August 19, 2018

CHARLESTON — The Charleston Ballet’s recent documentary, “Andre Van Damme & the Story of the Charleston Ballet” has received two awards from international film festivals.

The film was honored with an “Award of Excellence: Special Purpose Productions” from the Accolade Global Film Competition and an “Award of Excellence Special Mention Special Purpose Productions” from the FilmFreeway IndieFEST Film Awards.

The film was written and directed by the Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Deb Novak, a lifelong ballet dancer and Huntington resident who has been taking classes with Charleston Ballet since 2007.

Established in 2003, Accolade Global Film Competition is an avant-garde worldwide competition that strives to give talented directors, producers, actors, creative teams and new media creators positive exposure.

It discovers and honors the achievements of filmmakers who produce high-quality shorts and new media. The Accolade promotes award winners through press releases to over 40,000 filmmakers, industry contacts, and additional international media/distribution outlets.

“Andre Van Damme & the Story of the Charleston Ballet” follows the journey of Andre Van Damme, from his roots as a premier danseur etoile in the Brussels Royal Opera, through his journey to America, where he founded the Charleston Ballet in 1956.

The film was premiered at the West Virginia Culture Center in late March, followed by two public screenings at the Labelle Theater in South Charleston and the Huntington Museum of Art. Reception of the film has been overwhelmingly positive, with audiences calling it a “marvelous presentation” and “world-class film.”

Novak, who is hoping the documentary will be picked up for nationwide PBS screenings, said the story of Van Damme is an amazing immigrant’s tale.

“He arrived to the U.S. about 1948 through connections with the Belgian glassblowing community in South Charleston,” Novak said.

“He was a war hero in Belgium, joined the Belgium Army and escaped a Nazi forced labor camp. He came back to occupied Belgium and was part of the resistance. He was getting small arms to members of the resistance through a ballet house.”

Van Damme starting a ballet studio in West Virginia was unique for the time.

“Ballet was then centered solely in large metro areas like New York, London and Paris,” Novak said.

“Regional ballet was just getting going, and Andre was on the forefront of that movement. He got these dancers together and trained relentlessly, and they have been performing continuously since 1956. The fact that Charleston Ballet has in that entire time only had two directors makes it even more unusual ... Some of the charter members who are still with us, we were able to interview them. Once they heard what we were doing, they were so thrilled that something is being done to recognize this man and what he did for West Virginia.”

Copies of “Andre Van Damme & the Story of the Charleston Ballet” can be purchased online at http://www.thecharlestonballet.com/Documentary or by calling the Charleston Ballet offices at 304-342-6541. DVDs are $15, with $6 shipping and handling for online orders. Copies may also be purchased at Taylor Books, Backstage Bodywear, and the Huntington Museum of Art.

For more information about the history of the Charleston Ballet, questions about upcoming seasons or classes, call 304-342-6541 or email info@thecharlestonballet.com.

Underwriting for this project was provided by the West Virginia Humanities Council, the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, BrickStreet Insurance, Mylan Pharmaceuticals, and the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.

“Regional ballet was just getting going, and Andre was on the forefront of that movement.”

Deb Novak filmmaker and Huntington resident

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