Early in Christian Bonke and Andreas Koefoed’s Ballroom Dancer, we see 33-year-old Russian ballroom dancing champion Slavik tell his students that a dance between two people is an everyday story, not a big drama. The goal, he tells them, is to get on the other person’s wavelength. Slavik’s lesson is taken by Bonke and Koefoed’s film, which strives to get on the physical and emotional wavelengths of an aging artist who can’t get back to his salad days with former partner and reigning champion Joanna. His training sequences with new (younger) partner and lover Anna are rendered in dynamic camera movements that position the spectator as a surrogate partner in their tense mating dance, which yields disappointing results in competition. The filmmakers find a way to capture less obviously visually charged moments as well, framing Slavik and Anna in two-shots that emphasize their distance from one another even as they share the same space: Anna seems always to be hovering in the background on her Blackberry, eager for a window out. Slavik’s journey is a tricky one, then – a quest for self-mastery negotiated with another person who has her own set of goals.
There’s plenty of everyday drama here, but Ballroom Dancer is hampered by Anna’s growing disinterest in training and presumably the documentary. For those of us who can’t appreciate the technical nature of ballroom dancing, she’s the only real access point to her brooding partner. Her blankness, coupled with Bonke and Koefoed’s brave but misguided aversion to showing archival footage of the Slavik-Joanna partnership, makes it hard to tell whether Slavik has lost something physically or just can’t get it together with his new partner. It’s not that he’s a poor subject: his insistence on better articulating himself in conversation with one of his many trainers (a rotating cast of counsellors) proves him to be as pensive as he is graceful. But without a clear sense of his strategy or personality, the film’s dourness takes its toll. **1/2/****
PROGRAMME: Special Presentations