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Ballet in film

Five examples of ballet on the big screen.

By Lottie Butler (Former Assistant Content Producer (News and Social Media))

22 March 2012 at 3.38pm | 11 Comments

A while ago we asked some of our followers on Twitter to name their top films featuring ballet. Ahead of the live cinema relay of Romeo and Juliet, we take a look at some of their favourites...

Billy Elliot (2000)

A gritty tale of a young boy’s transition from boxing to ballet set against the political and social unrest of the 1980s, Billy Elliot is a classic of modern British cinema. Jamie Bell is fantastic as 11 year old Billy, misunderstood by his family and struggling to hide his love of dance in a world dominated by macho prejudice. Not only does he execute some fantastic dance sequences on his quest to join The Royal Ballet School, but he shows improvement and progression in his dancing as the film develops. The directorial debut of renowned stage director Stephen Daldry, this is a touching coming-of-age film that showcases the physical demands and dedication required to make it in ballet.

The Red Shoes (1948)

Based loosely on the fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen and said to have been inspired by the meeting between ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev and British ballerina Diana Gould, The Red Shoes tells the story of a young ballerina torn between love and her dancing career. One of the first feature-length colour films focused exclusively on ballet, it premiered to huge success, launching the film career of Scottish ballet dancer Moira Shearer. Featuring legendary ballet dancers of the era, including star of the Ballets Russes Leonid Massine and renowned French dancer Ludmilla Tchérina, the film includes some breathtaking dance sequences and made hundreds of girls want to become ballerinas.

White Nights (1985)

A Cold War thriller described by critic Roger Ebert as  “a pas de deux between the KGB and the CIA”, White Nights is loosely based on the life of lead dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. A complex story following the relationship between a Soviet ballet dancer (Baryshnikov) and an American tap dancer (Gregory Hines), the film is known for its red-hot dance sequences rather than its sharp script. The star of the film is undoubtedly Baryshnikov, considered by many to stand alongside Nijinsky and Nureyev as one of the greatest ballet dancers in history. His dynamic dance sequences, at once passionate and elegant, made him a movie hero. An explosive combination of ballet and tap from two of the world’s best dancers make this movie a dance classic.

The Turning Point (1977)

One of the most acclaimed dramas of the 1970s, The Turning Point follows the story of two dancers - one who left the stage for marriage and motherhood, and one who went on to become an international ballet icon – tackling the conflict between a career in dance and personal life. Starring Leslie Browne, who had just joined American Ballet Theatre, and Mikhail Baryshnikov - who dazzles with some characteristically impressive leaps - there are some beautiful dance sequences and a wealth of scenes from classic ballets.

Black Swan (2010)

Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky’s brutal psycho-drama about a ballerina’s descent into madness, is a controversial film amongst ballet-aficionados. The story, an inversion of Swan Lake, has been condemned for outrageously exaggerating clichés of the ballet world. Lauren Cuthbertson, principal of The Royal Ballet, noted at the time of release: “It makes ballet look all blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice… it doesn’t show any of the pleasure”. However, the film, when considered a portrait of obsession and madness rather than a reflection of ballet, is compelling, following in the footsteps of Aronofsky's previous releases Requiem for a Dream, Pi and The Wrestler.

What are your favourite examples of ballet in film?

By Lottie Butler (Former Assistant Content Producer (News and Social Media))

22 March 2012 at 3.38pm

This article has been categorised Ballet and tagged Anthony Dowell, Ballet, billy elliot, Black Swan, Film, Leonid Massine, Marius Petipa, Production, Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, The Red Shoes, The Turning Point, White Nights

This article has 11 comments

  1. I saw Black Swan a year ago and I thought it was just awful. Black Swan really gives ballet a bad name and show the worst and bad qualities of being a ballet dancer. I agree with Tamara Rojo entirely on this horrible movie. "It stinks." At least Turning Point seems alillte more posive and shows, gives ballet dancers in a better light. Black Swan was so violent and negativ that I refuse to ever watch Black Swan ever again!

    • Oscar Morales responded on 24 July 2013 at 10:29pm

      But the movie is not about ballet, it is about a ballerina whose obssession becomes mental sickness, and the movie itself is proyected from her perspective so, I don't really get your point, it certainly envolves ballet but it is not about ballet... think twice before you criticize so irrationally and rude.

  2. Ray Knight responded on 26 March 2012 at 4:38pm Reply

    To be pedantic. There is no Black Swan as such in Swan Lake. A girl arrives dressed in Black purporting to be the Swan Queen with whom the prince has become fascinated.
    She is not a Swan, but an imposter and malevolent entity intent on beguiling the prince into betraying the real Swan.
    She is not a Swan herself and never was.
    I also found the film denigrated the ballet world in order to make a film about mental stress and breakdown.

  3. Lisa O`Brien responded on 27 March 2012 at 8:09pm Reply

    I LOVE White Nights. I developed a real crush on Baryshnikov after seing him in this film. Me and my firend actually went to the cinema three times to watch it . Ironically, and sadly for me, a few months later when i went to dance at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, i learned that he had come to watch the show, and went backstage to meet all the dancers. Just missed him , by literally about two weeks before i joined. Damn.

  4. Totally agree with the comments about Black Swan, I did not find it the masterpiece that some were claiming it to be... Dark and twisted, certainly it was not about Ballet or Dancers that is for sure...

  5. With modest success, I endeavored for more than fifty years, to incorporate Classical Arts including Drama, Opera and Ballet as a full fledged, independent syllabus in Primary Schools.
    My young students aged 6-12 years attended live spectacles, watched and analyzed classical texts and films. They acted, danced and recorded (on video) hours of Shakespearean drama, songs and dances. We often went together to the cinema to watch selected movies. Relying on its innocuous looking title, had I taken them to watch this 'Black Swan' I would have had to deal with a very upset Headmistress and some understandably angry parents.
    Now please note that these children were not pampered fainthearted kids. This is not the issue. Facing the camera they would perform poignant dramatic scenes 'con affetto'.
    I only disapprove of the use of a balletic 'neutralized' title.
    This comment does not reflect on Natalie Portman who is as an accomplished artist.
    Yitzhak Rosenbloom
    Haifa ~ Israel

  6. rhodri responded on 11 February 2013 at 12:44pm Reply

    I agree after all the hype I was disappointed with The Black Swan.


  8. Turning point! Saw it many many years ago and just this winter found it again - love the plot and most of all, the dancing in it. Misha and Leslie are gorgeous :)


  10. Silke responded on 30 December 2013 at 12:14pm Reply

    I can watch 'Center Stage' again and again, love it.

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