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Politically correct dance routines for pre-teens (eg The Dance of the Taliban), routines designed to help save the world, are some of the attractions of Razzle Dazzle, a new Australian satire that takes us behind the dazzle of the dance school competition world. Are you ready for Mr Jonathon, asks Andrew L. Urban.

Mr Johnathon (Ben Miller), one of the competing choreographers in Razzle Dazzle, has this to say about creating his routines: “I like to take the audience, show them very clearly where we’re going, suddenly from behind slip a bag over their head, bend them over double, get them in a head-lock, rabbit-punch them very, very quickly in the kidneys, get the knuckles of my hand and rub them all over their face, then whip the bag off, kiss them… see…’cause I’ve subverted them.” Of course it’s the delivery of these lines (and all his other lines in the film) that help set the funny yet edgy tone of this new Australian comedy, directed by Darren Ashton.

Ashton admits that it’s the tone that he failed to get right in his previous film, Thunderstruck, or at least it was uneven. Not this time; Razzle Dazzle skates across the ice of satire with a surefooted sense of purpose.

The seriously politically correct dance school teacher Mr Jonathon is once again in fierce competition with 5-time champion Miss Elizabeth (Jane Hall) and her troupe of littlies, in the Sanosafe Troupe Spectacular. This time a documentary crew follows the preparations, which shows the determination of young dancer Tenille’s (Shayni Notelovitz) mum Justine (Kerry Armstrong), who will stop at nothing to ensure her daughter is on the winning team – and in a leading role. Mr Jonathon is helped by his assistant Barbara (Denise Roberts) and wardrobe queen Marianne (Tara Morice), preparing the troupe to face the judges (Noelene Browne, Toni Lamond, Leo Sayer) on the big night.

"the pleasure of satire"

There isn’t any figure in showbiz who generates the instant dread that a stage mother generates, and conversely, there isn’t a child performer who doesn’t capture our attention – for one reason or another. In Razzle Dazzle, we have the pleasure of satire targeting the former and genuine respect embracing the latter.

Kerry Armstrong delivers a sizzling Justine, just the right balance between reality and satire, and indeed, the entire cast catches on. As do audiences.

The film links to Strictly Ballroom tenuously via its dance setting; and Strictly’s stars, both Tara Morice and Paul Mercurio, have support roles – and Strictly’s famous choreograoher, John ‘Cha Cha’ O’Connell is responsible for Razzle Dazzle’s routines – all clever and hilarious at once.

Filled with carefully chosen music, Razzle Dazzle sounds like a big budget film: rights to some of these songs are dazzlingly expensive. If you use the original recordings, that is … as producer Jodi Matterson explains, the filmmakers got around that by having covers recorded.

But in the end, it’s the combination of script (Carolyn Wilson & Robin Ince), direction and performances that elevate this to a comedy worthy of the genre. And Darren Ashton modestly claims less than usual directorial credit, since he left the dancing children in the directorial care of the adult actors. None of the dancers were given a script, and their performances and reactions were recorded by a roving camera, delivering their very real performances.

Adding to this effect is the film’s gently mockumentary style; and unique touches, such as the Taliban dance routine. Oh yes, Mr Jonathon has something to say – and so does Razzle Dazzle, just not quite what you expect. Thank goodness.

Published March 15, 2007

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