TV Review: ‘Center Stage: On Pointe’

TV Movie Review: 'Center Stage: On
Courtesy Lifetime

The 2000 film “Center Stage” — the source material for “Center Stage: On Pointe,” which is itself the third film in what we are now forced to call the “Center Stage” universe — is, for what it is, modestly brilliant. Written by Carol Heikkinen, who also wrote cult classic “Empire Records,” and directed by Nicholas Hytner, a theater director of some acclaim, the original “Center Stage” is a slightly too-cerebral melodrama about the pressures of professional dance meeting the pressures of being a teenager. It did not do notably well at the box office, but — like “Empire Records” — “Center Stage” found an audience after its theatrical release, due to some combination of home video sales and TV airings of the relatively family-friendly film.

Because the film is so easy to watch — this is a nice way of saying “mediocre” — it invites repeat viewings, to the point that what happens ceases to matter at all. Instead the viewer has to contend with Peter Gallagher’s scenery-chewing performance as a narcissistic company director, teen movie staple Susan May Pratt at the height of her career, and then-unknown Zoe Saldana’s cinematic debut as the attitudinal, “fiery” Eva Rodriguez. Actual American Ballet Theater principal Ethan Stiefel plays a thinly disguised version of himself, merely so that he can perform jeté entrelacés with cinematic abandon; and for some reason, figure skating gold medalist Ilia Kulik is there, too, pining after someone named Galina.

The film is a cabinet of Y2K curiosities, and though it doesn’t aim higher than its station (this was the golden age of teen movies for the kids who grew up to be millennials, after all), it’s suffused with a certain kind of integrity of vision. (It has a pedigree, too: The film is edited by Tariq Anwar and cast by Daniel Swee, who both would go on to work on Oscar-winning features.) The film is careful to balance the realism of struggling to make it as a dancer with the beauty and grace of dance itself; there are no dream sequences, no slow-motion, and very little non-diegetic music, because these dancers are in the business of creating a fantasy, not living in one already. It is that opposite of fantasy the film is most engaged with. While ballet requires a very rigid type of life — including a very specific type of body — dancers, like most people, come in all shapes and sizes. The question is whether those bodies must conform to dance, or dance can conform to them; or to take it even further, whether or not dance is worth what it requires of its disciples, the literal blood and sweat and tears. The question is also, of course, whether or not Jody (Amanda Schull) will kiss Charlie (Sascha Radetsky) or Cooper (Stiefel) at the end of the movie. This is a movie for teenage girls, but “Center Stage” suggested that genre didn’t have to be dumb, even as it necessarily pandered.

The best part of “Center Stage: On Pointe” are the 30-odd seconds, about 20 minutes in, when the characters all watch “Center Stage.” They are, according to the rules of the film, watching the American Ballet Company’s internal taping of the performance, so that they might learn something from it. The callback to Jody’s climactic performance with Charlie and Cooper is to tie off some in-world loose ends; while Radetsky reprises his role as some kind of teacher for the ballet school, Charlie’s wife Jody is said to be traveling in Europe (“12 Monkeys,” in this case, being Europe). But the contrast serves to cheapen “Center Stage: On Pointe.” As much nostalgia as I have for “Center Stage,” it isn’t a great movie. But in comparison to “Center Stage: On Pointe,” it is “Citizen Kane.”

“Center Stage: On Pointe” stars Nicole Muñoz as Bella Parker, the younger sister of the breakout dancer from Detroit in the second “Center Stage” film, “Center Stage: Turn It Up.” In the first few minutes, the film hastily establishes that the ballet company is in some kind of crisis and needs something “modern” to entice audiences. Enter talented ingénue Bella, encouraged to audition by teacher (and her sister’s boyfriend, I guess? It’s kind of confusing) Tommy (Kenny Wormald). As soon as she steps onto the audition stage, the ballet instructors (including Gallagher, making the most of his one day on set) scoff at her lack of formal ballet training and the holes in her tights. But, in a beat that is so poorly conveyed it has to be exclaimed loudly, he “can’t take [his] eyes off her.” It’s almost as if there is more to stage presence than just technique, the film implies — practically falling over itself to imply it harder and harder. Over the objections of the company’s stern ballet instructor, Bella makes it into a summer intensive, or something, where the dancers will either be training or auditioning, or both, who knows. It’s literally ballet summer camp; the players decamp to a well-appointed dance studio in the middle of the woods to dance, bicker, kiss, isolate each other at cafeteria tables, and give each other saccharine pep talks. There is some plot, but it is devoid of either interest or sense.

