Fade in on a hot sweet-faced male dancer performing a solo piece in an empty studio.
My kind of a movie.
Five Dances stars the terribly adorable and very well-cast Ryan Steele as Chip, an 18-year-old dancer from Kansas who moved to New York City on a scholarship.
While a late teen/early twentysomething from a small town living in the big city isn’t a new premise, it is one with infinite possibilities and variations – and all of which are worth exploring.
Five Dances takes place over the course of five days as the small troupe made up of Theo (Reed Luplau), Katie (the eerily Debra Messing-esque Catherine Miller), Cynthia (Kimiye Corwin) and Anthony (Luke Murphy) — who found Chip and is choreographing a routine for the troupe to perform at an important festival.
Chip is shy and doesn’t immediately divulge much about himself beyond one-word answers to the typical who, what, when, where, how “getting to know you” questions, but we get the impression that his life back home was less than great. In a couple of scenes, he is seen on the phone with his harried mother who, when she isn’t begging him to come back home, is threatening to come there to get him and bring him back home.
We get the impression that his life in New York isn’t as great as it would have otherwise promised (a welcome change of pace from the typical extremes of “best city in the world” and “cold hard shithole”). In a couple of scenes, we see him bundled up and sleeping on the floor, but we don’t know why. And in other scenes, we see him continuing to rehearse by himself after as everyone is leaving, but we don’t know why.
And then we get the impression that the other dancers have either worked with each other previously, know of each other as part of the city’s dancing community or are just far more open and communicative than Chip. Either way, he’s a bit of an outsider — although we’re not sure if by choice or not. Still, Katie and Theo take to him – albeit in different ways.
Katie first reaches out to him as a big sister of sorts and is the first of the dancers to reveal anything to him about their life. She, in turn, is the first of the dancers he reveals any of his backstory to – and also a goofy aspect to his otherwise staid personality (a quirk so cute and silly and random that I like to think it was brought to the character by the actor as opposed to being in the script).
Theo later reaches out to Chip, but as a person of interest. His initial approach is unsuccessful — perhaps largely due to its predatory nature, but it did confirm what had previously been hinted about Chip (and assumed given the genre of the film) even if he ultimately didn’t act on what was clearly a natural urge to do so. Theo’s later approaches of a more conciliatory and earnest nature prove more of an interest than just sex – although they do ultimately engage in it (in Chip’s case, it’s for the first time).
By the end of the movie, the two decide to date and we get to see what could actually be Chip’s first real moment of happiness in the film – and perhaps in life given what we know of it. Their coming together is a sweet plot development because the film wasn’t about getting them together or having Chip get together with anyone at all, but after their earlier first kiss you still hoped they would and are glad once they did.
Though Chip and Theo’s first date – over candlelight, a bottle of wine and slow dancing – ends the film and we don’t get to actually see the troupe’s performance at the festival, the film itself incorporates enough of their rehearsals to get an idea of what the final product will be and how it might go. And while the final performance would have been nice to see, there’s enough story in the film and enough conclusion of at least one of the threads that wove its way through to not feel robbed about those threads that ended with ellipses as opposed to a period.
Five Dances is a well-crafted film without seeming intentionally so. It makes great use of its 83 minutes with a streamlined approach to the storytelling – wordless scenes that speak to certain things without actually saying them, glances that convey more than most dialogue ever could and enough care for the characters to take time to give us moments that provide greater insights into those characters.
For fans of dance and fans of hot guys dancing, there are several rehearsals scenes that consist solely of dancing (all of which was choreographed by Jonah Bokaer) that neither service, advance nor distract from the plotting and seem to serve as little more than welcome added value for a sweet, simple, satisfying film.