If only verisimilitude equaled quality. But unfortunately, schmaltzy music and drab melodrama drag down the otherwise graceful moves of Five Dances. Writer-director Alan Brown uses the classic elements of a backstage drama: Chip (Ryan Steele) has landed a solo with a high-profile choreographer only a few months after coming to New York. His dedication and late nights rehearsing at the studio belie larger personal problems. Chip doesn’t have anywhere to live, and crashes on the loft floor in a sleeping bag; his redneck, alcoholic, homophobic mom has lost her house and wants him to come back to Kansas (why having a second person to take care of would help this situation is never explained); he’s internalized his homophobia, remains sullen and withdrawn, and lashes out at a fellow dancer’s initial advances. This is certainly not to belittle the very real self-hatred that many gay men (closeted or otherwise) struggle with, but their incredibly slight characterization—achieved largely through short phone calls with his faux-drawling maw—sadly remain in the realm of cliché. This failure is especially problematic given that the dénouement involves Chip overcoming his demons over a period of days and, even more implausibly, asking his new boyfriend to travel cross-country via Greyhound to meet his mother. On the other hand, the actual act of dancing, and what it means to be a dancer, is expertly explored. The gorgeously photographed scenes of dancers stretching, sweating, and alternating their movements in small ways to stir different emotions are artifacts of performance usually reserved for documentary. With soft light, the camera both caresses and allows the dancers’ bodies to breathe.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 2, 2013