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A look back at ‘Dancing On The Edge’

Cressida Peever
dancing on the edge 300x225 A look back at Dancing On The Edge

Dancing on the Edge (BBC)

“It really is as if we were never there,” Louis says, in the closing moments of the five part drama Dancing on the Edge, written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff. This statement, meant to highlight the cyclical nature of the piece, also implies that the audience wasted their time watching this lengthy and slow-paced series, which ends not far from where it began.

The final episode is full of allusions to the rise of the Louis Leicester Band, repeating motifs from previous episodes: Louis makes his escape from society by train, the same vehicle which saw him become closer to that society when Mr. Masterson hosted the picnic; the characters retreat to the same jazz club which birthed them into the world of fame in the very first episode; the rainstorm which provoked joyful dancing as the band dreamed of their success is echoed in the torrential downpour which surrounds the argument between Stanley and Lavinia as they embark on their future with Mr. Masterson. Each of these motifs begin full of hope and by the final episode they are distorted into omens.

It seems from this that the piece has been carefully constructed by Poliakoff to focus on subtleties rather than the obvious; the emotive outbursts from characters such as Sarah are empty in comparison to the repetition of the shot of a chessboard, which reminds the spectator of the tactical decisions implemented throughout the plot.

Indeed, the construction, and not the characters, provides the main enjoyment of the piece; we are made to feel that we never really know the characters. Louis’ suspicion of them all is felt also by the audience, who are made overly critical through the technique of having  the majority of action in flashbacks. Only in the final episode does time catch up with itself and once again become linear. This form would lead you to expect that every memory is crucial to the plot, however often the dialogues and meaningful looks are unexplained and consequently become meaningless.

The camerawork effectively allows the viewer to feel the perspective of the characters. In the final episode, when Louis lies in the car, he fills the frame at an awkward, close-up angle, making the viewer feel packed into the back seat with him. To contrast, during his heated exchange with Stanley outside the car, the shot switches between the two of them, focusing on their faces, but at enough of a distance to imply the unwillingness for intimacy at this delicate stage.

Perhaps Poliakoff tries to throw in red herrings in order to distract the audience from the scent of this incredibly predictable ending. The murderer turns out to be exactly the man that the protagonist had been accusing all along, whom the audience were aware was deeply disturbed due to his dysfunctional relationships with all of the other characters. His crime was covered up by the only person rich enough to have organised it, whom Louis had also suspected to be connected with the case from the beginning. And, of course, the only neat way to dispose of the criminal was to have him shoot himself, leaving a full confession.

There is a strange imbalance between lots happening and not much having happened. There are plenty of events: the damage in the suite; the murder; performing to royalty; the rise of a black band in white society. However, the action is so drawn out with vacant, repetitive dialogue that the pace is slowed irreversibly. The character of Sarah is a key culprit in this; her love of photography symbolises her desire to hold a moment still, and is reflected in the way her conversation prolongs a moment more than is necessary. Additionally, the jazz numbers, composed by Adrian Johnston, do not provide the fire and panache which could have lifted the piece out of its lethargy.

Is my life enriched by Dancing On The Edge? Not really. Ultimately, it is diverting but not life changing. Its Gatsby-esque style is lost through the slow pace of the programme, which could probably have been concluded much more quickly with nothing lost. Having said this, the focus on ideological formalism gives the piece a level of intrigue which the predictable storyline does not allow.

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  • http://twitter.com/insidebooks simon quicke

    There also seems to be a theme of sons with Masterson wanting Juliajn to be his own and Stanley not able to be a surrogate to the grieving Lady Cremone. Parents are mainly absent and even Anthony Head’s character is flanked by children, but they are not his own. That theme I felt also ran through the films

  • Phyllis Stein

    I saw the chessboard as allegorical, black vs white. I liked the extra dimension of racism we witnessed when Sarah was forced to betray the man she loved to save her(Russian) father’s life. It showed how deeply abhorrent racism is in all its manifestations-ditto the double humiliation of Louis as black manservant to a negro band. Very thought provoking.

  • Tracey

    There was so much in this production that people including the critics missed. It is far cleverer and thought provoking than given credit.

  • JohnJustice

    Although the destination of the journey was slow and predictable it took in a variety of sumptuous and thought provoking landscape. It also involved a number of well crafted villains and sympathetic fellow-travellers, not least those who risked punishment to save Louis. One of Poliakoff’s better efforts

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ken-Standing/100002297817446 Ken Standing

    Deconstruct burnt sausages …..
    Trite, amateurish and out of control, saying less than we already know.

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.carter.391 Richard Carter

    This ‘review’ leaves out rather important element of the plot, which was that the Louis Lester band were supposed to be providing groundbreaking jazz but that, in fact, the music was dross. That it was totally anachronistic is one thing (it didn’t sound in the least like the jazz of the early 30s) and I could have lived with that, but that it was so completely uninteresting killed the thing stone dead. Before they acquired that awful singer (she looked pretty and mimed well, but the person who provided the actual singing was a shouter not a singer and the songs were DIRE) someone clunkily opined “You know what this band lacks? A singer….” – as if they’d offered some kind of blinding insight, whereas it was a commonplace at the time.

    So much money must have been spent to make it look good (and that worked) that it was a great shame that no one thought to put a little effort into making it sound right. We were told somewhere that the series was inspired by Duke Ellington’s visit to the UK, and Louis Lester did look remarkably like Ellington, but that was where the resemblance ended, sadly.


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