Last Tango in Blackpool

A Poignant New Documentary Finds Drama in the Competitive World of Ballroom Dancing

A tense showdown between former partners at the Blackpool Dance Festival is the focus of this clip from the upcoming Ballroom Dancer. Ukraine-native Vyacheslav ‘Slavik’ Kryklyvyy, a ballroom professional specializing in the Latin American style who appeared as Jennifer Lopez’s on-floor partner in 2004’s Shall We Dance?, is the temperamental and determined protagonist of the film by Danish directors Christian Holten Bonke and Andreas Koefoed. The duo’s intense portrait has screened at the Copenhagen documentary festival CPH:DOX and the Tribeca Film Festival, where they won Best New Documentary Filmmakers. The story charts the new partnership—both in and out of the spotlight—of former world champion Kryklyvyy and Anna Melnikova as Kryklyvyy attempts to regain his top place on the international circuit while going head to head with his previous partner and current Open British Champion Joanna Leunis. “We were interested in these big couples who are privately and professionally entangled,” explains Bonke. “We thought it would be a film about relationships and love and how you deal with being professional at the same time.” Originally the directors intended to film three pairs but they quickly decided to focus on Kryklyvyy: “He had so much at stake and as a character; he reeks of drama.”

Ballroom Dancer makes its theatrical debut on January 15 in London. This clip comes to NOWNESS courtesy of Dogwoof distribution.

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    Lil Buck: Aria

    Benjamin Millepied Hails the Dancer’s Mastery in Part Two of Our Jookin’ Double Bill

    French ballet dancer and Black Swan choreographer Benjamin Millepied captures the freeform movement of rising dance star Lil Buck in his new short. Set to an electric guitar rendition of Bach’s 1741 “Aria” from the Goldberg Variations, performed by Millepied’s brother Laurent, the film showcases the richness of Jookin’ as a dance form and Buck’s ability to navigate different melodies and rhythms. While shooting another film together, Bacchanale, the classically trained Millepied invited Buck to collaborate on the unscripted piece, shot over an afternoon and evening against the backdrop of downtown Los Angeles. Millepied played “Aria” to Buck in the car on the way to the location, before allowing the Memphis native the freedom to simply improvise on the street. “He knew the mood, and improvised in a naturalistic manner,” says Millepied, who has previously worked with the likes of David Lang, Nico Muhly, Thierry Escaich and Philip Glass. Leading his own dance troupe called the New Styles Krew, Buck sprang to fame through a series of viral videos to perform with Madonna at the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show and feature on her new MDNA tour. “Lil Buck's dancing embraces all styles. He does steps that can be baroque, Indian or Russian, without ever having been exposed to those styles. There's a complete physical freedom in his body,” says Millepied. “Buck makes me want to dance. He opens doors to my imagination.” Here the rubber-limbed Buck shares his discovery of carpet-gliding moves and the rib-tickling joys of touring with Madonna.

    How did you first get into ballet?
    A hip-hop choreographer who was teaching me introduced me to ballet. She saw some of my movements as being similar to ballet and got me a scholarship to train in it. I was always an open-minded kid when it came to dance. I saw something that I thought could help me out in my own dance style.

    What was your first experience of Jookin’?
    There was a guy named Harlan Bobo who I saw at a place called the Crystal Palace Skating Rink in Memphis. He was gliding across the carpet like Michael Jackson, but better. Everyone was looking at him in amazement and I'd never seen anything like it. It was the first time I had ever come across it. From then on I knew that that was what I had to do, I was about 12 years old.

    Where do you find your inspiration?
    Back in Memphis it really was about the other dancers. Jookin’ was the only dance style that we had that was original. It was started there and it was our own. So we just learned from watching each other, I learned from the other people we saw. Watching my fellow Jookers, my peers and learning from the original people.

    Do you preconceive what you're going to do or is it improvised?

    It is genuinely spontaneous. I like to act in the moment, that is kind of how my life is. Quite often I am dancing to something I have only heard once and I just let myself go. I'm quite an experimental dancer, so if my body feels like a project is a good one, I go with it.

    What have you learned from working with Madonna?
    Never stop being humble and never forget where you came from. And love your fans, because they are the people that have put you where you are. We talk a lot actually, we all go out with her on day trips, kind of like her entourage going out to museums with her. She is quite a joker as well, she cracks a lot of jokes and keeps you smiling. She gives you a lot of energy. It really is a lot of fun being on tour with Madonna.

    See part one of our Lil Buck double bill, directed by Jacob Sutton, here.

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    Havana Good Time

    Illustrious Photographer Michael Dweck Infiltrates Cuba’s Subversive Art Scene

    Celebrated American photographer Michael Dweck’s uninhibited, previously unpublished pictures reveal Cuba’s passionate artistic community, thriving under a regime that limits creative freedom and handicaps those who openly oppose the communist party’s doctrine. Dweck’s new book, Habana Libre, reveals a secretive collective of friends based in the country's capital, making work that treads a fine line between conceptual and subversive, yet is not seen as rebellious by the authorities. Described by Dweck as a “contradictory creative class in an apparently classless society,” the group lives a vibrant bohemian lifestyle, meeting covertly to exchange ideas. Having left a career in advertising in 2002, Dweck came to prominence with his images of laid-back surf kids featured in his book The End: Montauk, N.Y. We caught up with the Brooklyn native to discuss socialism and seduction.

    This glamorous lifestyle seems at odds with the image we have of what it’s like to live in Cuba.
    These people travel freely, have nice cars, big studios and a lot of assistants. They sell their artworks in other countries; they show at Art Basel, some have work in MoMA and the Tate. The government allows it even though Cuba is supposed to be classless. The regime doesn’t admit that this creative class exists, but I think they also realize that without culture you don’t have a society.

    Did you experience any problems being an American?
    At first it was impossible to get permission to shoot. I met with everybody I could, I sent more and more paperwork, filled out forms, got to know the Castro children and even asked them to help. Finally, I met the culture minister and eventually he told me actually there just wasn’t a visa for an American to do what I wanted to do. He gave me his business card and told me if anyone stopped me to show it to them and I would be okay. And I was. 

    What was the image of Cuba you wanted to get across in the book?
    Cuba is like a game. You get played with. Nothing is on the surface, it’s all code and everything is a subtext of something else. I wanted to show this secret life of the creative class, but the subtext is an allegorical narrative of seduction.

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