Ballets Russes (2005) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
29 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Duree3 November 2005
I walked into this film knowing very little about the history of ballet in the 20th century, and though those more knowledgeable than I may quibble with facts or omissions, I can't imagine anybody who loves dance, music, or human beings walking away from this film unsatisfied.

Much of the archival footage is thrilling to watch--much of it, to be honest, is also a little bland and hard to distinguish. Nonetheless, the film as a whole is very well edited and makes wonderful use of music. Its true glory rests, however, in the beautiful, opinionated, eccentric personalities that emerge, personalities so vibrant and colorful even at 80, 90 years of age that they make the living people around one (God forgive me for saying this) seem like tattered scraps of ashen cardboard. Dance must be some kind of fountain of youth. That so many of the people central to the history of these two companies should not only still be alive, but also be SO ALIVE, is nothing short of miraculous.

The film half-heartedly tries to end on a note of hope for the future of ballet, but let's not kid ourselves: this is an elegy for an art-form that will never again be quite what it once was. And actually, the film is all the more poignant for that. A beautiful and unforgettable film.
31 out of 33 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A beautifully put together film of bravado, and passion
tjackson31 October 2005
This wonderful film is a needed record of the famous Ballet Russes, an essential piece of 20th century dance history. Though there may be critics who feel that many details are left out, one never feels the lack. The filmmakers' careful attention to detail and editing crafts a clear, inspiring, and engaging story. Interviews with some of the greatest dancers of the century recall the colorful history of two ballet companies, The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo directed by Massine, and the Original Ballet Russe, led by Colonel de Basil. The first Ballet Russe had been founded by Serge Diaghilev.

If you know dance history you will be satisfied with the remarkable archival footage, and if you don't know your dance, you will come away entertained, amazed and edified. The directors make brilliant use of interviews with some old but remarkably vivacious dancers. Their oral histories are filled with intrigue, bravado, and passion. These are not folks who have slipped quietly into old age. Despite the fact that many are in their late 80's (in the case of Frederic Franklin an active and svelte 90) all the enthusiasm, artistry and love for dance are fully alive in their eyes, and in the witty and insightful stories they tell. The account of these two companies is tied together with amazing clips of the classic dances, which makes the history delightfully clear. Although the clips are silent the filmmakers are faithful to the original scores that were used, something that does not always happen in such films. Nothing feels arbitrary or gratuitous. In fact, all the editing – particularly the cross cuts from the faces the dancers today to images of their beautiful youthful selves adds poignancy and timelessness.

More than just a film about art history, "Ballet Russes", reminds us that the arts may be ephemeral, but that they have an enduring and timeless value. Those who dedicate themselves to the arts, whether through their minds, imaginations, bodies, hands, or words, have much to tell us and teach us. These artists have the great fortune to have led lives, often at the cost of personal or material sacrifice, that are both unique and source of continual inspiration. Ballet Russes catches that inspiration.
22 out of 25 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An Enthralling Visit to a Past World of Personalities and Cultural History
noralee18 December 2005
"Ballet Russes" is entrancing.

I am not particularly a ballet fan. I had a few lessons as a six year old, basically enough to vaguely remember there are five basic positions. Though one of my favorite memories is seeing "Rodeo" at the old Metropolitan Opera just before its demolition, I usually find both classical ballet and its bun heads to be boring. I was certainly never able to keep straight in my head the names and places of ballet's 20th century history. I did once take a wrong turn at a summer job at the new Met and froze when I found myself next to Dame Margot Fonteyn as she was warming up alone for a rehearsal.

But until I saw them talking so personally, other legends like Alicia Markova, Maria Tallchief, let alone the endless Russians, were just names to me. This documentary is cultural history made fascinating by entertaining raconteurs and amazing illustrative archival footage. Creators Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine have made the best use of talking heads since Warren Beatty's "Reds."

The word diva is never used, but these are grande dames and gentlemen, in their '80's and '90's, still with erect posture and various accents from around the world, who have commanded the world's stages with an expression and a hand motion, let alone a lifted leg, and know how to put across an anecdote, especially when talking about larger than life, legendary personalities. (We hear from a few corps members in a round-up towards the end.) With deft and sprightly editing, each point an interviewee makes is supported with illustrative photographs or incredible archival film or ephemera documentation, with beautiful music of course. A past world is literally conjured up for us.

Starting at the dissolution of the Diaghilev company that rocked the worlds of dance, music, art, theater and polite society, the film primarily takes a chronological route. From the Russian émigré community of Paris in the 1920's (what James Hilton novels refer to as "White Russians"), we are introduced, "Mikado"-like, to three little girls at school. We get glimpses of ballet mistresses recreating the Russian dance conservatories of their youths and are transported to the birth of a company built on this first generation of a new European life.

With only a frisson of gossip and cattiness, the emphasis is on the styles and personalities of each dancer, manager, choreographer, designer, chaperoning mother, and impresario over 40 years of astonishingly creative artistry amidst sturm und drang. There's a lovely anecdote of two prima ballerinas battling for the attention of a young protégé from each side of the stage during performances. Another regal prima ballerina recalls facts of another's fame, then after what feels like a full minute of silence, lifts an eyebrow and dryly turns from the camera, saying "Of course, I was really the first." There's shades of "Citizen Kane" in remembrances of an infatuated manager pushing forward a young corps dancer as a star.

