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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Magnificent Obsession
by Betty Jo Tucker

I love movies about dance – and now I have a wonderful new documentary for my list of favorites. Only When I Dance follows two remarkable youngsters from a favela in Brazil as they struggle to become successful in the world of ballet. Drawing us into the tough everyday lives of Irlan Santos da Silva and Isabela Coracy Alves Nascinmento Santos, this excellent film evokes considerable empathy for these amazing, dedicated dancers who prove that ballet is not just an art form for the elite. It also gives us a revealing peek at what happens behind the scenes during high-stress ballet competitions. 

Even children from wealthy families who want to be ballet dancers must undergo rigorous training. But kids like Irlan and Isabela have the extra burden of their families’ low economic status to overcome. Their parents give them emotional support, but the financial requirements of ballet are almost insurmountable. Fortunately, Irlan and Isabela have the same understanding instructor, Mariza Estrella, who recognizes how gifted they are and helps them as much as she can.

Artistic talent knows no race or class barrier, so Irlan takes our breath away performing his daring “Nijinski” selection at a prestigious competition in Switzerland, while Isabela holds us spellbound with her exquisite classical ballet routine in a New York competition. It’s obvious that both youngsters live to dance. It’s their magnificent obsession.

Irlan shows more confidence and self-esteem than Isabela, but that’s not surprising, for he is free from the unfair body-image criticisms Isabela faces on her journey. I say unfair, because she looks absolutely lovely on stage. How any of the judges could think she needs to lose weight seems perfectly ridiculous to me! 

Watching Only When I Dance reminded me of the discipline and commitment necessary for anyone who wants to be a successful dancer. It also reinforced my feeling about the great joy and beauty involved in this wondrous art form.

(Released by Film Movement; not rated by MPAA.)

For more information about this documentary, go to the Internet Movie Data Base

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