Review: ‘High Strung Free Dance’ is destined for cult classic greatness

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'High Strung Free Dance' is a dance movie that's about so much more.
Image: 'High Strung Free Dance'

** Spoilers Ahead**

At the heart of “Footloose” is a story about determination. “West Side Story” has drama. “Flashdance” touches on feminism. Every dance movie has an underlying message. For “High Strung Free Dance,” the moral is: Dream big, dance free.

To Dance, You Must Start with a Foundation

“High Strung Free Dance” was penned by husband and wife team Michael and Janeen Damian. The two have a long history in the entertainment industry, which includes time on Broadway. Janeen was also a “Solid Gold” dancer. Her husband Michael Damian starred on “The Young and the Restless” for three decades. His song, “Rock On,” also topped the charts in the 80s. The David Essex remake was featured in the Corey Haim and Corey Feldman film-favorite, “Dream a Little Dream.”

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The husband and wife duo also penned the first incarnation of “High Strung.” Both films were directed by Michael and the first one became a cult classic. The cast was filled with incredible dancers and featured the ever-fabulous Jane Seymour. Before Seymour’s iconic onscreen career, she was a dancer. Oddly enough, she only pursued acting after an injury derailed her original career. Seymour returns for the sequel as Oksana and also serves as an executive producer.

The film’s choreography was done by Emmy Award-winner Tyce Diorio (‘So You Think You Can Dance’). It features over 80 professional dancers who deliver a mix of styles. “High Strung Free Dance” incorporates nearly every style from ballet to tap and contemporary to Bollywood. There’s plenty of variety to feast your eyes on.

Image: ‘High Strung Free Dance’

The Show Must Go On

Oksana’s daughter, Barlow (played by the lovely Juliet Doherty), is an aspiring dancer struggling to make it in the Big Apple. The Broadway-minded starlet works a job she’s not keen on to keep her afloat until she lands a role as a backup dancer with renowned choreographer Zander Raines (played by ‘Descendants’ star Thomas Doherty). The two Dohertys bear no relation.

Early on, viewers meet the gifted, aspiring pianist, Charlie (Harry Jarvis). He, too, works a day job as a delivery boy and can’t wait to get out of it. Eventually, on one of his runs, he encounters an older, shut-in woman named Rose (Kika Markham). The former piano teacher can no longer play but develops a mentor-mentee relationship with Charlie.

As viewers learn, some accidental meetings might be better described as a twist of fate. One wrong turn brings Barlow, Zander, and Charlie together. Each of them has tenacity, passion, and incredible talent. Soon enough, things fall into place and they embrace their respective roles so they can put together the show of a lifetime. Zander takes a chance on both hopefuls, eventually placing them as leads in his Broadway show, “Free Dance.” Barlow stars as the lead dancer while Charlie stars as the pianist.

Image: ‘High Strung Free Dance’

Other standout performances include those of Ace Bhatti (Ravi), Joshua Sinclair- Evans (Shane), Manuel Pacific (Kid Diamond), Breck Gallini (Peyton), Nataly Santiago (Paloma), and Desmond Richardson (Sammy), among others. Nigel Lythgoe makes a cameo in the film as well.

Opening Night

Under the direction of Michael Damian, the cast travels down a path that makes this movie destined to become another cult classic. Every good dance-oriented movie has a similar structure. Just like the greats that came before, focused viewers can pinpoint each element hidden between eye-catching dance numbers that work together in this very magical recipe.

The story is always about someone with a dream, their fight to get to the top, a conflict with someone they care about, and, of course, romance. As do most other movies in this genre, things always end with some form of happiness for the lead character.

While there are some similarities to films that have come before, “High Strung Free Dance” falls somewhere in between “Center Stage” and “Staying Alive.” Sure, you can make the comparison, but in the end, this movie stands alone thanks to the people who brought it all together. Not only is the dancing phenomenal (which would be expected in the situation), but the acting, writing, and score all stand strong on their own.

Art is meant to convey emotion, and every element of this film does just that—whether it’s the dancing, the acting, or the music. No matter what draws you in, emotion is felt within every artistic endeavor displayed on the screen.

Closing Night

It is easy to get lost in the scenes and the believability of the actors. The sheer talent of everyone involved is astounding. Jarvis not only played his own music but proved to be a prodigy. Thomas Doherty did what would be a challenge to most actors. He made his character (who sometimes made questionable decisions) extremely lovable. Meanwhile, Juliet Doherty is one of the most exquisite dancers you could ever lay eyes on. She makes every move look effortless.

Image: ‘High Strung Free Dance’

Looking at the plot itself, the cast’s performances only enhanced what the story gave us. Juliet was given the role of the lead, before it was taken away, only to have it returned to her, stolen away, and then brought back to her in the end. Zander, who genuinely seems to have feelings for Juliet, puts his first love above all else: his love for the show. As that took priority, it led everyone to their rightful place and gave beautiful opportunities to those around him who deserved it.

Curtain Call

Music gives us permission to feel. A good story gives us something to believe in. “High Strung Free Dance” does all of this. Every good dance-oriented movie isn’t necessarily about the dancing. It’s about courage, perseverance, reaching for your dreams, and finding love, whether it’s with someone else or for yourself—or sometimes both.

“High Strung Free Dance” is in theaters now.

You can watch the official trailer below:

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Sari Cohen is a journalist based in the Greater L.A. Area. She began her career in the entertainment industry as a stand-up comedy writer/performer and over the years has developed scripts for both the stage and screen. She currently covers music and live entertainment for AXS, reviews movies for Hollywood First Look Features and writes for InLove Magazine. She also pens funny stuff for popular sites such as Cracked and Screen Rant. You can often find her at concerts or on a red carpet somewhere, talking to someone about something. From on-the-scene reporting to exclusive interviews, she tackles every topic from music, movies and television, to fashion, lifestyle and politics. You can check out more on Twitter at @ask_sari or follow her adventures on Instagram under @thesavvyscribbler.