From amusing to poignant, real world politics off the stage only occasionally crosses their consciousness, when the story deals with World War II, with great anecdotes of escaping Paris before it fell and trying to convince the strict dance masters that rehearsals weren't possible when they were all sea sick nervous wrecks, and moving accounts of racism during their tours.

Men are some of the most eloquent and voluble interviewees, with the point made how long time artistic director Léonide Massine particularly created ballets for male dancers. The film reinforces my biases against George Balanchine, who was affiliated with the company a couple of times, for his misogyny in insisting that the ideal image of women is like anorexic, pre-pubescent boys.

The filmmakers are a bit too uncritical, only occasionally allowing in shots of reviewers' pans. Much is made of some dancers war time Hollywood sojourn, but no distinction is made between corny clap trap and "7 Brides for 7 Brothers," one of the all time great movie musicals, though the footage from the former is rarer and they can assume we've seen the latter. While there's no mention of how they must have influenced Gene Kelly, much is made of the impact the company's tours had in small towns and cities, bringing ballet for the first time around the United States.

While some of the footage of a 2000 reunion goes on a bit too much in showing the elderly dancers trying to recreate their glory days, slipping into Russian arguments about steps, it does demonstrate how much of choreography is kinesthetic memory and can only be transmitted person to person. This is reinforced as we see them now as dance teachers in a disapora around the world - from Denmark to Australia to South America to Arizona -- and one noting that while today's dancers are better athletes and technicians "They have no warmth!" as she firmly corrects them -- just as the original Russian teachers did so long ago in Paris.

As is ironically sung in "A Chorus Line," "Everything is beautiful at the ballet." This film is a beautiful statement that dance doesn't have to be evanescent - it can be passed on. It lives in these dancers' memories and we should be very grateful that they have been captured in this film.
21 out of 24 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
lmaty19 November 2005
I was mesmerized and enthralled by this 2 hour film. I wanted it to just go on and on. What a fabulous look into the beginnings of modern ballet of the 20th century. The archival footage was remarkable. The interviews with the aged dancers were priceless. If this film had not been made now, this fabulous history would have been lost to us forever. Many of the dancers appearing in this film have since passed away. If you love the ballet you MUST see this film! If you know someone who loves the ballet, urge them to see this film. They will be forever grateful to you. I can't wait until Ballets Russes comes out on DVD so I can add it to my library.
13 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
This movie is a treasure! Do not miss it!
ciocio-222 February 2006
This wonderful documentary is a joy and a treasure, particularly for ballet fans, but also full of enjoyment for anyone with any interest in humans or art. It is a blessing that Geller and Goldfine happened upon this subject when they did, and decided to take it up. They have done a beautiful job of putting together with style, what was just a fraction of all the material they amassed, including interviews, current and archival footage, photos and excerpts from movies. Hunting down, choosing, eliminating and organizing into coherence all of this must have been an overwhelming task, and they have done it magnificently. The editing and the accompanying music also help to raise this documentary far above the level of most movies of that genre.

It is evident that the filmmakers fell in love with their many subjects and their stories. For anyone who has spent much time around some of these artists, that is not at all surprising, and they make us fall for them too. These dancers represent precious links with some of the richest of our artistic history; while their awareness of that and of the responsibility and gifts given them is eloquently expressed, they also show themselves to be very real, down-to-earth, fun-loving people--witty, too. We can't help but feel deeply for, and enjoy the hell out of them.

Certainly, even staying strictly within the very particular bounds of their subject, there was so much more one might have wished to have included here--this is such rich, juicy terrain. But time constraints would never allow the movie to cover anywhere near all the fascinating material that could have been included. Some important dancers mentioned either only briefly or not at all include Igor Youskevitch, George Skibine, Vera Zorina, Alicia Alonso, Sono Osato, André Eglevsky, Nana Gollner (aka Nina Golovina), Mary Ellen Moylan and Leon Danielian, among others. I would also have enjoyed a mention, and perhaps a photo or film clip, of Cyd Charisse during her time with the Ballets Russes; she used the stage name Felia Siderova (or Sidorova--research hasn't cleared up for me which spelling is correct).

There are also small mentions that should have been made, and could have without much trouble or time. Some of these include: upon mention of the Markova-Dolin Ballet company, a quick mention of Anton Dolin, and his importance; identifying Serge Lifar in a clip in which he playfully partners Tamara Toumanova outdoors on a lawn; even a brief account of the ultimate fate of founding director René Blum, who left the company to return to Europe, as stated in the movie, but who was tortured and killed by the Nazis. There also were still other companies that used the "Ballets Russes" moniker, and were part of the milieu this movie examines. In spite of things and people not in it, though, BALLETS RUSSES is glorious, and essential viewing.

In the end, no movie can be all things to all viewers, especially when focusing on a specialized slice of life and art. The comment here by (note: that somewhat negative review has now been taken down by its author, and replaced by a more recent and much more positive one) complains that this film does not follow Balanchine very much outside of his Ballets Russes work, and claims that "there is precious little about the major figures in American ballet and no attempt to explain how American ballet developed from the base provided by the Ballets Russes." I would argue that some of the people in this movie are indeed major figures in American ballet, but that isn't even the point. This movie deals lovingly with a particular, limited (though glorious) slice of cultural history; it is not meant to be a comprehensive history of ballet's development in America, even within the limited time frame it covers. There were certainly other important things happening in American dance concurrently to this movie's events, and I would love to see a movie or movies about them. Those are not the focus of this movie, and not the stories this movie sets out to tell. BALLETS RUSSES keeps its focus and tells its stories lovingly, glitteringly and touchingly. It is not to be missed! Deep thanks to Geller and Goldfine for a great, essential piece of history.
9 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Special Treat
mvaldez18 December 2005
Quite to everyone's surprise, Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine, the filmmakers who made the documentary film, showed up and hosted a Question-and-Answer session following the movie showing I attended in San Francisco.

