Anne Bass’s Dancing Across Borders


When 16-year-old Sokvannara Sar, a charismatic Cambodian with a gift for his native folk dances, arrived in New York City in 2001 as the protégé of the unbelievably rich Manhattan socialite (and generous dance patron) Anne Bass, he had never seen ballet—and wasn’t that stoked about it. “This ballet thing is going to turn me into a duck,” he remembers thinking. “I don’t think I want to do this.” It’s a sentiment Sar repeats throughout Dancing Across Borders, and it is to first-time director Bass’s credit that she marked his ambivalence in this otherwise blithely tone-deaf ode to her own generosity and that of dance instructor Olga Kostritzky. There are several uncomfortable factors at play in the story of Sar’s success—the clear class and culture shock; the pressure to compress 10 years of ballet training into three lest he lose his patron’s attention—but Bass, enamored of his talent and determined to shape it to her liking (“I hope he’s going to be what I want him to be,” Kostritzky says), elides every one. Instead, we get white folks ruminating lyrically on the peasant Asian’s role as a kind of grand jeté bridge between East and West, and long performance sequences that are dazzling to behold but quite troubling to contemplate.

Most Popular