One of the more confusing elements of the story is that “modern” dance is some kind of blight on classical dance, nearly a hundred years after Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham became titans of the field. But then again, based on what the film is showcasing, they seem to be conflating “modern” with “contemporary” or even “urban” dance, when those are all distinct things. (Musical selections include Adele’s “Hello,” Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” and Rob D’s “Clubbed To Death.”) The style of dance in “Center Stage: On Pointe” that has the ballerinas so ruffled is the type of dancing that you might see on a concert stage or in a music video — and indeed, though it is frustrating that the film feels like 15-odd low-budget music videos strung together, the dance in those segments, and the way it’s filmed, are some of the best parts of the movie. Makes sense, because director Director X. made his career in music videos — notably, Drake’s “Hotline Bling” and Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy.” Insofar that there is writing in this script at all, it is penned by Nisha Ganatra, who is best known as the director for a few episodes of “Transparent.” The writing is easily the weakest element of a weak film — somehow managing to gloss over possibly interesting material, like a body-image subplot, to instead engage with the depth-less story of a cocky dancer getting his just desserts.

“Center Stage: On Pointe” doesn’t merit much attention or analysis — when something is made with little consideration, it’s difficult to expend much, in kind, on the product. But it is a pity to see “Center Stage”’s limited but clear vision mangled to this film that appears to have been made by people who have no interest in either the stuff of the film — dance — or the people who make up the audience — teenage girls. This is a threequel that exists just to point an arrow — or an attitude, in this case — back to the stronger original.

TV Review: 'Center Stage: On Pointe'

(TV Movie: Lifetime, Sat. June 25, 8 p.m.)

Crew

Executive producer, Laurence Mark; producers, Vicki Sotheran, Greg Malcolm; director, Director X.; writer, Nisha Ganatra. 89 MIN.

Cast

Peter Gallagher, Sascha Radetsky, Ethan Stiefel, Nicole Muñoz, Kenny Wormald, Chloe Lukasiak

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  1. The girlfriend in the original Center Stage movie was named “Carolina” not “Garlina.” You are basically making fun of the kid’s accent saying her name.

  2. Ann says:

    The movie was very interesting. Very nice to watch with your family on a weekend. Chloe is a talented actress. She did very well.

  3. Ronda says:

    I shocked that so many people are commented how much they liked it, because I thought it was really bad. Maybe it was because I was teenager, but I loved the original. I think the people who are commenting here are the only ones who watched it, because the ratings were terrible. Hopefully they put this franchise to rest.

    • S. Katz says:

      As in REALLY, REALLY BAD. And NO, Chloe is not a good acturess. I truly cringed for her I was so embarassed. Hopefully with some good acting classes, she might improve. She never really took the character on. She is only superficially acting; she never BECOMES the character and until she can do that, she won’t be considered a good or talented actress.

  4. Donna Russel says:

    I thought this was really good. I think this was the best Lifetime movie this year at the very least.

  5. Chloe was beautiful. She is so talented. I know this is only the beginning

  6. Annie Blakeman says:

    So goooood

  7. Annie Logan says:

    BEST SUMMER TV FILM!

  8. Kristy Jeremiah says:

    This is my new favorite Center Stage movie. WTG LIFETIME!!

  9. Deb Zielinski says:

    Chloe is queen!

  10. Ann says:

    This is the best Lifetime movie to date.

  11. I loved Center Stage: On Pointe. The plot was feel-good and the dancers were gorgeous. Thank you Lifetime for this threequel.

  12. Julia says:

    How come there is no mention of the little girl who played Gwen? Chloe Lukasiak was all over the promotions. I find it odd that you omit her role while mentioning everyone else’s bit parts.

  13. Chris says:

    5 out of 5! * * * * *

  14. dancrgirl17 says:

    I hope this inspires the young girls dancing to take their ballet classes seriously. Ballet is so fundamentally important. I know the dance community appreciates pop-culture infusing ballet in tv shows and movies. #KeepBalletAlive

  15. Kimberly McGill says:

    I love dance movies! more dance movies!! :)

  16. 4evr21grl says:

    i luv center stage. I thought it was good

  17. Avery Flint says:

    My daughters’ dance studio held a premeire party slumber party for this movie last weekend. I thought it was cute. My girls loved it. Good thing I DVRed it.

  18. Karen says:

    Young Chloe did an amazing job, so proud of this young girl, she had great emotion and considering the horrid treatment she has endured in the past she has raised above it and become a great dancer and actor, well done to this beautiful young girl. For not letting these board sorry people stop her becoming amazing.

  19. CL says:

    The two blond dancers (the one who was the best ballerina and the young prodigy) were easily the two best actors and dancers in the movie. It would have been nice for the young one to get more scenes. Those two should have been the leads over the the main girl.