I was curious what had initiated this project. Goldfine described an event put together by ballet fans in New Orleans in the late 90's (whose own ballet company had just expired), to bring together the veterans of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, some of whom hadn't seen each other in nearly forty years. A colleague named Mark Hawk alerted Geller and Goldfine that this was going to be a unique event, and that someone with their film-making talents HAD to be there to film it. Starting there, with all the revived personal contacts and refreshed memories, the project began moving forward, but there was still the time element to consider, since many of the dancers were already in their eighties and nineties.

Goldfine described a worry she had at the start of the project regarding whether the dance veterans would be able to carry the burden of the documentary. Sure, in their heyday, the dancers had been major stars, but today, they were in advanced age. Would the dancers prove to be too - uninteresting? Fortunately, this worry proved to be completely unfounded. They might be octogenarians, sure, but the dancers of the Ballet Russe were some of the most dramatic, self-possessed, fierce performers the world had ever seen, and that fire still burned.

Reading some initial reviews of the film, I had formed the erroneous impression that the narrative thrust of the film would be something like: 'plucky group of Russian expatriates in Paris get ambitious, and conquer the world'. That approach couldn't work, though, because there were so many different dancers, who joined in different places and at different times, sometimes under radically-different circumstances. Also, most of the dancers didn't join as principals or directors: instead, they were chosen at a young age. The dancers were swept up in a grand adventure: like joining the circus that arrived in town.

Editing the film proved a major headache. They had twenty, or so, major characters who could not be ignored: the voluble Frederic Franklin, the amiable Mark Platt, the strong-willed Mia Slavenska, the unapproachable Dame Alicia Markova, the alert Nini Theilade, etc., etc. It was almost impossible to weave a workable storyline for use in a film with such a large number of interesting personalities, particularly when there was also a complicated story; a story that starts with the de Basil/Blum partnership in 1931, the big split, the best of Massine's work, the war years in North and South Americas, the return of Balanchine, the temptations of Hollywood, and the agony and penury of the late 1950's and early 60's.

The approach Goldfine and Geller settled on was to place the burden of the complicated narrative onto a female narrator, who told the story almost as a fairytale. The dancers then told their individual stories within that framework. In that way, when a complicated event had to be explained, the narrator could do it, with maps and other visual aids, just as efficiently as possible.

I took my very first dance classes with Ballet Russe dancer George Zoritch in 1982. Even as a neophyte, under his good-humored tutelage, you came immediately to love dance, and to respect dance tradition. I knew that Zoritch must have some very interesting stories, as also must his fellow dancers. We must all be deeply grateful that Goldfine and Geller, and their colleagues, also saw the possibilities here.

I was very, very pleased with the film! See it, and by all means, support the theaters who take a risk on it! Goldfine and Geller said that the DVD of the documentary will be coming out around September/October 2006, and will feature much unused footage.
9 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Intimate and Charming
rshane12 December 2005
I went to this film with only a minimal understanding of the significance of the individuals portrayed. What an absolutely beguiling and totally enjoyable experience. It was great to see the archival footage of some of these amazing performers as well as the recent interviews and the reunion. The egos and the incredible stamina that they must have had certainly allowed them to persist through real adversity. A totally enjoyable experience and a jewel of a documentary. It would have been great to have more advance publicity but it was actually a treat to discover the film by accident and become totally engrossed in the era and the huge personalities, some of whom are still alive in 2005. Bravo!
9 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
"But everything WASN'T beautiful ... at the ballet."
milliedil21 November 2005
In the Broadway musical smash "A Chorus Line," one of the auditioning dancers sings rapturously of how her real life contrasted sharply and poignantly with the glamorous world of the ballet, where "everything was beautiful." This sensational, down-and-dirty documentary puts that dream-like memory into an altogether different but no less thrilling perspective. More than two dozen of the 20th century's greatest ballet dancers are interviewed and featured in extensive, rare, and breathtaking original period footage that is continuously absorbing and illustrative of the changing styles and influences that resulted from the ersatz "ballet wars" that followed upon the death of impresario Serge Diaghilev at the end of the Roaring 20s. The complex history of competing impresarios and showmen from Massine and Balanchine to Hurok to Da Basil--with a little Agnes DeMille thrown in for good measure--is rich in irony, pathos and, yes--drama! I am not educated about the Dance and so I cannot offer cogent criticism about the myriad issues presented or any of their potential biases/omissions. But I know a ripping good time when I have had one, and this film rates up there with the best documentaries about artists I have ever seen. I never expected a précis of Ballet in America, as one poster indicated; the title is, after all, The Ballets Russes. For this uneducated but interested onlooker, I was mesmerized--not only to see how many of these great artists are still alive (many in their late 80s and early 90s) but to learn from an example they set of how active and vital they remain today--and to see them in antique footage (when some were still teen age "baby ballerinas") is a joy and a privilege. Hearing about the backstage power struggles is juicy fun and endlessly entertaining--all that supposed high brow stuff is really just like watching the intrigues on "Dynasty," but with class, great technique, and charmingly Russian-accented anecdotes. Seeing these personalities in photos and action footage as they interact with the great choreographers and ballet masters is wondrous--and watching the likes of Matisse and Dali designing sets and costumes for their work--sublime. What a rich and rewarding world it was, as well as one of great struggle and sacrifice. We glimpse it all, as well as the shadowing arc of its glorious history.

