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"He Reeked of Drama"

Slavik Kryklyvyy, the subject of Christian Bonke and Andreas Koefoed's documentary Ballroom Dancer, has charisma to spare—both on and off the dance floor. And who doesn't love a comeback story?

Ballroom Dancer goes inside the underbelly of the competitive dance world through the eyes of former World Latin Dance Champion Slavik Kryklyvyy in his quest for a comeback ten years after his rise and fall from glory. After his championship partner—and former lover—Joanna Leunis left him professionally and romantically, Slavik’s career sputtered as Leunis’ soared. This bittersweet documentary captures Slavik’s journey with his new girlfriend and dance partner, Anna Melnikova, in his unrelenting quest to reclaim his ruling place on the dance floor.

Following the North American premiere screening on Saturday, April 21, filmmakers Christian Bonke and Andreas Koefoed greeted moviegoers for a Q & A. Despite the film’s comprehensive profile of Slavik, the audience was eager to learn more about the unrelentingly determined dancer. Andreas noted that upon meeting Slavik, “He reeked of drama”—immediately piquing Christian’s and his interest to chronicle Slavik’s story. The filmmakers revealed more about Slavik’s unique dance background: his belated discovery at age 21, the nature of his split with Joanna (they broke up as lovers, then as dance partners), and his extreme distress—evinced in the film—that he “never came back to his throne.”

Multiple audience members were curious about Slavik and Anna’s relationship with the filmmakers, as the film catches the couple in myriad private, raw, and distressing moments. Almost paradoxically, it seemed that the language barrier between the previously unacquainted Danish filmmakers and the Russian-speaking duo was a critical asset to filming. Despite the intimacy of the moments seen—and now translated with subtitles—in the doc, the filmmakers felt that this disjunction provided a comfort zone for the dancers to speak and interact candidly without feeling so exposed. Their shared language gave them a shelter of privacy and control; at least in the moment, their conversations were strictly comprehensible to their ears—just as in real life.

The discussion finished with an update on Slavik: he now splits his time between Hong Kong—the site of a critical event in the film—and Los Angeles, teaching dance and aspiring to secure a spot on a dance show. An audience member noted how the film beautifully acquaints the viewer with Slavik, a deeply emotional but undeniably inward figure. The filmmakers commented that they too came to know Slavik gradually, but they were determined to “get close to Slavik and understand what driv[es] him,” which was notably challenging for the majority of the year they spent shooting. However, a key moment in Slavik and Anna’s personal and professional life together proved a “breaking point for the whole process,” and led Slavik to open up and want to share his story with the world more than ever before. And yet, this self-perceived Sisyphean figure still has not seen the film, as he finds it too painful to watch. Nevertheless, his journey is one of fantastic depth and diversity, and Tribeca is thrilled to share this story of comeback and unshakable conviction.

Ballroom Dancer screens on Wednesday, April 25 and Saturday, April 28.


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