  20. nicole says:

    I think she did well at the end

  21. nicole says:

    TJ, I agree her dance ability was not up to par but her emotion was brilliant and I thought it made it so much more interesting that she was in the last movie as a little girl. I like that they had other cast members from the old movies. I think you are wrong though Chloe is too young to be the lead. Honestly she didnt do much so i dont know how u can say she outshined Nicole because all she brought to the movie was alot of energy.

  22. TJ says:

    I felt that Nicole Muñoz as Bella Parker was not a good choice. I don’t feel she was a good enough/strong enough dancer for this role. The other students out shined her on numerous occasions. Chloe really stood out and I would have preferred her to be the lead .

  23. Anni says:

    Chloe was a really good actress and dancer in the movie and she got a great amount of time, considering this was her very first acting job. She’s a natural. I’m pretty sure that she’ll get more acting jobs in the future. This is just the beginning. I’m very proud of her and can’t wait to see Cowgirl’s story in the theaters.

  24. LuAnne Stroke says:

    I really enjoyed the movie. I loved the first movie Center Stage and was looking forward to this one. My favorite character was Gwen played by Chloe. Since leaving Dance Mom’s Chloe’s dancing seems to have become even more beautiful… You see a joy in her dancing now. For a first acting role she was pretty good. I enjoyed her performance more than the lead actress’s role in this film. I will be watching the movie again!

  25. Sha're Jackson says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It was nice to see old characters connect with new characters. Chloe did a great job portraying Gwen in her first ever movie role she seemed like a natural. Her dance was spot on and really better than the lead character. Thankfully Lifetime chose the right girl for this part and they obviously saw something in her they liked. Great job Lifetime!

  26. S. Gavigan says:

    I liked the movie even though it was a little hard to follow at some point or another but over all trying to take a movie and put commercials in the middle was what was distracting. You miss parts of the movie when you interrupt and put commercials. Do I think it could of been better yes, was every dance sequence amazing in every way and form yes. Chloe did an amazing job for her first movie and I’m hoping she gets casted as the next main dancer in there next movie. Because I’m sure thousands of chloe fans will be anticipating the release date.

  27. Sara Rice says:

    I thought this movie was pretty good in terms of acting skills and plot line – but the dancing was spectacular. Bella, Allgera and Damon trio was beautiful and show great skill. Gwen showed skill and promise especially in her little dance outside the cabins

  28. Carmen Gómez says:

    The acting was amazing and the dancers was amazing too!!! Great job ☺☺ I love Bella and Gwen 😍

  29. Ximena Valverde Gómez says:

    The movie was amazing!!! Goooo dancers 😊😊😊

  30. ES says:

    I thought this was a great movie about dance. It had an interesting twist incorporating modern with classic ballet. Chloe Lukasiak was a standout, from her acting to her brilliant dancing, all the while being a bright shining light on the whole movie. She’s such an inspiration to dancers. I really liked the plot, and Kenny’s dancing was great, as were the other dancers. I also liked Maude a lot. Great job by all

  31. This writers critics on the movie are purely his opinions and thoughts. Well my opinion is that the movie was well directed and the choreography was beautiful, it was like modern, ballet and lyrical all wrapped into one. The movie had every type of character, even the faculty were diverse, so why does he think it was poorly done, well first of all it was a low budget movie, but I find that some the lower budget films are better because the cast are newcomers and but their heart and soul into the movie itself.

  32. Chloefan2 says:

    I LOVED it!!!!! Great job Chloe~!!!!!!!

  33. Chole fan says:

    I enjoyed watching the movie. Great job Chole L. Gotta love the haters.

    • Jann says:

      Chloe’s dancing was even better than on DM. For a first movie role she did
      Great. She’s one reality personality who made transition to tv well.

  34. I thought the movie was good and the dancing was awesome. My favorite was Gwen ,played by the beautiful and talented Chloe Lukasiak. Chloe is a Star. Such a Beautiful dancer ,with a heart of gold. I see so much bashing of this young lady by a bunch of grown women that are so jealous of her talent that they feel the need to say such vile things about her. Sorry ,but those bashing Chloe are just ignorant, heartless and cold bloodied bullies who need to get a life and move on. They willl Never destroy her as they hope to do . Shine on Chloe, and prove them wrong !

  35. Ashley Crandall says:

    I thought the movie was Amazing! Chloe and the rest of the cast did great as well. I have watched it 5 times it was that good. It taught life lessons. How to never give up on your dreams. We need more movies like this.