I could have watched this for another two or so hours without once stirring in my seat. For those who do love the dance, this is a "must-see," and for those with only a passing interest, it cannot fail to capture your attention. This has been a particularly fine year for documentary films and the Oscar voters will have quite a time deciding from the list of deserving nominees. If I were a voting member, I would be checking the box next to this film's title.
16 out of 20 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Supreme Film-making
normanbott17 November 2005
This is simply a perfectly glorious documentary about a dance company that closed for business when I was only 18, therefore I never had the chance to see either version of the Ballets Russe. What amazed me the most is that the filmmakers were able to give me an overwhelming sense of nostalgia as if I had experienced these wondrous artists directly. I simply fell in love with all the ballerinas and all the danseurs. I look forward to probably buying a DVD of this when it is available.

Do yourself a favor even if you do not think you like the ballet and go see it anyway for this is a very human story of a different era in the world and in America. It is cultural history told with supreme wit and intelligence.
10 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Let's make this film the success it deserves!
tybalt-29 November 2005
There was a great outpouring of enthusiastic support from the audience at last night's invitational preview screening of this wonderfully enjoyable documentary. Of course many there, like me, had some connection to the subject, but any viewer with even a slight appreciation of the demanding art of dancing will be highly entertained by this film. See it and tell others about it, for I expect word-of-mouth referrals may be needed to bolster what may be lacking from a big studio publicity push. Each of these veteran dancers were gifted with an inner fire that inspired them to undergo the rigorous training, at a very early age, necessary to excel in such a demanding profession. Three of them, nicknamed "The baby ballerinas", were in their early teens when featured as stars. This fiery temperament is still evident in the lively and humorous interviews - eyes sparkle and hands gracefully gesture - the film is a treasure, and was made just in time, for they are leaving us, one by one.
7 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
ArizWldcat22 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I was lucky enough to be in the audience for this film's premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. The filmmakers were in attendance, and revealed to us that they had just finished the film Monday (the screening we attended was 4 days afterward, on Friday). This is a documentary that follows the history of the Ballets Russes (there were actually two separate companies due to professional difference of opinion between choreographers and business managers). There is a lot of footage of the companies performing over the years (from the 1930s through the early 1960s). Even more enjoyable than that were the interviews of the dancers, most of whom are still alive, healthy and teaching dance well into their 80s. We were so happy to have had the opportunity to view this film, and hope that it does well. The only disappointment I had was that this was not part of the competition for Best Documentary, as it was classified as a "special screening."
10 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Beautifully, Lovingly Assembled Documentary
wiluxe-25 May 2006
I saw this in Boulder this spring (2006) with my girlfriend, a former professional ballet dancer who studied under George Zoritch, who appears in the film both in archival footage and in present-day interviews. Needless to say, my girlfriend was thrilled to see not just him, but Nathalie Krassovska, another teacher of hers from the 1960s. I hadn't the foggiest notion of what Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo was -- nor anything about ballet history for that matter -- until I saw this film; we bought the DVD yesterday to celebrate our first year together.

Spectacular, though grainy, early footage gives you a sense of the excitement surrounding these dancers during the Depression era; and of Ballet Russe's appeal even to rural American towns, which flocked to see the company as it toured America by train. Ballets Russes, the film, is not what you might expect: it's an endlessly intriguing and often poignant and very funny tale of devotion to art; a celebration of great talent and indefatigable drive; and a study of artistic genius, the likes of which we may never see again.

Note: there's an Easter Egg on the DVD.
5 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Movie Review: Ballet Russes
alicehughesdancer27 March 2006
I was fortunate to have seen Frederick Franklin, Mia Slavenska and Madame Danilova in the early 50's. In Lexington, Kentucky they did "Nutcracker", "Swan Lake" and "Streetcar named Desire." Franklin was a handsome and dashing prince as well as Stanley Kowalski. Slavenska was beautiful and enchanting and Danilova as "Madamoiselle Fifi" was pure theatre in a blonde wig and feather boa.

Ballet Russes had an extra "something." They sort of "became" their characters. Also, they gave us our money's worth. Something extra came over the footlights. They seemed to slip into the skin of their characters and when they smiled, made you feel it was especially for you! For a little Kentucky girl from the coal mines of Harlan, Kentucky, I fell in love with movies and dancing (remember Vera Zorina?) and Franklin/Slavenska/Danilova was my first real ballet. This movie is for those who loved them, read about them, were fortunate enough to have seen them. "One and Only." And, how lucky we are to have this film that records their lives and times along with the wonderful stories told by the dancers themselves! Still vibrant and still beautiful and still handsome. Still remember Frederick Franklin in his Nutcracker prince outfit; white with a pink banner and how he came dashing down the stairs of Henry Clay Auditorium backstage to give autographs! And, gorgeous George Zorich whom I think danced in a June Haver film. Riabouchinska, Slavenska, Nini Theilade and the others who shared their stories with us. You are still glamorous and delightful.

