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film review

Documentary Beyond Moving follows the story of Siphe November, a dance prodigy discovered in a South African township by the National Ballet of Canada at age ten.

  • Beyond Moving
  • Written and directed by Vikram Dasgupta
  • Classification N/A; 90 minutes

Rating:

3 out of 4 stars

In 2009, a Canadian family met a 10-year-old dance prodigy in a South African township and convinced his teacher and his mother that if he successfully auditioned for the National Ballet School, it would host him in Toronto. Siphe November moved to Canada a few years later, and lived with Kelly Dobbin and her family while he pursued his studies. Today he dances as a second soloist with the National Ballet of Canada, where he recently won the Erik Bruhn Prize, an international competition for young ballet stars.

The child of a single mother who worked in a canning factory, November grew up in an impoverished town in the Western Cape.

A real-life Billy Elliot, November overcame long odds to dance professionally: The child of a single mother who worked in a canning factory, he grew up in an impoverished town in the Western Cape, living with four siblings in a house where they all slept in one bed. And yet, in Vikram Dasgupta’s documentary Beyond Moving, his rise to the brink of stardom in the international ballet world feels almost inevitable: Video footage of November dancing as a little boy under the tutelage of ballet teacher Fiona Sargeant already hints at a once-in-a-generation talent. A few years later, the combination of freedom and discipline he reveals as a young professional suggest a career in the making.

If there were any doubts or stumbles along the way as a young artist took creative flight thousands of kilometres away from his home, we don’t see them in a feel-good documentary produced in association with the National Ballet itself. In interviews, both as a child and as a young adult, November is always cheerful and mature beyond his years on the subject of the sacrifices he’s making. The occasional downbeat is provided by a confessional Sargeant back in South Africa, sadly letting go of a prize pupil.

In interviews, both as a child and as a young adult, November is always cheerful and mature beyond his years on the subject of the sacrifices he’s making.Handout

Even across continents, the ballet world tends to be insular. If there is something missing from the doc, it’s more sense of why Sargeant feels classical ballet is the right training for the township kids growing up in a culture with lots of its own Indigenous dance traditions. In one of many moving moments, November returns home and dances for his community, performing what appears to be an improvised piece, part modern ballet, part hip hop, on the cracked concrete of a township street. His older brother, who is a professional dancer in London, says, “Ballet is a stepping stone to be the best mover I can be.”

Where will this movement take his brother? November’s enduring connection to his home and his mother suggest his greatest moment might be achieved if he could bridge the distance between classical European traditions and the streets of Africa.

Beyond Moving is available on D.O.C./Blue Ice Docs and Hot Docs at Home.

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