Tara, Kat, Abigail, Ben, Christian, Ollie – if you’ve got children who love dance, you will know the Australian series Dance Academy. Four years after the end of the third and last season, the imaginatively titled Dance Academy: The Movie revisits our favourite student dancers as they try to make their way in the professional world.
The TV series was a favourite in our house. We argued over who was the best character, collectively wept at the demise of Sammy and drank a (non-alcoholic) drink every time there was a shot of the Harbour Bridge. Aimed squarely at kids and teens, characters fell in and out of love with each other, struggled with ambition and suffered the physical and emotional damage that comes with striving to be the best in a competitive world.
The series ended with pivotal character, perennially doe-eyed princess Tara Webster unsure of her future after slipping on an errant bead during a high-octane performance and breaking her back. In Dance Academy: The Movie, we pick up the story a few years later with Tara in the middle of a legal battle for compensation and suffering quietly in hospitality work. The other characters have all made something of themselves – pursuing professional ballet, teaching dancing classes or striving for fame in the commercial world. Tara is given the opportunity to return to dance and it is her journey that we follow.
The themes here are not subtle. There is a clear delineation between the characters who have ‘sold out for fame and success’ and those who have altruistically followed their own path. That the former are essentially unhappy and vulnerable to exploitation is obvious so it is no surprise that the overall message of the film is about friendship rather than ambition. The world of ballet is shown as unforgiving and emotionless, with close ups of bloodied toes and teachers and directors who are heartless, so while I wished for Tara’s success, I also felt like telling her to get a grip.
The female characters are as strong, if not stronger, than the male characters and they are allowed some complexity. Abigail is my favourite, she is pragmatic and not prone to Tara-like complaining or histrionics. Ben shines and it is his character that seems to be the only one who understands what is important. There are some obvious dramatic ploys to get us feeling some emotion but I was left with a feeling of satisfaction, of loose ends tied neatly and a warm surety that those crazy kids from the Sydney National Dance Academy are safe and well.
Currently in cinemas