Center Stage

Little girls everywhere will flock to see Center Stage. Whether or not it is actually a good movie, enrollment at neighborhood ballet schools will undoubtedly increase in the next couple month. Surprisingly, Center Stage is an amiable film that other people will enjoy, although the lion's share of the audience will be female (interspersed with husbands and boyfriends dragged to the theater). It is an enjoyable if not forgettable alternative to the masculinity currently flooding screens. Center Stage takes place over one year at the American Ballet Academy, the training ground for the elite in the world of ballet.

The academy accepts Jody (Amanda Schull), a wide-eyed ballet enthusiast. She tries her hardest, but is told her technique is off and her body is not ideal for ballet. Her roommate Eva (Zoe Saldana) is much better, but has a large attitude that immediately distances her from her teachers. Maureen (Susan May Pratt, Drive Me Crazy, 10 Things I Hate About You) is their other roommate, the snobby perfect ballerina with an overbearing mother (Debra Monk, ABC's NYPD Blue, The Devil's Advocate). These characters seem like cardboard cutouts, but they actually mature and change in Carol Heikkinen's (Empire Records) script. Although most of the characters display the same characteristics of teenagers in other genre films, they do have something the other films are missing: ambition. These are driven people who want to succeed, and will work hard to get to their goals.

In a movie like this, there is usually a trade-off between the acting ability and the dancing. The director could cast established actors, who could act and not dance, or dancers, who can dance but not act. Here, director Nicholas Hynter (The Object of My Affection, The Crucible) chose the latter, and amazingly, they did a pretty decent job acting, though some performances are strained. Many of the cast hold impressive dancing resumes. Schull belongs to the San Francisco Ballet, Ethan Stiefel (considered by some to be one of the best living dancers) and Sascha Radetsky both belong to the American Ballet Theatre. Choreographers Susan Stroman and Christopher Wheeldon effectively combine classical ballet with more modern touches to create two different mini-ballets at the end of the movie. Some of the musical choices are kind of odd (Jamiroquai? That could work. Michael Jackson? UGH!).

The goal of the dancers in Center Stage is to progress well enough to earn a role in the workshop at the end of the year, where a good performance will ensure a job at a prestigious company. The ABA, headed by Jonathan Reeves (Peter Gallagher, American Beauty, The Player). Reeves and teacher Juliette (Donna Murphy, Jade, The Astronaut's Wife) are thorns in the side of Jody and friends. However, Charlie (Radetsky), another new student, is a prodigy and begins developing feelings for Jody. Jody falls for Cooper (Stiefel), an ex-Academy member and choreographer. The story takes the typical steps and is as predictable as time, but is a nice diversion.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 53 minutes, Rated PG-13 for language and some sensuality.

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