out of Five
Running time: 97
Watchable but ultimately disappointing documentary that's let down by some severe structural problems, a lack of focus in the editing, too many characters, an oddly flat finale and a curious refusal to explore or contextualise the central subject.
What's it all about?
Directed by Sue Bourne, Jig is a competition-based documentary that follows a number of participants as they prepare for and compete in the 40th Irish Dancing World Championships. The mix is intriguingly international, with competitors from New York (young Julia O'Rourke), Glasgow (teenager Suzanne Coyle), London (teenager Simona Mauriello) and Moscow (Ana Kondratyeva and The Ceilidh Team) as well as Ireland (young Brogan McCay and teenager Claire Greaney), though both the film's most talented competitors (reigning teenage champion Joe Bitter and 11-year-old real-life Billy Elliot figure John Whitehurst) come from Birmingham, where they're schooled by former champion John Carey.
Young John Whitehurst is extraordinary and the film is at its best whenever he's on screen, particularly when observing the touching relationship that develops between Whitehurst, Carey and Joe Bitter as they train together. There are a few funny lines and interesting moments elsewhere (most notably one of the mothers asking a teacher “Was that good?” after her child has performed) but in general the film suffers from too many characters and a frustrating lack of focus on the possible stories available, such as the rivalry between the three teenage girls.
The film's biggest problem is its curious refusal to provide any background or context to its subject – it's crying out for an expert talking head to come on and explain why all the girls wear the strange (and hideously expensive) wigs or how the static upper-body dancing style evolved. Bourne captures the odd sense of gaudy spectacle (“It's like a Shirley Temple convention” comments one observer), but we're never given any hint as to why the Irish Dancing phenomenon has spread as far as it has or even why the participants themselves are drawn to it; the closest we get is Ana commenting that “only Irish dancing allows you really to fly.”
The other problem is that, unlike obvious models such as Spellbound or Sounds Like Teen Spirit, Jig fails to provide any tension or excitement in the competition sequences, so the finale feels oddly flat; it also neglects to include any post-competition reaction interviews with the winners and losers.
Despite a handful of good moments and some appealing characters, the combined lack of focus, background and tension render Jig an ultimately frustrating experience that's probably best suited to TV.