Total. Guilty. Pleasure.
Center Stage came out when I was still a budding ballerina, before I moved away from home to join a company. I remember going to see it at an Edwards Cinema in the valley with a group of my dance friends. I recall all of us chuckling at the film's cheesiness, complete with all the typical dance stereotypes, and we all agreed Jody Sawyer was crazy to join Cooper's company. What are the chances THAT will last?
But jokes, unbelievability, and some horrendous attempts by non-dance actors to fake a port de bra aside, the film has quite a few redeeming qualities that make it a classic dance flick. One that I feel every dancer should see... Even if it's just for a laugh.
The film explores a year in the life of six dancers who have all been accepted into the best ballet school in the country - American Ballet Academy in New York. Basically meant to be SAB (the School of American Ballet.) The main character, Jody, (Amanda Schull) is the underdog - She has the weakest technique in the school, but of course, she's got a stage presence and an "x-factor" that the teachers of ABA don't see. But bad boy company member, and older love-interest Cooper Neilson, played and danced by ballet star Ethan Stiefel, takes a liking to Jody's dancing after running into her at an unauthorized jazz class. He casts her as the lead in his ballet for the end of the year student workshop, after sleeping with her of course, cause it wouldn't be a ballet movie without some male chauvinism and the taking advantage of young impressionable girls.
Then there is the good male love interest, Charlie, (Sascha Radetsky) who everyone knows is the better choice for Jody; the rebel, Eva, (Zoe Saldana) who is so badass she puts her cigarettes out with her pointe shoe; Erik the flamboyant guy, (Shakiem Evans) who is all one-liners and sass; Maureen the bunhead, (Susan May Pratt) whose got a stage-mom who works at the school, and develops bulimia; and then a Russian guy, Sergei, (Ilia Kulik) cause clearly someone on the creative team decided that in a ballet movie somebody needs to be Russian.
The film follows the groups' trials, as well as their joys, as they come of age in the brutal world of a ballet academy. As they vie for a place in the prestigious American Ballet Company, they each discover what path their dance training has led them to and by the end of the film, have each made their career choices.
Story aside, the truly wonderful element of Center Stage the dancing. There is an excerpt from Romeo & Juliet as well as Stars & Stripes danced by Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. And there are additional pieces choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and Susan Stroman - two of the most important choreographers of the past decade. Plus the cast is littered with young SAB students who have gone on to great careers... All and all, the film is a lovely snapshot of great dancers, and great choreographers of the time. That's why it's this week's dance movie!
The Verdict: Center Stage is the perfect slumber party dance flick to watch with your dance pals while you darn your pointe shoes. It's fun, silly, and a total must-see for any dancer.
Watch it Here