Rhythm Is It!

Reviewed By Stephen Groenewegen
Posted 06/14/04 18:17:18

"Ode to joy"
5 stars (Awesome)

Rhythm is it! is an inspiring German documentary about the power of music and movement.

British conductor Sir Simon Rattle is leading the Berliner Philharmoniker in a special performance of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (“the Rite of Spring”) at Treptow Arena. On stage are 250 Berlin dancers, ranging in age from eight to early 20s. Choreographer Royston Maldoom notes that the kids come from all social classes, multiple countries and ethnic backgrounds and represent every sex (“all three”!). Most are school students who have never danced before.

With minimal intrusion from directors Thomas Grube and Enrique Sánchez Lansch, Rhythm is it! follows the familiar structure of a putting-on-a-show musical. Titles mark the passing of each of six weeks of rehearsal. Maldoom and his team certainly have their work cut out for them. Before these kids can convincingly dance, they have to build confidence in themselves and their bodies, learn focus and discipline and discover the power of stillness. To make the guys comfortable, one of the instructors confides that the choreography must make them look powerful.

By the third week, it seems the kids – unused to such rigorous discipline – have reached their limit. Grube and Lansch periodically cut to interviews with several of the more motivated and engaged students. There’s a 19 year-old man who’s forced to confront his discomfort with physical intimacy. You see the self-esteem of a pimply 14 year-old girl blossom over the course of rehearsals. A Nigerian refugee in his late teens, who has arrived friendless in Germany after the death of his parents, makes his first close connections in an alien country.

Intercut with the kids’ progress is Rattle’s rehearsals with the orchestra and his passionate outpourings about music. Music is for everyone, with the power to join people. He likens himself to a conductor of electricity. After the choreographers describe how dancers use their bodies, you become aware how Rattle conducts an orchestra with far more than his baton. The music flows through his whole body like a surge of power.

Stravinsky’s music is emotional and energising. Rhythm is it! concludes with the kids in performance, and it is a sight worth beholding. The straightforward approach of Grube and Lansch serves their subject and Marcus Winterbauer’s camera records the action in rich, warming colours. “Music is not a luxury but a need, like the air we breathe and the water we drink”, enthuses Rattle at one point. Rhythm is it! is about communication – through music, dance and teaching. When these kids realise what they can and have achieved, the spontaneous joy that lights up their faces is the most beautiful moment I have seen on screen all year.

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