Martin Bureau

Today in "How has this not already happened?" news: Benjamin Millepied—former New York City Ballet principal, former artistic director of the Paris Opéra Ballet, founder/director of L.A. Dance Project, and Mr. Natalie Portman—is going to direct and choreograph a big-screen film, Carmen.

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You guys, there's a new animated ballet movie in the works called Ballerina, and while we don't know a ton about it, we're calling it now: It's gonna be great. Why? Let's review:

  1. The film's choreography is being overseen by incoming Paris Opéra Ballet artistic director Aurelie Dupont. That's a can't-go-wrong level of expertise.
  2. This $30 million project is described as a "Pixar-style musical in 3D." Sold.
  3. We already know dance and animation are meant to be together.
  4. According to IMDB, Maddie Ziegler will be voicing one of the characters.

Ballerina follows Félicie, a young dancer in 1800s France, who follows her dreams at the Paris Opéra Ballet school. It's only just been acquired by U.S. production company, The Weinstein Co., and will be released internationally later this year, so we might have to wait for it to hit U.S. theaters. We'll be keeping our eye out for more info!

A still from Ballerina. (Photo via Variety)

 

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Here’s a recipe for a delicious dance movie mash-up: Gather a gaggle of gorgeous ballerinas and a few top-notch hip-hop crews. Mix in a bunch of talented classical musicians. Add killer choreography by Dave Scott. Shake well.

What’s this magical cinematic concoction called? High Strung—and it’s coming to theaters this summer.

(From left) Rik (Ian Eastwood) and Johnnie (Nicholas Galitzine) break it down in High Strung (photo courtesy Riviera Films)

The film’s story goes like this: Johnnie (Nicholas Galitzine) is a brilliant violinist fresh off the boat from Britain who’s desperate to get a green card. In the meantime, he’s making ends meet by busking in the NYC subways. Luckily, his new friend Ruby (Mariinsky Ballet alum Keenan Kampa), a ballet student at a prestigious performing arts school, has the inside scoop on a strings-and-dance competition that could land him $25,000 and a student visa to stay in the U.S. To wow the judges, Johnnie’s going to need not only Ruby’s help, but also an assist from his neighbors: the SwitchSteps hip-hop crew.

Per the usual dance movie formula, romance, drama and awesome dancing ensue. But this one just feels different from other dance films. “Having the classical music component really adds a lot,” Kampa says. “And the diversity of the dancing makes the movie special, too. It’s got everything from ballet dancers to b-boys to tango pros to tappers.”

Ruby performing her ballet solo (photo courtesy Riviera Films)

To find all of those accomplished artists, director Michael Damian, writer/producer Janeen Damian (Michael’s wife and a former dancer herself) and Scott had to cast a wide net. They held open auditions in L.A., NYC, Paris, London and Bucharest, Romania, and Scott personally recruited many of the dancers, including “So You Think You Can Dance” standout Comfort Fedoke and “America’s Best Dance Crew” alum Ian Eastwood.

The High Strung shoot, which took place in both NYC and Bucharest, was full of long, grueling days. But the stream of photos and videos on the film’s social media pages prove it definitely wasn’t all work and no play. “Imagine taking 60 great dancers to work every day and letting them loose,” Scott says. “It was just fun from

beginning to end.”

Johnnie romancing Ruby (Keenan Kampa) in NYC (photo courtesy Riviera Films)

High Strung’s Best Dance Scenes

The subway showdown: Two underground hip-hop crews throw down in this high-octane, in-your-face dance sequence filmed in a Romanian train station—

a stand-in for NYC’s subway. (Look for a cameo from Mr. Dave Scott himself!)

The ballet solo: Keenan Kampa gets the spotlight all to herself in a solo so extraordinary, you’ll end up applauding in the movie theater.

The gala: Dueling violins set the soundtrack as the SwitchSteps crew wreaks playful havoc on a formal fundraiser.

The finale: A creative combo of hip hop and classical ballet pulls out all the stops in an over-the-top grand finish.

