Ballets Russes

Ballets Russes

***

Reviewed by: Richard Mellor

Ask anyone over the age of 50 about the Ballet Russes companies and the chances are that they'll smile fondly, ooh and aah a bit and tell you how wonderful the dancing really was. Yet if you abseil down a generation or two, a grunt, accompanied by a puzzled and slightly offended shoulder shrug is the more likely response. Since its demise in 1962, the Ballet Russes and its various strands appear to have pirouetted right off the cultural dance-floor.

But this fact has apparently escaped this documentary's directors, Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller, Emmy-award winners for something that you never knew existed. Raising the Ballet Russes curtain one last time, the pair have produced a definitive narrative that recalls the second phase of the company with fondness and adulation. Your able guide down Memory Lane is narrator Marian Seldes, who sounds as ancient as the footage she presents.

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In documentary terms, this is as rigid as they come. Veteran Ballet Russes members, those fortunately still waltzing along with life, smile genially and delightedly tell the unheard interviewer all the gossip from the good old days. Between these sound-bites come various unseen clips of previous Ballet Russes shows and rehearsals, while more modern camerawork shows what the survivors are up to these days - mostly still shaking their wearied hips.

Goldfine and Geller's story picks up the baton as the first awakening of the Ballet Russes closes in 1929, following creator Serge Diaghilev's death. Quickly the company is revitalised by Colonel de Basil in Monte Carlo, under the creative choreography of genius Leonide Messine. Personality clashes between de Basil and Messine split the group into two halves; the rival ballerinas garner much success as they foxtrot around Europe, Australia and the States.

The directorial team have clearly realised ballet isn't very 'current' nowadays. Consequently Ballets Russes, the documentary, doesn't just contain foot-tapping and fouettes. Amid the chronological recounting of the company's rise and fall come rival factions, romances, racist slurs and a raft of interesting disputes and differences between famous ballet names.

Stars such as Dame Alicia Markova and Frederic Franklin are championed, criticised and championed some more - so bitchy and fluctuating do the relationships become that, ultimately, it is like watching a Ballerina Big Brother.

So will this appeal to those who dislike ballet, or plain don't care about it, even with this bonus psychological dimension? Well, probably not. Yes, Ballets Russes offers more elements than just information about a fairly specialist dance form. But what it offers - bickering adults, love, business battles - can also be found elsewhere, in more mainstream fare. For that very reason, this film may struggle to inspire those attendees not yet doolally about dance.

Then again, will anyone that isn't dance-mad really go and see this picture? It's very unlikely - this is obviously, shamelessly, proudly even, a film really only for enthusiasts, ballerinas young and old, and their admirers. Joe Bloggs is unlikely to show up - nor even read this review, in fact. In which case, this film is sheer manna from heaven. Sit down and delight, you fans of ballet...

Reviewed on: 01 Mar 2006
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Documentary tracking the pirouettes and personalities in the world-famous ballet company.
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Director: Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine

Writer: Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine, Celeste Schaefer Snyder, Gary Weimberg

Starring: Irina Baronova, Yvonne Chouteau, Yvonne Craig, Frederic Franklin, Alan Howard, Nathalie Krassovska, Alicia Markova

Year: 2005

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

Festivals:

Sundance 2005

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