Ballets Russes

REVIEW by Willard Manus

This superb documentary film by Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine looks back in time at the revolutionary 20th century dance troupe made up of young Russian dancers whose families had fled the Bolshevik revolution and settled in Paris. Patterned after the famed Diaghilev dance company, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlos featured three "Baby Ballerinas," 14-year-olds whose training and talent enabled them to win fame as prima ballerinas in the 1930s and 40s. So successful was Ballet Russe that it split into a second company (the "Original Ballet Russe"), both of which competed with each other as they toured Europe and America, performing dances choreographed by the likes of Balanchine, Massine and Lichine, with music by Stravinsky and decor by Picasso.

BALLETS RUSSES melds interviews with many of the surviving dancers from that golden age with rare footage of them in action. Shot in black and white largely by amateur photographers, the footage may be grainy and a bit shaky at times, but it still manages to capture the breathtaking skill, beauty and grace of such stars as Alicia Markova, Mia Slavenska, Irina Baronova, Tamara Toumanova, George Zoritch, Marc Platt and Frederic Franklin, to name but a few.

Some of those greats are still alive, still connected to dance in their 70s and 80s, running dance studios, choreographing, teaching at universities, making the odd personal appearance in an opera or feature film. Despite aching knees and hips, wrinkled faces and other visible signs of mortality, their love of dance still shines through, matched only by a largeness of spirit and humor. BALLETS RUSSES is not just a first-rate documentary, but a deeply moving human document.