‘Anything is possible now’
Jazz music and images of the past in Stephen Poliakoff’s Dancing on the Edge
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This chapter examines Stephen Poliakoff’s television serial Dancing on the Edge (BBC Two, 2013), focusing on its use of originally composed jazz music and its development of fictional spaces. The analysis of the chapter shows how these elements can agree or disagree with each other; this embodies the dichotomy between optimism for the future and the political and social developments that lead to the Second World War, felt in the serial’s 1930s setting and represented by the binary of its title. Focusing on a Black British jazz band, Dancing on the Edge’s narrative concerns of racial identity are reflected in the struggle of their invigorating music to overcome the darker elements of 1930s society. The moment examined shows the Louis Lester Band performing for members of royalty, their ascent into high society undermined by the intercut scene of their manager being deported to America. It is argued that music becomes the organising element of this scene, allowing cultural significance not indicated by dialogue alone to be felt. Following this, the serial’s use of ‘Poliakovian’ spaces is assessed, considering the importance of the hotel space as a potential heterotopia and Poliakoff’s own cultural position. Lastly, the postmodernism of Dancing on the Edge’s music is identified, through the modulation of its music and its ‘decoupling’ from the band’s performances in the serial’s final episode. The conclusion asserts the broader significance of Louis’s subjectivity in the serial, in terms of both its historical moment and the potentials of period drama productions on television.

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Moments in television

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