by Greta Yeoman
From screen to stage and back again, The Heart Dances brings a Kiwi classic full circle.
The film follows Czech twin brothers, choreographer Jiri and designer Otto Bubenicek, as they travel to Aotearoa to bring their ballet adaptation of Jane Campion’s 1993 film The Pianoto a home stage.
The documentary lets viewers into the heart of the Royal New Zealand Ballet as the dance company prepares to bring the European pair’s adaptation back to its homeland.
Director Rebecca Tansley, speaking to The Courier before the film’s world premiere in late July, said she heard about the then-upcoming season of The Piano through a friend at the ballet company and officially approached the RNZB with her request to film it, to which they agreed.
While the film initially began as documentation of the ballet company’s production, it morphed into a bigger discussion around cultural representation and appropriation after the Czech pair arrived in the country to find their 2015 ballet adaptation – which originally gave prominent place to Maori haka Ka Mate – posed significant problems for RNZB’s contracted Maori cultural adviser Moss Patterson, Tansley said.
“These questions are really critical in this day and age.”
Alongside those discussions, the film follows the progress of the production before dancers take to the stage in front of a live audience, the relationships the dancers develop with the ballet and fellow performers and all the backstage work.
“[I had to think] ‘how do I tell all those stories'” Tansley said.
The film mixes rehearsal and performance with stage set-up and preparation, celebrating the arts in their many forms and how artists connect with their art, she said.
“It was all so fascinating,” Tansley said of the filming process.
Her previous NZIFF-featured film, 2015 documentary Crossing Rachmaninoff, followed Italian-born Auckland pianist Flavio Villani as he prepared to perform Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto in Italy.
She said she had always had an interest in filming different aspects of creativity, particularly around the connection between artists and their art and how audiences connect to that.
“The arts tell us about ourselves.”
She encouraged all film-goers, whether they were interested in ballet or not, to watch it.
“I hope it’ll appeal to a broad audience.”