Alive and Kicking
Although it’s been used repeatedly as a movie title, Alive and Kicking perfectly captures the joyous enthusiasm of Susan Glatzer’s debut documentary, which presents swing dance as a vibrant, living art form. It’s been two decades since Swing Kids (1993), about anti-Nazi Germans who during the Reich embrace banned African-American jazz and its energetic Harlem-born dances, and the 1996 indie breakout Swingers, set in the Los Angeles revival scene, helped turn swing into a fin-de-siècle craze. That initial resurrection brought new attention to innovators like Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, whose astounding routine in Hellzapoppin’ (1941) exemplifies swing’s ecstatic athleticism. Abandoning retirement to teach workshops, Manning and Miller continued inspiring dancers into their 90s.
Today’s swing practitioners retain a fondness for vintage clothing and original jazz recordings, but recently established competitions have helped contemporary swing to evolve from nostalgic mimicry to kinetic singularity. In the film’s contests, dancers prepare for a specific style (like the Lindy Hop) without knowing what music they’ll get, so each routine is created on the spot. Glatzer shows us competitive partnerships, including Swedish self-styled sisters Emelie and Rebecka DecaVita, to highlight how dancers who share a common vocabulary can always generate new conversations. This improvisational spark animates professional duos and keen amateurs alike.
A former studio executive with October Films and Paramount Pictures, Glatzer has long been part of the swing community, which she depicts as a happy cult of movement and connection. The dancers in Alive and Kicking all share a rapturous expression, and Glatzer makes the case for this Depression-era diversion as a modern tonic for isolation.
Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on April 7, 2017 by Magnolia Pictures
First published in LA Weekly, 2017.