The word “Riverdance” isn’t really used, but that’s what the documentary Jig puts under the microscope — the story of the 40th Irish Dancing World Championships, and specifically the leg-splaying competitions between certain youth subsets. To that end, there’s some absolutely fantastic talent on display in this ambling but only passably inquisitive nonfiction film, meaning that those inclined to like this sort of thing (those who might have a TiVo season pass for TLC’s Toddlers & Tiaras, say) will find in this plenty to like. General audiences, however, may feel a bit danced out.
Unfolding in the final months leading up to the aforementioned March,
2010, competition in Glasgow, Jig charts a number of highly
skilled young folk dancers — precious few of whom have any connection
to the rapid step-dancing genre’s link to Irish culture — and loosely
pairs off some of them who will eventually be competing against one
another. The film is comparable to but not quite as engaging as the
recent documentary Make Believe: The Battle To Become the World’s Best
Teen Magician. The subjects in Jig all put in and exhibit
an equal amount of hard work and dedication, but the latter movie has
significantly better guides, if you will, and a sharper focus. It
succeeds in eliciting information and perspectives from its young
would-be magicians, whereas most of Jig director Sue Bourne’s
interview chats, while perfectly amiable, are less revelatory.
They do less to connect the kids’ passion for dance to the different
ways it makes them feel, and how they see it eventually integrated into
their adult lives.
Watching excellence in almost any field, and
the pursuit of the same, can be a fortifying and rewarding experience.
And it’s certainly interesting to see the wide variety of personalities
(a group of Russians, an adopted Sri Lankan teen living in Holland)
drawn to this extremely difficult and competitive discipline, which
provides an unusual juxtaposition of grace and power in the stillness of
its dancers’ upper bodies and the machine-gun rhythms of their legs.
But Jig doesn’t spend a whole lot of time elucidating the
actual steps of Irish dance (perhaps by design, as one judge later
says it’s a highly subjective art form), and the movie unfurls as a haze
of practice and performance footage — again, frequently impressive —
with neither much contextual mooring nor ambition in staging. It’s just
kids dancing, and competing. Some eventually win, and some will lose —
as often happens in life
Housed in a complementary cardboard slipcover, Jig comes to Blu-ray presented in a superb 1080p transfer, and with a decent little clutch of supplemental bonus features. Director Bourne and eight-time world champion John Carey each provide feature-length audio commentary tracks. There are also bonus story segments, and a brief featurette on world-famous costume designer Gavin Doherty. Seventeen minutes of footage centers on the Dziak family from Chicago, and their six dancing kids — obviously an extra story strand that was discarded in editing. There’s also four minutes of footage from a movie-sponsored event to break the Guinness world’s record for most dancers doing the jig at the same time; it’s a piece of feel-good, successful boosterism (652 folks participate, of all ages and shapes), though I don’t know how I feel about the celebratory use of the word “jiggers” in the special shout-out of thanks. That’s a bit… unnerving. C+ (Movie) B+ (Disc)