"Plenty of the Ballets Russes, relatively little Crepes Suzette"
Like many niche documentaries, “Ballets Russes” is a film that is likely to play far better to the converted than to those walking in without any real working knowledge of the world of ballet.It tells the long and strange story of the Ballets Russes, an innovative ballet troupe–consisting entirely of Russian refugees–who took the theatrical world by storm in the early part of the 20th century. Eventually, the group splintered into two rival factions that competed fiercely for dancers, choreographers and the use of the all-important name. Eventually, both groups would finally falter and fold in the 1950s and ‘60s but their impact would last as former members (many of whom come together for a reunion that provides the film with its frame) would go on and use what they learned to further develop the art of ballet.
For students of ballet, this internal conflict is no doubt compelling material but such people undoubtedly know enough about it in the first place so that it is relatively easy for them to follow the story through the various twists and turns. For the rest of us, though, too much of the film is spent on delving into the often-murk conflicts without ever supplying an explanation for neophytes why any of it should matter and at nearly two hours, even the most devoted fan may get a little weary at the procession of talking head interviews. The best thing about the film–for fans and neophytes alike–is the rare bits of performance footage (some shot by pioneering Chicago dance critic Ann Barzel) that allow us to see the groups at their peaks in the 1930's. This footage is rough and relatively artless in cinematic terms but even through the grainy footage, one can get a real sense of the power and grace that the dancers brought to their craft–something that no amount of talking heads can possibly hope to replicate.For students of ballet, “Ballets Russes” is definitely a must but for those not already inclined, there isn’t much beyond the old footage that is of much of any interest.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2005 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.