Popular dance movies seem to be following a pattern. There’s always a young dancer, on a mission, trying to succeed against all odds. Usually it’s a woman and a goody-goody, and the dance itself is there merely as a decoration to fill out the script. A typical example, and the pioneer dance movie in the form we are now familiar with, is Flashdance (1983), where dance is incorporated as MTV-style scenes, with no real connection to the ideas in the movie.
Suspiria (2018) might initially seem similar, as it is about a young dancer rising to the top of a dance company, but it has two important twists. The first Suspiria, directed by Dario Argento in 1977, was set in a classical ballet school and did not have much actual dancing, while the remake’s director Luca Guadagnino gives an important role to contemporary dance, here choreographed by Damien Jalet. Not only is the dance not pretty, let alone flashy, but the main female roles are far from your typical dance movie goody-goodies: they are witches.
It’s the 70s in Berlin, terrorised by the radical leftist Red Army Faction. Susie (Dakota Johnson), raised an American Mennonite, arrives to join a prestigious dance company led by a coven of witches. Their intentions – to choose and sacrifice a young dancer – are announced during Susie’s audition.