Much more than dedication in 'JIG'

Jig

Jig

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:39 PM ET

There are, as one might expect, pennywhistles o'plenty in JIG: The Story of the Irish Dancing World Championships. Ironic, since the top competitors include a Sri Lankan-born Dutch teen, two Americans and some Russians.

Moreover, the story doesn't even take place in Ireland. The world championships in this ankle-deep documentary took place last year in Glasgow, Scotland.

The polyglot aspect shouldn't surprise in a world where Scandinavians win World Latin Dance competitions, and Croatians and Canadians challenge for the World Mariachi Championships in Guadalajara. People become obsessed with the strangest things to a world-class extent.

Still, other than occasionally mentioning Riverdance, JIG: The Story of the Irish Dancing World Championships is a clear case of false advertising. We do not get the story of these championships, in the sense of how they came to be. Nor is there any attempt to explain Irish dancing, historically, culturally or esthetically.

I know no more about the form than I did beforehand, although from 90 minutes of watching different personal styles, it seems OK to import certain ballet moves below the waist. The judging is so arcane, it makes figure skating look sensible.

Director Sue Bourne -- who admits she's a newbie -- displays little curiosity about any of this. She was attracted by the grandiosity of the event in Glasgow (6,000 competitors competing for 22 world titles in various age groups), and lards the movie with inspiring personal stories.

Certainly fascinating, some even have their own built-in Hollywoodish narrative. The most familiar of these would be the story of 10-year-old Birmingham boy John Whitehurst, whose Billy Elliot template includes enduring homophobic slurs, and a burly dad ready to intervene when his kid is bullied. Whitehurst has trouble concentrating, but has more natural talent than super-coach John Carey has ever seen. Carey also coaches teenage Joe, the best dancer in his age group, and one whose father gave up a lucrative California medical practice so his son can dance. The 10-year-old idolizes the teen, and the mutual chemistry would have sustained a movie by itself.

Instead, there are more personal tales than one can keep straight -- including BFF relationships between teen girl titlists and a couple of 10-year-old girls from across The Pond (Julia from New York and Brogan from Derry, one of the only actual Irish contestants in this movie).

With everything that's missing, certain things do come through. The boys' roles are considered athletic, but secondary. The World Championships are all about wigs, ornate dresses and makeup -- on 10-year-old girls. The competition seems to embrace the weird vulgarity of American child pageants, and at a point it's hard not to think of JonBenet Ramsey.

It's clear, as well, that the "Hollywood mom" syndrome does not respect borders. Some competitors, who've been at it since learning to walk, admit to only being in it because of their parents' sacrifices.

In that respect, JIG is a documentary in that it documents. But what it documents is as much freak show as cultural event. 


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