Don’t be fooled. Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker is not just a sweet little doc about a bunch of kids who get a shiny participation ribbon. Sure, it’s inspiring and uplifting. But it’s also bracingly clear-eyed about the way that Dance (you can read “any Art”) can be fickle and cruel.
The film is structured around the casting and rehearsal process for the Debbie Allen Dance Academy’s Hot Chocolate Nutcracker, an annual fundraiser show that lifts the plot (if little else) from Tchaikovsky’s holiday chestnut. You do get to see quite a bit of the finished product, but it’s the peeks at the grueling weeks ahead of the show’s debut that make the documentary really something to see.
It’s tough to find movies or TV shows that get the process of making Art just right—I can count the successful ones without using all of my fingers. Hot Chocolate Nutcracker pulls it off, though. It focuses pretty seriously on the tedium of rehearsal; and the practice, practice, practice dictum set down by taskmaster and dance academy doyenne Debbie Allen makes it quite clear that ballet ain’t for everyone.
The high point for me is when a six-seven-eight-year old (I’m bad at this) looks directly into the camera and says as matter-of-factly as possible “I just got kicked out [of the show]” and there’s not a tear in sight. She’s gonna go places, that kid.