Based on a Noticeable life
By Iride Aparicio

Photos courtesy: SFFILM

SAN FRANCISCO, CA-- The team of the San Francisco's Film Festival 2021 who picked the documentaries to be presented this year to its online audience was so productive, that for Cultural World Bilingual to select one for review was very difficult. After long deliberations, however, we selected CUBAN DANCER, a California Premiere documentary from Italy, Canada and Chile produced by executive Producers Paul Cadieux and Fernando Lataste, because after a complete examination we determined that every technical aspect in the 2020 Spanish/English documentary is outstanding.

 If we start our review of CUBAN DANCER with its plot: The struggles of a young Cuban boy who wants to become a professional ballet dancer, we become aware that the documentary's theme has universality. This boy's struggles are actually the same struggles that are experienced by all young women and men around the world, in trying to become professional ballet dancers, and for years have to spend hours sweating inside the dancing studios as they exercise their aching muscles doing painful Pliés at the bars to strengthened their legs; looking at themselves on large mirrors changing the position of their arms, hands and fingers to "teach" them how to "talk." as they move with the music; doing sit ups to strengthened  their knees; doing quick tumbles on top of a mattresses on the floor to give their bodies flexibility; and as if that type of daily exercise would not be enough, the males go to a gym, a few times every week, and spend an hour or two lifting weights to strengthened  their arms, to be able to lift the ballerina when the dance demands that hey had to lift her, holding her by her waist with both his hands, or just holding her with his left arm, when she is executing a fish  (The Ballet's  name given to the dance figure where the ballerina is in the retiré position with her face down and her arms extended in front of her, and both her feet behind her extended on the air ( imitating the body of a fish),  

As for the women their struggle to become professional ballerinas is also very painful, because to learn how to walk on Pointe (standing on the tips of their toes) they need to spend years strengthening their bended toes (which bleed at the beginning) while resting on a cushion over an iron tip inside their ballet shoes, as they train those toes to get strong enough to sustain the weight of their whole body, before being able to tip toe gracefully on the stage. To learn to dance ballet professionally, requires: a very strong body and a very strong determination on the dancer's part.

The Cinematography
As the cinematographer of CUBAN DANCER, Italian/Nicaraguan Roberto Salinas, who also originated the idea for the documentary and even selected its protagonist, who he filmed for years, did an excellent job in shooting the whole documentary with a single camera. every one of movie frames is focused, his lighting of the scenes is correct, in the composition of each scene artistic and serves its purpose.

The Sound
As for the technical part of the sound, in the documentary, both the dialogue and the sound of the ballets' music, is clear. The audience is also able to hears clearly the music and lyrics of the Background songs. (Sang in Spanish with guitar's accompaniment) these two songs, that the documentary shows as being played in the Cuban's radio by the boy's family, one of them "Historia de un Amor" which actually serve a purpose in the documentary because its lyrics move the plot. Sadly, because its lyrics were not translated to English in the documentary, as the dialogue was, those people who do not speak Spanish, will missed this point.   

The Editing
As for the editing in CUBAN DANCER, the editors, Abrahim Lifshitz, Piero Lassandro, and Armando Duccio Ventriglia were superb.  And the documentary needed good editing because is a biographical documentary showing various years in the life of a person who is still alive and actually participating in the filming of his life needed to be well planned.   And they were planned perfectly. When editing the story, they selected to show the audience the most relevant happenings in this dancer's life, in such a way that the audience got to know the dancer, care for him and understood the Genre of the documentary they were about to watch, from the very first shot.

In its opening shot, the documentary show Alexis (our protagonist) inside his room, an slender boy at the age of 15, watching a TV program of a ballet dance on an old television on top of a table in the room, and as he observes the ballet dancers, he begins imitating their legs and arms movements and than compares himself doing them watching himself on a mirror on a wall. If we froze that frame, that image of a  boy, extending his arms over his head and stretching his legs in perfect synchronization with the ballet's music heard in the background, that shot is enough to reveal to  us (the audience) that this boy loves to dance.

And after that, the editing of his story let us learn about his life. Shows us Cuba, his home, his family, his mother and his father, his girlfriend, his school, his friends, and demonstrates, by his actions and dialogue, that this boy's dream is to become a dancer. And as we follow his career, step by step for a few years, we fully understand, at the end, why he has to abandons everything dear to him,  and moves to Miami.

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And when he does, the documentary takes universality again, because it is now being understood by all those people, from all over the world, which for one reason or another had to abandon their "home" and came to America.

They all will relate with the sadness of Alexis feeling lost. With his confusion. With his struggle of adjusting to a new way of life in a country that is very different from the country where you where you were born. The fear of starting a new school. The frustration of re-learning to dance in a dancing school that uses different methodology than your school at home. The problem to learn from different teachers, and the daily feeling of despair, because you are trying, but you cannot understand or say the words in the English, because you only speak Spanish.

And as we watch the story of CUBAN DANCER, we are also given the opportunity to learn a lot about ballet as an art, Its difficulties as a dance. The sacrifices it requires to learned it. The years of study it takes to learn it, and the physical and psychological pains that dancer's experience every day of their lives. This part alone, makes watching CUBAN DANCER, worth watching for anyone.

And because CUBAN DANCER is actually the life story of ALEXIS VALDEZ, who for years presented it so naturally that we forget that he is not an actor playing a role, but a person living his dream while allowing a movie camera to follow him for a few years, revealing to an invisible audience who he is  We (the audience) learn to care for him and learn something through his family's interactions. What we may learn, is how his parents make a winner of him, by talking with him, discussing his problems, trying to  understand them, helping him find solutions, and always giving plenty of love. And we need to add, never discourage him in his dream, even when, in his case, his dream, seemed to be "impossible'.  And by doing these simple things, they parent of this Cuban boy gave the world ALEXIS VALDEZ  the ballet dancer.

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Those living in the Bay Area will be able to see what a great dancer ALEXIS VALDEZ , the protagonist in the documentary CUBAN DANCER based on his life became, because when the Arts open again, he will be dancing on the stage of the S.F War Memorial Opera House with  The San Francisco Ballet.