High Strung fuses cutting edge hip-hop with contemporary and classical dance

A colorful, kinetic neo-musical that celebrates dance, music and the boundless optimism and energy of youth

You might think it crazy to combine classical ballet and violin with hip-hop music and dance, but wait until you see the sensational High Strung, a superb romance between a classical dancer and British violinist, where two radically talented people from opposite sides of the tracks need to find harmony to achieve their dreams in New York City.


High Strung is the fish-out-of-water tale of Ruby Adams (Keenan Kampa), a beautiful mid-western girl who arrives in the Big Apple to begin studying at the Manhattan Conservatory of the Arts on a scholarship. Among her wide-eyed experiences in the city is a chance encounter with Johnnie Blackwell(Nicholas Galitzine , a handsome British violinist who’s busking in the subway. Ruby’s world is classical and disciplined; Johnnie’s is improvisational and street smart. When a hip-hop battle gone wrong throws these two artists together, they immediately clash but can’t deny it when sparks begin to fly. ‘ Their lives quickly get entangled in the pitfalls that come with competing in New York City. With the help of a dynamic dance crew called The SwitchSteps, Ruby and Johnnie must find a way to save Ruby’s scholarship and keep Johnnie from being deported.In an action-packed extravaganza combining cutting edge hip-hop with contemporary and classical dance, the two must navigate their opposing worlds and prepare for a competition where winning or losing will change their lives forever.


Writer/Director/Producer Michael Damian has enjoyed a prolific on-camera career and is most widely known for his 18-year run as Danny Romalotti on the number one-rated daytime television drama, The Young and the Restless. On the stage front, Damian starred as “Joseph” in the popular Broadway production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which broke box office records in both Los Angeles and on Broadway and earned Damian a Grammy nomination. In addition to his Broadway career, Damian has released five albums and has had eight Top 40 hits including the number one single “Rock On,” which earned him gold records worldwide. Damian won the BMI Song-writing Award for his hit single, “Was It Nothing At All” and also has written and produced soundtracks for Flicka 2 and Flicka: Country Pride, Marley & Me: The Puppy Years, and A Princess for Christmas.

It’s brought to viewers by Broadway stars Michael and Janeen Damian and top choreographer Dave Scott (Step up 2: The Streets; Stomp the Yard; resident choreographer on So You Think You Can Dance; guest choreographer on Dancing with the Stars) and introduces the breathtakingly talented Keenan Kampa (Russia’s Mariinsky Ballet’s first American dancer) and Nicholas Galitzine (The Beat Beneath My Feet) alongside 62 of some of the World’s most exciting and original dancers from London, Paris, L.A. and New York.

“Dance has become huge worldwide,” Michael observes, adding, “It’s an international language that crosses all the borders and boundaries.” However, by bringing together music, classical ballet and hard hitting hip hop in a story of both romance and struggle that reaches a heart-stopping crescendo, the Damians have achieved even more than they’d dreamed. “We hope that the film will inspire young people to work hard, do their best, and believe in themselves,” they conclude. “Even if you don’t succeed as a dancer or musician, what you learn through the arts can be carried with you in whatever you do in life.”


Writer Janeen Damian began her career as a classical dancer and at the age of 14, landed a scholarship to Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in New York where she studied for five years while also attending Professional Children’s School. She performed as a soloist with the Dallas Metropolitan Ballet and as a principle dancer with Mississippi Ballet Theater. She then moved to Los Angeles where she was the youngest dancer cast as a series regular on the Television series Solid Gold. She soon became one of Los Angeles’ most working dancers and performed on numerous TV series, movies, music videos and musical specials including The Academy Awards, Grammys, American Music Awards, Happy Birthday Hollywood, Warner Bros. Celebration, and more. Ms. Damian was also the lead dancer in Prince’s “Batdance” video and danced in Michael Jackson’s 3-D musical film Captain EO, which was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Some of her other on camera credits include the films; Bugsy, directed by Barry Levinson, Annie, directed by John Huston, Footloose, directed by Herbert Ross, and Basic Instinct. Ms. Damian also choreographed the TV series, Party Machine, as well as serving as its lead dancer and also played the recurring role of “Tiffany” on CBS’, Capitol.

This highly entertaining and rousing film’s original take on familiar musical genres sets it apart from prior dance franchises: Step Up and Street Dance and features an original soundtrack of boundary-breaking commercial tracks blending styles of music in a way that already has the dance industry and social media talking.

Composer Nathan Lanier, who began studying violin at the age of four and has been performing and composing ever since, received his M.A. in Composition and Film Scoring from NYU and a B.M. in Violin Performance from Mannes College of Music in New York.

Well-known for his unique cinematic dance music and themes, Lanier recently finished scoring Mattel’s live-action feature film Max Steel which is based on the popular DisneyXD animated series and toy line. Lanier also recently scored Universal’s Jem & The Holograms, directed by Jon M. Chu. He has scored over 20 feature films, as well as the first live-action Halo series Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, produced by Microsoft’s 343 Industries and directed by Max Steel director Stewart Hendler.

