A Screenplay by Andrew Hawcroft
Red dawn. Saturday.
15 year-old John Nolan wakes up alone in his tiny bedroom. The calendar on the wall has days crossed off until today, circled in black. The Big Day. The day when John finally becomes worth something. Today, John will get his first crack at an Irish Dancing World Title. Then he will matter.
He really is alone in this though. His father, Arthur Nolan, a cleaner, cares nothing about it. His vague daily aim is to finish work and get to the pub early and join his surrogate drinking ‘family,’ of similarly broken and hiding men.
His son, through sheer grit and focus, is showing character traits that Arthur never bothered to develop. He’s becoming something Arthur can only sit in the shadow of, and that rests badly with Arthur. Thus he rarely misses a chance to complain about, or take a crack at, his son’s ambitions and achievements. Yes, John is going to do it quite alone today.
But the hardest childhoods often make the most interesting children, and John is driven like no other. He finds the money for his dancing, his fees, his shoes and his transport himself. He disciplines himself. Trains by himself. He will become Somebody in his life by himself. When he turns 16, he will be out the door and into a bedsit. He will live alone and he can’t wait.
Then, on the journey to the World Irish Dancing championships venue, riding with a friend, their vehicle is blind-sided by a drunk driver. Both his legs are broken, an arm, his collar bone...
For a long time...
A red dawn. Saturday.
John Nolan wakes up alone in a small flat in a small Irish town. Eerily similar start to the day perhaps, only this time John is 45 years old.
The last 30 years have been a cavalcade of drive, huge ambition, hard work, near-misses, almost-success, failed ventures and failed relationships. Somehow, incredibly so given his great self-discipline and determination, John has not managed to achieve any of those childhood dreams and ambitions of a global dancing career, and is ending up effectively living his worse-case scenario.
John owns a very small Irish dancing studio high in the Connemara hills. This Saturday morning will involve a series of junior classes, teaching (too) young children baby steps while hard-lipped parents look on.
And there aren’t even enough of those, as the bills on his studio doormat show. The economy has played its part. Too much of the town is on Welfare, including his father, who remains alive but is just a vacant shell of a man whom John doesn’t speak to at all.
But before the day’s responsibilities take over, John will have precious hour or so to himself. As he warms up, he struggles to recall, and to return to, that primal thrill that Irish dancing gave him as a boy. The creativity, the expression, the venting of things repressed, the drama, the adventure and pleasure that came from choreographing his own steps. As he dances more and more, we see the barest hints of this fire begin to flicker in his eyes.
Then too soon, the cars begin to pull up and the classes begin.
So John Nolan’s life goes on, day after day, living for those stolen hours of expression until two things happen.
1) A giant, gleaming glass-and-chrome monstrosity of a dance school opens up in town, All styles catered to. Kid’s crèche. In-house Starbuck cafe.
2) A 13 year-old Russian boy, Kasian Karalli, and his mother, Tatiana show up at his studio.
The first of these occurrences is a punch to the gut for John’s business.
The second, following shortly after, will go a small way to remedying his pain. The reserved, wary, but quite stunning beautiful Tatiana Karelli would like to pay private lessons for her son to learn Irish dancing. They have recently arrived from St Petersburg. Although she remains tight-lipped about their background, she has come to live in Ireland just to help her son advance. It seems her son’s passion for Irish dancing means as much to her as to him.
Whatever. John now needs the money badly, and God knows, proud mothers pushing their ‘talented’ children forward is nothing new to him. But he will soon find out how wrong this cynical presumption is. In fact he will find out he is wrong about a lot of things concerning this quiet, polite, and strangely compelling mother and son.
For one thing, Kasian is a prodigy. An incredibly gifted dancer, blessed with a natural musicality, athleticism and dedication that no teacher can instil. Entirely self-taught from video-tapes in Russia (it transpires,) he has all the drive, discipline and focus that a young John Nolan had (has?) but without the over-reaching need to prove himself, coupled with the love of a devoted parent.
As Kasian progresses alarmingly quickly, John finds his own passion for dance...and for life... being re-ignited.
But things are not all that they seem. Tatiana and Kasian have their own shadows to run from, and shadows have a bad habit of sculking in the background until somebody turns on a bright light.
John Nolan is going to be that bright light to Kasian and Tatiana, and in the process, certain things he might have once called ‘impossible’ are going to happen...