Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"Center Stage: On Pointe" Thoughts

I watched Lifetime's "Center Stage: On Pointe" Sunday and a have a variety of thoughts.  I am a sucker for a dance movie so it perhaps says something that many of my thoughts are about choices made behind the scenes and not the movie itself.  I recognize that marketing and production are not always on the same page, or sometimes go for things that grab people even if they are not the clearest representation of the product.  Nonetheless, Lifetime decided to air "Center Stage" (aka the original) prior to the airing of "On Pointe".  And sure, get folks who may have missed the memo sucked in as they find themselves unable not to stop and watch the original.  As someone who can tell you exactly how many "Bring it On"s there are, I am aware that not everyone pays attention to the sequels.  Particularly when the sequels are loosely connected. However as an apparent "Center Stage" completist, I had to go refresh my memory on "Center Stage: Turn it Up" because we are quickly introduced Tommy, who was in "Turn it Up" and once it becomes clear that the ballet company is dying (okay, in the red for four quarters) and is the last classical ballet company that has not introduced modern dance. So, the time has obviously come, despite resistance from the ballet instructor but with the full support of Tommy who has apparently been stifling his modern dance tendencies since the last movie.  He races out of the theater after Jonathan delivers this news and calls Kate, our heroine from "Turn it Up" and she tells him that she should of course call Bella, her sister who has apparently been waitressing while secretly wishing there was an outlet for her modern dancing self. And okay fine, it's not like having missed out on who Kate and Bella and Tommy were really makes it hard to follow this movie, because this is our modern dancers vs. ballet dancers forced to work together to get it to save the ballet company.  (Although the need to save the ballet company is left out of all the instructions and rules given to the new potential dancers. Shockingly.)  
Anyway the group of dancers goes off to a secret location in the woods to learn for a few weeks both modern dance and ballet, to snark at each other over lunch, and to be forced into pairs for their audition so that their fates are linked to each other (even though the pairs are not all modern vs. classic, they are only when it's convenient to the plot). 
Despite being a dance movie aficionado, I make no claims to be able to judge the technical aspects of either the modern or the classical ballet.  It looked pretty to me, even with the obvious slo-mos and trick cuts.  In typical movie fashion the modern dancers are all terribly free, able to improv and feel the music, but struggle in some of the classical ballet's technical pieces.  Many of the classical ballet students are exactingly technical, but struggle with the improv and freedom offered by the modern dance. Such that Bella's partner Damon will not even dance the improv parts, unable to dance freely, until of course, Bella helps him. 
I don't want to sound overly critical, the movie works within known tropes well. It's not necessarily going to have people clamoring for "Center Stage 4: Now We're Really Freaky" but neither does it drag down the franchise.  It's also clear that the writer Nisha Ganatra, who wrote neither of the others, has done her homework.  So when things happen like the cockiest classical student defying the stern ballet instructor to do a jump she has told him he's not ready for and he injures himself, you could call it referential, an homage even.  There are some quibbles, like, when, Bella, who has been keeping her relationship to now famous ballerina Kate a secret, discovers her secret is out and the teachers crack down on the students for spreading rumors, they tell them they have to work together, even though they have, of course, created the competition by bringing the students here and telling them only some will be selected. 
There are some subplots, including Bella's attraction to - you guessed it - her classical partner Damon.  There are a couple of references to characters from the prior movies, Cooper of course shows up to watch the goings on a time or two.  The jump cuts to commercial are a little clickbaity ("I know what we have to do guys...") but in the end if you enjoy sequels to dance movies, this will serve you well.