Ballroom Dancer Review

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This tragic and transfixing doc captures the rise, fall and then almost-rise again of one-time dance legend, Slavik Kryklyvyy.

Documentary double act Christian Bonke and Andreas Koefoed choreograph an intimate and affecting portrait of former World Dance Champion Slavik Kryklyvyy in a fascinating fly-on-the-wall glimpse into the inner sanctums of this fading star.

Initially introduced 10 years earlier at the pinnacle of his career as a victorious winner and masterful ‘tour de force’ in the world of Latin American dance, Slavik is praised for his 'explosive speed' and unstoppable talent. Euphoric applause and adulation anchors footage of the emotionally overcome victor, elevated on the champ’s podium with then dance partner Joanna Leunis. The glory days.

Cut to present day and Slavik is an older, brooding figure, plagued by injury and ravaged by failed ambitions and shattered dreams. He's also preparing for his comeback with great expectations on his shoulders. Ballroom Dancer charts the extreme, often grueling, highs and lows of Slavik’s attempt to reclaim the spotlight and taste victory one last time.

The camera captures some heartbreaking ironies in a film of tragicomic proportions, including: a sequence that sees Slavik perform an intense solo in the same rehearsal space as a children’s dance class and a point of view shot of the winners’ podium where Slavik once stood, now taunting him from where he stands in the sidelines. They all serve to heighten his anxious descent into frustrated despair.

Whilst Slavik’s quest for glory certainly makes for compulsive viewing, it is the turbulent relationship between Slavik and new dance partner/lover Anna Melnikova that provides the film’s most compelling dramatic dimension. This initially promising and fruitful partnership threatens to collapse under the strain of the intense pressures felt by the pair as Slavik’s desire to win at any cost sends him spiraling into self-destruct mode.

Behind the scenes, Slavik treats Anna with utter contempt, attacking her commitment and technique in a series of thinly veiled insults intended to convey his doubts over his partner’s dancing ability. These exchanges are both painful and utterly captivating as Slavik plunges from our charismatic and unrelenting hero to a vicious yet tragic zero. In a rare moment of self-reflection he compares himself to a vampire, a fleeting acknowledgement of how cold he has become, sucking the life out of those around him in his personal pursuit of the limelight.

Slavik remains incommunicado for the most part, emotionally dormant, the epitome of the ‘strong silent type’. His true release comes when he dances. He is unleashed. In the spotlight he thrives, conveying the emotions, frustrations and feelings he keeps otherwise closely guarded. These moments provide the audience with flashes of the young and brilliant Slavik as opposed to the bitter, broken protagonist that stands before us.

Ballroom Dancer cruelly resonates with anyone who has ever felt past their ‘sell by date’, presenting a surreptitious exploration of ageing in an ultimately touching visit to the last chance saloon.

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