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Horizontes, a documentary of ballet slippers and bone – Portrait of Eileen Hofer
Posted on 12/03/2017 by Raquel Monteiro
Beautiful, packed with talent and unparalleled energy, that is Eileen Hofer. As a blogger, journalist and filmmaker, she juggles her various vocations. With her film, Horizontes, Eileen Hofer, of Turkish-Lebanese origin and now living in Geneva, flew to Cuba to capture the intertwined portraits of three generations of classical dancers. Alicia Alonso, a nonagenarian with the status of absolute goddess, former prima ballerina assoluta who lost her sight at the age of 20; Viengsay Valdés, prima ballerina of the Ballet Nacional of Cuba, who, at age 35, is at the top of her career; and the teenager Amanda de Jesús who, at 14 years, dreams of joining Alicia’s company. On occasion of the film release coolbrandz has met Eileen. (Photo: Nicolas Schopfer)
Poetic, lyrical and profound, Horizontes strings sequences to create a reflection on perseverance. With great delicacy, on the wings of the whirling pirouettes of the three ballerinas, Horizontes reveals the women behind the dancers, in flesh and bone, intensely bound by the passion of the ballet.
Worthy of the great cast, Horizontes has been showered with praise. Admitting that we are unable to do adages, arabesques, or half-points, all we can do is raise our hats in honour to Eileen Hofer.
Where did you get the idea to make a film around the character of Alicia Alonso, and two more generations of ballet dancers?
A couple of years ago, I heard of the extraordinary and unusual career of Alicia Alonso. She gradually lost her sight but never stopped dancing. With the precious help of her first husband, Fernando Alonso, at the time co-founder of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, she learned to dance “in darkness”. She transformed her handicap into an asset and continued her career. I liked this universal message: Get up again and again and proceed.
Effort, sweat and old age – you picture the discipline and harmony necessary to become a great dancer, while at the same time striking those poses with great delicacy. Could you lift the veil for us on your way of working behind the scenes of Horizontes? How is it when you are behind the camera?
My cinematic approach is based in part on improvisation, linked to the felt. I observe and analyse before saying action. I spend most of the time on takes with no spoken words, trying to capture confidences made off camera. I bank on the sensitivity and intelligence of the viewer, to leave things to his or her interpretation.
Ballet and Cuban communism, has this been an intentional Pas de Deux – or rather accidental?
The internal structure of a ballet can resemble that of an army, as it is strongly hierarchical, too. It is easy to compare Fidel to Alicia, directing their island / their ballet with an iron fist. The ballet, for Europeans, is an art for the elite. In Cuba, or in communist countries, it quickly became a popular and contemporary art: in Havana, any butcher or grocer knows the difference between Giselle, Swan Lake and Coppelia. In the sixties, Fidel Castro took advantage of Alicia Alonso’s reputation to make her his ambassador of Castroism.
In the end, would you say that the cinema rekindled your journalistic instincts?
Yes, I investigated a lot before starting filming. Before my departure to Cuba, I interviewed a number of exiled dancers, read biographies and other historical essays. On site, I always try to meet people related to the subject of my film – the dressers, the shoemaker. They draw on confidence and attention to details that I can put into play. A dancer in Geneva once told me that as a child, she wedged her foot between the radiator and the wall to get it used to tip. I used that scene in my film.
How would you define your film in a tweet?
The art of improvising in a fiction – or how to sprinkle a good dose of drama into a documentary.
And you, Eileen … Where do you want to go? To the walls of the Malécon – or to the horizon?
I got the chills when, during the shooting, the physiotherapist of Viengsay, the current star dancer, told me this story: She had been asked what were her ambitions when she was only ten years old – and already saw herself beyond the horizon. Viengsay has sweated in rehearsal rooms for more than 20 years, but today she has the title of prima ballerina. Unfortunately, I am as ambitious as her. I find it hard to stop halfway.
Horizontes de Eileen Hofer – Trailer