On a trip to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia in January 2000, lifelong ballet connoisseur Anne Bass came across a 16-year-old boy named Sokvannara Sar, whose performance as a folk dancer moved her immensely.
“I’ve seen so many dancers over the years, and there are dancers who are really fine dancers that you enjoy watching,” Anne tells us, “but there are very few that just hit you in a certain way.”
So when she returned to her home in the U.S., she felt compelled to give the boy the opportunity to leave his home and follow a dream that he could not yet have fully imagined.
The extraordinary journey that young Sokvannara Sar embarked upon, taking him from the Cambodian countryside to New York City, where he didn’t speak a word of English, is the subject of Anne Bass’s first foray into film, a documentary called Dancing Across Borders. It has received rave reviews both in the dance world and among general audiences.
“I really didn’t intend to make a documentary,” Anne recently told us, as she prepared for a multi-city tour of the film. It was only after some friends had seen a sort of “home-movie” that she had made of Sar’s progress a few years ago, and were riveted by it, that she got the idea.
“I understood that the story and the footage I had provided a real opportunity to see inside the world of ballet in a way they hadn’t been aware of before. So I asked some ballet friends and they said ‘Oh yes, I think this is a great story and you should try it.’”
The result is a captivating look at the struggles that Sar encountered in his transition from a young Cambodian folk dancer to an accomplished adult danseur. It’s a truly fascinating story that shows how the artistry of dance can be both enriched and hindered by cultural differences.
“I hope it will make viewers more interested in other cultures from which we can learn so much,” says Ms. Bass.
But she also hopes it will inspire viewers to pay more attention to ballet, “and make ballet more accessible to people that maybe thought it is an elite art form, and encourage them to take another look.”
Dancing Across Borders will be screened in San Francisco from April 30 to May 6, 2010. For more information, or to see when it’s coming to a town near you, visit dancingacrossborders.net/screenings.php.