P.S. I went to see this film in a tiny neighborhood theatre, expecting only one or two of the "old garde" like myself. Surprise! There were 25 folks there and no one spoke throughout the entire film and when the credits began to roll, like me, stayed in their seats, not wanting to miss a thing.
5 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Catch them while you can
Tony4324 November 2005
As a fan of the ballet who knows virtually nothing about the history of this art form, I found myself fascinated by this documentary, but also saddened. Not in the film-making, for it is a wonderful piece of work. It is great narrative story telling, with well articulated characters, an intriguing plot line and no small amount of conflict. Like most documentaries, it relies on a lot of talking heads, but luckily, most of the people being interviewed have the kind of big, show business personalities that make them actually fun to watch. Even when their Russian accents made them difficult to understand, their star qualities shinned through.

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.
7 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Your heart will leap too.
ptb-822 May 2006
Now taking Australia by storm (again; if you see the doco you will know what I mean) BALLET RUSSES is possibly one of the few genuinely sublime and enchanting documentary experiences you will ever hope to enjoy in a cinema. A swift and rapturous 2 hour feast of humanity and 'family' of talent, BALLETS RUSSES opens the treasure trove of archival footage whilst expertly editing delicious and often hilarious recent interview footage with the same eye-popping vintage talent in it's modern prime of the 1930s. I have not felt so elated watching a film since the exquisite cinema confection that is the 1934 Astaire Rogers musical ROBERTA. Again here is a film created lovingly by a duo who know exactly the soaring visual enchantment possible, and exactly ads dynamic and heart-filled editing to see the viewer astonished and entertained to the maximum effect. BALLET RUSSES is for any viewer remotely interested in the theatre, ballet and the genuine love of timeless talent. One is just gob-smacked at the information on offer and full of smiling admiration for the clever editing and wealth of passion and heart of these awesome beautiful performers whether they be teenagers in the 20s or 90 year olds with a light foot and a mischievous twinkle in their smiling eyes. Absolutely one of the best dance documentaries ever created (even above PAUL TAYLOR DANCEMAKER ) and also up in the top three films that celebrate the human condition and the living treasure in our elders. If I could award more than 10 stars I would.
5 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
"Ballet Russes" (2005) is one of the most moving documentaries I have ever is a treasure.
DavidAllenUSA18 October 2012
"Ballet Russes" (2005) is one of the most moving documentaries I have ever is a treasure. See it! I have re-screened BALLET RUSSES (2005) over the years, and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

People in their 80's and 90's are interviewed, then archival movie footage of the same people when they were young dancers is shown, intercut with the old age interviews. The unfailing sparkle in the eyes of these wonderful dancers remains in old age. The eyes never get old, and no matter how fat or crippled bodies get in old age, the eyes tell the story of what is inside them, and always was.

It is magical and wonderful.

It may be true that movie film captures no subject more noble and more beautiful than the bodies (especially the female bodies) of young ballet dancers seen dancing, almost flying at times. Cinema and ballet dancing at its best seem made for each other, especially the black and white footage from times long ago....times made all the more distant by the almost lost art of black and white cinema, and therefore all the more compelling.

I am a performing artist beginning advanced old age (70 at the start of 2015 as this is written), and I marvel at the dancers part of this wonderful documentary 15 and 20 years older than I am now.

The question "Why be a performing artist?" occurs to many in times like the present (2015) when money and security are ranked so important, and the chance taking part of participating in beauty and art seems "a bad investment." For me, more than any other movie of any kind I ever saw, this wonderful documentary movie answers that question and others! "Why did I do it?" and "Why was it worth doing?" The kindness and humanity of the very old dancers interviewed is especially notable. Wonderful people are shown at their best during their very old age. That is inspiring.

USA born dancer Mark Platt was a Ballet Russe dancer star, and he is interviewed. He was age 89 in the documentary. He died at age 100 in 2014, RIP.

He danced at age 41 in 1954 in "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers" (MGM) movie dance musical starring Howard Keel and Jane Powell.

In that 1954 movie, Mark Platt played "Brother Daniel Pontepee." He provides wonderful and extended interview talk during the documentary titled "Ballet Russe" (2004) which shows movie clips of Platt dancing in less well known, but still well done MGM musical dance movies from the 1940's and 1950's, and also shows Platt acting at age 89 in a stage production located in the Marin County, California theater center (San Francisco, Calif. suburban area).

Platt was hired for the Ballet Russe company in the late 1930's by Leonoid Massine (who was a ballet star in "The Red Shoes" in 1948....he played the cobbler who creates the Red Shoes in which Moira Shearer dances, dances, dances until both she and Red Shoes ballet ends in tragedy. "The Red Shoes" 1948 movie is probably the most famous and best ballet movie in all movie history.).

Massine was both an important dancer and choreographer, and directed the Ballet Russe dance company from the early 1930's through the early 1940's.

Mark Platt was lead dancer in at least one major Massine choreographed ballet, presented around 1937.

His part of the documentary is especially interesting and important to USA movie dance musical history enthusiasts like me.

He was 41 when he danced and acted in "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers" (1954), and was by far the "oldest brother" in that movie, otherwise made up of men in their 20's and teens (the 5 male dancers who portrayed "brothers" who married the 7 brides).

See the "Ballet Russe" (2004) documentary about the Ballet Russe dance company founded during the WWI era and not disbanded until 1962. Mark Platt was a member of the Ballet Russe in the 1930's and possibly in the 1940's before his MGM movie dancer/ actor contract days.

