A studious, tightly wound square. The stubborn, pouty-lipped rebel. Where would the dance film be without these opposing archetypes coming together to ace the climactic performance that will meld their disparate styles and clashing hearts?
Fortunately for energetic (if unsubtle) music-romance High Strung, co-writer/director Michael Damian dispenses with the will-they-or-won’t-they early on, allowing his cast’s powerful artistry to take the spotlight. Professional ballerina Keenan Kampa — as limber as a fully articulated Barbie doll — makes her promising acting debut as Ruby, a wide-eyed Midwestern beauty newly enrolled at a Manhattan conservatory. She meets her leather-clad Ken in Byronic violinist Johnnie (Nicholas Galitzine), a British subway busker living on borrowed cash and time. Will she master contemporary dance in order to keep her scholarship? Will he find discipline and a legal means of staying in the U.S.?
You know the answers. But don’t get too caught up in the stakes, because choreography, not plot, is the star of this frenetic little film. Capturing accomplished dancers in genres from ballet to Irish step, Damian’s whirling camera reminds us that New York can feel like a city of infinite possibility for young performers.
With its shades of Fame and Step Up, the story would have benefited from further development of the established socioeconomic conflicts that seem to drive Ruby and Johnnie’s ambitions. (And don’t expect racial privilege to factor in at all, even when our lily-white leads only find success with the help of a mostly African-American hip-hop crew.) Still, what it loses in thematic richness, the uncynical High Strung makes up for in pure joy.
Directed by Michael Damian
Paladin and Bloom
Opens April 8, AMC Empire 25