When two distinctively different worlds collide, you can expect there to be immense drama that quickly pulls you in. Director Michael Damian does just that in this action packed film that combines smooth classical dance with hip hop flavor.
Ruby Adams played by first time actress Keenan Kampa is a dancer who relocates from the Midwest to New York City to attend one of the toughest performing arts school. Johnnie Blackwell played by British actor Nicholas Galitzine is an aspiring musician who earns a living playing the Violin for money on subway platforms. Ruby is a classical dancer who strictly sticks to her routine, while Johnnie is an introvert who takes life how it comes. When the two forces meet they immediately clash; however, fate can not deny their destiny. Although they are different, they’re both trying to make it in one of the most competitive cities in the world. When Johnnie faces deportation and Ruby’s scholarship is at stake, they find a solution to join a competition where the outcome could effect their lives forever. As they gear up for battle with the help of a fresh hip hop dance crew called The SwitchSteps, they go all or nothing in an attempt to win. The film has an intense yet thrilling plot that keeps you dancing at the edge of your seat, seamlessly blending classical dance and hip hop.
This film is not necessarily your typical dance flick, it strategically incorporates a variety of arts that mesh well with each other. Dave Scott, a choreographer who worked on films such as You Got Served and Step Up 2: The Streets is the brains behind the choreography in this film. His work absolutely brought every step to life. Power couple Janeen and Michael Damian co-wrote the script. The two masterminds had the theater in awe at how well the story played out.
During the movie premiere, The Knockturnal was able to exclusively interview Janeen and Michael Damian themselves.
Q: So how long did it take you to co-write this script together?
JM: Two or three months. We usually carve out time and really put together a dedicated schedule. Michael was working on something else at the time so this one took a little bit longer.
MD: We usually outline the story, we have a plan we attack and it’s mostly just putting the basic story together, that’s the tough part. Once we get the basic story together we just have fun then we put out five pages a day.
Q: Do you ever disagree on anything or do you pretty much put your brains together?
MD: No, we have a good time.
JM: I think that we have similar visions so there really isn’t a lot of conflict, I think it’s more of helping each other. When one gets stuck the other one picks up and we balance each other properly.
Q: How did you guys feel when it got picked up?
Q: What do you guys hope for everyone to get out of this by watching?
MD: Well we hope it inspires people, we hope it inspires people of all ages, entertains, enlightens and you’ll walk out feeling good.
Q: One more question, hip hop; I used to take hip hop classes, what made you think of that. Aside from any other genres like jazz, classical or tap?
JM: I think it’s so in the forefront right now, it’s such a popular genre of dance and we really wanted to include it. Also we were so fortunate enough to get Dave Scott, who is amazing. I think what it was is we wanted to take it public, we wanted to show a new way we can utilize all the techniques and all the dramas of dancing.
Amongst the masses, Tony Award Nominee and co-founder of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Desmond Richardson was there to share his connection with the film.
Q: So, what is your connection to the film?
DR: Michael and Janeen are dear friends of mine and we come from the Broadway world, singing world and all of that stuff.
Nice, so you’re supporting?
DR: Yes for sure supporting, and I’ve seen it now five times and I keep bringing people in like, “ya’ll need to get here and see this.”
Q: So what can you say without giving away too much?
DR: Well what I love is the choreography of David Scott. Oh my God, Dave did a phenomenal job and I love the melding and the diversity of the cast. It’s where we are today.
Q: I was asking how that came about — Hip Hop and Contemporary. So how would you sum it up?
DR: I would sum it up as a melding of so many different genres coming together.
Keenan Kampa and Nicholas Galitzine the stars of the film were the last to show, yet so humble and graceful. I got an opportunity to chat with them minutes before the screening.
Q: So how did you guys prepare for this role?
KK: My character, I relate so much to when I was a young Broadway student, like going back to the beginning. It was cool going back to those roots, so I just stepped in her shoes.
Q: So did you do any hip hop dancing prior to this?
KK: Just pretty much classical ballet and contemporary.
NG: Although she does a really mean robot and moonwalk [laughs].
Q: You guys just piggyback off of each other?
NG: No I just complement her, she doesn’t really compliment me.
KK: He’s the most incredible musician.
Q: Really? How long have you been playing the Violin?
NG: I don’t play the violin, I actually sort of fake played it in the movie. My preparation was super intense, I had a few weeks before hand with a tutor throughout the whole filming period, I was training every night every time I wasn’t filming. I mean I’m an actor, that’s my thing but I do music as well, I play the guitar. So it is kind of similar with the fingering.
Q: So what do you lean towards more the acting side or music?
NG: Acting, that’s my main thing, I love music it gives me different kinds of feelings.
Q: So since you don’t play the violin what other instruments do you play?
NG: Well I’m pretty much self-taught in guitar, I actually auditioned with a guitar. I originally didn’t know whether it was going to be a guitar or a violin.
Q: So how was working with the director?
KK: It was awesome. He was very open to letting us do our thing and very encouraging, there was never any negativity on set.
Q: So was it more sticking to the script or did you guys improvise?
KK: No, it was always to the script that was one thing they stuck to. This is my first acting experience, you know and I could have been much more nervous and stressed out, but I came in really chill because Michael is that kind of director. He was like dont worry I’m going to talk you through this, I’m going to see what you have to offer.
Q: Have you seen it yet?
Q: So what do you think of your first acting role?
KK: I mean there’s always room for improvement, tons of room. For that situation and for it being my first time, I did my best.
NG: I think there’s a few things like she has such great timing which is something you can’t really teach. It’s amazing on her first try that she achieved it with the caliber she did.
KK: Awe, this is the most wonderful, perfect co-star you could ever have.
I’m so excited to see this chemistry. What do you guys hope for anyone watching it, to get out of it?
KK: Leave feeling good.
Q: Are there any sad scenes, I cry a lot in movies?
NG: It’s more of a happy cry.
KK: The thing that’s interesting is everyone reacts differently to the film, so I think people are touched in different ways. It’s a dance film you know?
Q: Last question, how does it differ from any other dance movie like Save the Last Dance?
NG: The fusion in it I think is unlike anything ever. For the first time ever you have classical music with hip hop music, with ballet and tap. Pretty much every single dance is represented that the really unique side of it.
KK: And it also came together nicely too. This is the first time classical music has been incorporated in a dance film. For anyone that’s from a classical upbringing or foundation they can appreciate it.
Q: So are you going to continue on with any other roles?
KK: Yeah, I’m out in L.A. now, I’m signed now so, we’ll see.
The diversity of this film taught an array of lessons from the appreciation and acceptance of art in all forms, to going after what you dream of. We highly recommend it for people of all ages. Be sure to check out High Strung in theaters near you on Friday, April 8.