Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews



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 Silva.


picture - Only When I Dancereported by William Gooch

published May 22, 2009


Only When I Dance

not yet rated

not yet scheduled for theatrical release


Could 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?


Beadie 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.


In one of the opening scenes in Only When I Dance, you juxtapose Rio‘s modern, noveau riche neighborhoods against impoverished favelas. Where you making a political statement?


Beadie 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. She doesn’t have to offer scholarships to poor kids from the favelas, but she feels compelled to do so. 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.


How did you come to this subject?


Beadie Finzi: Christina Daniels, Giorgio Lo Savio, and myself had been chewing on this idea for three or four years before we started shooting.  In fact, 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.


How did you pick the two dancers highlighted in this film?


Beadie Finzi: The two dancers in the film, Irlan and Isabella, were picked from a handful of dancers in Mariza’s most advanced class. Of the dancers in that class, Irlan and Isabella stood out. Mariza offers about 70 scholarships to talented, disadvantaged children who cannot afford the tuition. Irlan and Isabella were also 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.


Isabella, at the time I started shooting the film, was the only black girl in the school. Having a black girl studying classical ballet in Brazil is practically unheard of, so I felt she would be a good subject for this film.


Classical ballet, which evolved from French court dances, is a very elitist art form. That said, when you embarked on this project, were you aware that there would be a class and racial subtext to this documentary?


Beadie 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. There was a big influx of Asian dancers about ten years ago, but that has passed. Ballet is still a very white, middle class art form. 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 world. Thiago Soares, who is the darling of the Royal Ballet, is a mixed-race dancer from Mariza’s school. I am very optimistic that things will change, and I hope this film in some way helps to facilitate that.


Irlan, how did you feel initially when you learned you would be one of the subjects of this documentary?


Irlan 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.


Irlan, why did you choose a ballet solo about Nijinsky for your Prix de Lausanne competition?


Irlan 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. I loved the choreography, which had a strong energy for me when I danced it. When I danced the ballet at Lausanne, I envisioned Nijinksky’s revolutionary spirit and his insanity.


Beadie 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. Very few people dared to try that piece. And everyone at Lausanne was amazed at Irlan’s interpretive abilities.


Irlan 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.


How long did it take you to shoot this documentary?


Beadie Finzi: We shot over a ten-month time period.


What process did you use in choosing the dance sequences?


Beadie Finzi: Although I have filmed other dance documentaries, Only When I Dance is more than a dance documentary. That said, I want 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. After looking at hours and hours of dance footage, it was obvious that some dance performances were better than others. 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.


What is your reaction to seeing yourself on film?


Irlan 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.


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?


Irlan 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.


williamgooch @


read William Gooch's review of Only When I Dance



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