Ballets Russes is an intimate portrait of a group of pioneering artists -- now in their 70s, 80s and 90s -- who gave birth to modern ballet.Ballets Russes is an intimate portrait of a group of pioneering artists -- now in their 70s, 80s and 90s -- who gave birth to modern ballet.Ballets Russes is an intimate portrait of a group of pioneering artists -- now in their 70s, 80s and 90s -- who gave birth to modern ballet.
I cannot comment on the accuracy of "Ballets Russes" or whether it adequately tells the story of ballet in the 20th century. Surely, other important things were going on at the Royal Ballet in London and the Bolshoi and with the New York City ballet and that's just to name three other companies. And I even had the feeling that things may have at times been a lot nastier within the Ballets Russes than shown on the screen. There were obviously a lot of very big egos working together in these two companies and that is always a formula for some real fireworks.
But not too long ago Robert Altman, a filmmaker I deeply respect, tried his hand at filming part of a season with Chicago's Joffrey Ballet, even using a fictional plot and characters to heighten the drama value. While the dancing was magnificent, the picture fell flat as a pancake. The almost non existent plot failed miserably. Ballet Russes had far less dance in it, but was a far more satisfying experience.
Still, the picture, while trying to end on a hopeful note, ended on a sad one for me, because the Ballets Russes are no more. And what I learned during the course of this 118 minute long documentary is that it is a complex, highly expensive task to operate a ballet company. Running a ballet company that actually turns a profit may be an almost impossible task. Part of the problem is that ballet is a manpower intensive art form. The kind of big, glamorous productions we are used to seeing must employ a lot of people, both on stage and behind the scenes. And the process of producing dancers capable of the kind of artistry we so love takes years of study, years when the dancers themselves are not generating any revenue.
One of the bitter sweet aspects of this film was listening to the great Maria Tallchief, who I saw when I was very young, talking about her own experiences when she was very young, watching the Ballet Russe and wanting that life so badly. You cannot imagine why any little girl wouldn't want a life that combines glamor and excitement with the poetry of motion that only ballet can produce. But the cold hard facts are that the economics of the marketplace may be killing off this art form, especially in a world where corporate conglomerates now control so much of what we consider "art" and corporate conglomerates focus exclusively on the bottom line.
So see this documentary while its still around, and while ballet itself is still around. Neither may be here that long.
- Nov 24, 2005