Around the Festivals :: Alan Brown & Ryan Steele on ’Five Dances’

by Lewis Whittington

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday July 19, 2013

Independent filmmaker Alan Brown's had a big hit at Qfest two years ago with his gay variation on "Romeo and Juliet": "Private Romeo." this year he's back with "Five Dances," his latest feature about dancers attempting to make it in New York's highly competitive world of dance.

In the film actor Ryan Steele (from Broadway's "Newsies") plays Chip, an 18-year-old closeted dancer from Kansas determined to make his way as a dancer as part of a New York-based modern dance company. Set largely in a rehearsal hall, the film is structure around five performance sequences choreographed by Jonah Bokaer. "Five Dances" also a quiet gay coming out story that has Chip coming to terms with his sexuality when he begins to work with another company member, Theo (Reed Luplau).

At the Qfest premiere, most of the full house stayed to hear Brown and Steele in the post-screening Q&A. An audience member commented that he was so moved by the visual storytelling. "The film let me to stop listening to the lines and the way that the bodies were telling the stories," he said. "I got more visually, than I got from the dialogue, not to say...well the visuals were beautiful."

Brown's largely unedited dance sequences show cast members Kimye Corwin, Catherine Miller, Luke Murphy and Reed Luplau for the accomplished dancers they are. Luplau, who dances with the revered Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, plays Theo, the romantic lead that seduces Chip.

As realistically as Brown depicts the day-to-day grind of a dancer's life, he said that he didn't have a dance background. "You would not want to see me dance," he assured.

"But I love dance," he continued. "The great thing about being a writer-director is that you get to jump into worlds you don't belong. So this was a wonderful adventure for me, for a year (while making the film) I was a dancer-choreographer, which is something I can't be in real life. In pre-production, shooting and six months of editing I got to be sort of a choreographer-dancer."

Steele, without doubt, is a dancer of remarkable ballet facility and post-modern idioms. He left ballet when he was cast in the celebrated 50th year revival of "West Side Story." He is currently one of the strongest dancers-actors on Broadway, just in the past year was featured in "Newsies" and the current smash British import "Matilda." Everyone fell in love with him onscreen and off as he joked with the audience about how easy it was to make out with his co-star Reed Luplau, who dances with the Lar Lubovitch company.

Hanging out in front of the theater later, Brown and Steele discussed the development of the dance sequences in the film, created by choreographer Jonah Bokaer, a long-time friend of Brown. Bokaer danced with the Merce Cunningham Company and now works mostly in Europe. Like Cunningham, Bokaer rehearsed the dancers without music. "Jonah didn't see a script in advance," Brown said. "He just knew there would be five sections and a solo for Ryan. We chose the dancers together. I trusted him to create his piece and he respected me to film it."

It was fortuitous that both Brown and Steele were able to be at the Philly premiere; commitments prevented Brown from attending the film's Paris premiere; and Steele from attending a Boston screening.

One comment the pair has heard over and over again is how dancers are expressing their thanks that it is not another psycho dance movie about eating disorders, ballerinas hurting themselves or crazy choreographers.

And that it emphasized the hard work and determination it takes to be a dancer, which was reflected in the fact that the troupe had three twelve hour days to learn Bokaer's choreography before filming, "It was a lot (to learn), but definitely a blast, said Steele.

"I think the bond between the five dancers in the movie was very strong. There was a general sense of fear, I think because as theater dancers we were so uncomfortable in the setting. With dialogue and the camera man working in close and with us. Actually he became part of the troupe. So we all supported each other the atmosphere was like an ensemble."

Alan Brown and Ryan Steele are scheduled to return to Philly Qfest for the second screening July 20 of Five Dances on Saturday, July 20, 12:15pm at the Ritz East Theater 2. For more information, visit the Qfest website.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.