Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Dancer

I just finished watching The Dancer, a documentary following Swedish ballet dancer Katja Bjorner as she trains to become a professional ballerina. Apart from yet another confirmation that most people don't know how to film dance, the documentary was very interesting and informative.

Dance is something that can sometimes look effortless, and most non-dancers have absolutely no idea what dancers have to go through in order to achieve that level of skill. There were a lot of scenes of Katje at the barre, going through simple ballet exercises. One of my favorite scenes was one where Katja was doing a combination of steps, and her teacher kept making her do it over and over, with changes to her hands and feet and the way she turned each time. To my eyes, I saw no difference in the way Katja was dancing, but it was clear from the teacher's tone of voice that every time, she did it a little bit better.

There was also an interesting scene where they showed Katje's pointe shoe fitting, as well as what goes into making a pointe shoe. I'm a little obsessed with feet, so these scenes were gold to me. The foot strength of ballet dancers is absolutely mesmerizing. I loved watching them go up on pointe, come down again, curl their feet to stretch them, spin around--even watching them go on pointe barefoot was amazing. And for all the stories about how ugly a dancer's feet look, I saw nary a bad foot in this documentary.

One of the things I enjoyed most, though, was listening to Katje and the choreographers talk about how to present a dance. I notice that in belly dance, you don't hear too much about the acting and theater part of it, but the reality is, you're interpreting music and a story for your audience. The joke among my fellow dancers is that the photographer always catches you making a weird face, and lucky for me, my default performance face is a great big smile, but what I really want to learn the theater aspect of it, too. There is acting going on during a dance.

The documentary showed a prima ballerina practicing with her partner, and her expressions and even the way she held herself were beautiful. It was clear what she was expressing, and for a performance art that has no words to tell the story, it was most effective. I've missed some of the workshops on theater and belly dance because I've told myself I don't really need them, but now I regret it, and I hope to find another one again soon.

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