Saturday, February 18, 2006
The new documentary Ballet Russe (opening February 17 for at Landmarks Hillcrest Cinemas) looks back to the origins and achievements of a prestigious dance company. The film benefits from the recent discovery of footage from the internationally renowned company.
Ballet Russe opens with wonderful archive footage from the early 1930s of young ballerinas. The images are almost magical as they give us a glimpse into the past and of artists whose work may not be known to a younger generation. Filmmakers Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine use a recent reunion of the surviving members of the famed and much beloved dance company as a starting point of their portrait of the dancers who helped shape modern ballet.
Now in their 70s, 80s and even 90s, the Ballet Russe dancers recall their experiences and add personal stories to the treasure trove of archive footage on display. The film traces the origins of the company, which took its name from Segei Diaghilevs Ballet Russe in Paris. But Diaghilevs company folded when he unexpectedly died in 1929. At that time, many felt that ballet as an art form had died too. But in 1931, the name was resurrected as the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and featuring artists from the famous original company. The new Ballet Russe touted choreographers George Balanchine and Leonide Massine, who were also involved in some artistic head butting.
The film shows how many of the dancers were refugees from Russia who never danced in Russia. Ballachine decided to look to girls schools to find young talent. His idea was to have a trio of young dancersnot yet thirteen years of agebe the stars of the show. They were christened the Baby Ballerinas and the gamble paid off. Critics proclaimed, Ballet exists again.
Filmmakers Geller and Goldfine interview two of these baby ballerinas and provide us with insight into what this groundbreaking company was like in its heyday. The women recall people waiting for hours in line for tickets to the Ballet Russe and what it was like to be ballet stars who were still escorted to the theaters by their mothers.
Ballet Russe (unrated but appropriate for all audiences) is worth seeing for its extraordinary archive footage that captures the work of some of ballets most influential and impressive artists. As a work of art itself, the film Ballet Russe falls short of such greatness. The film is conventionally crafted with interviews and voiceover telling us the history of this famous dance troupe. But the filmmakers are smart enough to focus on their strength and provide us with a fascinating glimpse into the world of ballet.