The documentary shows a wonderful reunion of very old Ballet Russe dancers held in 2000, with many dancers interviewed and movie footage of their dancing during their ballet dancer days half a century and more earlier.

2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A Saga: The Rise And Fall Of The Ballets Russes
FloatingOpera719 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Ballets Russes (2005): Starring Alicia Markova, Irina Baronova, Frederic Franklin, Yvonne Chouteau, Yvonne Craig, Marc Platt, Maria Tallchief, Alan Howard, Nathalie Krassovska, Nina Novak, Wakefield Poole, Marian Seldes, Tania Riabouchinskaya, Mia Slavenska, Tatiana Stepanova, Tamara Tchinarova Finch, Miguel Terekhov, Nini Theilade, Raven Wilkinson, Rochelle Zide, George Zoritch.....Director Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine...Screenplay Celeste Schaefer Snyder, Gary Weimberg.

From 2005, this independent documentary was a success in the film festival circuit and a favorite of art-house film audiences, particularly ballet enthusiasts (known as balletomanes) and dance students. Directors Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine bring together surviving members of the famed Ballets Russes, the first modern ballet company from the 1930's, through World War II and the 40's and well into the 50's. Among these dancers, big names among ballet history buffs, include Alicia Markova (who died not long after the documentary was filmed), Frederic Franklin, Marc Platt, Irina Baronova, Maria Tallchief and Nina Novak. This ballet documentary is possibly the most well-organized and detailed, and at the same time the most audience- engaging and fascinating one ever to be made. From humble beginnings in Communist Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution, the principal ballerinas whose careers are reviewed on this film grow to become the top ballerinas of their day and the stars of their respective companies under the most influential choreographers and impresarios of the day- among them founder Serge Diaghilev, Leonard Massine and George Balanchine. Long after their youth and energy has faded, it's quite moving to see these ballerinas talk about their life in the ballet biz as if it were still active, and even more touching when the 70 something year old Frederic Franklin and Irina Baronova perform a pas de deux, a pale shadow of their former glory. The dancers go through decades, each which brings about changes, and survive Hitler's Nazi regime, tour America in the most bizarre and lavish spectacles eve seen by American theater-goers, and some of them even star in Hollywood films and musicals, including American Marc Platt in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. They each survive individual trials, including Nina Novak (the only black ballerina of the company) and her run-ins with the KKK and racist attitudes at the time. Although the Ballets Russes De Monte Carlo eventually declined, the choreography of such huge names as Massine and most notably Balanchine, became standard ballet technique and style for the American Ballet Theater in New York City, still active today. All but about two or three of the dancers- Marc Platt, Frederic Franklin, Irinia Boronova and Nina Novak are still alive today. Some of the older ballet dancers who lost work after the fall of the Ballets Russes did dance work in the most unlikely of places- including one of the ballerinas' stint as Batgirl in the 1960's Batman TV series and one homosexual dancer's involvement in production and music for the porn industry. This is a lengthy and yet wonderful documentary sure to delight ballet lovers. This is a saga, a world of dancers, dreams, conflict, clashes, creative differences, romance and frustration. After you see this documentary, you'll never think ballet is for the weak. Truly exceptional! Put on your ballet flats, skinny black dancing pants, put your hair up and enjoy this trip into the past with dancers who represent the best in modern ballet. This documentary is a real experience, both for ballet nuts and those who wouldn't normally watch ballet and would rather watch Sports Central. Enjoy !
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A Superlative Insight and History of the Ballet Russes
gradyharp17 September 2006
Once in a while a documentary sheds such inner light on the subject matter and the characters that it becomes an art film, a story, a novel, a memento. Such is the case with BALLET RUSSES. This tender, touching, humorous, and exactingly real look at the history of ballet in the hands of the expatriated Russians in Europe in the early part of the 20th century to the reformation of the troop after the death in 1929 by master Impresario Diaghilev unfolds through the words and movements of those who experienced it.

To say too much about the content would be like telling each member of a conversation group the essence before the topic unfolds. Suffice it to say that here are the dancers, choreographers, composers, artists creating the sets and costumes who produced the contemporary standard for ballet that still exist today. To have the joy of watching Massine, Balanchine, Lichine, Markova, Krassovska, Danilova, Riabouchinska, Platt, Zoritch, Franklin and the designs of Picasso, Dali, Laurencin, etc is more than a visual treat: it is a step into a history of creativity the likes of which we may never see again.

The real joy of this rich film is the conversations and, yes, dance movements of the surviving members of this troop and those who admired it. It is full of touching moments and memorable sequences that easily place this documentary in the top of the list of works in this genre,
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
wonderful film but has ballet history flaws
blountstmd17 September 2006
I noticed how positive some of the comments here were and I was struck by how many people writing comments stated they were not real big ballet fans or knew much about ballet history. I am a big fan of the ballet and of ballet history and while I liked this film very much, I am afraid it was a bit shaky in some aspects of authentic ballet history. First, the history of the original Ballet Russes as formed by Diaghliev and which starred such immortals as Nijinsky, Pavlova, Karasvina, etc was given short shrift and I was really surprised the film focused only on the companies called Ballet Russes after 1922. Any serious discussion of the history of the Ballet Russes and it role in inventing modern Ballet has to include a discussion of the Diagliev years--his company, not the copycat versions of De Basil and Denham, was the actual source of what we know as modern Ballet in the 20th century. Be Basil and Denham were only trying to preserve what Diaghliev had started. If you watched this film you would not know that Massine was the choreographer for Diaghliev's Ballet Russe after Nijinsky or that Nijinska or Balanchine were also first employed by Diaghliev.

