Thomas Lacey, Dena Kaplan and Keiynan Lonsdale in a scene from the movie Dance Academy: The Movie.
Thomas Lacey, Dena Kaplan and Keiynan Lonsdale in a scene from the movie Dance Academy: The Movie. Contributed

A return to the dance studio

AFTER finding success behind the camera in the US, filmmaker Jeffrey Walker has returned to the series that helped kick-start his career.

The actor-turned-director, who splits his time between Brisbane and his work overseas on TV series like Modern Family, says it was a 'great joy' to helm the big-screen adaptation of the ABC's popular teen drama Dance Academy.

"Dance Academy was the very first set-up as a director I'd done," he tells Weekend.

"I was brought in for episode one, the pilot, and I was working closely with the writers and producers. Doing that for the first time, there was a blissful naivety.

"I loved working on the show. To revisit not only this world but these actors, who are adults now, was a joy beyond. Making this film has been one of the great professional joys of my life."

Writer/creator Sam Strauss takes the show's characters out of their familiar surrounds for their big screen debuts. Viewers catch up with the former ballet students 18 months after the events of the last season of the TV series. Tara (Xenia Goodwin) was destined to become one of the top dancers of her generation before a devastating injury crippled her career.

Tara tries to move on and embrace life as a university student, where her plan of becoming a novelist isn't turning out to be as viable as she secretly hoped, but she cannot get over her dream of dancing professionally. Haunted by the night she was injured, Tara embarks on a near impossible comeback.

"I wouldn't have come on board if I felt like it was just the next episode of the TV show," Walker says.

"It had to go somewhere new. We also had to challenge the themes and stakes we'd become used to in the TV series. The movie had to be the next level in every regard."

After a failed audition for the Australian Ballet Company, at the behest of The National Ballet Company's Artistic Director Madeline Moncur (Miranda Otto), Tara impulsively flies to New York in the hopes of landing an audition.

But the trip sets her off on much larger journey of self-discovery.

"The reality is the smallest number of people come out of a lifetime of dedication, by the time you're 18, with a (dance) contract with a company," Walker says.

"You're put on a pedestal (at school); you're getting all this praise but then if you don't land a contract there isn't much to show for the last five or six years of your life.

"What I wanted to say with the film is your value goes far beyond that pursuit. Your identity doesn't need to be intrinsically linked to that dream. Life can take a left-hand turn and it can be better."

Despite directing five episodes of the hugely popular US sitcom Modern Family and producing the TV series Difficult People with Amy Poehler for streaming site Hulu, Walker says he still gets nervous in the director's chair.

"I'm perpetually nervous as a director," he says. "Once you get there and get into it you just need to have such an unnerving level of confidence to be able to say 'This is what we're going to do today', but there are constant seeds of doubt that live with you while you're trying to execute that.

"The fact I was able to make a feature film (Ali's Wedding) just before I started Dance Academy helped me."

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