The Next Step

Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: Christian Faber

REVIEWED: 04-20-98

At 35, Broadway gypsy Nick (Negron) refuses to believe he's near the end of his dancing career. Even though his aching muscles and the perpetual, unspoken challenge by younger, more lithe newcomers register annoying blips on his mental radar, Nick refuses to see the writing on the wall when the show he's been in for the last year suddenly closes down and he's forced to scramble for a new gig. The Next Step is at its best and most knowingly articulate as it explores the narcissistic backstage drama of the workaday dance world. It gives us a sense of what it's like for dancers to live so intimately with the terrible knowledge of time's encroachment, of the terror of not being able to do the thing that you love for the rest of your life, and the feeling that you've been betrayed by your own body -- the Judas that no amount of skill or practice can overcome. And, too, the movie shows us the dancer as not unlike a junkie, addicted to the high of the performance and willing to accept all sorts of self-humiliation in order to forestall the devastating crash of withdrawal. Yet Nick also suffers from another problem: an inability to keep his leotard zipped. This heterosexual hoofer has never met a dance partner he didn't want to bed and thus his sex life is a constant tangle of lies, impulses, and selfish behaviors. His compassionate live-in lover Amy (Moreu) hasn't a clue regarding his compulsive seductions. She wants Nick to move with her to Connecticut where she has a job promotion waiting, but we can see that such a move would spell death for Nick. His girlfriend Heidi (Faye) is fed up with Nick's promises and has given him the brush-off. And he's allowed his amorous interests to get disastrously in the way of his moonlighting job performance as a restaurant maître' d'. The unpleasantness of Nick's moral character is part of the problem that bedevils The Next Step. When you cut through the narcissism that defines the dancer's lot, rather than being left with the kind of sad poetry that has been captured on occasion by Degas in his paintings or Ingmar Bergman characters as they prepare autumn sonatas, what we're left with in The Next Step is little more than a vain, self-deluding prick -- the kind of guy you're not too sorry to see suffer a little comeuppance. Certainly some of this is reaction to the clunkiness of the film's dramatic plotting, inadequacies that are further amplified by uneven performances, overly literal visual cues, and a hyperbolic ending. The film's many dance sequences, which in addition to their entertainment value serve the narrative purpose of demonstrating the arduousness of the profession, were choreographed by the legendary Donald Byrd, who also plays a character in the story. Also choreographed to a marked degree are the film's numerous lovemaking scenes. The Next Step offers a provocative cri de couer from the hidden depths of the dance world; conquering the narrative filmmaking world would be an encouraging next step. 2.0 stars

--Marjorie Baumgarten

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