Ballets Russes. Dir. Dayna Goldfine & Dan Geller. 2005, 118 mins. Documentary.

For those who know little more about ballet than the Nutcracker, this documentary will serve as a fresh, accessible history of the dance form in the West following the death of Russian impresario Diaghilev in 1929.  The vacuum created by the loss of this giant, combined with a brimming talent pool among refugees of Bolshevik Russia, was seized upon by ambitious promoters who presented to the world the poetic vision of choreographers Balanchine and Leonide Massine.  When the latter embarked on his own venture, the institution split into two, and an era of competition was spawned, testing the loyalty of dancers and the public alike.  As noted in most documentaries covering this period, WWII changed everything, chasing the Ballet Russes from Europe, thus introducing the Americas to an art form that had previously been largely inaccessible.  Interviews with surviving (and thriving) octogenarian dancers, many of whom got their start at the tender age of 14, provide a vivid connection to the explosive creativity of the era, as well as giving a sympathetic voice to the huge sacrifices these dancers made when signing up for such an unforgiving professional schedule.  Especially poignant is the story of Raven Wilkinson, the pioneering African American dancer who ultimately had to abandon her position in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo when seething racism in the South made touring there impossible.  If nothing else, Goldfine and Geller’s film displays a collection of nostalgic, wise old souls that balance pride and humility, aging every bit as gracefully as they once danced.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s