Filmmaker Katrine Philp discusses the making of her film, Dance for Me, and her relationship with the film’s subjects, Mie and Egor.
POV: In your own words, how would you describe this film?
Katrine Philp: The overall storyline is Mie and Egor’s striving for success on the dance floor. But it’s really a film about Egor’s vulnerable journey, a film where we get close to his feelings, his loneliness, his longing for his mother who lives in China, and also the constant pressure of having to be the best. It’s also a film about two teenagers, and it has been so fantastic to watch them grow up in front of the camera. It’s like Egor is turning from a boy to a man during the year we were following them. It’s a really important period in their lives, the teenage life. For Egor it’s very different, the culture and the thing that he is moving into Mie and her parents. For Mie it’s also different because she is used to living in this family with her as the only child. So it has been really interesting.
POV: How did you come to make this film?
Philp: I’m a former dancer myself, not Latin, but still I in a way have the love for dance, and I have the love for the art in dance. So the environment was something that I was drawn to in a way. Then I was invited to this training session in the dance hall, and there was a lot of dancers on the floor, but in the corner I saw this very special couple. They were very charismatic and I could see that they were not used to each other yet. That was something that I was drawn to in a way, because I thought, okay, maybe there’s a story here. And it’s not only about dance, because for me a story about dance was not enough. I had to have a strong story behind the dance, and I found out later when I talked to them that there was a very interesting story here because Egor has just arrived in Denmark and he has moved into Mie and her parents’. And he has a mother in China and a father in Russia who he hasn’t seen for a really long time. So the dance was definitely something that I was interested in, but the story behind was really something that interested me.
POV: So how would you describe the film stylistically? What kind of aesthetic choices did you make?
Philp: Well, visuality is very important for me. I always discuss the film very close with my cinematographers and my editor. And in this film we have this fantastic ballroom universe with all its glamour and glitter and makeup and wonderful dresses and fantastic dance. So it was really important for me to capture this environment. So we were discussing a lot how to approach it and how to work with it then so it could be a very big part of the film. And it’s also very important for me to work very close with my characters. I just spent a lot of time with them. Trust is the most important thing when you do documentaries because you have to create a space of trust with your characters. You have to in a way be a person that is worth being with, because you need your characters to open up their lives for you and open up their thoughts and invite you in to the most vulnerable places.
POV: These two main characters are very young. How was it like watching Egor grow up to almost becoming a man — how was that like for you?
Philp: To see them grow in front of the camera, that was really special. Egor, he had a really tough time adjusting to this new culture and life, and also because there’s also a lot of pressure. They are working so hard on the dance floor, performing and doing their utmost there. But then their body’s growing and Egor is taking a pre-IP and they are dancing four hours every single day and they are traveling all the time. So there’s a lot of focus at them and that’s a lot of pressure. And still, they’re performing so well. They’re also having a camera pointing at them all the time and it can also be a pressure sometimes, because when you walk in and a person is opening up for you, it can be very difficult if you are having a tough time in your life and you are living through some very difficult feelings. Then have a camera pointing at you, it can be really stressful. I found out that this was the price that Egor has to pay for becoming the kind of dancer that he wants to be.
POV: There’s a very interesting scene in your film, I think. Mie and Egor, they are actually very different, like I was saying at the beginning, and yet they have this dance thing together, but they’re very different emotional-wise. They’re talking about whether or not you should show your emotions, and Mie is saying, oh yeah, I really think that you should. If you’re feeling sad, you should definitely show that. And Egor is saying, no, no, no, you should keep that to yourself. And actually what they’re doing is the exact opposite. How did you experience their relationship with each other?
Philp: Yeah, it was really interesting to watch because they are a really different couple, really different individuals. Egor, maybe he’s hiding more his feelings in a way that he is not talking much about his feelings. He likes to keep them for himself in a way. But still on the dance floor he’s so expressive.
Philp: If he’s angry you can really see it on the floor and that’s fantastic. That’s also why they are so charismatic. And Mie is maybe better to just tell how she feels like and so therefore they are so different.
POV: So what do you want the audience to get out of watching this film in particular?
Philp: I hope that the audience will feel that they have been on a journey with Mie and Egor and that they found them fantastic and extraordinary, and that they see what I saw in them, their talent and they are charismatic characters. I also hope that they feel that they have gotten close to Egor’s feelings and also the price he had to pay for becoming the dancer that he wanted to. There’s a lot of gifts. It’s fantastic for him, it’s a great opportunity to come to Denmark and dance. There’s a lot of things that is really, really fantastic. But there’s also things like leaving his mother in China and the loneliness he felt and that’s kind of a price that he was willing to take.