Professor Rebecca Lewis stresses the importance of imagination and awe as the propelling forces in modern dance and the French drama Polina.
A hush falls over the lecture hall as professor Rebecca Lewis strides onto center stage. Lewis smiles and immediately invites the body of slouching students to stand. She instructs attendees on how best to position their feet and then leads the audience in a series of breathing and posture exercises used by contemporary dancers. It only seems appropriate to preface International Cinema’s viewing of Polina in this manner and there is no one better to lead the discussion than Lewis, an instructor in BYU’s Department of Dance. As the audience again takes their seats—this time with backs straight and shoulders square—Lewis begins an examination of the forces that drive creativity and change.
Lewis opened her lecture by detailing the history of traditional ballet and the role that it plays in Valérie Müller and Angelin Preljocaj’s Polina. Traditional ballet, Lewis explained, experienced its Golden Age in France under the patronage of Louis XIV. Following this success, classical ballet began evolve into more contemporary ballet and relocated to Russia where it flourished until the Bolshevik Revolution. As a refugee following the crackdowns of the revolution, ballet resettled in France and has since seen an even greater expansion into more contemporary themes and styles.
In a similar manner, the titular Polina is a traditionally trained ballerina who leaves her home in Russia and works to master contemporary dance in France. The film portrays her resulting struggle and journey and showcases what Lewis believes to be the three most important factors when it comes undergoing transformative change.
According to Lewis, a sense of wonder is the first crucial element of any transformation. These feelings of surprise, admiration, and awe lead to personal reflection and eventual exploration and progress. Lewis encouraged attendees to understand “the importance of wonder in life, the things that [we] are drawn to, that [we] are curious about and where that has brought [us] to right now.” In this way, a healthy sense of wonder leads to the individual means and methods that can bring about change and spur us to experiment with them in a way that will promote further progress.
Lewis also encouraged attendees to embrace wildness when seeking change. She pointed out that technology, while useful, has lessened our connection with the world around us and limited our interactions with nature. It is this wildness, Lewis argued, that frees us from an existence of tameness and domestication and allows us to embrace full-hearted transformation. Accomplishing this connection does not have to be a challenge as Lewis reminded attendees that “we are so close to [the wild] here. You are literally five minutes away from a walk in a canyon and the things you can find there.”
The final step towards transformative learning is what Lewis described as the will to dream. Dreaming, and its expression through creative forms like dance, requires a supreme measure of risk and vulnerability she explained. However, this vulnerability and exposure comes with a greater expression that would otherwise be unavailable. Quoting Brené Brown, Lewis reminded attendees, “You are only as free as you are vulnerable.”
It is through wonder, wildness, and the will to dream that all can truly undergo transformative change. Lewis noted that as Polina more fully investigates these ideas, she is changed “externally and internally into another form.” Lewis closed her remarks by reminding the audience that transformative learning is available to all willing to put in the effort. “It’s really important that you recognize the ability you do have to transform,” she said. “Whatever it is that you are wanting to be or wanting to do, it is there for you. You can do that. But, it’s a journey. It’s a process.”
—Eric Baker (News Media, ’18)
Eric Baker covers events for BYU’s International Cinema. He is a senior pursuing a degree in news media with a minor in political science.