2020 has been a rough year for everyone but for those working in the entertainment industry, it’s been absolutely soul-crushing. Theatres closed up overnight, cinemas struggled to fill and eventually closed too while DJs now find themselves with an unreal amount of free-time on their hands.
Documentaries like Dance Dreams are a reminder of the joy and inspiration theatres and musicals bring into our lives, paying tribute to those amazing men and women in the industry, while honing in specifically on Debbie Allen and her special brand of Nutcracker performance.
For those unaware, the Nutcracker Ballet is performed by over 700 companies in cities around the world. More than 600 are situated the US.
For Debbie Allen, she made it her mission to create her own unique identity within the dance world. In 2008 she created her own version of this ballet called “Hot Chocolate Nutcracker”, practiced through her own dance academy known as DADA.
What sets this apart from other performances however, is the emphasis on bringing kids in from all walks of life and giving them a chance to shine on stage.
Dance Dreams begins with an introduction to the academy itself, with a 9 week countdown to the annual performance of the Hot Chocolate Nutcracker. The usual audition segments are here, complete with fly-on-the-wall footage to showcase the girls and guys practicing in front of mirrors, being drilled by Debbie as well as doing their best to make the final cut.
In between these are various talking head segments too, with numerous different dancers interviewed and sharing their own history and thoughts on the process. There’s some really good moments here touching on body issues and problems within the dance community but frustratingly these are kept at arm’s length and aren’t explored in as much detail as they could be.
Despite the documentary re-iterating how this is an all-inclusive performance, I can’t help but mention a specific section partway through about hip-hop dancing. Here, Debbie and the others joke about the fact this is a strictly males-only performance. Why? Why can’t girls take part in this? It may sound trivial but coming off the back of the earlier mention of inclusivity, it seems an odd juxtaposition to use.
There’s a fair amount of run-time taken up with Debbie Allen’s past too, shining light on her childhood and the history of ballet dancing and the industry in general. All of this builds up to the final performance but annoyingly we only see snippets of this, instead with emphasis on the various dancers sharing their dreams for what they want to do after the performances.
Given the year we’ve had and the issues facing the theatre industry, some of these stories are unintentionally quite difficult to hear.
Regardless, Dance Dreams is a solid documentary that sheds light on a competitive and talented industry full of brilliant dancers and singers. Those working in the theatre have had a real rough time of it and documentaries like this are another reminder of how sorely missed these talented men and women are. Hopefully we’ll see them back on the stage sooner rather than later.