You would also leave the film thinking that Freddy Franklin was Markova's principal partner but that was not true--Anton Dolin was her main partner for years and he also was discovered by Diaghliev. Anton Dolin and Markova both taught for years and years and they were some of the people instrumental in founding the Ballet Society which grew to become the American Ballet theater(ABT) in New York. Dolin's omission and that of ABT were particularly curious in a film on ballet history.

While the film tried to portray New York City(NYC) ballet as the main rival in New York, it was the ABT that posed the biggest rival to the Ballet Russe company. The ABT still maintained the star system(and still does to this day)--particularly foreign stars--and NYC did not. The ABT did some of the classical ballets--NYC did not as a rule--the NYC specialized in the abstract ballets of Balanchine. The ABT toured and NYC did not as a rule. Many of the stars of the Ballet Russe defected to ABT over time.

Another big reason for the decline of the Ballet russes that was not discussed in the film was the competition Sol Hurok began to bring over in the form of foreign tours like the Royal Ballet and the Bolshoi in the late 40's and 50's. These foreign companies brought over full length ballets that neither ABT or NYC or the Ballet Russes were doing at the time and this further contributed to the decline of the Ballet Russe. However, this was not mentioned and you could leave the film thinking the touring tradition for ballet companies died with the Ballet Russe--which was far from the case.

Another very curious omission was showing some of the Hollywood films the Ballet russe starred in and not mentioning the Red shoes!! This was a seminal work about the ballet and was widely seen in the 40's and starred Massine and other members of the Ballet Russe like Toumanova as well. The Red shoes also starred some dancers from one of the rival companies challenging the Ballet Russe listed above--Moira Shearer and Robert Helpmann from England's Royal Ballet.

I could go on and on about other omisions and subtle distortions of ballet history but I do not want to nitpick. This film is great on its own merits as cinema and hopefully, people who see the film might look up the real history of the ballet on their own--most of the books on ballet history have a lot of the intrigue and personality conflicts only alluded to in this film.
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Splendid - a do not miss for ballet fans (and others)
SFfilmgoer11 November 2005
This is certainly one of the best films in a long time. Although ballet fans will enjoy it, others will as well. It received a big round of applause from the audience.

It is full of art, humor and extremely interesting characters. It is mostly the history of the Ballets Russes as well as other interesting stories about ballet. Practically without exception all of the characters interviewed in the film were interesting and most with a great sense of humor.

There were many enjoyable and moving clips of the dancers when they were younger, now most of them in their 80's. It is enough to move even the most hardened movie goers. I include this as one of the best films I've ever seen (and I've seen a lot).
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A history of the Ballets Russes phenomenon which thrived in the period 1932 to 1962, bringing ballet to audiences on four continents.
Lwindreich-112 November 2005
This remarkable film recreates a 30-year period in ballet history by presenting rare archival imagery from the past and recently filmed discussions of a great era by people who participated in it. What comes across strongest is the affection that directors Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller felt for their subjects, the majority in their 80s, and for their fascination for the great work the brilliant dancers accomplished in the period 1932 to 1962.

I saw the film at the 2005 Vancouver International Film Festival, where it played to a packed auditorium. It's safe to assume that the majority of viewers were not balletomanes but simply addicts of the motion picture medium. (Some were seeing up to five films each day). Respectful silence was maintained throughout, with healthy laughter for the humorous content of the film. At the end there was applause, with several viewers standing to show their approval.

This film is a paean to humanity, the human spirit and the beauty that artists create for the world they serve.
3 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Simply Grand
jacklmauro8 December 2011
Warning: Spoilers
You don't have to like ballet. You don't even have to like documentaries. This is just a marvelous, well-crafted journey with a cultural phenomenon, and something that can never exist again. The old footage of the dancers is amazing, the story compelling, but nothing is better than watching these elderly premier dancers recall the glory days. They are gracious, charming, and utterly a joy to listen to. Add to this the fascinating history, incorporating names like Massine, Balanchine, Matisse, Picasso, and Dali, and it's a history lesson to treasure. I challenge anyone who watches not to fall in love with several ballerinas, along with the astoundingly beautiful George Zoritch.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Dancer's Eyes
tedg30 September 2011
I haven't enjoyed a movie this much in years.

One filmmaking challenge I have been puzzling over for years is how to film dance. It is not enough to have a camera placed in a stationary place as if sitting in a theater looking at a stage. When I am at a physical performance, the contract forces me to be stationary, but I have the advantage of the surrounding space and shared breath in darkness, each our own darkness. But the camera can dance, and I find myself wishing to be in the flow. Some filmmakers do well with this immersion (often with choreographed fights). But none reaches the level that I turn fanatical and encourage you to share.

Another troubling film problem for me has to do with film documentaries. I know how to engage with a narrative when the contract is between me, the filmmaker and our collaborators. We can sail. But that contract gets muddled when there is a presumption that the contract and the presented reality are separated. Nominally, we presume film journalism where the filmmaker's craft is to disappear. Alternatively, we can have filmed history where the filmmaker's craft is applied to sharpening focus, interpreting the story rather than telling. Oh, so many documentaries frustrate because you cannot make that contract with the filmmaker that you need to allow the power of the medium to entangle you.

