Jump to content


This site uses cookies. By using this site, you agree to accept cookies, unless you've opted out. (US government web page with instructions to opt out: http://www.usa.gov/optout-instructions.shtml)

"Dancing Across Borders"Anne Bass' film about Sokvannara Sar


  • Please log in to reply
18 replies to this topic

#1 carbro

carbro

    Late Board Registrar

  • Rest in Peace
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 6,361 posts

Posted 23 March 2010 - 06:22 PM

From WNYC.org, this audio clip:

Dancing Across Borders
Anne Bass, director, and dancer Sokvannara Sar discuss the documentary film "Dancing Across Borders," which tells the story of Sokvannara "Sy" Sar, who was dancing with a small troupe in Angkor Wat when Anne Bass, a longtime patron of dance in America, saw him perform and arranged for him to come to New York to audition for the prestigious School of the American Ballet. "Dancing Across Borders"opens at the Quad Cinema on March 26.

Coincidentally, Sy Sar became my seatmate at tonight's screening of Ellen Bar and Sean Suozzi's film of New York Export: Op. Jazz. Anne Bass passed me, then another woman, then a young man of Southeast Asian origin. I asked, "Did I hear you on the radio earlier today?" He smiled and said yes. Seemed very personable and friendly. :D I look forward to seeing the film.

#2 Ray

Ray

    Gold Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 997 posts

Posted 30 April 2010 - 06:39 AM

I came across this review today of Dancing Across Borders, the Anne Bass documentary on Cambodian ballet dancer Sokvannara "Sy" Sar, by Philadelphia Inquirer film critic Carrie Rickey. The documentary follows Sy from folk-dance training in Angkor Wat to the School of American Ballet in New York. The film is meant to celebrate Sy's journey, but raises some troubling quesitons for the reviewer. The following passages from the review really stood out to me:

Praising the candor with which Sy speaks about his experiences and ambivalences, Rickey notes that "the film is not forthcoming about Bass' motives for bringing him to the States and the nature of their relationship. Is Bass his patroness, his surrogate mother, his life partner? These unanswered questions linger over the film like a stubborn smog." She continues, adding "Though it's a joy to watch Sy move with unself-conscious exuberance, it is painful to see him struggle with the expectations thrust upon him." Her review concludes "It becomes very hard during this uneven and unsatisfying documentary to know whether Bass made this bittersweet film to document Sy's struggle - or her own."

Another interesting moment comes when Rickey describes others evaluating him: "Peter Boal, then of the School of American Ballet, examines Sy like livestock: 'Good feet, good extension.'"

I appreciated this reviewer's willingness to be critical about what she sees, when many are just bowled over by seeing beautiful dancers on screen. I haven't seen the movie myself, though, and wondered what others who had think of this review.

#3 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,330 posts

Posted 30 April 2010 - 08:42 AM

I've been noticing that many of the latest reviews of "Dancing Across Borders" that I've been getting via Google alerts are highly critical of Anne Bass personally and her action to move him from his family and country.

Three are from Sarah Kaufman in The Washington Post, Gary Kramer in San Francisco Bay Times, and Amanda Hay in The Tufts Daily.

Some of them read like critiques of colonization; Ms. Hay asks "It fails to question ... whether ballet is really superior to Cambodian dance.", which misses the point, since Sar himself asserts that he, as a male, could not make a living as a professional dancer in Cambodian dance. Ms. Kaufman concludes "And here's a footnote to the success of Bass's project: Sar quit Pacific Northwest Ballet earlier this year. " but fails to mention that later in the season he realized he missed ballet and asked Peter Boal if he could rejoin the company, was denied, and is currently auditioning for other companies. I would call that a greater success: he left the standard career track and without it pulling him along, realized he wants back in.

I seem to miss it no matter what city I'm in, and I'm interested in seeing it.

#4 dirac

dirac

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 25,482 posts

Posted 30 April 2010 - 09:40 AM

I note for the record that most of the articles mentioned above can be found in our very own Links. :)

#5 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 30 April 2010 - 11:35 AM

I'm posting as one who came across this story first on BT's own LINKS. Thanks, dirac. :clapping:

Helene, thanks for that update and for your thoughts about the story. Most reviewers seem to focus on the character of Ms. Bass, when the really interesting story is Mr. Sar's.

Kaufman really hated the project:

Do-gooder vanity projects don't come more self-aggrandizing than this. Bass is onscreen nearly as much as her sweet-faced work-in-progress, Sokvannara Sar, with whom she became captivated after watching him perform in a traditional Khmer temple dance. If you're able to get past her narcissistic streak -- and really, how else do you make a movie about yourself without being filmed and interviewed in it? -- then you're faced with buying into a morally dicey endeavor

Ouch! It would be nice if the press could forget about Ms. Bass and focus a little more on Mr. Sar's quest for a place in western ballet, as Helene's post does.

