Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ballerina, A Documentary

Yesterday I decided to take a break from watching 90s sitcomes and C-list Korean horror movies on Netflix streaming to edutain myself with a documentary instead.  In Ballerina (2006), filmmaker Bertrand Normand provides an intimate look at five ballerinas from the Kirov Ballet.  Oddly enough, Netflix tagged this as heart-warming and feel good.  I would characterize this as an untrue statement.  To get into the Vaganova Academy (the school of the company), ten-year-olds are poked, prodded and twisted in front of a panel of people who are judging them for their build and flexi-stretchi ways.  If you get in, you get to be yelled at for eight years about your thighs.  This part of the film made Dance Moms look heart-warming and feel good.  Then, if you get into the company, you get to be yelled at some more and compete with a hundred other girls in the corps.  Oh you'll say you have great relationships with everyone, but it's as believable as the same sentiments when spoken on a Real Housewives reunion episode.  Can you tell I'm also watching a lot of reality television in my funemployment?
But seriously, Ballerina shows how much hard work, discipline, along with natural talent go into become a professional dancer with one of the best companies in the world.  Most do not make it, and I do not blame them.  Those who are covered in this film, range from a young Alina Somova who was just starting out (she becomes a principal a few years after the completion of this documentary), to Ulyana Lopatkina who at the time was staging a comeback after a two year break of injury and baby-having.  Their stories are perhaps the most fascinating.  Svetlana Zakhavora, of Bolshoi fame, is also in the film and once again I am struck by how much she does nothing for me.  Not only as a dancer, where I find her technical precision cold and unexpressive, but as a person.  I just did not detect any personality in her interview segments.  Diana Vishneva has personality in spades and it was amazing to follow her in Ballerina.  I am officially a fan.  Rounding out the five is Evgenia Obratsova, a dreamy romantic who just seems like a sweet girl to me.  Apparently, she has risen to principal at the Bolshoi just last month!  

Sadly, the narration in this film leaves a lot to be desired (Ron Howard would not approve), but the footage really speaks for itself.  I don't think you can get a better behind the scenes look at the world of ballet than this, and the footage of the featured performances is beautiful as well.

To end this post, here is another interesting story about Russian Ballet academies.  Joy Womack is the first American to graduate from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, and here is a video the New York Times produced on the subject.

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