Director: Ivan Gergolet
Cast: Maria Fux, Martina Serban
Length: 75 mins
Country: Italy, Argentina, Slovenia
A grainy black and white image of a woman, dancing to the jazz rhythms of Dizzy Gillespie. She is moving like a wave against the sea, firm yet dissolving in the stream of music. Graceful, but not fragile, quite the contrary. This is Maria Fux.
Maria Fux is an Argentinian dancer, choreographer, dance therapist and the subject of Italian director Ivan Gergolet’s documentary Dancing with Maria, premiering in the 29th Venice International Critics Week section of the Venice Film Festival. This is quite a special event: during its 29 years, the Critics Week selection has never included a documentary.However, it would be reducitive to state that the documentary is focused solely on the figure of Maria; it offers a fascinating insight into her life and work through the people whose lives she has touched and the workshops held in her contemporary dance studio in Buenos Aires. Filmed in two years between Italy and Argentina, Dancing with Maria is a heart-warming tale of beauty and inspiration.
Seeing her energy, optimism and joy, it is hard to believe that Maria is, in fact, 92 years old. After becoming an internationally recognised performer, Fux eventually dedicated herself to developing a unique approach to dance-therapy, teaching and working alongside people with various disabilities. Her dance studio was created for exactly that purpose, and it is where most of the documentary takes place. The audience is presented with a chance to see Fux at work, delivering inspiring speeches to her students and helping their bodies liberate themselves to the joy of dance.
Dancing with Maria opens a space for dialogue about the relationship between bodies, beauty and movement, reflecting on the peace and joy that they whose bodies have been deemed deformed or unacceptable by society, have found in the sphere of dance.
The film is framed and organised extremely well. I kept remembering the much-quoted Elvis Costello line about how “talking about music is like dancing about architecture”; Gergolet has applied a similar principle to the construction of the documentary, not reducing it to a linear narrative or a study of Fux’s career. Instead, he shows her teaching, dancing, but, most importantly, the majority of the film consists of her students talking about dance and what it means to them. Dancing with Maria opens a space for dialogue about the relationship between bodies, beauty and movement, reflecting on the peace and joy that they whose bodies have been deemed deformed or unacceptable by society, have found in the sphere of dance.
Thus, I believe, the film speaks of two spaces: the material one of the studio and that of dance, both of them created by the collaboration between Fux and her students. However, I do not think that the word ‘student’ is entirely appropriate in this context, as it is implying a hierarchical transmission of knowledge whereas the collaborative process we witness is anything but that. I’d call Maria a source of inspiration rather than a teacher. Before the screening of the film we were warned, that, by the end of it, we will all want to dance with Maria – and that is indeed what happened.
The moments of text present in the film work in a beautiful harmony with the music and the images. Italian composer Luca Ciut has crafted an eclectic soundtrack that goes hand-in-hand with the movements of the dancers, uplifting and enhancing the elegant visuals of the documentary.
Indeed, this is a very well crafted film, all of its elements working together in a gorgeous balance. Dancing with Maria is also very sentimental in the best sense of this word: it is capable of evoking emotion and is full of sentiment, beauty and joy. This screening received one of the longest rounds of applauses I have heard in the festival so far, and is a well hidden gem of Venice 2014.