The greatest cinematic dance scenes encapsulate the essence of an entire movie. The first thing I saw from Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round was Mads Mikkelsen’s epic dance, the climax of the film which could easily compete with any grand musical finale in terms of celebratory atmosphere and joie de vivre. But it’s also more complex than that: even without knowing the whole plot, one can sense a lot of what the character’s been through and what a turning point in his life he’s arrived at.
In this Danish picture, which won the 2021 Academy Award for Best International Feature Film, four high school teacher-friends – all suffering from various manifestations of midlife crisis – decide to test a theory by Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud in real life. According to his premise, we are born with a 0.05% alcohol deficit in our blood, so sustaining a moderate level of drunkenness throughout the day would actually help us reach peak performance in several aspects of life. (Disappointingly, Skårderud has since denied that he ever came up with this theory.)
At first the experiment goes quite well, and all of the four men experience positive changes in their everyday lives. Mikkelsen’s character, Martin, almost instantly becomes again the inspired teacher he once was, and is also able to face the numbness that his family life turned into many years ago. But as always with alcohol, not everyone knows when and how to stop, and at some point things start to get out of hand.
Dance is first mentioned when the group celebrates one of their birthdays, and someone reveals that Martin used to take jazz ballet classes when he was young. They ask him to show them some moves, but he refuses. He still needs to go a long way until that final scene – and so his dancing at the end becomes an allegory of his progress, of opening up and finding his will to live again.
Suddenly, he is the coolest guy in the middle of the young crowd
At the movie’s close, Martin and his friends – drinks in hand – join their celebrating graduate students at Copenhagen’s scenic harbourside, and he is once again teased by his friend to bring out the old moves. This time he agrees, at first reluctantly, pausing, looking at the sea and contemplating a while before deciding to really dive in – both to the dance and finally quite literally into the water as well. Suddenly, he is the coolest guy in the middle of the young crowd, turning, jumping, cartwheeling and twisting one leg around the other (‘very much my move’ – said Mikkelsen in an interview). The constantly moving, slightly wobbly camera drags us right into the middle of the cheering crowd and makes the impulsiveness of Martin’s dancing physically tangible. ‘Don’t know where I’m in five but I’m young and alive / Fuck what they are saying, what a life’ – sing the band Scarlet Pleasure, and Martin’s mood couldn’t reflect the momentary euphoria of the lyrics any better. He puts all his mixed emotions from dealing with the shock and trauma of the recent weeks, of grabbing the hopes for the future, into this dance.
Just like his character, Mikkelsen hadn’t danced for thirty years before this movie, and according to choreographer Olivia Anselmo, he was similarly reluctant at first. But later, the actor confessed, he got a little ambitious. After all, as is quite evident from his moves, he used to be a professional dancer in his youth, starting out as a gymnast before turning to contemporary dance – even learning at the Martha Graham school in New York – and working with various Danish companies and in several musicals along the way. And why did he trade dancing for acting in the end? ‘I was also always more in love with the drama of dancing than the aesthetics of dancing.’ The perfect attitude for the final dance of Another Round.
In Another Round (2020) director Thomas Vinterberg deals with the strains of men’s mid-life crisis, highlighting both the dark and the ludicrous circumstances it can entail. The movie finale features a glorious dance scene, soulfully performed Mads Mikkelsen as Martin, a history teacher and family man who has become lost and unmotivated.
Following a theory that the human body has an inbuilt alcohol deficiency of 0.05%, Martin and three colleagues and friends embark on a risky experiment to try to regain their joie de vivre, drinking throughout the day to keep themselves ‘topped up’. Inevitably, their plan spirals out of control, leaving both tragic loss and valuable revelation.
On graduation day, teachers and students gather by the port to celebrate. The atmosphere is exhilarating: cheerful teenagers fill up the space with their youthful energy, dancing and drinking, full of hope and dreams for the future. Martin, who the same day had both attended the funeral of his dear friend and received messages of potential reconciliation from his wife, finds himself on the brink between sadness and joy. And then, he bursts into dancing. At this point, actor and character meet Mikkelsen’s former training as a gymnast and a dancer, intensifying the sense of realness of his dancing. The song ‘What a Life’ by the Danish band Scarlet Pleasure, upbeat and melancholic at the same time, is the perfect soundtrack.
Mikkelsen delivers a loose and raw dance. He starts off reluctantly, joining his friend in a short routine of cross steps and turns, set to the song’s beat. He jokes and laughs about it, pausing now and again, sipping from cans of beer. Still detached from the dance, he retreats to sit on a bench, facing the open sea view. The camera focuses on his face, but his gestures suggest checking his phone again. There is a slight, ambiguous change of expression in his face – and then, as the song chorus peaks, he literally throws himself into the dance, jumping off the bench, landing as a popstar.
As the song lyric goes, he just wants five more minutes of being young and alive.
He is now fully immersed into a dance that is grand and introspective at the same time. Wide unbalanced steps and swaying arms, soon turn into jumps and air-kicks, cartwheels and acrobatic rolls on the ground, and Mikkelsen takes over the space, passing through dancing teenagers and fountains of champagne. Although he becomes the centre of attention of the party, he is clearly only dancing for himself. There is a bittersweet juxtaposition between the light-hearted dance of the youngsters and the passionate dance of fifty-year-old Martin, and the way he thrusts himself into it with his body and soul. As the song lyric goes, he just wants five more minutes of being young and alive.
The hand-held camera follows him around with long takes, constantly changing between levels and angles, adding to the sense of looseness of the movement and the internal release of the character. As the camera dances along with Martin, we are also carried away into his dance, following him along his internal journey, from heaviness towards lightness, from feeling lost to finding himself again. The scene – and the film – end with Martin mid-air, leaping towards the water. The image is ambiguous: is he flying or is he falling? Maybe, it is both.
The dance scene is undeniably the highlight of the film, allowing a cathartic effect for both the characters and the audience. It is a ‘coming back to the body’ moment, a reminder that that is where everything resides and springs from: the heaviness and the lightness, the despair and the hope, the sadness and the joy.