Saturday, June 5, 2010

Ghetto Ballet - a touching story that still shows the brutal side of the dance world

Directed by: Jeremy Simmons
HBO Documentary

The movie takes place in a small township outside of Capetown, South Africa. Labeled as one of the poorest townships in the area - the movie focuses on a handful of youth, trying to break out of township.

A program called DANCE FOR ALL - was started in Cape Town (a bus ride away) and these teens saw it as their ticket out. Dance for All was created in 1991 by white ballet dancer and teacher, Philip Boyd. Boyd wanted to bring change to the segregated ballet culture and to this day teaches 1000 youth from the townships that would not otherwise be able to have the opportunity to take a dance class.
Now you can imagine this program would be overrun with kids if it was just open classes. Once a year they have auditions, to find youth that have rare and raw talent that they can work with. After one year of training, they will have exams and have a chance to be invited to the Youth Company connected to the school and is the stepping stone to a professional company.

This story spotlights on Simbalke, Vuyelwa, Tusili, and Fiona. The film touchingly follows their daily life, where ballet, dancing and a dream of being a ballerina, is the farthest from reality, but that somehow this dream helps them get through their days. We watch their training process and their diet control, which was an interesting part of the story-line. Many of the families don't have a healthy diet because of money - watching the kids try to become healthy eaters with the little they have, it difficult but inspiring.

Without ruining the story - I can tell you the anticipation of the exams and results is almost maddening! A few kids almost become sick - just lamenting, explaining that if they doesn't happen for them, they don't know what they will do. Then I realized that the "cut throat" ballet world was still existent in this movie, and it made me sad. The odds for the average youth in dance to "make it big" is slim to none. The odds for these kids are even less.

At this point the movie started to make me feel a bit sick. I just didn't think it was fair giving the kids a false hope that had little to no benefit for their future.

Then there was the exam scene. I watched Vuyelwa dance and heard her explain how she felt when she danced and realized - anything is possible. Surprisingly during the movie, one of the youth gets pulled out and offered a job with the Cape Town ballet, then BAM, professional career. On the other hand, another one of the youths parents don't like how much time she is spending dancing, they need her help at home, so she quits. One is accepted into the youth ballet, and one is rejected. The rejection was so hard to watch.

The dancing scenes and interviews were done beautifully. Overall the story is touching and inspiring. A great movie for anyone in the dance world or with appreciation for it.

Rating: ****

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