Serene Meshel-Dillman: Dancer and Documentary Filmmaker

9 years ago today was the release of Getting to the Nutcracker, a unique and in-depth look into the process of one dance company preparing for its annual production of The Nutcracker, truly unlike any other dance documentary. The movie was made possible by the unique perspective of the multitalented Serene Meshel-Dillman. 

Serene Meshel-Dillman is a documentary filmmaker who began as a dancer, studying at the prestigious School of American Ballet and the Alvin Ailey School. After that, Serene attended the University of Vermont, where she performed with the Main Street Dance Theater. UVM was also where her interests began to expand; her darkroom and printing courses sparked a lifelong passion for photography. 

After graduating, Serene worked as a producer for television commercials before transitioning into documentaries. Her first film was Getting to the Nutcracker (2014), inspired by the 1976 book A Very Young Dancer, which follows a ten-year-old student at the School of American Ballet, who describes her classes and what it’s like to prepare for and perform in their production of The Nutcracker.

The film takes us inside the Marat Daukayev School of Ballet in LA as they gear up to perform The Nutcracker, offering a glimpse into the lives of the young dancers, much like in A Very Young Dancer. The film documents the rigorous yet loving approach of teacher Marat Daukayev, and allows us to get to know the wonderful personalities of the young people at the school. 

In a review of Getting to the Nutcracker, FF2 Contributor Amelie Lasker explains what makes the film so unique: “Unlike other documentaries about dancers, Getting to the Nutcracker doesn’t focus on the painful rehearsal routine and the destruction of children’s bodies. Instead, the film focuses on ballet school as part of the dancers’ rich lives, without failing to appreciate the difficulty of what they’re doing.”

In 2019, Serene came out with her next documentary, The 5th Dementia, about members of The 5th Dementia Band, who all have Alzheimer’s, Dementia, or Parkinson’s. The film depicts the powerful effect that music can have on those with neurodegenerative diseases. As described on the film’s website: “These men and women, leading lives with almost no social interaction who show very little emotion outside the rehearsal space, dive right into songs from their generation without a single page of sheet music. Memories otherwise entirely unreachable are unlocked. The music has a euphoric and quality of life changing impact.”

As a performer herself, Serene has a clear appreciation for the arts, and for the beautiful lives of the people who make the arts happen. 

© Julia Lasker (4/5/23) FF2 Media


Read Amelie Lasker’s review of Getting to the Nutcracker here.

Learn more about Getting to the Nutcracker here.

Learn more about The 5th Dementia here.


Featured photo: Courtesy of Getting to The Nutcracker.

Tags: ballet, Getting to The Nutcracker, Marat Daukayev School of Ballet, School of American Ballet, Serene Meshel-Dillman, The 5th Dementia

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As an associate for FF2 Media, Julia writes reviews and features for films made by women. She is currently a senior at Barnard College studying Psychology. Outside of FF2, her interests include acting, creative writing, thrift shopping, crafting, and making and eating baked goods. Julia has been at FF2 for almost 4 years, and loves the company and its mission dearly.
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