Alex welds by day, dances at a strip club by night, meets a powerful guy and longs to be in a ballet company in Adrian Lyne's vintage 1983 dance movie, Flashdance, now a musical on the Theatre Under the Stars stage, Tuesday through June 16.
Frances bounces around apartments in New York looking hipster adorable, while longing to be in the company in Noah Baumbach's charming new sorta kinda dance film Frances Ha, now screening at Sundance Cinemas.
I'm so happy that Frances Ha came along, just in time for me to revisit the Flashdance era. Alex and Frances are such noble dance heroines. We feel for them, root for them and hope they get the job, the guy, or at least a better apartment. They both have big dreams, boyfriend problems and that pie in sky goal to "make the company."
She's a maniac, alright
Flashdance occupies a special place in our hearts as the weirdest dance movie ever. It basically makes no sense, but does that matter when a movie made leg warmers and ripped T-shirts things dancers would never put on again? (That's how it works, if you are wearing it, dancers have moved on.) It's set in Pittsburgh of all places, a former steel hub rather than dance hub.
Jillian Mueller plays Alex in the TUTS production, a role she was born to play. She does all her own dancing, unlike Jennifer Beals, who had the magnificent Marine Jahan as her dancer double.
"All the iconic dances from the film are in there, and then some. And, at one point, a bucket of water falls on me."
"I got Flashdance as a gift when I was 7," says Mueller. "I've been obsessed with this movie ever since."
Mueller started working professionally on Broadway at age 12. Her resume includes national tours of Memphis and American Idiot, Bye Bye Birdie, How the Grinch Stole Christmas on Broadway and A Gifted Man on CBS. Although she has some terrific credits, she will be the first to say that there have been slow times in her career.
"Flashdance is partly telling my story," she says.
Mueller has her own ideas on why Flashdance made such a dent in our collective dance film consciousness. "Alex is such an underdog," she says. "That's what makes it a memorable film." As for the film being turned into a musical, Mueller sets me straight. "It was originally written as a musical but then Hollywood swooped in."
Flashdance, The Musical, is as dansical as it gets, all of which makes it great for dance fans and exhausting for Mueller. "I never leave the stage," says Mueller. "All the iconic dances from the film are in there, and then some. And, at one point, a bucket of water falls on me."
Frances tapdances, pirouettes on cue and still doesn't make the ranks
Greta Gerwig charms us from her first endearing, bordering on lame, sidewalk tap dance. OK, so we cringe a little when she performs a wobbly pirouette on demand at a party. And maybe we sigh when we find out she's an still apprentice at 27 (ancient in dancer years). The worry really sets in when she heads back to her alma mater, SUNY Purchase, to be an RA for a summer intensive. Her prospects are slim. Gerwig's "Oh what a feeling" moments happen mostly outside of the dance studio, when she's hanging out with Sophie, her ex-roomie.
That said, I have to appreciate that she's a dancer of the post-modern variety, the least represented genre of dance in pop culture. It's going to be a long haul before we see a SYTYCD couple pick "post modern" out of their dance hat, which is why it's so cool to see her world, and even the beloved New York hub, Dance New Amsterdam, in the film.
"The fact that Frances Ha has made modern dance somewhat visible to the mainstream movie market is extremely encouraging."
Max Stone, artistic director of Sexy Beast, choreographed the company’s rehearsal scene near the beginning of the film and the concert. "The fact that Frances Ha has made modern dance somewhat visible to the mainstream movie market is extremely encouraging," says Stone. "This form of dance is virtually unknown outside of live performance and documentary film formats."
Stone feels the film is spot on in getting the scene right. "The struggling dance apprentice is portrayed pretty accurately, along with the accompanying doubts and frustrations," he says. "It’s such an uncertain position and of course there’s usually no pay." He considers Baumbach's movie larger than a dance story. "It’s mainly a coming of age story about a young friendship that must ultimately evolve into adulthood," says Stone. "The fact that Frances is an individual with an artistic sensibility doesn’t help her situation. All artists retain a sense of innocence and wonder within them."
Alex and Frances probably would not be BFFs
Alex's dancing is way more sex charged than Frances' gender neutral dance world. There is way less dance in Frances Ha, and once you see her dance, you are OK with that. Trust me, way more people would be cringing with a less talented actor in the part. Honestly, she seems more about having fun with her friends than our dance-aholic Alex.
Toward the end, Frances comes into her strength as a choreographer, making a dance that just oozes her bumbling through life quirkiness. Although another choreographer worked on that piece, Stone loves it. " It truly looks like a piece that Frances would have created."
There is one odd thing that both Frances and Alex share, they never seem to take class. "For a dancer, taking class on a daily basis is fundamental to who we are," says Stone. "Possibly, this is why she’s not the best dancer in the company."
Alex makes the company, Frances does not; she gets a desk job and a chance at making it as rising choreographer. Sequel please Mr. Baumbach. Alex gets the guy, while the possibility of love for the "undateable" Frances is left wide open.
Here's to dance heroines. I love them all.
Check out the Flashdance The Musical trailer, it's a lot like the movie, but more dancing:
You can see Greta Gerwig's embodied charm in the Frances Ha trailer: