I recently told a friend that one of my dreams was to see The Rite Of Spring
performed as full-on a ballet. I said that really just thinking of Stravinsky's music -- as most of us probably do -- and did not even consider the ballerinas at the very fiery, transformative heart of the work.
Anita Popiel-Machnicka's chronicle of Weronika, a ballerina from their native Poland, allows us to ponder and marvel at the dedication, resilience and utmost training and craft that goes into being a professional, internationally renowned ballerina.
Eschewing voice over, interviews and as few title cards as possible, Popiel-Machnicka leaves us with the raw image of our heroine's taught form, the classrooms, streets and stages she is consumed by, intermittently laced with music.. all this to subject us to the physical and psychological demands put on Weronika. We begin with her journey to St. Petersburg for a competition she ultimately doesn't place in, and follow her throughout her schooling in Spain and then finally Berlin.
The extreme attention and care that goes into taking care of one's body is extraordinary to consider, and for a non-dancer or athlete such as myself hard to fathom. Upon the countless class rooms we enter during the film we bare witness to the cyphers that dancers seemingly must inhabit to gain top form in their filed. Sexuality and is ethnicity skewed. Hair pulled back, lean and muscular bodies akimbo; the dancers seem like clones of some ancient being now lost to the myths of old. What compels them? What rituals and teachings lure and lead them on into places that could only be described as miracles of the body. As Weronika spins across the floor, again and again, accelerated by sheer grace and will power, it becomes clear how even the most precise, perfect and passionate dancer can lose their career over a muscle that gets too overworked or a hip that falls out of alignment. Young Weronika is wise to how long she may have even without injury, citing that her career as a ballerina may only last until she is 30 or 35, on a good chance.
Popiel-Machnicka doesn't force any answers as to why Weronika needs to dance. We witness it in her leaps and bounds, beautifully captured and considered by Michal Popiel-Machnicki's gentle, inquisitive camera. This is perhaps no more well illustrated than in a sequence that juxtaposes her classmate's rehearsing for a premiere that Weronika now won't be in due to the operation she must have on her knee. From stage to operating room, lithe forms to the green smocks and gleaming silver tools all lined up -- the only shared characteristic of these spaces are their bright lights. And then a third piece to this dance enters the picture -- Weronika dressed in black, spinning in astonishing form, up and off the ground. We catch her in a moment of sheer ecstasy. She is flying.
Ten months later, her knee heeled, she returns to class. Her resilience intact, her journey continues.
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