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Ballerina on the Boat (1969)

Balerina na korable (original title)
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Animation | Short

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1969 (Soviet Union)  »

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Ballerina on the Boat  »

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The dancer from Gdansk.
15 September 2007 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

What a delightful cartoon! 'Balerina na korable' doesn't really try to be funny, although there's a running gag about sailors falling overboard. It's charming and graceful rather than funny. I hadn't realised that 'korable' is the Russian word for 'boat', and now I wonder if 'korable' is related to 'coracle', a sort of boat used in Wales. Anyway, the vessel in this cartoon is really a ship, not a boat.

We see a paddlewheel vessel -- does anyone still actually use paddlewheels? -- preparing for a voyage, with cargo getting laden and passengers boarding. Just as the ship leaves the quay, we see one more passenger rushing to board: a willowy ballerina. The ship has left the slip, but no worries: the ballerina leaps into a graceful grand jete over the jetty, and she's aboard.

The passengers, crew, captain and a sooty stoker are all enchanted by this graceful ballerina. (This is a Russian cartoon, so the sailors look like matelots.) She twirls and pirouettes, oblivious to everyone, yet casting her spell everywhere.

The animator Lev Atamanov was previously unknown to me, but now I intend to seek out more of his work. Cleverly, the ballerina is both drawn and animated differently from all the other characters in this short film. The other passengers and crew are crude figures in dark colours, drawn with blunt lines and given the peculiar trait of inward-turned feet. The ballerina is elongated, limpid, drawn in thin wavering lines ... and she always moves in ballet steps even when simply walking across the deck, and using the ship's rail as a barre. She's painted in pale water colours. Some of the director's palette choices seemed odd to me: when some backwash hits the ship's hull, the water is such a deep blue, it looks more like grape juice.

I was intrigued that this Russian cartoon uses much the same techniques as Hollywood animation -- foreground figures on cels against static backgrounds, held in register -- and yet achieves its effects so differently. Although the ballerina's ethereal figure is anatomically exaggerated, her movements are absolutely graceful and natural: so very realistic that I kept checking to see if the animators had rotoscoped a live-action dancer. I couldn't find any evidence of rotoscoping: yet the ballerina's movements are so natural and realistic, I suspect that Atamanov and his staff had an actual ballet dancer in their animation studio so they could copy her movements.

'Ballerina on a Boat' -- it's really a ship, not a boat -- is an utter delight, which sophisticated viewers of all ages will enjoy. Since there's no dialogue, there's no language barrier. 'Balerina na korable' is adorable ... and the music track is nice, too. I'll rate this one 9 out of 10.


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