High Strung's Stars

In a cast packed with dance talent, Keenan Kampa and Ian Eastwood shine especially bright.

Ian Eastwood (photo by Erin Baiano)

America’s Mos Wanted

Maybe you know him from Mos Wanted Crew, which snagged third place on “America’s Best Dance Crew” Season 7. Maybe you’ve watched some of his virtuosic dance videos on YouTube. Or maybe you’ve caught one of his always-packed classes at The PULSE. Basically, Ian  Eastwood is everywhere—including, these days, in movie theaters.

Eastwood’s leap into the acting world started with a call from Dave Scott, whom Eastwood has known since the age of 11, when they met at a Monsters of Hip Hop convention in Chicago. “He said he’d gotten an audition for me, and really wanted me to come,” Eastwood says. “I love Dave and was starting to get into film on the directing end, so I was open to the idea of doing some acting.”

Eastwood landed the role of Rik, the freestyling king of the SwitchSteps crew. It was familiar territory for the innovative hip-hop dancer, who’s trained in a variety of styles. “I drew on real-life experiences I’ve had being in a crew,” he says. “The character felt like a fun, hyped-up version of myself.”

Even though the acting came naturally, Eastwood put a lot of pressure on himself to deliver dance-wise—especially in the intense finale. “I knew this was going to live on camera forever,” he says, “so I had to make it dope for every take.”

Now that the movie has wrapped, Eastwood’s setting his sights on his next ambitious project: a “dance mix-tape” he hopes to debut this summer. “It’s like a fusion of a dance short film and a music mix-tape,” he says of the 25-minute movie, which features a 10-song soundtrack. As the writer, choreographer, director and editor, Eastwood’s the main creative force behind the project, and he credits a lot of his newfound moviemaking skills to his High Strung experience. “I learned a ton about the technical side of things on the film,” he says. “Now I’m taking that knowledge and using it to make something else great.”

From the Mariinsky to the Movies

Ballerina Keenan Kampa was feeling pretty low in January 2014. Though she’d been the first American to join Russia’s prestigious Mariinsky Ballet two years earlier, her stellar career with the company was cut short by injury. She’d returned to the U.S. to undergo surgery to repair several labral tears in her left hip. But shortly after her operation, she received a tweet from High Strung director Michael Damian. “He’d seen me in a story NBC did on the 2014 Olympic ceremonies in Russia, which featured the Mariinsky,” Kampa says. “I wrote back and said that I’d always wanted to act—and was definitely interested in hearing more details.”

Keenan Kampa (photo by Erin Baiano)

Before Kampa could audition, she had to get well. She spent two months at a rehabilitation center in Vail, reclaiming her ballerina body. “I accelerated my recovery as much as I could,” she says. It was hard work, but it paid off: She read for the lead role of Ruby and nailed it, partly because she could relate to the character. “She reminded me of myself when I first started dancing,” Kampa says. “There’s a maturity and seriousness that comes with time, but Ruby’s still in the phase where she’s very wide-eyed and optimistic.”

Though—unlike Ruby—Kampa is a seasoned professional, she still had a thing or two to learn on set. Dancing for the camera rather than a live audience was an adjustment, as was working with a hip-hop choreographer. “I was a little nervous going in, because Dave and I come from such different backgrounds. But he couldn’t have been more fun to work with,” Kampa says. “He’d tell me, ‘I want this feeling,’ and then he’d show me a hip-hop move and ask how I’d translate it to ballet.”

Kampa also picked up a few things from the SwitchSteps dancers, who taught her everything from popping and locking to headspins. “It was like a party,” she says, laughing. “As ballet dancers, we tend to get lost in aesthetics and the quest for perfection. It was really eye-opening for me to see how much they just loved moving.”

Kampa’s acting career is now in full force: She recently signed with the company that manages Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller. Her original plan of returning to Russia after healing is now on hold, and she’s totally OK with that. “I’m going to take a break from the ballet company and see what happens with acting,” she says. “I’m in a very happy place right now!”

Is it Friday yet? WOMP. If you, like us, are suffering from a severe case of the Mondays, we've got a little something to ease your pain (or at least distract you from whatever productive thing you "should" be doing).

