Paladin and Bloom
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for Shockya
Grade:  B+
Director:  Michael Damian
Written by: Janeen Damian, Michael Damian
Cast: Keenan Kampa, Nicholas Galitzine, Jane Seymour, Sonoya Mizuno, Richard Southgate
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 3/8/16
Opens: April 8, 2016

“High Strung,” a title that could stand for both the neurotic personalities in the story and a principal’s violin, is all about the dance and music, but don’t expect your grandparents’ fox trot to be exhibited.  Instead, director Michael Damian, whose previous movie “Love by Design” focuses on a Romanian-born woman living the dream in New York City until she is forced to go back to her family farm in Transylvania, deftly shows how little separation there is between the most energetic hip hop dancing in both street and studio and the most delicate Tchaikowsky pas de trois.  In fact this might be the ideal PG-rated movie for teachers’ field trips with students who might be quite surprised at the similarities, and adults of all stripes as well, whatever their tastes, cannot help catching the incredible energy of the dynamic dance crew called The SwitchSteps.  “High Strung” is weak on dialogue, but who cares?  As you watch the marriage of hip hop and classical ballet, the dueling violins and the elegant solos, you’ll cheer for the entire cast.  In a too-short 97 minutes you’ll leave the theater feeling real good.

The story is energized not only by its dance and music numbers but by the chemistry of the two leads.  Ruby Adams (Keenan Kamps) is a dancer from the Midwest on scholarship in an academy, living in New York City and trying to lose some of the stiffness that serves her well with Tchaikowsky but hampers her talent in contemporary.  Sparks fly when she meets Johnny Blackwell (Nicholas Galitzine), who is improvisational where Ruby is disciplined, and fiercely independent where Ruby feels gratitude about being part of an elite ballet school.  Johnny is desperate for a green card, as he is unable to work except by busking in the New York subways, disgusted after being scammed by an immigration lawyer.  Ruby may start off like a fish out of water in the Big City, but in no time fits right in thanks to the friendliness of almost everyone she meets at the school, particularly by her roommate Jasmine (Sonoya Mizuno)—with whom she has a pillow fight minutes after introducing herself.

When Johnny suffers the loss of his violin in a subway theft, Ruby is determined to help out, and perhaps the loss of the fiddle is a good omen since without that experience, where would we in the audience enjoy their romance?  Keenan Kampa may be unknown outside the dance world, but we can see right off that given her proficiency in ballet, she could probably teach at the school rather than endure the rigorous life of a student.  Kampa is an American ballerina who dances for the prestigious Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg, the first ever American dancer when she joined in 2012 and one of a handful of Americans to have studied at the Vaganova Ballet Academy.  Kampa is well served by her good looks as well as her terpsichorean talent.  You can watch this astonishing talent knock out the most professional dance steps not only in classical and modern but even in an Argentine tango.

As the attraction between Kampa’s character, Ruby, and Johnny Blackwell heats up (but not too much as the movie is PG), they join the competition for a $25,000 prize and full scholarships at the school.  A win would mean not only big bucks but acceptance by the dance school would allow Blackwell to get a student visa to continue his own New York dream.  The splendid choreography is from Dave Scott (“Stomp the Yard,” “Step Up 3D”), who must be doing something right because the fierce energy of the hip hop crew in a New York subway would put the amateur teens who do their train routines to the annoyance of some and the applause of others to shame.

Most of the movie was filmed in Romania standing in for New York City, specifically the Castel Studio in Bucharest, and New Yorkers can spot the fake because the subway car rumbling through is full of graffiti.

Rated PG.  97 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B-
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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