Why A New Ballet Documentary Will Have You Thinking Differently About Dance
One of my favorite phrases is that "dance is for everybody and every body." It's a personal art form that brings joy, freedom and emotion unlike anything else.
A new documentary, Looking at the Stars, is bringing that message home. The film takes a look at the Fernanda Bianchini Ballet Association for the Blind in São Paulo, Brazil, the only ballet school of its kind in the world.
Bianchini began the school as a teenager after her parents challenged her to give back and find a way to bring the arts to students at a local blind school. One special student, Geyza Pereira, came to her after losing her sight at the age of nine.
Ballet gave Geyza a new life and a new way to express herself. The teacher and her star student have an incredible bond that goes beyond the walls of the dance school and it's hard not to be moved by their beautiful friendship.
While the cast and director, Alexandre Peralta, were in Southern California for the LA Film Festival, I had the opportunity to learn more about how the Looking at the Stars documentary came to life.
[Editor's Note: Due to the language barrier, director Alexandra Peralta translated for all of the dancers.]
How did the idea for the film come about?
Alexandre Peralta: I used to live two blocks away from the ballet school, so I remember seeing the girls with their canes going somewhere that I had no idea where they're going.
It was more like I got this curiosity that stayed in my mind for like five years, until I came to the U.S. for film school. I kind of fell in love with documentaries.
I went there for the first time in 2012, and it was amazing. It was a beautiful place. It's like any other conservatory. It's amazing.
Fernanda, how did you figure out how to teach blind students ballet, which is a very visual art form?
Fernanda: When I was starting to teach, my dance teachers said I should not teach them [the blind students] ballet because it would be impossible. It would be better to teach just body expression or a simpler dance.
My parents encouraged me. They said, "You shouldn't give up; you should continue." I had to enter the blind world to introduce them to this world of ballet.
What is the most challenging aspect of ballet to teach?
Fernanda: The arms — I think that was the most challenging. I used palm tree leaves so they could feel the port-de-bras arms.
It was very hard to teach them. Their legs are easier, but their arms are incomplete. I really want them to have the arms perfect because I want to have a complete ballerina.
Geyza, how hard is it to pirouette?
If you want to spin you have to focus on a point, right? I cannot do; that's the hardest thing for me to do. I have to sense the turns instead.
Geyza, was your relationship with your teacher Fernanda magical from the beginning?
Fernanda has always been my fairy godmother. She has always been my guide, my mentor and we have a very strong friendship.
Alexandre, how is the film resonating with everyone?
It's a little early, but people are amazed. People are very impressed and very touched by the story. We were joking with Fernanda yesterday that she was starting to have a fan club here [in Los Angeles] because people like her so much.
They like her work. It's something that people don't imagine, and at the same, everyone says, "I felt so close to the characters." Everyone leaves the movie thinking it's very intimate.
Fernanda, have you ever thought how different your life would be if you hadn't gone in to teach in that school?
I started so young when I was only fifteen. All of my decisions in life have been related to volunteer work. I cannot see myself doing anything else.
I learn more than what I offer as a teacher. I want to continue transforming and changing lives.
With dance, I have learned to close my eyes — the eyes, which can be very prejudiced — and see with the eyes of the heart.
I can see a much more beautiful world through that. This world without prejudice is what I hope to see in the world again.
For more information on the Fernanda Bianchini Ballet Association for the Blind, visit their website.