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Razzle Dazzle: A Journey into Dance (2006)


Mr Jonathon (Ben Miller) has never been conventional. The young girls in his dance school perform routines about evil scientists, greedy corporations and the oppression of women – even though most of them are only aged between eight and twelve. His biggest star is Tenille (Shayni Notelovitz), whose mother Justine (Kerry Armstrong) defines the term ‘stage mother’. His newest rising star is Grace (Clancy Ryan), whose mother Paulette (Nadine Garner) can never be on time. Mr Jonathon’s main rival at the coveted Sanosafe Troupe Spectacular competition is Miss Elizabeth (Jane Hall) who runs her school on disciplined lines – ‘less eating, more stretching’ is one of her mottos. Miss Elizabeth usually wins, but Mr Jonathon is determined to go all the way this year, even though he doesn’t care for competitions. His girls work hard on a routine about the plight of women in Afghanistan, but disaster strikes when Tenille collapses, from exhaustion. Mr Jonathon has ten minutes to re-choreograph the routine and take his shot at glory.

Curator’s notes

Razzle Dazzle is a mockumentary but the mockery is wisely reserved for the adult characters. The children give the film the innocence and heart that most mockumentaries lack. Even though we know most of the adults are faking it, we can recognise just as clearly that the children are keeping it real. They really are dancing their hearts out, and director Darren Ashton gives us a number of montages where we see just how good these young dancers are. A title at the outset says that there are 350,000 young dancers and 4,000 dance schools in Australia, and the film does its best to show how hard they work. The children are also characterised as sensible and sensitive – in marked contrast to the adults, who behave badly at nearly every opportunity. Miss Elizabeth is a relentless bully who undermines her girls’ confidence at every level; Justine (Kerry Armstrong) is a pathetic stage mother who competes with her own child. Barbara (Denise Roberts), the business manager for Mr Jonathon, actually kidnaps a child, so badly does she want to be the proud mum. Mr Jonathon himself is a likeable failure, an also-ran as a choreographer who resorts to wildly inappropriate ideas to get noticed.

The film is thus built up from balanced opposites – the hopes of the children on one side, the dashed hopes of the adults on the other. It is not easy to achieve a balance, so that the satire is sharp but not mean-spirited, but Razzle Dazzle does that. It’s affectionate, rather than vicious. There is an obvious debt to the style and form of Strictly Ballroom, which is acknowledged in the casting of Paul Mercurio and Tara Morice. At the same time, Razzle Dazzle is never as exaggerated in its humour or design. There are few moments in the film that seem to obviously stretch credibility – which is a scary thought. The realism gives the movie some substance and connection to the world it depicts.