A colorful, kinetic neo-musical that celebrates dance, music and the boundless optimism and energy of youth, High Strung hits all of the right notes and makes all of the right moves. Set in a fantasy version of New York City, it provides every essential ingredient: romance and rivalry, aspirations and obstacles, competition and conquest. Highly stylized in classic movie-musical tradition, this picture is about people with dreams. And in the world of High Strung, dreams really do come true.

Filmmakers Michael and Janeen Damian are no strangers to telling stories.

Together, they’ve written and produced 12 films, including the popular reboot of the Flicka franchise and Marley & Me: The Puppy Years for 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate/Hallmark’s A Princess for Christmas, and the critically acclaimed indie film Moondance Alexander. For their latest venture, the duo decided to write a tale that took them back to their roots. “Janeen is a dancer, and I am a musician… so we wanted to make a film celebrating those two worlds that mean so much to us,” Michael explains.

Janeen, who is the daughter of late actor James Best (The Dukes of Hazzard), spent the bulk of her career performing as an ‘A’ list jazz/contemporary dancer in film and television, but she began her career as a classical dancer.

“High Strung is inspired by Janeen’s experience when she was awarded a scholarship to Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in New York,” Michael confides. “So it’s basically her story, her adventures, and what it was like for her moving to NY from a small town; like we have Ruby, our lead character in the film, coming from the Midwest.” Michael and Janeen started music and dance at a very young age under the tutelage of their respective mothers. Michael’s mother is a classical pianist, and Janeen’s was the artistic director of a ballet company. “The fact that they introduced us to the arts when we were so young made a big impact on who we became as adults,” Janeen observes. “The love affair started way back then, and continues on today. This story is very personal for us.”

For Michael Damian, who enjoyed a career as a pop star, spent nearly two decades playing Danny Romalotti on The Young and the Restless, and wowed audiences on Broadway while starring in the box office breaking production “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, the idea of showing the hard work needed to achieve an artist’s dream also struck a personal chord. “I have been a performer for as long as I can remember, but one of my biggest thrills was working for Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber in Joseph,” he recalls. “It was my first Broadway experience. The show was a huge production but no detail was too small for Mr. Webber.  Every word sung or note played was analyzed and perfected. I’ve never worked so hard on a role. He inspired all of us to become the absolute best we could be.”

Casting The Film

Casting the film with performers whom not only had superlative skills in dance and music but also strong acting chops led to the ultimate challenge for the Damians.

Keenan Kampa

Keenan Kampa

“We went on a worldwide search and found two brilliant talents to play our leads,” Michael reveals. “Keenan Kampa plays Ruby Adams. She’s an extraordinary ballerina and the only American who had landed a contract to the Mariinsky Theater (formerly the Kirov Ballet). We were so fortunate to find her.” When spotting Kampa on an NBC Sports Special about the Mariinsky Theatre, the Damian’s were wowed by her dancing then realized she was American. “Janeen and I looked at each other and said, ‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’” Michael recalls with a smile.

“We had no idea how to reach Keenan in Russia so I tweeted her.” After successfully contacting the performer, the filmmakers set up a first meeting with her in Los Angeles. “Keenan had never read dialogue before, but she showed up prepared and inquisitive. She wasn’t self-conscious at all, which is a great asset for an actor.” Janeen adds, “Keenan had quite a bit of Ruby in her: she has an extraordinary work ethic and is a perfectionist. Most importantly she was fearless and eager to learn, which gave us the confidence that she had what it would take to carry the lead role in our film.”

High StrungNicholas Galitzine was deemed to be an equally perfect fit to play Johnnie Blackwell as he was likewise incredibly focused and had a maturity that belied his young age. “Nick has a soulfulness and depth about him which makes him riveting to watch, he is also a dedicated musician, which was crucial.” Michael explains. “Playing this role required months of violin rehearsal, and the intense dedication that Nick demonstrated was amazing. I actually had to ask him to cut back at one point because his neck was bruising so badly it was reading on camera.”

Because of logistics, the Damian’s didn’t have the luxury of seeing Kampa and Galitzine together before they cast them. “We could only hope that they would possess the chemistry we needed to bring this love story to life.  An organic connection like that is tricky.  It can’t be manufactured.  It’s either there or it’s not. We got lucky!” Michael explains.  The performers had such respect and genuine admiration for one another it was palpable on screen. Galitzine had just come off starring in Beat Beneath My Feet so he had experience under his belt.  He took great care to help Kampa feel comfortable right out of the gate. Michael adds, “In the end, we all fell in love with each other, and became a big family.”

