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


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#16 puppytreats

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Posted 31 July 2011 - 11:29 AM

I watched the film today on Netflix and felt it was bittersweet, just like being a dancer, the stories portrayed in the ballet, and love itself. I was transfixed by the narrative, as well as the dancing, the instruction, the beautiful dancers, Sy's personality, and Olga's joy and pride.

I expected to read more about Sy's dancing on this board. I thought his extension and feet were beautiful. He is very lovely to look at, as well; Ms. Bass and Mr. Boal (I believe) properly identified his well-proportioned body, and failed to give adequate credit to his overall beauty. Sy's joy is infectious and appealing. However, listening to him describe his sense of not belonging and his experience of displacement, loneliness, isolation, and loss were painful to watch. I felt Sy's dancing offstage, during rehearsal, surpassed his onstage performances, as least in the snippets shown in the movie.

I have to ask whether Ms. Bass put herself in the line of critic's fire by naming herself as director and producer, as well as taking credit for other roles, when she had to be interviewed, filmed onscreen, and discussed as part of the story. She easily could have retained someone else for these positions, even as a proxy. She had to have been aware and been advised that her work would be attacked by critics in some manner as a vanity project, even without regard to the underlying ethical questions involved.

The structure of the film left me with an enduring question: to whom does the title "Lucky" apply? Ms. Bass, or someone discussing her beliefs in the film, indicated that she was trying to serve the world of ballet by bringing Sy to the West. Therefore, the ballet world would be lucky to have a new, spirited, and personable dancer to enjoy and presumably to help the ballet endure. Sy seemed confused, because he seemed to think that he was the one who bore the title of "The Lucky One," but he did not seem to know in what sense he was truly considered "lucky." Was he rescued from any particular evil or doom? He lived in poverty, but a chance to study to become a dancer does not give rise to any guarantee of avoiding poverty. Was he then rescued from relative poverty? Even if he could not get a job as a professional dancer in his country, he might have obtained other types of employment; the film does not provide any information in this regard from which to make an assessment of this issue. Is Sy described as "lucky" simply because he had an opportunity learn Western ballet technique and dance ballet onstage, regardless of the personal cost? This was never his personal goal or desire, so while an American or Western European dancer would be enthralled by the attention and support of Ms. Bass and the school, and be willing to sacrifice for the opportunity, why would being selected to fulfill someone else's dream make him lucky? Was he considered lucky because he was allowed to meet a certain group of people? Will his American education allow him to return home with new opportunities and skills, and was that what made him lucky? If he returns with these skills, will he be an outsider with respect to two societies? The film was opaque and required the viewer to presume too many things. None of these issues was explored. The film became unfocused for me because I could not identify to whom the title applied and the basis for its application. (This sounds harsh, but it is not intended as an attack. I simply was uplifted until the end, and was left saddened and confused; I think it is because of the shifting application of the term "lucky" and the lack of explanation as to why or how it was believed to apply.)

The movie did not portray a fairy-tale of a boy's journey in his attempt to fulfill a passion, if only given the opportunity, nor did it portray a journey from poverty to success. Despite the uplifting tone at the beginning, and the encouraging signs about Sy's journey and success during his instructional period, warnings signs appear toward the end, signaling that ambiguity or disappointment would ensue. Reading these boards made me feel even more unsettled. I think abandoning or punishing Sy, rather than supporting him, as the above posts suggest Peter Boal has done, is an even greater ethical problem than the one for which critics attacked Ms. Bass. I am forced to wonder, without any knowledge, what sort of life struggles and dilemmas Mr. Boal has faced, what sort of support he had, and what his personal motives are.

When I turned to these boards, I was hoping to find out where Sy was dancing so that I could see him perform, or send him a word of support or encouragement, but I was left with a feeling of having been let down by the ballet world. Apparently, more teachers like Olga are needed, and they need to be asserting their power more. I think Ms. Bass has more to say, as well.

#17 Helene

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Posted 31 July 2011 - 12:06 PM

I expected to read more about Sy's dancing on this board.

He danced in Seattle until a couple of years ago and with Suzanne Farrell Ballet last season. He's performed in Vail, did a solo for Avi Scher last year, performed at the Fire Island Dance Festival] earlier this month, and he's just joined Carolina Ballet and appears on their roster as Soloist.

http://balletalert.i...post__p__258763
http://balletalert.i...__1#entry236012
http://balletalert.i...post__p__289709

From a recent article:

http://balletalert.i...post__p__290159

The drama continues after the period covered by the documentary. Last year Sy decided that he had had enough and walked away.

