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In a glorious flurry of explosive movement, Zina Zinchenko bursts through the outdoor seating section of a Paris restaurant, her arms firing out from her torso, chugging along the lower body. A sense of emotional urgency infusing a wholehearted, full-bodied dance that pulls the camera along, daring it to follow her eruption. 

Zinchenko dances in Aviva, a film exploring the relationship between lovers Eden and Aviva. Each character is played by two dancers, one man and one woman, who navigate conflict within multiple versions of themselves as well as each other. Eden is portrayed by Tyler Phillips and the film’s choreographer, Bobbi Jene Smith, while Aviva is played by Zina Zinchenko and Or Schraiber. Breaking the fourth wall to provide context to the story, Smith explains in the beginning of the film, “I’m acting in this because, given all of the dancing that’s going to be happening, we thought it’d be more viable for the dancers to pull off the acting required than visa versa.” It is wonderful to see a film that prioritizes movement so much within casting, and what amounts from that choice is a true gift to the dance community. Through a mix of narration, dialogue, and movement, this film tells the story of Aviva and Eden’s relationship, which begins as a long-distance email romance between New York and Paris. Directed by Boaz Yakin, Aviva is screening online through July 17th by co-presenters Northwest Film Forum and Velocity Dance Center. 

Smith creates kinesthetic magic on camera, conjuring emotional narrative through the language of movement. Her choreography has a very clear, believable emotional state attached to it, and these states are often amplified through interpersonal relationships. In one scene, dance illustrates a night out at a bar with Eden and his friends. Trusting weight sharing and playful slaps to the face flaunt the chummy yet supportive behavior of Eden and his friends. One dancer playfully wiggles their way to the floor while sliding an arm across a bar table, perfectly capturing fluid, contemporary technique in a way that carries on the cheeky demeanor of the evening. 

On this night, Eden’s romantic desires for his best friend, Mason, escalate through a flirtatious duet. They press the backs of their forearms together firmly with fingers splayed out, meeting each other’s eyes in anticipation. The narrative switches instantly when Mason finds the gaze of a woman across the bar. The group of friends gather together in dynamic, unison movement, accompanying Mason on his journey to pursue this woman. The cast engages in rhythmic, captivating impulses and deep pliés that ground the feeling of putting on an impressive front. As they release Mason, the friends part directions with some repetitive jutting motions of the head, arms outstretched above them with bent wrists—a choreographic ode to the peacocking that has just taken place. 

In this bar scene, Smith’s movement shares the story without any additional speaking. However, her choreography also works well alongside verbal narrative. At one point, Eden and Aviva dance in close proximity to each other without touching, accompanying a verbal explanation of their, at first, long distance partnership. They sway back and forth facing one another, moving the air around each other without physically making contact. The distance and desire is tangible as their hands mirror one another, tracing the atmosphere before arriving in a near-complete-but-just-out-of-touch slow dance grasp. In moments like these, Smith’s enticing choreography enhances an already captivating script. 

The choreography transforms the film’s characters into nuanced souls, expressing pieces of themselves through varied and unique dances. The movement mimics the storyline in that the two halves of each character are not always in agreement verbally or in dance. In one scene, Eden’s male side expresses disdain over the constant movement of his other half, asking her to just sit still for once. Later, Eden’s female side tells him not to bob his head in the way that he usually does. In this way, the choreography furthers the film’s underlying narratives, and it is clear that movement has been accounted for as an important element of the plot. 

Aviva is perfect for dance lovers. It is movement focused in both the casting and amount of dance integrated into the film. Smith beautifully conveys a heartbreaking narrative through mesmerizing movement. It is a pleasure to watch such an emotionally captivating and choreographically stunning work. 

Watch Aviva online now through July 17 through Northwest Film Forum.