CHICAGO – Mention the name Harry Lennix, and images of his many character roles are bound to emerge – Harold Cooper in the TV series “The Blacklist,” General Swanwick from “Batman v Superman” and Commissioner Blades from Spike Lee’s recent “Chi-Raq.” The deeply knowledgeable Lennix brings his years of dramatic expertise, as he directs the Congo Square Theatre Company’s world premiere stage play “A Small Oak Tree Runs Red.’
Despite Flawed Plot Clichés, Dancing Takes Center Stage in ‘How She Move’
CHICAGO – Kids, it’s an old-fashioned dance off, and despite being about the contemporary and very urban stepdance craze, it has all the hope, dreams, choreography and clichés of a golden-age Hollywood musical revue.
“How She Move” has Rutina Wesley portraying Raya Green: a private-school scholarship student who’s forced to come back to her old, inner-city neighborhood and high school after the death of her sister from a drug overdose.
Photo credit: IMDb
As kids, the siblings entertained themselves with stepdancing, which is an intensely programmed variation on hip-hop moves. The sister who passed away went on to be a champion stepper, and when Raya comes back, she’s drawn in again by the lure of the dance despite her scholarship pursuit.
Enter Bishop (Dwain Murphy): a friend of her sister’s and the founder of a renowned, all-male stepdancing group. He takes a risk and allows Raya to join the crew and compete at a step competition in Detroit. Will odds be defied and the forces of evil (the rival group) be brought down?
The film attempts to frame the story in a multi-cultural vein (Raya’s mother, for example, is Jamaican) with the stepdance competition as a way for all levels of brains, culture and brawn to co-exist. Raya is forced to tutor a lesser student and their initial rivalry is tempered by the passion of their dance skills.
Photo credit: IMDb
Despite the swearing and inner-city street vibe, this really is a sweet movie. The brainiacs work hard in both mind and body standards and their smarts create new moves that impress the overall culture. Though success is measured by the winner of the step competition, it is the journey of the characters toward the prize that gives the film heart.
The dancing itself gets one word: wow!
Carefully mastered steps are combined with an outrageous physicality to create movement and form that is part tap, rhythmic gymnastics, military precision and even pratfall comedy. Director Ian Iqbal Rashid (best known for the comedy “Touch of Pink”) uses hand-held close-ups and sizzling motion in the dance sequences to add even more thrill and action.
The short film, though, detrimentally shoehorns the plot cliché between the dance. A simpler, less multi-layered story would have served the main dance events better. Raya, for example, keeps switching step companies based on perceived slights and it doesn’t make sense.
In essence, it tries to teach as it entertains and you can’t fault it for that. If Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were working now (and had been born in an inner-city neighborhood), they’d be saying: “Let’s put on a step show.” As for me, I’ve got a barn in the back.