"I had a little breakdown last year and quit ballet," he says. "I didn't want to dance at all.

But it was not fair on Anne and all the people who had helped me. I came back. Dancing is making me who I am right now. I like to move, I cannot stand still. So I had to come back."

Most of the reviews on this board are from New York, and New Yorkers have barely seen him. The documentary came out after Sar joined and left PNB. While he is a wonderful dancer, there are many wonderful dancers in the company, and he did not get a disproportionate amount of attention, since he was known solely by what he put on stage.

Reading these boards made me feel even more unsettled. I think abandoning or punishing Sy, rather than supporting him, as the above posts suggest Peter Boal has done, is an even greater ethical problem than the one for which critics attacked Ms. Bass. I am forced to wonder, without any knowledge, what sort of life struggles and dilemmas Mr. Boal has faced, what sort of support he had, and what his personal motives are.

As I said in my post, I thought the editing did Boal no favors. Sar trained at PNB school for a year -- he did a wonderful performnace as the Dancing Master in "Konservatoriat" and also performed as Oberon in the Scherzo from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in the end-of-year school PNB School show -- and Boal hired him into the company first as an apprentice and then as corps, giving him a number of opportunities in dance (ex: the solo "Mopey") and character (ex: bartender in "Fancy Free") roles.

http://balletalert.i...-ballet-school/

When I turned to these boards, I was hoping to find out where Sy was dancing so that I could see him perform, or send him a word of support or encouragement, but I was left with a feeling of having been let down by the ballet world.

The ballet world is competitive, and when a dancer leaves, companies just don't stop and wait for them to return.

#18 puppytreats

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Posted 31 July 2011 - 01:09 PM

Helene stated, "The ballet world is competitive, and when a dancer leaves, companies just don't stop and wait for them to return."

No one expected any company to "wait around," but that is not what was described in the above posts. Competitiveness does not require the response provided by Boal, which was suggested on this board (if accurate).
Having a breakdown does not suggest any lack of talent, commitment, work ethic, or artistic merit; it does not indicate a lack of ability to perform or train or be part of a company, either. Maybe if Sy had received sufficient and appropriate support, he would not have undergone the breakdown, or suffered unnecessarily, or he would have been able to recover and appropriately return. Before relying on standard operating procedure, or falling prey to wounded pride and what may be a perception of ingratitude (if that is the case, which I do not know), I believe Mr. Boal should think about what it would be like for him to leave his family at age 16 and be placed, without friends or relatives, in a new country in which the citizens value different things and speak a different language, to be forced to deal with the possibility of having to abandon his inculcated values and adapt to new ideals, to have to choose between competing worlds, to have to learn a completely new art form in a short time period, to be required to obtain simultaneously a high school education in a foreign language, to have to train his body to a superior level, to have to survive adolesense and undergo the transition to young adulthood, to have to compete to become employable in a field with few job opportunities, to have to endure the pressure of competing obligations to family and benefactors, to have to deal with the consequences of fame, and to have the bear the weight of being a declared model of hope for children whose parents have endured genocide and the devastation of their culture, all while under the scrutiny of cameras. That ballet is "competitive and does not wait around" is an overly simplistic response. Does one size really fit all in ballet?

I could not see clearly from the quality of the streamed Netflix movie, but I believe Sy performed his entrechat six without crossing his feet. Is this an alternate method of performing this step?

#19 Jayne

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Posted 31 July 2011 - 09:45 PM

I saw the movie and participated in the Q&A afterwards with Sy and Anne. I thought she tried to put truth on the screen, even when it did not fit a traditional "arc" storyline: Young kid with a dream to dance ballet, someone gives him a helping hand, he becomes the next Nuriyev. Sy's story is taking a different route. But how different is his route than any other child prodigy? Jennifer Capriati in tennis? Freddy Adu in soccer? numerous young violin / piano / chess / math whizes who grow up to doubt their passions? I think this is a complicated story and the arc is incomplete, Sy must write the remaining chapters. I was encouraged to learn he was signed as a soloist at Carolina Ballet. He will have opportunities for more singular roles and work on his partnering. He is still young enough to develop his dance qualities.


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