IU graduate student Robert Mack is no stranger to the art of combining dance and film — two things he has a clear passion for — and nowhere is this better seen than in his latest short film “Dancing Man.”
The film follows a ballet dancer, David, as he finds himself entranced by a new female dancer at his ballet company. After being offered a chance for his dream career by a guest choreographer, David finds himself torn between the girl he loves — Gabriella — and the career he’s always dreamed of.
Mack’s short film was brought to my attention last year, and I have been keeping a close eye on production ever since. I was very excited to see the finished product, and I was not disappointed.
The opening shot sets the tone instantly — a black-and-white shot of a top hat on a stage, picked up by David in a white tie and tails a la Fred Astaire. As the opening credits play, David dances in a style emulating classic Hollywood films, relaying to the audience that this is a film with a clear love of a bygone genre.
While this is all revealed to simply be David’s imagination as he daydreams before ballet class, it shows the audience very quickly that the main character enters this fantastical dance world to escape from the drudgery and complications of reality.
The film avoids being a copy and paste homage to classic musicals by interweaving the plot within the fantasy dance sequences choreographed by Tony Award Nominee Chris Lingner. The numbers are incredible and serve as entertaining representations of David’s thoughts and feelings, never stopping the momentum of the plot.
By blending plot and dance, the dance numbers have a clear purpose and drive, never once is there confusion as to the reason a dance number is occurring nor what it is conveying.
A rather striking number is after David receives his written offer to transfer companies, and he imagines himself dancing with a ballet corps and his love before being pulled into a different dance with members of the other company — brilliantly representing his internal conflict to belong in both worlds.
The way in which these numbers are shot is also — like the rest of the film — visually stunning. Mack chooses to shoot the dances in long takes, allowing the skill of the dancers to truly shine and the overall number to truly breathe and take on a life of its own.
The characters are brought to life rather naturally by the entire cast, particularly IU junior Zoe Gallagher, whose performance as David’s friend, Ally, got more than one hearty laugh from the audience with her witty remarks and sarcastic attitude.
Additionally, Mack and Ahna Lipchik — who plays Gabriella — also have great scenes together, and the first dance between the two of them that David imagines is something that can really only be experienced firsthand.
Yi-Chen Chiang’s score is also worthy of praise as it perfectly emulates the spirit and sound of old films while still being unique to itself and the story it accompanies.
The underlying message of the film — a reminder of the consequences of escapism — is a poignant one; the ending is a realistic and striking moment that again, is visually captured perfectly.
Mack and his team deliver on a film that is not only incredibly fun to watch, but also leaves one pondering their own fantasies — questioning if we sometimes go too far into our own minds in search of an easier road to walk down.