back to Flash Reviews
Review, 8-9: Dancing the Body Electric
Why Billy Elliot's Gotta Dance
By Kelly Hargraves
Copyright 2000 Kelly Hargraves
-- It is not easy for me to relate to the feelings of a family and
town trapped in a long and violent strike. Their despair is not
close to any experience I've ever had. I can, though, find empathy
for the young boy in the story of the new film "Billy Elliot" as
he struggles to learn to dance. The frustration he feels while trying
to turn a pirouette, the anger he holds inside for his overbearing
ballet mistress, and his self-consciousness while auditioning to
enter a prestigious dance school, are feelings I have experienced.
The great feat of this film is that it finds a way to make all of
these emotions palpable and, in fact, so gracefully blends such
seemingly diverse subjects -- coal miner strikes and ballet class
-- that each moment is rich with emotional intensity.
tells the story of an eleven-year-old boy who lives with his widowed
father and brother, who have been on strike from the town's coal
mine for more than a year, and his grandmother, whom he must tend
to. The setting is a small northern British town which is quite
dismal and often violent as the rage and frustration of the strikers
builds. Billy unwittingly finds himself interested in a ballet class,
which takes place following his boxing lesson. As he struggles to
learn technique he must also deal with his very unaccepting father,
who forbids him to dance, his aggressive older brother who is looking
for trouble, and his ballet teacher who sees his potential and is
determined to get him to audition for the Royal Ballet School. The
story sounds a bit cliche, but director Stephen Daldry makes it
work! To his credit he has assembled an outstanding ensemble of
actors, especially the young actor Jamie Bell, who plays Billy.
The beautiful cinematography by Brian Tufano ("Trainspotting," "Shallow
Grave") and the deft editing by John Wilson (Peter Greenaway's "Drowning
By Numbers," "The Belly of the Architect") keep the story visually
stimulating and show the dance as a dynamic part of its telling.
The choreography by Peter Darling ("Howard's End," "Richard III")
and the final scene's excerpt from Matthew Bourne's version of "Swan
Lake," assert that this is definitely not the British answer to
"Footloose" or "Flash Dance." It is a poignant portrait of a young
man and his family.
Little did I
know that a film like this could push every emotional button I have
with such eloquence. The mix of humor and sentimental moments make
it a worthy journey. And the dance remains relevant within such
a heated political and social context. It is more than a self-indulgent
whim of a character, or a musical interlude to brighten up the tale.
It is the source of hope and, as Billy says, the thing that makes
him disappear, forget everything and feel electric. These too are
feelings I have felt while dancing and, in fact, while watching
this fine young actor/dancer's performance.
is a former dancer and choreographer, and a dance filmmaker who
has written about dance for several publications. She recently received
her M.A. in Dance and Film Theory from New York University.
back to Flash Reviews