Only When I Dance

April 15, 2010 at 1:02 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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A few weeks ago, I went to see Only when I dance at the documentary film festival.

March 18, 2010 by Show_Hanger

The documentary follows two talented young Brazilian ballet dancers from the poor district in Rio de Janero: Irlan de silva and Isabela Coracy. Both are coloured, which in the context of Brazil means that they have very little future professionally in Brazil. Their best chance to dance professionally, is to standout an high profile international ballet competition. Irlan goes to the same ballet school as Isabela, and probably were in the same classes.

Both dancers go to Maria Estrella’s Centro de Dança Rio (dance school). She gives scholarships to dancers with circumstances such as Irlan and Isabela.

Irlan is good enough to enter the prix de Lousanne. And he is good; he has an arresting smile, and he clearly puts all of himself into his dancing. His dancing is full of energy and has that extra spark. For the prix he dances the slave dance from le Cosair and the power and height in his leaps is truly breathtaking, and his control/technique is also very good. It is good enough to get through to the final round, where he opts to do a contemporary piece – Nijinski’s ?. On the face of it, this appears to be counter intuitive, why choose something so difficult and so unorthodox? Why choose a piece that is nearly an anti-ballet? But his performance is briliant – he carries it off and wins a 1-year scholarship with a professional company.

For Irlan, Losanne is the first time he has flown, the first abroad, and the first time in falling snow. The look of wonder on his face as priceless.

The financial pressure on the young dancers’ families is immense. They come from low inclome families and the relative amount of money required, to go to ballet school and travel to competitions, is immense.

It is not just a matter of sending a tape to the entry committee of the competitions. Most international competitions have preliminaries in Brazil; and to enter these, you probably have to have a history of competing – to get experience, if not to qualify. So both families are constantly raising money.

Isabela has a more difficult time of it: she has injuries, she has weight issues (she is not stick thin!), she is black (in a white world),and her family seems poorer.

Isabela, earns the right – through placing high in Brazilian competitions – to go to New York, to take part in the New York Grand Prix. She does not get past the first round for individuals; though her school’s group dance comes third. This both a personal disaster and a family disaster. Her family have borrowed heavily to raise money. Here we see the real price of dreams.

The documentary ends with the contrast between Irlan and Isabela. Irlan is off to New York, to join the presitgious American Ballet Theatre. Isabela, and her family, must re-group, and decide what to do next.


There is a happy ending. Googling “Irlan Isabela Ballet” led me to Ballet Talk and The TimesOnline, where I found out that Irlan is now at American Ballet Theatre – in the junior company; and that Isabela is now with the São Paulo Dance Company. Maria must be very pleased.


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