When most of us non-dancers observe men and women flinging themselves across a stage it's typically an aspirational experience. We wish our bodies could do that. We wish our bodies looked like that. We wished our bodies felt like that. So when a filmmaker decides to record dance and dancers, it can turn into a problematic situation: how to avoid the simple fetishisism of the human form, the virtuosity of supple movement.
In Alan Brown's new film, simply titled Five Dances—whose last film, Private Romeo (and introduced us to Seth Numrich and Matt Doyle), subverted the Romeo & Juliet story by placing it in an all-boys' military school—we follow five dancers rehearsing five dances in a Soho loft rehearsal space. The star of the production is Ryan Steele, a young dancer who is currently a magnetic on stage in Disney's Newsies, performing nightly as one of the chorus boys (and is the dance captain). As Brown explains, he had an open casting, looking for professional dancers who could also act. After meeting Steele, he hired him on the spot. "I had never done that before," Brown explains. "Afterward, I went away and started refashioning the script. If we did not have Ryan, it would have been a completely different movie. He became the center of the story."
The dancers perform the work choroegraphed by contemporary dance's latest sweetheart, Jonah Bokaer, someone Brown has known since he was a dancer with the Merce Cunningham company. Although Brown has never danced, he's been an ardent fan of dance for years, which inspired the idea to do this indie film. "I always wanted to go back to dance in some way," Brown explains. "When I used to see it, I was an observer. I’ve never been a dancer, I’m not a choreographer. But this took to a place that I'm not allowed to go."
As Brown was aware, and discussed with his cinematographer, one of the great joys of dance is watching the dancers themselves—"they’re like a different species, they have wonderful bodies and are beautiful to look at"—so they attempted to film the dancers in a more sensual way than most dance films. Rather than have distance, the camera lingers on muscles and feet, showing great attention to the physical exhaustian as well as the grace.
Ultimately, however, it is a story of one boy's journey, at 18, who travels from Kansas to New York City, where he tries to find his tribe. Although the film shows the complications of all the dancers with one another—including Kimiye Corwin, Catherine Miller, and Luke Murphy—Steele does have a steamy scene with another of the male dancers, Australian Reed Luplau. It's one of the sexiest gay-male sex scenes that anyone has seen onscreen in some time.
The film has its world premiere as the opening film of the Dance on Camera festival at the Film Society of Lincoln Center February 1 and will have distribution in cinemas later in the spring of 2013.