Ulyana Lopatkina in Ballerina
Studio: First Run Features
Directed by Bertrand Normand; Starring: Diana Vishneva, Ulyana Lopatkina, Evgenia Obraztsova, Alina Somova and Svetlana Zakharova
Apr 17, 2009 Web Exclusive
In this 2006 video documentary, which has been making the rounds in art houses this year, director Bertrand Normand spotlights five Russian ballerinas at various stages in their careers at the Kirov Ballet. The approach works well when Normand illustrates how individual ballerinas bring different personalities to the company and to classic works, but there are some interesting storytelling opportunities lost by featuring five dancers instead of, say, three.
Alina Somova is a 17-year-old ballerina who is invited to join the Kirov upon her graduation from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. The prestigious school accepts girls when they are 10 years old and requires them to complete eight stages of classes to graduate. Evgenia Obraztsova is a soon-to-be soloist who has landed a role in Cedric Klapisch’s film Russian Dolls. And Ulyana Lopatkina is a Prima Ballerina returning to the stage after a two-year absence caused by an ankle injury. She married and gave birth to a daughter in the interim. Although Ballerina is a tightly packed 77-minute film that moves fluidly, these three ballerinas are its most compelling subjects, and it seems there is more drama worth exploring in their pursuits.
Normand captures some evocative sequences—Somova and Obraztsova enduring physically demanding tutelage, lovely silhouetted shots of Lopatkina practicing in solitude as young dancers secretly observe, and charming exchanges between Obraztsova and fans after a performance—but he seems intent on skimming over the dark side of these beautiful presentations. Early on, it’s worrisome watching bony little girls being sized up for admittance into the Vaganova Academy, and the bodies of the adult ballerinas featured in the film are far scrawnier than those of legends such as Anna Pavlova. Nils Tavernier’s 2001 French documentary Etoiles: Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet was better for examining the hardships of attaining and maintaining stature in ballet, but the artistry showcased by the dancers in Ballerina is nevertheless engaging, and Normand’s film is a fine complement to Joshua Waletsky’s 2005 documentary Sacred Stage: The Mariinsky Theater.
Author rating: 6/10
Average reader rating: 8/10