Tears stream down young Isabela’s innocent face as the slender, gazelle-like girl is told she needs to slim down even more if she wants to turn her passion into her career. Like Isabela, Irlan’s strictly regimented days leave him no time to be an average teenager. Isabela and Irlan are ballet dancers. And though they have the talent, they don’t look like all the others. Ballet has long been the rarified and elitist domain of the white upper class, but these two black high schoolers from Rio de Janeiro’s working-class favelas are determined to succeed in this physically and emotionally demanding discipline. Director Beadie Finzi’s inspiring documentary trails the dancers and their tough-love mentor from Brazil to New York on one critical, competition-fueled year in their lives.
Finzi exquisitely captures her subjects’ riveting performances, layered beautifully with the signature bold colors of Rio. The teens’ artistry and astounding physical prowess dominate the gracefully rendered dance sequences. Finzi moves and inspires as she carries us deep behind the façade of each dance to unveil intimate portraits of Irlan and Isabela. Equal weight is poignantly portioned to the teens’ parents, full-time champions of their gifted children who gladly struggle and sacrifice to support the collective dream. —Tribeca Film Festival