  36. Samantha Gordlay says:

    The review reads as if it were written by one of those Millennial teenage girls who won’t let anything new come close to something that is a cultural touchstone of her generation. I am a bit surprised at the vitriol below in regards to Lukasiak, who from everything I have seen here is a much more brilliant dancer than this movie allowed her to show. Perhaps it would have been improved by a rewrite featuring her in a lead role, because she seemed to light up the room and give the other characters (and the plot) some much needed shots of energy. I’ve never watched Dance Moms, but after reading several articles today, it’s obvious that some of the more vitriolic comments below are from a group of that show’s fans who for some reason resent her success since she’s left the show. This type of comment should be moderated, FWIW, as it truly only serves to embarrass the commenter and leave a bad taste in ones mouth. At any rate, this film was enjoyable, beautifully filmed, not as well acted or written as I would have liked, and yes, the writer is correct – the “music video” sections were the best parts.

  37. KatieLeigh says:

    It was terrible. The acting, the dialogue, the lack of diversity – atrocious. Who the heck thought this was a good idea to make and who the heck greenlighted it??!! I’d like their heads.

  38. Mary says:

    Now I just really want to watch Center Stage.

  39. Janice says:

    Sorry for the typo in my above comment. I’m using my phone and I apologize for the mistake in my name ending up in my post.

  40. Charlie says:

    Wow. You summed up your own writing style in one quote, “There is some plot, but it is devoid of either interest or sense”.
    Did you even watch the movie or did you get part 1, 2, and 3 all jumbled up together. This makes no sense whatsoever.

  41. Molly says:

    I enjoyed it :) it’s not a blockbuster hit, but perfect for a Saturday night in with my puppy! I’ll watch it again.

  42. Chloebirdrox says:

    You are just a Chloe hater! You are jealous because Chloe is in a movie and you are not. She is the best dancer and won a teen choice award. Did Abby pay you to have such a bad review and never say her name? Chloe Lukasiak is a star! Shes the most famous. Hate her cause you ain’t her!

    • cc says:

      I totally agree with you. Chloe did a great job in the movie and has done so much better since leaving Dance Moms. She is excelling and they cant stand it. Go for it Chloe bird! Fly high!! Maddie is no where the star Chloe is and never will be. Chloe has the looks and personality and very humble young lady, at least she has been raised right!

    • BalletFan says:

      Chloe gets only D and F rated parts in crap gigs and she is not most famous. Wtf? She is popular only among few thousands Dance Moms fans. And she is a mediocre dancer who get crap jobs. Her teen choice win doesn’t make her a best dancer. It was fan voted poll. In real dance competitions she didn’t even place in Top 5 ever. Stop attacking people who are professionals. Nobody is jealous of Chloe. She is just a pitiful wannabe dancer and now a wannabe actress. Bahaha

      • S.gavigan says:

        What right is it of yours to put down such a beautifully spirited young lady who is just doing what she loves to do and that is fance. Chloe has been put down so many times by Abby and she has risen to a wonderfully talented dancer who obviously has talent or she would never have been placed in the movie. Your just talented because you’ve never have danced in your life and don’t know what it takes to be a dancer. Your just plan jelous.

      • Mandy says:

        Interesting… She never won anything?? Didn’t place top five ever??? Go back and re-watch dance moms… She won more than enough times and she won nationals over Maddie… She’s pretty good, in my opinion and in the opinion of enough people to get her several trophies and even this role… Plus she is a child that can do way more than most people could ever dream of… Does it make you feel good to put down a child??? That’s ridiculous and not necessary at all… Btw she is a much better dancer than the main girl in the movie (although not a better actress – but this is her first movie)… It’s a lifetime movie and her acting is not expected to be award winning…. She already is working on another movie so she can’t possibly be as bad as you are making her out to be… #justsaying….

    • Chloe lover says:

      Best dancer Chloe??? Hahahaha, darling learn the meaning of best dancer- Tate Mc Rae, Sophia Lucia, Kalani Hilliker and others are best dancers. Chloe won pity award on Teen Choice and it wasn’t even about Dance skills, it was fan voted crap. We all know how many times Chloe’s ass got beaten on Dance competitions. So stfu and read the reviews. The whole center stage 3rd part sucked. Get over! Loool

      • anon says:

        Oh hi Dali. Still jelly of Chloe? Might as well suck it up, buttercup, since she’s already been cast in another movie and gets more well known everyday.

      • Samantha Gordlay says:

        It says that the comments are moderated, yet you let this through?? Someone needs to take a look at this and remove it. I am truly sad for this generation and its lack of thought and writing ability

      • Janice says:

        Wow such venom! I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and as a dance teacher I thought it was well done. The Chloe girl you speak of seemed to do a good job of portraying the character as well as the other dancers in the movie. Sounds like some sour grapes in your review. There isn’t much class left in people hiding behind aJanice keyboard these days. Why can’t everyone just be happy for all involved. Anytime the focus is on dance its good for the dance community. Just my opinion.

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