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Mie Is only 14 and Already a Star in Her Native Denmark. Her Russian Partner, Egor, Is 15 and a Long Way from Home.
“Offers a window into the disciplined world of elite sport while showing what it’s like to be a stranger — in a strange land and in a body that’s growing from a boy into a man.” — Nanna Frank Rasmussen, FILM Magazine
Competitive ballroom dancing is extremely popular in Denmark. The nation’s dance studios are full, and the country turns out an unusually high number of international-level competitors. Mie is one of them. At 14, she is a rising star in Latin ballroom dancing. Forging the right partnership is key to success, and when Mie needs a new partner, she must look beyond Denmark’s borders.
Fifteen-year-old Egor, an only child, is Russian and living with his mother in China while his father serves in the Russian army. Talented and dedicated, Egor is ready to step on to the international stage. He leaves behind home, family, friends and everything familiar to go to Denmark and move in with Mie and her family. The Danish documentary Dance for Me paints a touching, dance-filled portrait of two very young people with great ambitions—and challenges—on and off the dance floor.
Katrine Philp’s Dance for Me, winner of the Audience Award at the 2013 American Documentary Film Festival, has its national broadcast premiere on Monday, July 21, 2014 at 10 p.m. on PBS’s POV (Point of View), American television’s longest-running independent documentary series. The broadcast will also feature a new StoryCorps animated short, A Good Man. Now in its 27th season, POV is the recipient of a 2013 MacArthur Foundation Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.
Mie and Egor are a study in temperamental differences. Mie, also an only child, appears poised, confident and cheerful beyond her years. Egor, intense and moody, tends to take his mistakes and losses hard. Of course, he has also risked more than Mie by uprooting himself and taking on the challenges of a new environment, culture and language, in addition to the demands of dancing at a higher level of competition. “I didn’t feel like leaving at all,” he says at the beginning of Dance for Me. “I felt like dancing.” Moreover, Egor must succeed with Mie in order to remain in Denmark. Little wonder, then, that he shows signs of stress.
Dance for Me follows Mie and Egor through their rigorous regimen of practice, rehearsals and competitions, all beautifully filmed to capture the distinct thrills of Latin ballroom dances, from rhumba to paso doble, and the young performers’ struggles with everyday things like schoolwork and family dynamics. Living in the same house, Egor and Mie form a brother-sister relationship. Mie’s family, dedicated to her dancing career, is supportive of both, knowledgeable about dance and sensitive to Egor’s extra challenges.
Egor, meanwhile, keeps in touch via Skype with his mother, Angelika, a dance teacher herself. “My parents are the best people in my life,” Egor says, and even though he and his mom have agreed not to talk about sad things, he often confides his hopes and fears. He observes, “I say the wrong things; I say what’s on my mind. I think I’m too direct for this country.”
Everything is organized—and every sacrifice made—to further the two teens’ dance careers, and from the first, they seem a winning match. They look wonderful together, displaying the dramatic moves and glittering, grownup costumes that epitomize ballroom competitions. The couple’s athletic abilities and dance skills are there, even though Egor has some rough edges to smooth and both must achieve the magic of becoming two who dance as one. Yet, for a while, the partnership hangs in the balance as Egor struggles with homesickness and the pressures of performing and Mie is thrown off balance by adapting to a new partner.
The turning point comes during a touching conversation when Egor and Mie discover that, whatever their differences, they share a common ambition. They don’t just want to be good, or even technically the best, at what they do. They want to become legends, remembered for their passion for dance.
To youth belong such soaring ambitions—and the possibility that they just may come true. Dance for Me accompanies the two, energized by their newfound bond, on a competitive roller coaster that takes them to the Danish championship, which, astonishingly for a couple competing for the first time, they win. Their next stop is representing Denmark at the European championship in Moscow, where Egor will see his mother for the first time in a year.
Suddenly, the competition is called off due to internal disputes in Russia. Both Mie and Egor are devastated. Aching to see her son, Angelika flies to Denmark, where she is startled to discover that Egor is becoming a man. “You’re so big,” she exclaims. “I am losing my child!” Over the following days, she spends precious time coaching and encouraging him. “Keep your knees straight; work with your arms; cut your hair,” she advises. Above all, seeing his lingering self-doubt, she implores him “to be truly happy on the dance floor.”
The European championship is rescheduled, and the couple is off to Stuttgart, Germany. It’s like going to the Super Bowl. The pressure is on, and all eyes are on Egor and Mie.
Dance for Me is a suspenseful coming-of-age story, with a global twist and lots of marvelous dancing, about two passionate teens with uncommon dedication and ambition.
“As production designer and film director, I found making this movie a perfect way to combine my various skills and fascinations,” says director Katrine Philp. “On the one hand, this is a film about two young elite dancers who put everything at stake and are very focused on their careers. On the other hand, it is a coming-of-age story about Egor, who left everything for a new life in a foreign family and culture. Ultimately, it’s a movie about how hard it is to be integrated, and about longing and loneliness, despite a fully booked calendar.
“As a former dancer, I know that dance can be a relief and can even help put things right when you feel out of balance. I know how it feels to train your body to be perfect—both in appearance and in movement. And I know how hard it can be not to achieve your dream—even though you have done everything in your power to get there. All these elements are part of Egor and Mie’s daily life.”
Dance for Me, an Official Selection of the 2013 International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, is a production of Klassefilm in association with the Danish Film Institute and Danish Broadcasting Corporation.
About the Filmmaker:
After working in design, Katrine Philp decided to apply her visual skills to film. She graduated from the National Film School of Denmark’s documentary department in 2009. Her first film, Book of Miri, was awarded the President’s Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and the European Young CIVIS Media Prize in Germany. Philp has contributed to DOX: LAB, where she collaborated with a Burmese filmmaker on Five Beats Before Death. She is currently developing three documentary projects with a strong social dimension.
Director: Katrine Philp
Producer: Lise Saxtrup
Editor: Signe Rebekka Kaufmann
Cinematographers: Sophia Olsson, Niels Thastum
Sound Designer: Sille Just Boel
Composer: Uno Helmersson
Running time (including StoryCorps short): 86:46
StoryCorps animated shorts feature the stories of everyday people, told in their own voices. StoryCorps is a nonprofit oral-history project that has recorded more than 50,000 stories from people of all walks of life. Every Friday, millions of listeners tune in to NPR’s Morning Edition to listen to StoryCorps’ weekly broadcast. The Rauch Brothers bring the best-loved radio stories to animated life on POV.
In A Good Man, Bryan Wilmoth and his seven younger siblings were raised in a strict, religious home. He talks to his brother Mike about what it was like to reconnect years after their dad kicked Bryan out for being gay. 3 minutes.
StoryCorps Credits: Producers: Lizzie Jacobs, Maya Millett and Mike Rauch; Directors: Mike Rauch and Tim Rauch; Animator: Tim Rauch. Major funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Produced in association with American Documentary | POV.
POV Series Credits
Executive Producer: Simon Kilmurry
Co-Executive Producer: Cynthia López
Vice President, Programming and Production: Chris White
Associate Producer: Nicole Tsien
Production Coordinator: Nikki Heyman
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American Documentary, Inc. (www.amdoc.org/)
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