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Why you must watch Madu
- Dyumna Chhabra

May 10, 2024

Art doesn't create distinctions, people do. Madu is a testament to how access to learning and performing an art form can be a life-turner, and how passion can drive one beyond the walls they've known and persevered within all their life. This documentary follows the journey of a young Nigerian boy who gets to learn at Elmhurst Ballet School. Directed by Matthew Ogens and Joel Kachi Benson, it shows how passion can grow within creeks and how support can nurture it to fruition.

Photo from: Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce

The film itself, with its colour grading, scene settings, cinematography, and music exposes one to Anthony Madu's homely life in Nigeria, the rousing studios of Elmhurst Ballet School, and the oppositional jolly and riddled life of a teenager. Throughout the film, the long shots and medium long shots are used to give a glimpse into the life of a ballet student - either while perfecting their port de bras or while on stage performing for a show. The use of mid shots and medium close-up shots for when Anthony is with his family, makes the audience feel up and close with him, creating a sense of connection regardless of the screens in between. In Anthony's close-up, a dancer can see a reflection of themselves and parents can see a reflection of their children.

Whether it's piano music or the consistency with which the metronome bells, the use of music in this documentary has been meticulous, as must be for a dancer-based documentary. For an avid documentary watcher, cuts that represent transitions and distinctions are anticipated. However, even such predictable moments have been beautifully captured. Madu mentions wanting to be a principal dancer, and a cut of him walking across the stage to the classroom, could in the future be seen as the epitome of foreshadowing. Hence, to see the nuances of documentary filmmaking in the performing arts environment, you must watch this film.

Photo from: Free Press Journal

We live in a world that is defined by Eurocentric standards, especially in terms of people who are represented in mainstream media. Watching Madu go to England to pursue ballet breaks stereotypes in unfathomable ways. For all of us in India (and everywhere else), Madu's journey is nothing short of inspirational. It is a flagbearer of hope and faith for many young dancers, who probably have never seen someone who looks like them on a billboard, let alone in a dance documentary. Madu is a beacon of pursuing one's passion, to whatever end, and to see his journey persevering through the stones that are thrown his way is the second reason why you must watch it. In a different light, Madu mentions being bullied for his dancing, and as sad as it is, it is also the truth for many dancers. To see him forge wonderful friendships and bond with his dance mates is the most heartwarming thread through the film.

You must watch Madu to learn more about how ballet schools function in the present day and age. Even if one is pursuing dance, their education does not take a back seat. The focus on maintaining good physical and mental health is paramount to teachers and the school. It is very interesting to note how teachers are trained to address every special need of the child and are present to expand their capabilities to the highest, in all ways possible - physically, emotionally, spiritually, and artistically. A special mention does have to be made for Madu's parents, who have supported their son to pursue dance, without a question and with all their heart, soul, and prayers.

Photo from: Variety

Madu, the film, is a marvel for those who have ventured into the world of performing arts. The film provides multiple lenses to don, and any viewer can choose whose eyes they wish to see it from. At its core, it holds a passionate spirit that emerges for a love of movement and emanates all that come across it.

And for Madu, I send truckloads of wishes his way.

Dyumna Chhabra
Dyumna Chhabra is a Bharatanatyam dancer, and the Arts Coordinator at The Lewis Foundation of Classical Ballet, Bengaluru.

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