But here is a solution to both of those dilemmas. Superficially the purpose of this is to give us a history of a dance company, the Ballet Russe. It is an important story, how 19 century mastery in ballet was expelled from Russia and found a home in Europe, and thence expelled to the US where it found a home and adapted. This in many ways is an essential story about movement, poise and the value of presence. It affects what we tap when we judge people. It is built into the way we make and see movies.

So it is an important contract, and one the filmmakers honor. But that is not what this film is. The construction is the normal one: the historical journalist as narrator, as much historical footage as possible and as many interviews as time allows with the people who were there, so they can report directly. But what happens is a strange inversion. Instead of the witnesses enriching the story, the story enriches the witnesses and we end up being completely captured by the people who talk to us.

They are in their eighties and nineties, these dancers. All have a vitality that beams into the room where you watch this. All have given countless performances and all of them can count artistic achievement that to me is nearly unfathomable. All of these! While I plow through movies looking for a few that matter, here are some collected lives of people who routinely mattered, working small and large stages across the country as Johnny Appleseeds planting seeds of grace.

It was hard for me to keep all the Russian names straight: we see a modern aged face telling us something from their memories, and then we see that same person fifty, sixty, seventy years before in the situation recalled. I think the filmmakers knew how their project had morphed because they give lots of screen time to these folks, including episodes that have nothing to do with elaborating the history. We simply see them carrying on dancers' lives as best their bodies allow, every one of them alert and insightful.

The DVD has lots of extras, and you will want to gobble them all up, but I wish we could have just seen these old folks walk more. Just walk.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Thinking Better of It the Second Time Around
gelman@attglobal.net26 July 2009
Although I didn't recall having seen it before, I rated "Ballet russes" at 5 in 2005 when I first saw it. I also regretted that the film told less about how the two rival Ballet russes companies -- the Ballet russes de Monte Carlo and the Original Ballet russes -- influenced the development of American ballet than I thought it should. Having now seen it a second time four years later, I am readier to appreciate for what it is not to criticize it for what it isn't. This documentary is mainly told through interviews with elderly dancers from one or the other of the two companies (some actually danced in both over time) and dancing clips of varying quality. The tale of the rivalry between the two companies and the roles played both by the artistic directors/choreographers and the owner/operators is really quite fascinating. In my own case, I think it was the Ballet russes de Monte Carlo which originally introduced me to ballet, beginning my life long fascination with the art, a passion which I share with my wife. A few of the artists interviewed for the documentary -- Alicia Markova, Irina Baranova, Frederic Franklin, and Maria Tallchief -- are names that many balletomanes will recognize although the others were quite famous in their time. More interesting to some may be the roles played in this rivalry by Leonid Massine and George Balanchine, two of the most influential choreographers in the history of modern ballet, neither of them alive when the documentary was made. Tallchief, the American prima ballerina, went on to become Balanchine's muse and for a time his wife, as did more than one of his subsequent proteges. If you give them a chance, as I failed to do the first time around, the interviewees will grow on and the clips, even the grainiest ones, will show you the remarkable talent many of them displayed in their youth.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
a great documentary
Buddy-519 January 2007
"Ballets Russes" is a wonderful documentary about one of the great dance companies of the 20th Century. Though the Ballets Russes was originally created in Paris by impresario Serge Diaghilev in 1909, it is with its later, post-Diaghilev incarnation, starting in the late 1920's, that the film is primarily concerned. It was at that time that choreographer George Balanchine took a chance by hiring a group of unknown Russian émigrés as dancers for the company. Through touring that took them to virtually all corners of the globe, the group would quickly achieve renown as the premier ballet company in the world - though, technically, there were actually TWO Ballet Russes companies, both splintered off from the original, that spent a number of decades battling one another for supremacy. That may be a bit of a rude awakening for those who believe ballet to be all namby-pamby sweetness-and-light, but there's a ruthless, cutthroat, business side to it all as well, and the film does a good job capturing it.

Let me say right up front that one does not need to know a single thing about ballet to be able to appreciate this film (I'm a prime example of that). What holds the viewer's interest is not merely the beauty of the dances, but the warmhearted reminiscences of many of the premier ballerinas themselves as they reflect back poignantly on their illustrious careers. With many of them now in their 80's and 90's, they may be long past their physical primes, but their inner grace, humor and sensitivity shine forth as brilliantly as ever. It is a true joy listening to them recounting their experiences, while at the same time getting to watch them in old film clips performing at the height of their artistry.

Moreover, the film provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse into the short but glorious history of the Ballets Russes itself. We come to see how it evolved to fit the times, how it raised public awareness for the art form, and how it almost single-handedly made ballet an integral part of American culture. And as mentioned earlier, there's a great deal of drama to be found in the backstage wrangling among the various directors that ultimately ended up in the Ballets Russes breaking apart into rival companies, both of which enjoyed varying levels of success, and both of which, perhaps inevitably, closed their doors for good on the cusp of the modernistic 1960's.

Thanks to its one-on-one interviews with many of the dancers who made the companies great, the movie becomes a veritable treasure trove of priceless recollections and memories, and I'm glad that directors Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine were able to put a record of them on film before their stories disappeared forever (several of the dancers have died just since providing the interviews we see them giving here). Had the filmmakers delayed tackling this project, this movie might not have been made at all. What a loss to us all that would have been!
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed