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Ballerina Boy

A film by Chana Gazit and Martha Barylick

This is a story about a little boy who wanted to grow up be a ballerina. And did.

At age 22, Philip Martin-Nielson is a soloist with the internationally acclaimed all-male ballet company “Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.” Before every performance Philip heaps on make-up, dons a tutu, and steps on stage to perform the great female roles of classical ballet — en pointe. With each step Philip defies the most rigid gender-specific western art form ever created.

Philip’s arrival at this artistic peak is the subject of this film. His journey to this moment could not have been more improbable.

Everything about Philip challenges the definition of what it means to be “normal.” Diagnosed with severe autism as a toddler, he said his first words at age five. He spent most of his waking hours shaking his head from side-to-side and mumbling an unending chant of guttural sounds. His energy level spiraled out of control; he did actually bounce off walls. Caring for this impossibly difficult child fell to his single mother, Felicia.

Felicia felt that it was the two of them against the world. This film is also her story.

When Philip was six, an autism specialist gave Felicia the sobering prognosis: “He could improve with intervention, or else end up institutionalized.” Which way would Philip go? Impossible to predict. Felicia felt hopeless and alone. No one in her small village in upstate New York knew what to make of this wild boy who loved to dress up as a princess and play with dolls. She began to wonder if Philip felt like he was the wrong gender; perhaps he wanted to be a girl. Philip became the object of endless torment and bullying.

This feature-length documentary will explore the intersection of art and identity. It will be a film about Philip’s remarkable journey to this moment and his quest to be considered, simply, a ballerina. The film will entwine the trending topics of autism and gender fluidity with poignancy and exuberance. Visually, it will blend intimate footage with the spectacle of dance, comedy, art, and entertainment. At the center will be Philip’s story. We will delve into the pain and wisdom derived from a childhood lived outside the realm of “normal.” We will capture his life on the road and catch him in reflective moments when he returns to his hometown. We will move forward with him as he ful lls his dream to give ballet to other autistic children. And we’ll watch him knock at the door of the ballet establishment and ask to be let in as who he is, a ballerina.

Associated Members

Chana Gazit, Director


Martha Barylick, Producer