Also rounding out the cast are Paul Freeman (Raiders of the Lost Ark) as a Russian ballet teacher named Kramrovsky and Maia Morgenstern (The Passion of the Christ) as Markova, the executive director of the ballet conservatory. Joining them is Emmy and Golden Globe winner, Jane Seymour, who is best known for her starring roles as, Solitaire in the Bond film, Live and Let Die and the title role on the long-running television series, Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman. “When we were on the set of our last movie, Love by Design, Jane had asked about our next project. When she heard that we were doing a dance film, she went ballistic and said, ‘I have to be in it. I love dance, so anything I can do to help…’” Seymour, who also serves as one of High Strung’s executive producers, plays Oxsana, a passionate woman who instructs contemporary dance at the conservatory with tough love!

Finding the right choreographer

The next step to bring the dream to fruition was finding a top-notch choreographer that could manage all the demands of the numerous dance genres displayed in one film. The Damians found their man in the talented Dave Scott (Step up 2: The Streets; Stomp the Yard; So You Think You Can Dance; Dancing with the Stars) and together, they set about locating their massive cast. First stop was L.A., where Dave put together a dream line up of dancers to make up the core for the SwitchStep Crew, young YouTube superstar Ian Eastwood, So You Think You Can Dance All Star Comfort Fedoke, LA’s foremost dancers Marcus Mitchell, John Silver and B-boy legend Flipz. “Dave’s relationships were invaluable.  He landed us five incredible talents and it was just the beginning.” Janeen says.  Dave, Michael and Janeen went on to hold auditions in Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris and Bucharest. “We wanted to make a dance film that would represent multiple genres of dance: not just hip hop, but also ballet, contemporary, tango, and even Irish step dance,” Michael adds. In all, they found 62 dancers to complete their cast. “Everywhere we went, the hip hop talent was so strong we had a tough time choosing,” Janeen adds. “But it was also very important to us to get the ballet right, which proved much more challenging.”

Since Keenan is a world-class dancer, the filmmakers were faced with a dilemma: Where were they going to find dancers skilled enough to go toe-to -toe with her?

Most dancers in her league are under contract and unavailable. Enter the Bucharest National Opera Ballet, a thriving and exceptionally talented Ballet Company. “It took a lot of visits to the opera house to convince the administration to allow their dancers to moonlight on our film.” Janeen recalls. The Company was in the middle of their season, so their dancers were in rehearsals all day and performing every night. But the Damian’s figured out a jigsaw puzzle of a schedule, prompting an eventual agreement. “For a few of their principle dancers, we had to wait until the night before to find out whether we would have them for the shoot the next day, but it all worked out with thrilling results.” Michael says proudly. The Bucharest National Opera Ballet also allowed Kampa and additional cast members Sonoya Mizuno and Annabel Kutay the honor of taking their private company ballet classes for the months during the shoot. “It was truly a humbling experience landing such a dazzling line up of international dancers,” the Damians conclude. “It was a dream come true for both of us.”

Shooting the film

With the cast and dancers finally set, vigorous rehearsals began, and then finally principal photography took place both in New York and Romania. “We shot a lot of the interiors at a wonderful conservatory in Bucharest,” Michael reveals. “Their classes were in session while we were shooting. We’d head down the hall to the next set up and hear all the different musicians practicing. Janeen had flashbacks of walking the halls of Juilliard, and of course my memory is of practicing all those classical scales on piano with my mother.”

With music playing such an intense role in the film, the soundtrack also had to be something very special.

Fortunately Michael, who has enjoyed success as a singer/songwriter with hits like his 80s anthem “Rock On,” knew what he was looking for. “We were blown away by a piece of music we heard on So You Think You Can Dance by composer Nathan Lanier,” he explains. “Our subsequent research indicated that he had extensive experience composing for dancers, along with a list of impressive films he had scored. On top of that, Lanier is a virtuosic violinist, so it was a marriage made in heaven.” Lanier had to work quickly as the music cues for the dance sequences were needed immediately for rehearsals. “We wanted something epic: a mash-up of classical orchestration, hip-hop and electric violin,” Michael offers. “What Nathan created for us went beyond our expectations. The score is a major character in the film, and brings an emotional element. We’ve had a lot of people leaving screenings with goose bumps.”

In addition to the original score, High Strung also has 13 original songs ranging from hip-hop to pop to EDM. “It’s quite an odyssey of music; I have quite a few connections, thank goodness – so I pulled every favor,” Michael confesses. “We’ve compiled some awesome songs by an incredible group of talented international artists.” The result is an original soundtrack of fresh commercial tracks along with a boundary-breaking original score blending styles of music in a way that is already leaving tongues wagging.

In a decade when the public appetite for dance and dance programming has enjoyed great resurgence, the timing was right to make to High Strung.

“Dance has become huge worldwide,” Michael observes, adding, “It’s an international language that crosses all the borders and boundaries.” However, by bringing together music, classical ballet and hard hitting hip hop in a story of both romance and struggle that reaches a heart-stopping crescendo, the Damians have achieved even more than they’d dreamed. “We hope that the film will inspire young people to work hard, do their best, and believe in themselves,” they conclude. “Even if you don’t succeed as a dancer or musician, what you learn through the arts can be carried with you in whatever you do in life.”