It's tricky to recognize Alejandro Alvarez Cadilla in the latest character he's written for himself. The fictional Milton Frank—star of the new mockumentary series "Off Kilter"—is a moody choreographer whose tender ego is easily bruised as he attempts to revive his floundering career. Cadilla, on the other hand, is down-to-earth and humble; the actor/filmmaker loves to chat about his family and is clearly more comfortable raving about his colleagues' successes than turning the spotlight on his own. But Milton Frank isn't something Cadilla pulled out of thin air—the character comes from everything Cadilla experienced during his many years as a dancer.
The Puerto Rican–born Cadilla started dabbling in filmmaking while still dancing in Spain's Compañía Nacional de Danza under Nacho Duato. After 15-odd years of experience at companies ranging from Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal to Ballett Frankfurt, he was starting to wonder what was next. Cadilla always had an interest in film, acting and writing—he sees a dynamic correlation between the flow of a cinematic shot and the flow of movement across a stage—so he enrolled in a local screenwriting course. For one assignment, he wrote a short biographical script about his stage fright, and shot it with a cheap camera. As luck would have it, the film was seen by American actor and producer Edward James Olmos, who included it in the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival. It was favorably received and Cadilla felt encouraged. "I thought, Maybe I have an eye for this."
Acting was also on his mind. "I would have been an actor if I'd never discovered dance," he says. So in 2007, he spent a year at the Oxford School of Drama. When he returned to Madrid he took his first stab at making a mockumentary, about the lives and intrigues of a ballet company, casting his former colleagues in the project.
He wanted it to have wry, dry humor, like BBC's "The Office." "It was an unmitigated disaster!" Cadilla recalls with a laugh. "It just wasn't funny. It ended up being everything I really dislike about pretty much every dance film that I've seen."
But timing presented another opportunity. Duato was offered a position at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, making him the first foreign director of a Russian ballet company in over a century. Cadilla imagined a behind-the-scenes documentary about Duato in his new role, but didn't quite feel ready to tackle the project on his own. He got in touch with Ulrik Wivel, a former colleague from Pacific Northwest Ballet, who was working as a filmmaker. "That was basically my film school, going to Russia and watching Ulrik shoot."
They shot Disportrait over three years, two of which they funded on their own until the Tribeca Film Institute backed the project with a grant. Cadilla moved to Canada, where he started making short films for National Ballet of Canada. Then the CBC, Canada's major public broadcaster, gave him the green light for a documentary on Canadian painter William Fisk. Cadilla finally felt like a busy, working filmmaker.
But he'd never forgotten his failed ballet mockumentary, and on one of his many train commutes between Toronto and Montreal he met comedian Amy Cunningham. "She was cracking me up, she was so funny," he says. He had a hunch that Cunningham was just what his old project needed, someone with a natural understanding of comedic timing and delivery. She joined as a co-writer.
Shot at Canada's National Ballet School and starring real dancers—National Ballet of Canada principal Harrison James and former Royal Winnipeg Ballet soloist Sarah Murphy-Dyson—"Off Kilter" uses a casual interview format interspersed with rehearsal footage. While the show is still in an early phase of development, it's already been green-lit for production by the Independent Production Fund, and garnered attention from the Tribeca Film Institute and critics at The Globe and Mail. It took 10 years, but Cadilla finally feels he has the cinematic chops to make his comedy work. "Off Kilter" is officially back on.