Japanese director Masayuki Suo, whose “Shall We Dance?” went boffo globally in 1997, tries out some new steps in hybrid docu/performance film “Dancing Chaplin,” spotlighting a ballet inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” persona. Featuring Suo’s dancer-actress wife, Tamiyo Kusakari, and Italian ballet star Luigi Bonino. It will be premiered on the 28th January in New York at the Walter Reade Theatre, part of the Dance Films Association festival.
Through his wife’s career as a ballerina, Suo becomes involved in a project to reimagin Roland Petit’s 1991 ballet “Chaplin Dances” as a film. Starting out as a behind-the-scenes documentary in a Tokyo dance studio, Suo’s film finds its structure in this first half by focusing on Bonino as he guides Kusakari through a difficult manoeuvre, capturing the physical precision of the ballet’s complex choreography.
The second half is a one-act, 13-scene distillation of the original dance production’s two-act, 20-scene structure.
Smart inserts and varied camera angles make “Dancing Chaplin” considerably more satisfying than most theater-performance films. Sixty-year-old Bonino is magical as Chaplin, portraying the silent screen star with consummate skill. Though there’s no doubting the aging Bonino’s physical prowess, the dance sequences also demonstrate a tangible difference between stage and screen performers; Kusakari may have more stage than film experience on her resume, but she has something her fellow dancers don’t have: a relationship with the camera.
The ballet is performed to the music of J.S Bach, Fiorenzo Capri and, of course, Chaplin’s own compositions, including the poignant and heartbreaking “Smile.”