|Index||5 reviews in total|
Filmmaker Bertrand Normand from France went to Russia to follow the
career path of five Prima ballerinas, 2 budding and growing, 1 being
groomed and cultivated, 2 renowned and established with one coming back
after being away for two years (to nurse an injury and a new baby). The
film has its systematic approach not dissimilar to the training of a
young ballerina at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersberg,
intent on providing a glimpse to the making of Prima ballerinas, with
inclusion of full presentation of stage performances by each of the
featured ballerinas - simply beautiful with all the refined qualities
of classic, regal and elegant movements of what a Prima ballerina from
Russia possesses. Film is essentially in Russian and French with
voice-over narration by Diane Baker in English.
"Ballet Russes" (2005) the film written & directed by Geller and Goldfine gave us the magnificent times and personal history with plenty of anecdotes from many memorable ballerinas (men and women) of the Russian ballet companies through the years. While Normand's "Ballerina" gives us an insight to the modern day ballet world of Russia in mere 80 minutes, featuring the five chosen ballerinas from the Mariinsky Theatre and is able to capture our interest and fascinate us, without a doubt.
Training for ballerinas in Russia is very much 'single-mindedly' focused on everything ballet, dancing techniques and artistry, specific dancer-target body and limbs development, and practice, practice, practice. Alina the youngest promising student from Vaganova Academy was selected to join the Kirov Ballet Company and gets to earn the chance to debut as the Black Swan in "Swan Lake" at age 17. Her fellow outstanding student Evguenya also get to join the Kirov, even tried an acting role in a film; she is maturing well and longing to be principal dancer as Juliet in "Romeo and Juliet." The expressive Svetlana has been given (groomed for) solo dancer status direct from the Academy and is now a Prima ballerina at the Bolshoi. Diana with her distinctive look and skill is well sought after by international ballet companies and she gets to travel outside of Russia to deliver performances abroad. From the brief interview exchanges, her Prima ballerina profession is well-anchored and blossoming with diverse (vs. traditional/classical) dance roles offered especially to her. Veteran 'come-back' Prima ballerina Ulyana is simply mesmerizing to watch. Alina and young ballerinas all look up to her. Check out the film's trailer at "firstrunfeatures.com/trailer_ballerina.html" - Ulyana is the initial ballerina featured in the first 30 seconds, including the one in lean fiery red - the stillness in her limbs and fluid slender body movements are breathtaking, and such joy exudes from her smile with baby in arms.
Unlike another First Run Features documentary on ballerinas by French filmmaker Nils Tavernier: "(Tout pres Des) Etoiles - dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet" (2001) which is a more comprehensive behind the scenes account with plenty of interviews and conversations with multiple ballerinas, female and male, budding and seasoned, including discussions of retiring age, post-retirement notions, Normand's "Ballerina" contains complete pieces of professional on-stage performances admirable for any audience. Besides being the writer and director of the film, he is also one of the many photographers who delivered the cinematic captures we get to enjoy.
I became a fan of ballet after seeing the Bolshoi perform at Covent
Garden a couple of years ago; at that time I had heard the name of
Svetlana Zakharova and Natalia Osipova only! Though I didn't see
Svetlana -- she pulled out due to injury -- Osipova in Giselle
entranced me. Since then it has been my goal to see all the great
ballet troupes live. Though that is still a goal, this fascinating
documentary makes up partially for it. It takes a look at Svetlana
Zakharova, Ulyana Lopitkina, Diana Vishneva, Alina Samova (I think she
was also at Covent Garden but not sure!) and Evgenia Obraztsova and
their day-to-day life at the Kirov and its training school. Apart from
being visually beautiful to look at this is a real insight into how
hard life is for top ballerinas and how difficult it is to become one.
For ballet enthusiasts, it is essential viewing.
Young aspiring prima ballerinas are highlighted in "Ballerina," a 2006
documentary about students, some from the Vaganova Ballet Academy,
their graduation and work in ballet companies. Five young women are
shown: Diana Vishneva, Ulyana Lopatkina, Alina Somova, and Evgenia
Obraztsova. Lopatkina was actually an established prima ballerina at
the time of the documentary, but had left to have a child and was just
getting back into ballet. She is still dancing today, and the young
women profiled have all gone on to have wonderful careers.
They have to start young, at around 10 years of age, and study for seven years. Showing part of the auditions, the girls appear in just panties. Then each one stands in front of the judges while someone manipulates their body so the judges can see the stretch, their proportions, the turnout, and if there are any problems. One young woman whom I knew personally had a scholarship to ballet school and lost it because she had a problem with her knee that affected her turnout. Because of that, she could not be a prima ballerina, and the scholarships had to go to girls with that potential. So while it might look strange, it is part of the process.
After seven years, they have a public graduation concert and hopefully receive an offer from a ballet company, where they are in the chorus, then hopefully move up the ranks until they are dancing leads.
I found the commitment of these young women and the beauty of their dancing remarkable. Someone on the board criticized this film because they liked a film showing the history of ballet better. This isn't the history of ballet, it shows young women just starting out and shows some beautiful dancing of theirs and also the dancing of the magnificent Svetlana Zakharova. The dance was what was lacking in First Position, which deals with an actual ballet contest.
Another negative comment was that there was nothing in the documentary for those who aren't interested in ballet. If you're not interested in ballet, why would you watch "Ballerina"? I don't know.
There are no films like dance films. Dance is one of the few things
that is inherently cinematic, especially when the camera moves, perhaps
Ballet on the other hand is not friendly to film, at least the classical Russian model. The choreography is designed to affect the sitting patron, watching from one perspective, slightly elevated. The Russian model, also depends on a worship of personality that depends on obsessive knowledge of tradition: what it means to conform and deviate in small ways made powerful by their constraints.
These two things are incompatible. We have only two great films of ballet that I know: "The Company" and "Red Shoes." Yet I can't stay away from films that try to deliver something; the promise is just too great.
What we have here is an attractive failure. Five ballerinas are shown, each one touted as unique, either in accomplishment or promise. They are, of course, attractive, incidentally redheads and depressingly predicted to be dull.
We have many interviews with mavens of the machine that maintains the art, the institutions of this art. They do their job by setting the necessary rigid constraints by celebrating the promise of these girls and women. We have frustratingly short snippets of performances and rehearsals. Every bit of it is too short to deliver something that matters. Every single shot is from a camera that announces itself as fixed, with pins as solid as the buildings we are shown that enclose the places that administer what is forbidden.
Still. It is dance, good dance. It has people that are serious about dance and some lovely motion. One thing is notable: seeing these dancers offstage. Dancers other than ballerinas have a natural grace in everything they do. Everything. Because ballet is such a refined, manufactured dance, these very pretty girls we see move in clumsy ways on the street no overlap of grace.
Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
Only those who already have an intense interest in Russian classical
dance will get much of a lift out of "Ballerina," a well-meaning but
pedestrian behind-the-scenes portrait of five promising members of the
Kirov Ballet Company. Through interviews, rehearsal footage, and
snippets of actual stage performances, this 76-minute film, written and
directed by Bertrand Norman and narrated by Diane Baker, gives us some
sense of the discipline, dedication and physical stamina required of
any woman who hopes to succeed in this field - women who, in some
cases, can go on to achieve near-rock-star status in their home
What the movie lacks is any real means of making the material come alive for those with little or no interest in ballet. Contrast that with "Ballets Russes," a far superior documentary that truly does provide a fascinating look at not only some of the premier dancers of all time but the long and distinguished history of ballet itself. Check out that one instead.
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