“Back in the Soviet Union, [ballroom dancing] was kind of an underground sport,” Ivetta tells the camera in her Kyiv apartment. “It resembled something in-between striptease and cabaret.” The former dancer is the protagonist of Road to Paris, a short documentary on the trials and tribulations of a Ukrainian ballroom crew as they fight to attend the 1993 French World Open. Directed by London-based filmmaker, photographer, and artist Daniel Delikatnyi — who also happens to be Ivetta’s son — Road to Paris blends a personal journey with that of a newly-independent Ukraine, mixing fraught social change with all the glitz and glamour of the ballroom.
Blending archive footage and images with present-day shots of Ivetta, her larger-than-life mother Luda, and her former dance partner Vova, Road to Paris narrates Ivetta’s journey as she first steps foot on the dancefloor in Kharkiv, and quickly rises to the top of her game while still only a teen.
Then, the film’s dance hall scenes are interrupted by Gorbachev, who comes on screen to announce his resignation as president of the USSR. For Ivetta, the announcement is a double-edged sword. While open borders mean she can suddenly attend ballroom competitions internationally, the newly-independent Ukraine is plagued with shortages of everything from food to dancing equipment. “There was a shortage of glitter. A struggle for every sparkle, if you will,” Ivetta explains. “But”, her mother adds, “difficulty breeds creativity.” In an unexpected turn of events, the pair devise a plan to achieve the impossible, gathering the $5,000 they need to travel to Paris and represent Ukraine in the 1993 French World Open. It soon becomes clear that they are even prepared to deceive European border guards — and risk prison time — to do it.
Filmed remotely during the 2020 lockdown, the documentary’s flow is largely determined by sit-down interviews. But while some films make this a repetitive device, in Road to Paris, it flows seamlessly, thanks to Ivetta and Luda’s contagious energy.
But the documentary’s mastery also lies in its use of old pictures and clips. The sheer amount and diversity of archive footage, from news clips to ballroom videos, is impressive, creating an intimate, vivid portrait of the era. Road to Paris has the same magic as the much retold family story that it is based on.
Ultimately, Road to Paris is a flamboyant example of how, in the 90s, no life remained untouched by the turmoil brought by the fall of the USSR. Likewise, with a touch of naivety, it also captures the excitement of the citizens of a new country, opening up to a previously inaccessible world. The film has two layers which seamlessly merge, starting with the journey of Ivetta and Luda: two women fuelled by a passion for dancing and stopped by nothing. In the bigger picture is newly-independent Ukraine, a country full of ambitions, but short of resources. Vividly and captivatingly, to the beat of waltz, cha-cha-cha, and foxtrot, Delikatnyi’s Road To Paris is a fascinating journey into a 90s ballroom odyssey.