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A Review of "Billy Elliot"

by Robert Abrams
January 7, 2001

A Review of "Billy Elliot"


Robert Abrams


1/7/2001





A friend of mine recommended that I see "Billy Elliot". This was indeed a film worth seeing. It is the story of a boy who overcomes the expectations of his small mining town surroundings to realize his potential as a ballet dancer. The characters have humanity and are worth watching.

What I want to talk about, though, is what was left only implied in the movie.

Billy, the main character, finds himself and dance in a ballet class. The teacher eventually takes him on as her special pupil and prepares him to audition for the Royal Ballet School. However, when Billy needs to express his emotion, he always starts out by tap dancing. Once he has worked through his anger and frustration, he then segues into the lyrical motions of ballet.

No where in the film does it show Billy being taught tap. It is unlikely that he spontaneously reinvented it. There is one clip in the film from a Fred Astaire movie, and Billy does mention Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers once in a way that suggests he may have given their work some thought. Perhaps he caught a showing of the 1937 version of Shall We Dance at the Realto before it closed down?

The point I am trying to make concerns the structure of drama. Aristotle wrote that a great drama should have one and only one Action. An Action can be understood as the thrust or driving idea behind the story. The makers of "Billy Elliot" could have included a story line which discussed the potential for marrying modern and classical dance forms. This sort of an Action could have been well married to the story line which discussed the triumph of dance as a form of expression within a place where it is at best unexpected. Such a marriage would be difficult, and especially in a film, would have been just as likely to muddy the storytelling. My educated guess is that the filmmakers made the right choice by restricting the film to a single Action. The dancing that does not fit directly within this Action is able to speak for itself.

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