Movies: Jig ***
(PG, LIMITED RELEASE)
Thanks no doubt to the success of Riverdance, Irish dancing has become an extraordinarily popular phenomenon around the world, and this engaging documentary from Sue Bourne follows a group of young performers as they prepare for the 2010 World Championships in Glasgow.
The dancers come from points as far-flung as Moscow and Long Island: some have Irish connections, others none at all, but all are united by a love for the simultaneously stilted and hectic jigs that at their best can provide such a powerful emotional spectacle.
Jig spends much of its time following the dancers as they prepare for the prestigious competition, and leaves us in no doubt as to the sacrifice and hard work involved. Brogan McCay is a talented 10-year-old from Derry City who is put through her paces by a fearsome female teacher. Her main opponent in the World Championships is Julia O'Rourke, a part-Philippino, part-Irish American girl who was inspired to start dancing by watching a DVD of Riverdance. Sandun Verschoor is a jig-obsessed Dutch Sri Lankan, Ana Kondratyeva is part of a Moscow ceilidh team, and Claire Greaney is an effortlessly graceful dancer from Galway.
The star of the show, though, is John Whitehurst, an angel-faced 10-year-old from Birmingham who'd break your heart to look at him and is very much the Billy Elliot of the piece. There's no Irishness in his background, and John has endured plenty of playground teasing on account of his love of dance. But with the help of his supportive mother and his teacher John Carey, he's made it to the World Championships and has a shot at the title.
Bourne's entertaining film culminates at those Championships, as all the contestants' hard work is reduced to the outcome of a two-minute performance. Bourne drags this climax out a bit, and the current trend for dressing the little girls in fake tan and hideous wigs is disturbing. But, overall, Jig is an absorbing insight into the weird and wonderful world of Irish dancing.
Day & Night