GLAAD speaks with director Alan Brown about 'Five Dances,' out on DVD July 29

A talented young dancer, Chip (Ryan Steele), leaves his hometown in Kansas and joins a New York City modern dance company in Alan Brown's Five Dances. During his first week with the company, Chip experiences the hard work, dedication and competitiveness faced by professional dancers in New York City but also gets to share in the comradery and friendship he finds among the company, leading to his first romance. Told through dance sequences, Five Dances, recounts the story of a young gay man finding himself and his way in the world.

GLAAD spoke with writer and director Alan Brown about the film, which comes out on DVD today.

GLAAD: Why did you decide to tell this young man's coming out story through the world of dance?

Alan Brown: The creative process was actually the reverse of that – I first decided to make a film set in a dance studio in which dance would be the primary narrative device.   And then, after I cast my five dancers, I built their characters and their stories.   I actually cast Ryan Steele a few month before we shot the film. Chip’s coming out story just evolved naturally out of the character I wrote for Ryan, as the other dancer’s narrative threads did for them.   (Although I had characters and scenes already written before the casting process, everything changed once I found my dancers.) 

GLAAD: Was the story of this young man fleeing a small town and a dysfunctional family to come to New York (with no money) to be an artist one that resonated with you personally?

AB: Not especially.   Unlike Chip’s mother, my own mother was really lovely and loving.   My family was always very supportive of my pursuing the arts.  And although I was raised in Pennsylvania, a few hours from New York, my parents brought us to the City regularly, and took us to shows and museums.    And although I couldn’t wait to get out of my Pennsylvania hometown, I didn’t think of it as “fleeing”.  Most everyone in my generation left.

GLAAD: Was it difficult to find people who could dance at a high professional level and act as well?

AB: Very difficult.  New York has the best dancers in the world, but dancing and acting are two very different talents.    This film’s audition process was a whole new experience for me – and for all of the dancers who came in.   I was very fortunate to find my five dancers.   None of them had been on film before, but they were very brave and willing, and they placed their trust in me.  

GLAAD: The film actually contains relatively little dialogue and much of the story is told through dance sequences. How did this factor into the writing process?  Did you "script" the dances as you would a conversation between characters?

AB: The dance was really a separate component, and it didn’t factor into my writing process at all except for scenes where rehearsing the dance was the “action” to serve the dialogue and narrative.    The placement of the dance sections was something I worked out with my editor in the editing room, and it went through many, many iterations. 

I was very, very fortunate to have Jonah Bokaer as a choregrapher.   Jonah created the dance on our five dancers before we went into production, and then he turned it over to me.   It’s an abstract piece, which he created without music, or without either of us knowing where or how its five sections would be used in the film.   But Jonah is a brilliant choreographer, and he created the dance so that it could be seen – and filmed – from any and all directions.   And because he’d joined me in the casting process, Jonah was able to build the dance for these specific dancers.    It’s a beautiful work and I was very conscious of honoring it in the film.

GLAAD: What projects are you working on now, and what will your next film be?

AB: I’m working now on two film projects.   The first, “In the Studio”, is a psychological, erotic thriller I wrote which I’ll be shooting this fall.   Almost the entire film will be shot in an artist’s studio.   And we’ve cast an amazingly talented actor, Nathan Darrow, in the very demanding lead role of the artist – he’s in every scene - so I’m really excited to get started.

I’ve also written what the French would call an “anti-musical musical” in the style of Christophe Honore’s 2007 “Love Songs”.   The working title is “Friend or Foe”.   It’s a love triangle, the story of a man who loses his memory in an accident, doesn’t recognize his wife, and falls in love with someone else.   And the actors will sing.    We’re planning to shoot that next spring.   So I’m really busy in all the good ways right now. 

Five Dances is available on video on demand and comes out on DVD on July 29.