Review | Shankman ‘Steps Up’ with New Series

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By Candace Havens

When Adam Shankman and the other producers of the new series STEP UP: HIGH WATER (YouTube Red) it was important to them that the series be something fresh but pay homage to the original film. They couldn’t copy what they’d done with the film franchise so finding a new way to present great stories with a dance element was a big challenge.

“That was really important when we talked about doing the series, straight out of the gate,” Shankman says. “Holly (Sorensen, creator/showrunner) was – I was so grateful that she was really supportive of and really wrote to this was that we wanted to actually get back to the stakes level of the first movie and to reinstall the notion of an institution, so it made sense that people were dancing the way that they were. And we had the freedom to do that, and that was embraced. But the first movie had a more – it was really a drama with some dancing in it, and we knew that that’s what the series always had to be. The dancing was always going to happen and take place. Really the emphasis was on the characters and all of that, but it was a real joy to re-engage like this.”

The school where they’re dancing is Atlanta’s High Water Performing Arts School run by Sage Odom (Ne-Yo) and Collette (Naya Rivera). Janelle (Lauryn McClain) and her brother, Tal (Petrice Jones), have moved from Ohio to live with their Uncle Al (Faizon Love). It’s a whole new world for them when Dondre (Marcus Mitchell) introduces them to Atlanta’s party scene where they learn that High Water is auditioning dancers.

But along with the performances is a whole lot of learning one’s way through the world. The producers want to stay away from doing a “Fame” remake. “We say about this show – it’s not a dance show,” Sorensen says. “It’s a show about dancers. And the stakes of the people in this world are just really high because it’s set in a low‑income neighborhood and the people that have the opportunity to study at this amazing school that is a complete invention, you know, it’s a matter of life and death for them. When Adam and I talked about the show initially, like, the theme of the show is danger because if you have a dream, your dream can die. If you are a dancer, you can be injured, you know. The character Sage Odom, who runs the school, is a dangerous person. So it’s not fame. It’s its own beast.”

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