tara’s attempt to reclaim her former glory sees her audition for the National Ballet Company under director Madeline Moncur (Miranda Otto, Homeland), then head to the US when things don’t turn out as planned. Alas, although she’s plying her chosen artform again – flitting between staying in New York with new TV star Kat, experiencing the gruelling scramble for opportunities with Ollie, and visiting Ben and her former mentor Miss Raine (Tara Morice, Rake) in Texas – she’s not quite living the life she imagined. Her injury still twinges, its memory keeps haunting, and her friends struggle with selfie scandals, sickness and professional disappointment.
Dance Academy: The Movie presents a comeback story as the one-time star endeavours to overcome her setbacks; a coming-to-terms tale as Tara takes responsibility for her own dreams, desires and forging a way forward that suits her best; and the tail-end of a coming-of-age arc that has seen the characters mature and grow first on television, and now in the film. Accordingly, with series creator Samantha Strauss writing the script and former Round the Twist child actor turned seasoned TV director Jeffrey Walker (Modern Family) at the helm, the end result rarely deviates from the expected. Both allow Dance Academy aficionados the opportunity to spend more time with the series' characters and find out what comes next, but largely stick to the usual moves.
Still, a recognisable formula can still play out with zest, whether cycling through involving youthful interpersonal and existential tussles, cultivating relatable portrayals of searching young adults taking on the rest of their lives, or bringing dance onto the screen. From the plot developments to the performances – acting and dancing alike, though there’s less of the latter then audiences might expect – Dance Academy: The Movie expends plenty of energy, endeavouring to ensure that what it lacks in surprises, it makes up for in poise, a standard coat of glossy-imaged polish, and an affable teen melodrama air.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Dance Academy: The Movie
Director: Jeffrey Walker
Australia, 2017, 101 mins
Release date: April 6