Only When I Dance
2009 Tribeca Film Festival
Written by William S. Gooch
Dancer Irlan Santos da Silva
Only When I Dance Panel Discussion at
the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival with director Beadie
Finzi and ballet dancer Irlan Silva. Co-producer
Christina Daniels acted as an interpreter for Irlan
Beadie Finzi’s documentary
Only When I Dance, details the lives of
two ballet dancers (Irlan Santos da Silva and Isabela
Coracy) from the impoverished favelas of Rio de
Janeiro who have aspirations of performing on the
world’s concert stages.
Question: Would you talk about
the cinematography in the film, particularly the
cinematography in the opening scene where these
red and blue colors just light up the screen?
Finzi: We found that location months and
months before we started shooting and we didn’t
know how we were going to incorporate that location
into the documentary. That location is just an open
air space at a local university in Rio. I wanted
to shoot Isabella in that space.
Dancer Irlan Santos da Silva
Question: In one of the opening
scenes in Only When I Dance, you juxtapose
Rio‘s modern, noveau riche neighborhoods against
impoverished favelas. Were you making a political
Finzi: I opened the documentary with three
minutes of shots of the favelas and the modern,
upscale parts of Rio because I wanted to set the
trajectory for the three central characters, dancers
Isabella and Irlan and the director of Centro De
Danca Rio, Mariza Estrella. I also thought that
understanding the motivation of Mariza was very
important to the documentary because she doesn’t
come from the poor favelas, she lives in the upscale
part of Rio and that is where her school is. We
don’t show it much in the film, but the income
disparity in Rio is unbelievable. I didn’t
feel I needed to underline it in red ink, but it
does come across in miniature in this film.
Question: How did you come to
Finzi: This documentary was borne out of
a number of thoughts and impulses. First, we wanted
to tell a positive story of courage and creativity
rising out of difficult circumstances. Christina
lives and works out of Brazil six months out of
the year. I have worked on dance films for quite
a number of years and Giorgio was inspired by the
idea of using dance as the tool to tell an optimistic
story. We thought that the world of ballet would
expose the issues of class and race. So, essentially
all of these elements came together with finding
out what Mariza was accomplishing at her school.
Question: How did you pick the
two dancers highlighted in this film?
Finzi: The two dancers in the film, Irlan
and Isabella, were picked from a handful of dancers
in Mariza’s most advanced class. Mariza offers
about 70 scholarships to talented, disadvantaged
children who cannot afford the tuition. Irlan and
Isabella were two very engaging personalities, and
I knew immediately that they would be perfect for
this documentary. I was particularly struck by Irlan’s
focus and clarity of purpose.
Question: When you embarked on
this project were you aware that there would be
a class and racial subtext to this documentary?
Finzi: Because I have worked on dance films
before this project, I was well aware of the class
and racial inequities in the ballet world. There
are only a handful of black classical dancers in
international ballet companies. Ballet is still
a very, white middle class artform. South America
has this huge wave of talented dancers of color
that are looking for employment in international
companies, and I hope that talent will challenge
the hierarchy in the ballet word. I am very optimistic
that things will change, and I hope this film is
some way helps to facilitate that.
Question: Irlan, how did you feel
initially when you learned you would be one of the
subjects of this documentary?
Silva: My family and I were very surprised
at first that someone wanted to do a documentary
about me. We really didn’t quite understand
what it would involve. So, in the morning when there
were cameras on me getting dressed, going to the
bus stop, it was a bit of a shock.
Question: Irlan, why did you choose
a ballet solo about Nijinsky for your Prix de Lausanne
Silva: I was reading about the life of Vaslav
Nijinsky and thought it was incredible that he was
a revolutionary, so to speak, in the world of dance.
I was inspired by his life. When I danced the ballet
at Lausanne, I envisioned Nijinksky’s revolutionary
spirit and his insanity.
Finzi: When I first learned that Irlan was
dancing this ballet at the Prix de Lausanne, I thought
he had made a bad choice. I felt that this was a
really difficult piece to pull off. I thought he
should choose a piece that allowed him to show off
his technical brilliance and lyricism. Later, I
ate my words because he performed the ballet brilliantly.
Silva: One of the favorite parts in the film
for me are the scenes where I am seen working so
hard on the choreography for the Nijinksy ballet.
I remember how hard I worked to prepare that piece
for Lausanne, and when I saw my hard work captured
in the film, it brought tears to my eyes.
Question: How long did it take
you to shoot this documentary?
Finzi: We shot over a ten-month time period.
Question: What process did you
use in choosing the dance sequences?
Finzi: Although I have filmed other dance
documentaries, Only When I Dance is more
than a dance documentary. I wanted to show ballet
as a cohesive element that links the lives of the
people in this movie. I wanted to show a range of
choreography that showed each dancer at his or her
best. Even though I was absolutely positive that
I wanted to use specific live performances, because
of the budget and the small amount of cameras we
used, sometimes certain footage didn’t come
out as well as I expected. Also, another concern
was that we had to get music clearance for some
of the choreography and since we were on a limited
budget, we couldn’t afford to pay for some
tracks that accompanied some of the modern choreography.
Isabella performed to a wonderful modern piece,
but we just couldn’t afford the tracks. So,
we had to be very pragmatic.
Question: What is your reaction
to seeing yourself on film?
Silva: I only recently watched myself in
the film, so it is all very new and strange to me.
The film is a very honest representation of what
I went through in the last couple of years.
Question:We know that you are
now dancing with American Ballet Theatre (ABT).
What has been your experience living in New York
City and dancing with ABT?
Silva: It is amazing living in New York City.
I also tour a lot with ABT and I am having incredible
experiences performing with them.
Only When I Dance is
directed by Beadie Finzi and premiered at the 2009
Tribeca Film Festival.