When My Place picked up a Logie Award as Most Outstanding Children’s Drama it put the ABC Drama department to shame.
My Place had emerged from the Children’s Television department, upstaging three 2009 (adult) dramas that didn’t even land a nomination: The Cut, Dirt Game and East of Everything S2.
There’s every possibility it could do it again with Dance Academy, it’s newest contribution to the children’s drama landscape.
In truth, this 26 part series is pitched a little higher than your average children’s drama.
Most of the principal characters at the National Academy of Dance are teenagers old enough to be living away from home. This provides a great story engine for an ambitious drama as the kids explore growing up, independence, romance and living in inner Sydney.
Dance Academy is told through the eyes of Tara Webster (newcomer Xenia Goodwin), a farmgirl with dreams of becoming a ballerina.
As the series opens she practising her dance moves, using a rusty farmgate for a ballet bar. Does it get much more Australian than this? When she auditions at NAD she personifies the optimistic country girl swimming amongst the hectic life of a showbiz college. She is surrounded by music, boys, classes, parties, schedules and more boys.
She quickly meets fellow dancer-students played by Alicia Banit, Tim Pocock, Dena Kaplan, Tom Green, Abigail Armstrong and Jordan Rodrigues. All are universally pretty but talented.
Heading up her audition is Miss Raine (Tara Morice) who unsurprisingly doesn’t have any room in her class for the untalented, inattentive and uncommitted. She has terse words for the carefree young Tara. Hopefully this mostly stereotypical character will show shades of grey in episodes to follow.
The first episode revolves around Tara finding her feet, literally, in the tumultuous audition week.
She is quickly drawn to the dashing Ethan (Pocock), elder brother of down to earth pal Kat (Banit). Dena (Armstrong) will soon emerge as a potential rival to Tara while Christian (Rodrigues) will show his rebellious streak and Sammy (Green) is a bit of a misfit. Dance, much of it classical, is at the heart of everything. Opportunity and a career will come from discipline.
The young cast, who have collectively appeared in Home and Away, Lockie Leonard, Emerald Falls, City Homicide, Summer Heights High and Blue Water High, are especially strong. With stage appearances in The Lion King, The Sound of Music, Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Australian Opera, they also impress with their dancing.
This is a series with energy, smartly fusing elements of So You Think You Can Dance (the kids will even learn contemporary and hip hop and have an end of year show at the Opera House) with Fame and Gossip Girl. The Academy is located at Walsh Bay in Sydney, with the stunning backdrop of the harbour and bridge. Other scenes make use of exteriors at the Museum for Contemporary Art. Everywhere Tara turns there is water, trains, ferries, blue sky, the Opera House and that huge, captivating bridge.
Some scenes, notably on Tara’s farm, are strikingly shot.
There is a genuine romantic quality at work here. While it isn’t as raw as former ABC youth dramas such as Heartbreak High, it surpasses recent popular children’s drama Dead Gorgeous.
The series is produced by Joanna Werner (H20: Just Add Water, The Elephant Princess) and written and created by Samantha Strauss (H20: Just Add Water). Like BlueWater High it is produced not just for ABC but for Germany’s public broadcaster ZDF. They should eat up its escapist tone.
What will be interesting to watch is how the show deals with contemporary teenage issues against its theatrical background. If it can manage to pull that off it will be the television equivalent of the name theatre folk give to multitalented singer-actor-dancers -“the triple threat.”
Dance Academy premieres 5:20pm Monday May 31st on ABC1.