19 May 2024

Joika: The brutal world of the Bolshoi ballet

From Culture 101, 12:45 pm on 19 May 2024
James Napier Robertson

James Napier Robertson Photo: Robert Palka

The notoriously punishing, elite world of the Moscow Bolshoi Ballet Academy is centre stage in Joika - the first ever film collaboration between New Zealand and Poland. 

Based on a true story, 15-year-old American Joy Womack, leaves her home in Texas and thrusts herself into the competitive climate of Russian ballet in hopes of becoming a Prima Ballerina. 

Founded in 1776, The Bolshoi is one of the world’s oldest and most renowned ballet academies with more than 200 dancers. Very few Americans are ever accepted into The Bolshoi yet Womack remains determined and it soon seems at any cost - putting both her physical and mental health at risk. One character quips, “the company is like Russian royalty. You have more chances to dance on the moon.”

Joika - Talia Ryder

Joika - Talia Ryder Photo: Robert Palka

James Napier Robertson & Talia Ryder

James Napier Robertson & Talia Ryder Photo: Robert Palka

The legendary ballet teacher Tatiyana Volkova is portrayed by Diane Kruger while Womack is played by US actor Talia Ryder. The two characters have a tense and unpredictable relationship yet both exhibit the same passion and commitment to ballet. 

Directed by James Napier Robertson (Whina, The Dark Horse) and produced by Tom Hern (The Dark Horse, Shadow In The Cloud, The Panthers), the film was shot in Poland with a Polish production crew while post-production took place in New Zealand. The relentless and harsh winter appears to reflect Womack’s journey to reaching the top. Towards the end of filming the Ukraine war broke out, adding another element to an already challenging environment. 

Napier Robertson spoke to Culture 101’s Perlina Lau. 

Joika is in cinemas now.