#6 sandik

sandik

    Rubies Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 4,646 posts

Posted 30 April 2010 - 12:33 PM

Another interesting moment comes when Rickey describes others evaluating him: "Peter Boal, then of the School of American Ballet, examines Sy like livestock: 'Good feet, good extension.'


This reminds me of the documentary footage we frequently see of auditions for the Vaganova School, where the teachers manipulate the applicants' arms and legs to see their potential for flexibility. The children are so young, and the maneuvers are so matter-of-fact -- the whole thing has a very utilitarian feel to it that might look harsh or even predatory to someone who doesn't know the context.

#7 cantdance

cantdance

    Member

  • Member
  • PipPip
  • 60 posts

Posted 30 April 2010 - 03:19 PM

Mrs. Bass and Mr. Sar will be at both screenings in Washington DC E. Street Cinema tonight 730 and 945pm.

#8 4mrdncr

4mrdncr

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 670 posts

Posted 01 May 2010 - 05:12 PM

The first rule of journalism and documentary filming is that the filmmaker is never the story; you should not hear or see them. And if you are really diligent, you can avoid narration as well--as some 'famous' filmmakers have.

However, many times this is ignored by major media if....

1) The reporters/anchors are "stars" - a la the "60 Minutes" or other major news programs. (Just once, though, I wish someone would show how much the WRITERS/PRODUCERS of the stories actually do--not the 'stars', anchors, et.al. who are usually only good actors and copy readers.)

2) There is not enough actual documentary footage available to make a complete film so it is 'filled out' by inserting 're-enactments' or the film becomes a "MAKING OF..." project.
Two examples come to mind: WGBH's "Death of a Princess" (this also became a Harvard Business School case study, which mentioned the controversies of its production, but not the fact that 'GBH didn't have enough footage to really do the story); and a recent POV doc about an Iraqi student who wanted to get into filmmaking, and the Americans and British producers who tried to help his career and give him a break from his wartorn country; but the problems of doing this were what the film actually was about.

RE: Ms. Bass, I haven't seen her film yet, (hey, La Danse hasn't even played here yet!) so am not sure how egregious her presence is or not in the film. I do think her effort to help someone realize a dream/goal cannot be all bad. However, of the several dance films recently released, "vanity project(s)" is not far from the truth. There is also a MAJOR disconnect between the very well off, and the rest of us, when it comes to the difficulties of filmmaking or realizing our dreams--as I and everyone else have learned this past year. (eg. Main St. vs Wall St., Washington, or arts/media patronage.)

#9 dirac

dirac

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 25,482 posts

Posted 01 May 2010 - 06:34 PM

However, of the several dance films recently released, "vanity project(s)" is not far from the truth.


I haven't seen the movie yet but that's certainly what it sounds like. Ignoring the role Bass played in Sar's story (and that story's making it to the screen) would be ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room.

1) The reporters/anchors are "stars" - a la the "60 Minutes" or other major news programs. (Just once, though, I wish someone would show how much the WRITERS/PRODUCERS of the stories actually do--not the 'stars', anchors, et.al. who are usually only good actors and copy readers.)


(It's off topic, but that did happen at least once, in a high profile feature film, 'The Insider' with Russell Crowe and Al Pacino. Pacino, the producer, is very clearly the man behind the story while the correspondent (Mike Wallace, played by Christopher Plummer) parachutes in after everything's been set up for him. Wallace wasn't pleased. Broadcast News, too. Of course, those were a long time ago. :excl:)

#10 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,330 posts

Posted 01 May 2010 - 08:31 PM

I think Michael Apted's voice was pretty prominent as a voice in the "Up" documentaries.

#11 carbro

carbro

    Late Board Registrar

  • Rest in Peace
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 6,361 posts

Posted 01 May 2010 - 08:34 PM

Given that Anne Bass was the catalyst of Sy Sar's remarkable journey (in both the literal and larger senses), I think she deserves praise for putting herself in the background, to the extent possible. This is a documentary, but it is not necessarily journalism, and I have seen any number of documentaries in which the unique perspective of the filmmaker (son of Alzheimer's victim springs immediately to mind) is intrinsic to the film's narrative and its value. Anne Bass does not intrude in this way, but I don't think it's fair to condemn her for recording the story of this young man, in whose promise she believed so fervently.

