Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Douglas Watkin.
Not to be confused with Paul Verhoeven’s recent dark and disturbing psychological thriller Elle, this is a documentary about Ella Havelka, the first indigenous dancer with the Australian Ballet in the company’s fifty year history.
Born and raised in the small town of Dubbo, Havelka is a descendant of the Wiradjuri people but was passionate about dance from an early age. This documentary follows her journey from a small country town to the prestigious dance company, and it looks at her ups and downs, her triumphs and disappointments and the challenges she faced in her years of rigorous training. We get to learn of her determination to succeed in this highly competitive environment. But Havelka often muses on whether she has earned her position in this prestigious company or whether she has been accepted as the token aboriginal.
When first rejected by the Australian Ballet, Havelka joined the indigenous Bangarra Dance Company in Sydney and honed her skills in contemporary dance routines under mentor Stephen Page. Later she is invited to join the company, an appointment that made media headlines. She learned to balance contemporary dance moves with the more classical demands of ballet. Through dance though Havelka undergoes a journey of self discovery as she explores her own heritage and cultural roots. She also gets to perform as part of the ensemble when the company tours its acclaimed version of Swan Lake to Beijing. She also finds her own artistic voice when she begins to choreography her own original works.
Ella is the debut feature film from indigenous filmmaker Douglas Watkin, who has spent twenty years working in television documentaries like ANZACs: Remembering Our Heroes, etc. He has assembled the film through a series of intimate and revealing interviews with the likes of Page and Havelka’s mother, some archival footage and lots of stunning footage of dance rehearsals and actual performances. Watkin has an unobtrusive style though as he lets Havelka tell her story in her own words.
Ella is a fascinating story of dedication and perseverance, and joins a number of other recent dance themed documentaries we have seen recently, including Mr Gaga, Pina, and Our Last Tango. It will hold great appeal to lovers of dance; others may not be quite so enamoured.