THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Jig is available on DVD and in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack starting Oct. 4.
Irish Dancing provokes one of two reactions from people: It's so beautiful! or What - that "Lord of the Dance" crap? I used to have the latter reaction until circumstances conspired to land me in the 6th row of a "Lord of the Dance" performance about 11 years ago. When forced to sit and really observe it, I found the gracefulness of Irish dancing to be irresistible. There's a lot more skill at play than you might initially realize. The choreography is intricate, yet it looks simple when performed by someone with great talent. Those who most excel at the dance form compete every year at the Irish Dancing World Championships. A new documentary called Jig takes us to the 2010 championships held in Glasgow. If you're already a fan, this is a doc you shouldn't miss. If not, don't turn your nose up just yet. After meeting these competitors, you might be blown away.
Director Sue Bourne introduces us to several individuals preparing to compete. There's the British lad who has astounding natural talent but tends to become unfocused. There's a teen boy who trains with a former multi-time world champ, and who is determined to eventually best his mentor. The most interesting people we follow are Brogan McCay and Julia O'Rourke. Hailing from different countries - Brogan is native to Ireland, Julia is from New York - the girls are each other's stiffest competition in their shared category, and they know it. Both are typical 11 year-olds (Brogan has pictures of Zac Efron and Miley Cyrus on her bedroom walls) yet possess a fierce determination to win. Julia even dances on an injured foot.
Over the course of the movie, we see each dancer going through intense training. Some of the coaches are nurturing, while others bring new meaning to the word "hard-ass." We meet the family members, who go to great lengths to support their loved ones; one dancer's family gave up an affluent California lifestyle to move to rainy England in order to access a great dance coach. We also see the preparations that go into performing. Female competitors wear wigs, makeup, and dresses that are as expensive as they are flamboyant. One interview subject informs us that they'll each spend years training for just six minutes of performance time, tops. The final half hour of Jig covers the big event, where the worst thing that can happen is bumping into another dancer. (That happens.) After their brief time on stage, the dancers endure the agony of waiting for all the scores to be revealed at once.
The true test of a good documentary is whether it can engross viewers even if the subject matter isn't inherently of interest to them. I think Jig passes that test. You don't have to be a fan of Irish dancing to enjoy it. What pulls you in is the passion of the dancers, the way they express what it means to work in this particular style. Each of them has a drive not so much to best others as to best themselves; they strive for personal perfection. The unveiling of the scores at the end of the World Championship is nail-biting, simply because we understand how much effort has gone into earning those six minutes of stage time. It is interesting that the competitors seem to genuinely like and respect each other. The victory comes in mastering the moves, not in triumphing over somebody else.
If you come in with a pre-existing appreciation for Irish dancing, all these things will just hook you even more. Naturally, there's a lot of performance footage here too. Let's just say that these are the best Irish dancers in the world for a reason. They're magnificent to watch.
I do think too many contestants are followed, meaning that a few of them get shorter shrifts than others when it comes to screen time. It would have been advisable for the film to follow fewer of them and allow us to get even deeper into their psyches. I wish the scoring system had been more clearly explained as well. A better understanding of it would have multiplied the tension as scores are announced. That aside, there is plenty to admire and enjoy about Jig. The filmmakers were given unprecedented access to the Irish Dancing World Championships, and what they found is captivating.
( out of four)
Jig will be available on DVD and in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack on October 4. The film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and with a 5.1 surround sound mix.
The DVD contains only the film itself, but the Blu-Ray contains a number of supplements, including audio commentary from director Sue Bourne and eight-time world champion John Carey. World famous costume designer Gavin Doherty is interviewed on the subject of the elaborate dresses worn by female contestants. Additional story footage is also included, as is a segment on the breaking of a Guiness World Record.
Home video is a great way to see smaller, worthy films that may not have been on your radar during their theatrical releases. I hope people will seek out Jig. It's a terrific documentary that deserves discovery.
Jig is rated PG for some mild thematic elements and mild language. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.