This slight documentary about ballet dancing Brazilian slum teens is being pitched as the real ‘Billy Elliot’, but it’s a more complex, less satisfying tale than that . These kids aren’t desperately dancing their way out of the ghetto – in fact, they seem barely aware of their impoverished roots, drifting along in a haze of professional focus and adolescent self-absorption. Which may be great for a ballet dancer, but it’s tough on an audience: the first rule of documentary must be to find relatable characters, but director Beadie Finzi rarely gets close to her subjects. As a peek into an elite, guarded world, ‘Only When I Dance’ is fascinating, though it’s hard to believe professional ballet still unironically employs teenage boys in glitter. It’s also a compelling underdog story: however distant these kids seem, you still want them to succeed. It’s just a shame Finzi couldn’t find a way to get under their skin.
Friday December 4 2009
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