We got a glimpse of the stage dancer’s hard, short professional life in “A Chorus Line.” But for a taste of the serious wear and tear, the brute strength, debilitating injuries and career-crushing ageism facing the women and men in tights and leotards, check out “The Aerialist,” one of the most revealing movies about the dancer’s life ever made.
Gymnast, dancer, aerialist and actress Dreya Weber and her director/ex-husband Ned Farr made this sequel to “The Gymnast,” which captured the dancing and Vegas acrobatics after-life of a former Olympic hopeful Jane Hawkins (Weber).
That film captured Jane at 43 — well-past the average show dancer’s lifespan. In “The Aerialist,” the woman her colleagues nicknamed “The Hawk” is a veritable legend, “the oldest aerialist in rock’n roll,” her neighbor Dan (Stef Tovar) jokes as he gives another life-saving massage. “You know how dumb that sounds?”
She won’t accept that. Jane has rejoined “The Family,” the longtime stage dancers and aerialists who liven up the concerts of rock-pop legend Aurora (Monique Parent) on her “last tour.” This tightknit group, reminiscent of Taylor Swift, Beyonce or Madonna’s accompanying dancers (Madonna’s even called themselves “The Family,” if memory serves), has been together 20 years. All they need to do is rehearse the routines and get in tour shape with choreographer Spencer (Bernard White), and on the road they go — subletting their LA and/or Vegas apartments, traveling the world, one venue at a time.
But Spencer’s short-tempered and panicked, yelling even at his aerial director and friend, Jane.
“It’s fine,” she says.
“It’s not. ‘It’s’ back.”
He’s too sick to carry on. Jane is put in charge of getting everybody ready, but that lasts for just a day as a hot new choreographer with “the vision” shows up. Xavier, “Call me Z” (Kelly Marcus) has zero experience dealing with the safety issues and physical demands of rope, ring and Spanish Web performances. He starts getting people hurt the minute he walks in the door.
The Family is in open revolt. Jane is humiliated and enraged and more physically imperiled than anybody else, being the oldest. Something’s got to give. Does Aurora know about this?
But the generic and only mildly-interesting surface intrigues are not what lift “The Aerialist.” It’s the story of a dancer on her last legs, shoulders and fingers that holds our interest.
Given a lift home by her “Gymnast” aerialist co-star Serena (Addie Yungmee) lets them compare wounds and war stories. Seeing Serena limp off shows Jane as she’s not yet willing to see herself — practically crippled by work she’s barely able to manage any more.
The massages, consultations with a doctor, tape she covers up and injuries she hides from the punk “Z” are an extra level of “performance” that goes into her day.
There’s no HR department in rock’n roll. Z can get away with his snide “back in the day,” cracks, suggesting how dated they and their dancing are, his “This is no longer The Dinosaur Tour” and “Eat your Wheaties, lose some weight, drink your Ensure” insults.
Some won’t put up with that. Some will. Don’t take that “Family” nickname too seriously. Because business is business, ESPECIALLY in show business.
The romantic/marital/sexual wrinkles in “The Gymnast” are replaced by those provided by a reporter (Morgan Bradley) demanding that The Hawk “let me IN” to her inner secrets for a too-revealing profile. Others tell the reporter bits of Jane’s story, and Jane herself summarizes her career — a 1980 Olympic hopeful, but the Olympics were boycotted, hopeful again in ’84 and ’88, “But life for me started when I learned how to fly!” — when she can spare a second.
And then there’s the singing star’s daughter (Victoria Meade), a go-fer during rehearsals until Jane finds more appropriate work for her to do.
But the melodramatic script isn’t the draw here. It’s the demanding artistry, the behind-the-curtains peek at how the dancing/flying sausage factory of pop concert tours are pieced together.
What’s worth watching and considering is the athleticism, bravery and calling of the dancers, just needing that next gig, just wanting to hang on to their careers a little longer, just wanting another chance to show “what I did for love.”
MPAA Rating: unrated
Cast: Dreya Weber, Morgan Bradley, Kelly Marcus, Victoria Meade,Thunderbird Dinwiddie, Grasan Kingsberry and Stef Tovar
Credits: Written and directed by Ned Farr. An Indie Rights release.
Running time: 1:4