You know we love a good dance-in-movies supercut, and today, we're sharing perhaps the most epic montage yet. It features 88 dance scenes in just over three minutes (88!)—and it's set to Walk the Moon's "Shut Up and Dance," which is pretty much always good advice.

The coolest thing about this supercut is its range: It has your classic dance flicks—Dirty Dancing, Center Stage, Footloose, Save the Last Dance, Flashdance, White Nights—and a number of movies you wouldn't automatically associate with dance. Like who'd have thought to include Perks of Being A Wallflower in a dance supercut? Or what about She's All That, or (500) Days of Summer? This supercut genius thought outside the box, and we're pretty pleased with the results.

Now that we've given you a head start, it's time to test your dance-in-movies chops. Watch the supercut, and see how many of the 88 scenes you can name. (Or, you can cheat and read the comments—the movies are listed frame by frame.)

Why do you love dance?

Seems like a simple enough question—but try to answer it, and your mind probably runs in a million different directions. Back in August, as part of a world-wide casting call, the upcoming dance film Untapped asked the dance community to answer this question. And the result was nothing short of inspirational. Check this out:

All of the feels. Untapped, which is set to begin production in 2015, is about a troubled young girl who discovers dance as a way to release her negative emotions. It celebrates the idea of untapped potential—the fact that there may be a brilliant dancer inside each and every one of us, just waiting to burst out. (Oh, and both Jasmine Harper and Marquese Scott are involved...so there's that.)

While the official casting call has closed—they're in the process of narrowing down the Top 200 submissions—there's still a way to appear as an extra in the film. This week, Untapped launched an Instagram contest: #iamuntappedpotential. Here's how it works:

  1. "Like" Untapped on Instagram (@untappedmovie).
  2. Take a pic of someone who inspires you (could be more than one person).
  3. Post the pic to Instagram.
  4. Tag that person(s) and thank him/her for inspiring you.
  5. Hashtag #iamuntappedpotential.
  6. Tag two other friends and encourage them to join the @untappedmovie movement.

One winner will be randomly selected each day (and announced the following day) to receive a free DVD of the film. On November 4, a grand prize winner will be chosen to be an extra in the film, and five runners-up will receive tickets to the world premiere.

So get ’grammin'!

You can never really have enough Romeo-and-Juliet-esque dance dramas, amiright? I mean, we'll continue to eat up every new Step Up movie until they stop bangin' them out (#teamstepup6). So naturally, we're pretty psyched for tomorrow's digital release of the new star-crossed saga, Dance-Off.

Dance-Off tells the story of Jasmine (played by the gorgeous "SYTYCD" All-Star extraordinaire Kathryn McCormick) and Brandon (played by Shane Harper). The two dancers were childhood duet partners, but life's circumstances pulled them apart—and Jasmine has been heart-broken ever since.

Several years later, the two meet again; however, this time, it's as competitors. Jasmine dances for the affluent Diamond Dance studio, whereas Brandon dances for the inner-city Shockwave Studios (rich in talent, but not so rich in funding). In a gloriously dramatic twist, Jasmine and Brandon are each chosen by their respective studios to compete head-to-head, mano-y-mano, to determine the top studio in the area. As if that isn't enough pressure, Brandon has to win in order to save his studio with the prize money—and it certainly doesn't help that Jasmine's over-the-top dance mom tends to intervene at the least desirable moments.

Throw in a good dose of romantic tension (and some stellar dancing—including tap!), and you've got a smash hit.

Dance-Off releases tomorrow, October 7, but you can pre-order it now on iTunes. To help you pass the time, we've rounded up a couple of Dance-Off clips. First, the trailer:

Next up, a Hulu exclusive clip:

And one more exclusive to round it out:

Where would Step Up’s MSA crew be without the lovably hilarious Jenny Kido? Since co-starring in Step Up 2: The Streets in 2008, Mari Koda (the real-life Kido) has appeared in each Step Up installment, most recently coming to the crew’s rescue in this summer’s Step Up: All In. Koda, a Rock Steady Crew member who moved from her home in Japan to the U.S. after high school, has toured with World of Dance and travels internationally to lead master classes and workshops. DS spoke with Koda to get the inside scoop on the fifth Step Up—including that beyond-fabulous finale featuring fire dancers, roller skaters and chandelier stunts—and her scariest moment during filming.

