Probably the most intimate professional sport is ballroom dancing. A virile man and passion-oozing woman partner in a way that mixed-doubles tennis never could. Far beyond the intricate footwork, twists, turns and lifts, championships are won or lost on the real chemistry exuded by the pair, heating up the atmosphere even more than the artistic or athletic skills on display. Ballet is quite similar yet not quite as often so unabashedly erotic.
In Christian Bonke’s and Andreas Koefoed’s documentary of the return to competition of Slavik Kryklyvyy (having last won a slew of championships in 2000) the camera (also Bonke and Koefoed) does most of the talking—second only to “Slava” whose scathing comments and obsessive desire to reclaim past triumphs becomes his Achilles heel. In his glory days, his partner was an alluring Polish dynamo (Joanna Leunis) who, along with current partner Michael Malitowski is his now main competition.
As the film begins (following a beautifully crafted opening that succinctly sums up all that lies ahead), Slava and his new partner (Anna Melnikova) are shown beginning the arduous trek back to the winner’s circle. But as well as the challenges of learning the complex choreography and developing—in a hurry—instinctive moves, they also share a bed.
At 34 years of age, Slava has to keep his physique in the same shape it was a decade earlier. No question he still has the looks and stamina (the training sessions—especially jumping up three feet and squarely landing on a small perch—are visual proof positive as to his readiness to compete with anyone). All that remains is kindling the physical and emotional magic with Anna and the crown will be theirs.
Unlike the various versions of “reality” dance shows on TV, the power/influence of the judges never comes into play. Disappointingly, Slava’s ex dance partner and her current man get scant screen time to demonstrate just why they are at the top of the heap ‘lo these many years since the Kryklyvyy/Leunis dynasty dissolved.
After one very candid comeuppance exchange too many—clearly the filmmakers have earned the trust of their subjects—Anna walks out, leaving viewers wondering if this might have been déjà vu all over again for the demanding former champion.
Then, before you can say “rebound,” Anna has snagged a new beau and—it seems—regained her sanity: no more petulant bullying for her.
Still, being professionals, they are obliged to once more hit the boards in Hong Kong. No spoiler here, but just how the talented hoofers reunite then step back into the public’s eye is a marvel of cinema no one will want to miss.
Once again the camera truly fills in the blanks following Shava’s “tired” soliloquy. The deft intercuts of the last few minutes ought to be required viewing for filmmakers young and old—show, don’t tell indeed.
The other gem is Magnus Jarlbo’s original score. His use of “slow motion” strings and piano commenting on the unheard jives and Paso Dobles flashing across the screen ideally suits the drama and provides welcome contrast to the hurly burly action of hot Latin dance. JWR