Anne Bass’s documentary about a 16-year-old Cambodian boy whom she brought to the US to study at the School of American Ballet looks at first to be limited by its feel-good story arc. But it dances beyond that, largely on the strength of its subject, the now 27-year-old Sokvannara Sar, and his SAB teacher, Russian émigrée Olga Kostritzky.
The personable Sy, as everyone calls him, knows only traditional Khmer dance when he leaves Angkor Wat for the Big Apple; he’s way too old to start ballet, and SAB honchos Peter Boal and Jock Soto have their doubts. Sy himself isn’t sure how he feels about turnout: “This ballet thing is gonna turn me into a little duck.”
But he perseveres, graduates from high school, goes back home to perform, and eventually winds up at Pacific Northwest Ballet, which Boal now directs. Twyla Tharp calls him “remarkable,” and watching him do Harlequin in Balanchine’s La Sonnambula, you can see why: he might not be a born ballet dancer, but he’s a born performer.