(Photo by Hudon Taylor)

Dance Spirit: Who were you closest with while filming?

Mari Koda: Briana Evigan and I have been working together since 2007, and we’re always hanging out. Even when we’re not filming, we’ll hang. I call her whenever I’m in L.A., and she calls me when she comes to NYC. It was also awesome to meet and work with b-boy Kid david from California and Parris Goebel from ReQuest Dance Crew in Australia. Parris and I spent a lot of time together—I was really happy to hear she had an accent, too!

DS: What was it like to film the final dance number?

MK: It was pretty emotional, actually! It’s the best part of the movie, and each crew just looks amazing. But when we were filming in Vancouver, I got hit by a car. I don’t remember exactly what happened—I passed out and was taken to an emergency room. Luckily, I didn’t break any bones; I was just badly bruised. The other dancers were so supportive and stayed with me in the hospital. I was in a lot of pain, but I was there to do a movie, and nothing was going to stop me! I wasn’t able to rehearse much, and I learned my part on set. When we watched the scene after filming it, we were all crying.

DS: What do you love most about Jenny Kido?

MK: She always wants to help her friends, no matter what. If Moose or Andie ever need help, she’ll be there—she’s gone from Baltimore to New York to Miami, and now she’s in L.A. She’ll always show up. I just wish she would fall in love! She hasn’t had a romance in any of the films. Maybe in Step Up 6. I’ll wait for it.

Who We’re Watching this Fall

Move over, “Dance Moms”! “The Road to Nationals,” a new web series that goes behind the closed doors of real dance studio rehearsals, premieres this fall. Follow four gifted dancers from North Carolina studio CC & Co. Dance Complex as they prepare for—and attend—Nationals. You’ll see senior dancers Jake Tribus and Sarah Pippin (a 2014 Cover Model Search finalist!) master their solos for New York City Dance Alliance Nationals in NYC, and watch junior powerhouses Alexa Robertson and Tori Kent kill it at The PULSE On Tour’s Summer NYC finale event. Catch the full series at dancespirit.com/.

OK, clearly it's no secret we love dance movies. I mean, the Step Up movies (can't wait 'til Step Up: All In!), Battle of the Year, Teen Beach Movie...we could go on. There's just something magical that happens when you combine a dramatic plot line (romance! rivalry! revenge!) with a killer dance number. So naturally, any time we hear about a new dance flick, we get pretty stoked.

Ladies and gents, allow us to introduce you to High Strung. Written by American actor, singer, and producer Michael Damian (and co-directed by his wife and former dancer Janeen Damian), High Strung follows the relationship of a hip-hop violinist performing in the subways of NYC, and a ballerina on scholarship at Manhattan Conservatory of the Arts. Apparently, the two team up with a dance crew called SwitchSteps, so we're thinking that means some pretty awesome hip-hop and ballet dancing.

Keenan rehearses for High Strung (photo via Facebook)

But what we're most excited about are the names behind this project, with...

...Dave Scott, who also did choreo for Battle of the Year and Step Up 2: The Streets, as the choreographer...

...Mariinsky ballerina extraordinaire (and March 2012 cover girl!) Keenan Kampa as leading lady...

...and hip-hop stars Ian Eastwood, Comfort Fedoke, and Marcus Mitchell (of SwitchSteps) also in featured roles.

Right now, the movie is only in filming stages, and it isn't set to premier until Summer of 2015. BUT writer Michael Damian is super active on the film's Facebook and Twitter pages, posting behind-the-scenes pics, videos, and teasers as the crew films in Romania.

Check out this video of rehearsals for the finale scene (a 10-min scene which took three days to film!):

Looks like they're having too much fun.

Stay tuned for more dance-movie updates next week!

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