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September 25, 2000

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Get into the groove

Aparajita Saha

An unabashedly joyous celebration of youth and show business, is Center Stage.

Center StageNot since Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing (1987) has a movie so wanted to convey the sensuous thrill of bodies moving to a beat.

Although the music-and-dance propelled Center Stage doesn't really find its groove, its dance numbers are well worth a viewing.

A group of young dancers joins the fictitious American Ballet Academy, the nation's premier school which feeds into the world's greatest ballet companies. We follow the fortunes of a trio of roommates: starry-eyed, all-heart-but-no-talent newcomer Jody (Amanda Schull), the bulimic but perfect Ms Stuck-up Maureen (Susan May Pratt), and naturally talented but rebellious Eva (Zoe Saldana).

Giving the aspiring ballerinas company are the male students -- gay Erik (Shakiem Evans), straight Charlie (actual pro Sascha Radetsky), Russian Sergei (Olympic skater Ilia Kulik).

Cooper (real-life ballet superstar Ethan Stiefel, a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, is the company hotshot and incorrigible womaniser. Looming over them all are the Academy's artistic director Jonathan (Peter Gallagher) and Juliette (Donna Murphy), the regal and graceful lead teacher.

Center Stage Will the kids succeed or will they burn out? Will a ballet company pick them over the numerous others or will they be just one among the many in the chorus lines?

The bad news is that Center Stage pirouettes over too much familiar terrain. The plot consists of predictably trite experiences and sappy love stories.

The dance performances (choreographed by Susan Stroman and Christopher Wheeldon) are brilliantly and vigorously executed. In fact Center Stage only really kicks in when it is dancing. The best of the dancers, Ethan Stiefel as Cooper, amazes us with his high flying, twirling bravado.

Director Nicholas Hytner (The Object Of My Affection, The Crucible) makes it clear from the start that the film exists simply to showcase the dancing itself. As such, it's no shock when the choreography upstages the screenwriting.

Reminiscent of Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1985), Footloose (1984) and Flashdance (1983), Center Stage lacks in actual cinematic ambition but this is adequately compensated by its sheer spunk and energy. Center Stage The good news is that the story's limitations become mere quibbles when the dancing starts.

So get on those dancing shoes and hit the floor: don't sit this one out.

CREDITS:
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Cast: Amanda Schull, ZoŽ Saldana, Ethan Stiefel, Peter Gallagher, Donna Murphy, Susan May Pratt, Sascha Radetsky, Julie Kent, Ilia Kulik, Eion Bailey, Shakiem Evans, Debra Monk, Elizabeth Hubbard, Victor Anthony, Priscilla Lopez
Producer: Laurence Mark
Screenwriter: Carol Heikkinen
Editor: Tariq Anwar
Writer: Carol Heikkinen
Cinematography: Geoffrey Simpson
Music: George Fenton
Choreography: Susan Stroman, Christopher Wheeldon.
Distributor: Columbia Tristar

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