Her intention, it seems, was to display Sy's talent and determination (with its fluctuations) to become a professional ballet dancer. This she does, giving us also his charm (a word overused in the film, ergo here, too, but it is what it is :excl: ), and his achievements. She does not ignore his sense of isolation and loneliness. What comes into relief a few weeks after having seen the film though, is the heroic work of Olga Kostrizky, who took the young stranger from "This is first position, and this is tendu," until he was ready to join a class of younger students at SAB. What patience and dedication she showed!

As for Sy's being torn between two vastly different cultures, it is something to consider. For years, I heard the story about my great-grandmother who came to the US from Russia alone at age 13 and not speaking English. What I never heard until I was almost 30, from a distant cousin, was that she didn't stay. She went back until the whole family was ready to emigrate. I liked that part -- it made her more human. Not every immigrant can go back to their country of origin and return again to the US. I'm not saying it's easy, but when Sy Sar goes back to Cambodia, he does so as a celebrity of sorts.

The film was obviously "in the can" before he left PNB. I just hope whereever he finds himself next feels comfortable enough to become his home, even if it's only his other home.

#12 koshka

koshka

    Bronze Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 256 posts

Posted 02 May 2010 - 07:08 PM

I saw the film today (in DC).

My read is that Anne Bass was actually _less_ present in the film than her place in the story warranted, and so I thought in that regard the film showed restraint. I actually would've liked to hear more from her.

As for her role in Sy's life, I assumed that it was along the lines of "this is someone who has enough money that she can undertake a project like this without worrying about the cost, who has the connections to make it happen, and who loves ballet". That might be naive, but that was my take.

I thought the film was quite fair and clear about how difficult such a transition was (and has been) for its star. It's a documentary--not a fairy tale. Time will tell what the ultimate ending is, though the most interesting comment along those lines was from Peter Boal, who said that he expects Sy to create something completely different that reflects his unique background.

As for the assessment of Sy's body type, or physical facility for ballet: didn't seem out of the ordinary to me at all. Oh, and I did think he has a truly remarkable demi plie.

#13 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,330 posts

Posted 20 May 2010 - 09:39 PM

I saw the movie yesterday on a preview DVD, and if the version shown in the theaters is the same, like too many documentaries I've seen lately, since it was not intended to be a "day in the life" of approach, it would be an excellent movie with about 20 minutes edited out, but as it stands, through repetition and talking heads it loses focus and impact.

There are three great elements in the film: the footage of Cambodia, both when Anne Bass first spots Sar and when he returns to dance in a gala, the footage of Sar's dancing, and any scene in which Olga Kostritzky, a heroine if there ever was one, appears.

Sar might not be the only ballet dancer to have left his family and come to another country to face loneliness and frustration -- Part, for example, has described this experience -- but what other contemporary ballet dancer moved to another country not knowing the language or what ballet was? Because of this, Peter Boal comes across as dense at the beginning of the film, as he describes how Sar couldn't follow a glissade assemble, etc. combination in his initial tryout, but how could Sar when he didn't know what those things were? Jock Soto, on the other hand, was taken by Sar's ability to jump, and in the telling, there's a sparkle in his voice. (I remember reading that Soto saw a male dancer [I think Villella] on TV, was inspired, and started to jump around the living room.) It's understandable how Boal thought that Sar had little chance to succeed -- this wasn't the late 30's or early '40's when Melissa Hayden took up ballet as a teenager -- but there was no chance he'd succeed on day one in ballet terms. Boal articulates a lot of this later, and he was one of Sar's primary teachers once Sar made it into ABT; the editing does him no favors, though.

There is some lovely dancing from Sar, particularly in the excerpts from "La Source" and the Varna competition pieces, where he brings a soft, lilting style and bypasses gymnastic excess. It was interesting to see how while his turnout could turn a bit lax in glissade, for example -- not surprising for a dancer for whom turnout was relatively new, not drilled into him for a decade -- wherever he led with the knee, like the beautiful attitude turns, his turnout was live. If the film goes to DVD, the performance footage alone would be worth it.

Olga Kostritzky is the heart of the movie, not because of the work, but because of the calm, matter-of-fact way in which she did it and her overall matter-of-fact graciousness.

#14 volcanohunter

volcanohunter

    Sapphire Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,036 posts

Posted 24 July 2010 - 04:02 PM

Amazon is taking pre-orders for the DVD and Blu-Ray. The release date is October 26.

#15 EvilNinjaX

EvilNinjaX

    Bronze Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 268 posts

Posted 27 November 2010 - 09:06 PM

Here's a brief clip of the documentary. Well worth watching. A man really isn't supposed to be able to dance like this after <1 year of training...



enjoy it while it lasts.

-goro-


0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users


Help support Ballet Alert! and Ballet Talk for Dancers year round by using this search box for your amazon.com purchases (adblockers may block display):