“Ballroom Dancer” is the directorial debut for Christian Bonke and Andreas Koefoed, and it’s having its North American premiere today at Tribeca. The story of a champion dancer who’s now struggling with an aging body and an intense anger management problem that keeps scaring off dance partners, it’s an accessible, moving film and you’re going to be seeing a lot of it on the festival circuit (for starters, it heads to Hot Docs next week).
The film follows the former world champion in Latin American dancing, Slavik Kryklyvyy. A decade after being one of the most celebrated dancers in the world, Bonke and Koefoed’s subject finds a new partner (who is also his girlfriend) and “Dancer” depicts Kryklyvyy as he attempts to make a comeback.
I sat down with Koefoed and Bonke just after the film’s world premiere in their hometown of Copenhagen late last year. Here’s a condensed version of the interview. Read the whole thing here.
How did you come together to work as a team?
CB: We went to the same school but in different years. And I needed a co-director for this project. Andreas was just out of school and had made amazing stuff. So we were wishing to have him involved. He was the first guy we asked.
What made you decide to take on this particular project?
CB: Jacob – our producer – is married to a former dancer, actually. And he saw her farewell show. And he came to us and told us about it and said maybe there could be a film here. I think initially that scene was quite corny in many ways. But in the same way, we were very fascinated by the fact that these couples were couples on the floor and in private. And they were performing love stories. We thought this would be an intriguing and dramatic scene for a documentary.
I think we had a more sarcastic view upon dancing initially. But when we started making the film we realized we had to take this seriously. We shouldn’t have any ironic distance to the whole scene.
How did you meet Slavik?
AK: We had heard about him. And we had heard that he was quite the talent.
CB: He was a bit of a legend.
AK: Yes, a legend. Because after he started dancing, it was only a year and a half before he became a world champion. Nobody knew him, and then suddently he was the best. And he combined latin dance with some stuff from martial arts. So he added some explosive movements to the dance that nobody had ever seen. Since then, he went on to also be famous because he had several different partners and has this really strong temper that proved problematic. His partnerships didn’t survive. Normally you stick to one for many years, but he kept changing girls and had ups and downs. So we thought, he’s a really interesting and dramatic guy for a documentary.
What was your relationship with him like, from when you first met to the film’s completion?
CB: I don’t think it changed that much. We didn’t become friends as such, actually. But in the beginning he was very distant towards us. In the end, that changed. He tried to leave the project at one point. But then he called us and told us, “I really need to tell this story. I would like you to be here. I want to share this period of time.” So he kind of really opened up after that and was really generous about how much we could be in his private life.
Has he seen it?
CB: Not yet. He says that he can’t really go through that period of his life again. He has to have some more time to be ready. But he totally approves of the film.
AK: On one hand, he’s really interested in seeing it. And on the other he doesn’t feel ready. But we would like to be with him when he sees it. And we would like to discuss it with him.
What was the world premiere like? This your first feature film.
CB: It was totally overwhelming. Also because we’d been working like maniacs for the time before it. Monday we finished and then a few days later we are standing on this magnificant stage in Copenhagen. We didn’t have time to prepare any words and I think it showed [laughs].
And what do you want from the future of this film? What do you hope people get out of it?
CB: I think the future of the film has a lot of potential. From the start we felt that we wanted to make a really seductive film for a broad audience. Beautiful people, scenic visuals, dramatic love story… It can really have a large audience.
AK: We see it as a universal tragedy.
CB: We thought about it as a Greek tragedy all the time. His character is very much Narcissus.
AK: He’s a guy who looks for perfection. He thinks he has everything. And then suddenly he finds out that he’s lost everything.
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