Thursday, July 1, 2010

ONLY WHEN I DANCE: Brazilian ballet students warm hearts, knock our socks off



Watching kids pursue their dreams is usually good for some uplift.  When they're crack ballet students and their dream is to dance, you get a bonus. And if one of them proves so charismatic a performer that he wipes the floor with most everyone around him, expect some additional "star-is-born" chemistry between the subject and the filmmaker.

So it is with the new documentary ONLY WHEN I DANCE directed by Beadie Finzi (pictured at right) who, a few years back produced the rather startling Unknown White Male.  Here, she concentrates on two especially fine students: Irlan Santos da Silva (shown below) and Isabela Coracy Alves Nascimento Santos -- who, from this point on, shall be referred to as Irlan and Isabela -- and their talented, loving and supportive instructor Mariza Estrella.

We meet these two kids and their quite wonderful (and equally supportive) parents and siblings. Irlan's father, in fact, notes that the vocation of ballet is not one to which most Brazilian boys aspire. Nonetheless, he stands behind his son, pushing the boy forward, full-throttle. One of the first things we hear from Irlan himself is his dream of "living in a better, quieter place" (the family occupies an apartment in one of Rio de Janeiro's crowded and often violent favelas)  "and taking my parents with me!"

For her part, Isabella (shown below and below) is more retiring, though just as hard-working, and we see her family, too, at work and play -- supporting their daughter's choice just as fervently as does Irlan's.  Yet, as the movie progresses, it is the young man who proves the decided mover-and-shaker of the pair, and soon the documentary's focus skews his way, too.  Everybody loves a winner, as they say, and Irlan is nothing if not that.  We follow the pair from their Rio school to Switzerland, where they compete with other top students from around the world for the chance to win prestigious scholarships and/or interships.

Ballet lovers will cotton immediately to the wonders of Irlan's body and movement, his grace and skill.  But average film-goers should also be able to pick up on all this -- so spectacular is the young man's ability.  And while Isabela is lovely and also quite skillful, she proves less successful for various reasons, from weight to the kind of unspoken racism that means there simply are no black ballerinas in Brazil -- and damn few elsewere in the world.

Only When I Dance offers heartbreak and thrills, success and sur-
prise (maybe not so much of the latter) and the chance to become acquainted with a dancer from whom we are bound to hear (and see) much more.  Viewing the two audition pieces Irlan performs -- one classical, the other (modeled after a dance by Nijnsky) all angles and percussion -- provides reason enough to visit this dance film set against a teeming, throbbing and very unusual background.

Opening theatrically* in New York City at the Cinema Village on Friday, July 2, the documentary is distributed by Film MovementYou can view its other very limited playdates here. Once word gets out, maybe those theatrical venues will expand.

*It's nearly two years after this original post (above), but this week another and quite similar dance film opens in NYC and L.A. -- First Position -- so TM thought it appropriate to let you know where you can view this earlier movie.  Only When I Dance is now out on DVD and available for sale or rental. You can rent it from Netflix (where it's also stream-able!) or Blockbuster, or purchase it from Film Movement or Amazon, among others.

2 comments:

Dave said...

Irlan's dances in Switzerland were amazing!

James van Maanen, said...

Sure were! It's hard to believe we won't be hearing a lot more from this guy. By the way, your blog, Dave, is terrific. I love the design and the "look" of it: really good (and unusual) use of white space, among other things. And your take on the films is smart, too.