Ballets Russes is a fascinating and highly informative documentary about the Russian dance troupes that revolutionized the dance art form throughout the world for much of the twentieth century. By incorporating candid interviews with astonishingly high quality archival footage, filmmakers Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine meticulously chart the ups and downs of the company which was founded in Paris by Sergei Diaghilev in 1909, and in its early days was simply known as "the Ballet Russe." After Diaghilev passed away in 1929, one of his brilliant dance choreographers, Leonid Massine, decided to leave in order to form his own company, "the Ballet Russe of Monte Carlo." The original outfit, now under the control of a tyrannical Colonel Wassily de Basil, ended up hiring Massines former counterpart, George Balanchine, to organize their numbers which only intensified the rivalry. But the unstable political climate in Europe ultimately caused them to come together and leave for the U.S. And during much of the 1940s, both companies, carrying a plethora of teenage performers, simply toured the country in a train, visiting the smallest of towns and arenas because of the love they had for their art.
While Ballets Russes isnt as formally innovative and remarkable a dance documentary as Claire Denis Vers Mathilde (2005), its strength are the group of people, all former performers, the filmmakers have assembled. Now in their 70s, 80s and 90s, the dancers -- including the likes of Dame Alicia Markova, Frederic Franklin, Mia Slavenska, Irina Baronova and Tatiana Riabouchinska ("Baby Ballerinas"), Yvonne Chouteau (a Native American dancer), etc. -- vividly recall the rivalries (some were not only lured away by competing dance firms, but also by Hollywood), the time spent on the road, the socio-political upheavals that formed them. What's quite amazing is that they all possess winning personalities, and they don't regret any of their decisions. The Russians were never able to perform in their homeland, and after they left because of the revolution, most of them havent gone back. (Many earn a meager living elsewhere by teaching dance even though they should be considered national treasures). All the performers have paid a price but theyre proud of their accomplishments, as they should be.
*BALLETS RUSSES will be available on DVD in the U.S. on Sep 12th (Zeitgeist)
*DVD SPECIAL FEATURES
- An hour-long, four-part series of additional behind-the-scenes, performance, rehearsal and interview footage with Ballets Russes dancers.
- Rare archival footage, including excerpts of classic Ballets Russes performances of "Swan Lake," "Giselle" and others.
- 12-page booklet including liner notes by New York Times dance writer - Jack Anderson and production notes by the filmmakers.
[Edit]Added DVD info.