Five Dances (2013) (Not Rated)
I was reading a book on the history of queerness in American recently (because what else would I do in my spare time?) and an interesting critique came up: where are the happy gays? For so long in cinema, the homosexual character served as either the butt of the joke or the recipient of violence for "morality's sake". Then, when gay movies started to be made by more mainstream production companies, we saw something interesting happen: we don't really believe a happy ending. We got past the problem of representation (well, not really, but kind of) and suddenly unhappy endings were being made. These movies are great, look at "Brokeback Mountain" or "Weekend" for examples, but yet they leave something to be desired.
"Five Dances" isn't a masterpiece; but it does rely on a certain unspoken simplicity that very few film makers have the maturity to do. Instead of simply being a movie about two gay dancers, this is a movie about dance. We see five central dances bookmark different moments throughout the film. The drama in between those moments is often what makes the movie more compelling. Alan Brown is keen to show not only the art but the eroticism of dance. Most of how he accomplishes this is with lighting.
The plot is almost offensively simple. Young, 18 year old Chip (Ryan Steele) has moved to New York to be in a very small dance company which is working on a show that will take place in the near future. He is from Kansas and his mother, a horrible bullying voice we only hear over the phone, hates that he isn't with her. She calls him almost nightly and wants to know what he's doing and when he's coming home. This is your typical unsupportive and most likely homophobic parent.
Much of the film isn't cheesy enough to see Chip wrestling with his sexuality, but we get the sense that he does have inner turmoil about this. Being placed in close proximity to another well-muscled, dancer doesn't help the situation either. Theo (Reed Luplau) isn't very prominent in the movie. He's almost a background character for much of it, but he doesn't need to be in the foreground. Brown allows the camera to catch sideways glances and turned heads every so often to keep reminding us that Theo is very much a noticed character.
Chip begins to struggle financially as his housing situation falls through and his co-dancer, Katie (Catherine Miller) lets him crash at her place. Chip is a very awkward person and the film doesn't give him too many moments to expound on this awkwardness, a fact that I'm very thankful for. "Five Dances" doesn't try too hard to be too hipstery or too erotic. It's really neither of those things, but it is essentially romantic.
It's not a long movie, but it doesn't have to be. From its opening shot to the end credits, it feels suspended for a moment. Though it does at times feel too good to be true and maybe too optimistic, I find myself being okay with that. This is an indie movie true and true but it finds a way to answer the issue of happy endings. Yes, we deserve one and yes, we get one. Is it honest? Maybe not. But should that keep us from trying? Certainly not.
"Five Dancers" is beautiful, flawed, poetic, romantic, and joyous.
Posted by Micah Jones