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Ballets Russes
Ballets Russes
Actors: Irina Baronova, Yvonne Chouteau, Yvonne Craig, Frederic Franklin, Alan Howard
Directors: Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine
Genres: Special Interests, Educational, Documentary
NR     2006     1hr 58min

An intimate portrait of a group of pioneering artists - now in their 70s 80s & 90s - who gave birth to modern ballet. Studio: Zeitgeist Films Release Date: 09/12/2006 Run time: 118 minutes


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Movie Details

Actors: Irina Baronova, Yvonne Chouteau, Yvonne Craig, Frederic Franklin, Alan Howard
Directors: Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine
Creators: Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine, Celeste Schaefer Snyder, Gary Weimberg
Genres: Special Interests, Educational, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Dance, Educational, Documentary
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 09/12/2006
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 1hr 58min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 3
Edition: Special Edition
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

"What will I do, sell fruit? This is my life."
M. J Leonard | Silver Lake, Los Angeles, CA United States | 02/05/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The good news is that in Ballets Russes, viewers don't need to know anything about ballet to enjoy this electrifying documentary by Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine, This is a lovingly and confidently made documentary that brings to life an era of unequaled artistic excitement. Equally heart-wrenching, and riveting and thoroughly entertaining the Ballet Russes unwinds like a historical thriller, laying bare the politics, rivalries, tremendous egos, and creative appetites that produced two of the world's greatest ballet companies.

Weaving actual historical footage of the companies with interviews of these dancers today, the film starts with a first-ever reunion of Ballets Russes dancers in New Orleans in 2000, and juxtaposes this with the various permutations of the troupes that started with impresario Serge Diaghilev's legendary Paris-based Ballets Russes. When Diaghilev died in 1929, ballet came to a standstill until a pair of entrepreneurs began Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo two years later.

What follows is a beguiling journey through the intoxicating twists and turns of the next 30 years of ballet history, which involved competing companies, the legendary choreographers George Balanchine, Leonide Massine and David Lichine, and almost every major dancer you can think of, including dancers such as Alicia Markova and Alexandra Danilova. The guides through this world are the dancers themselves, many white-haired and elderly, offering up sharp and often-funny anecdotes. Some were barely in their teens at the time, from families who had lost everything in the Russian Revolution.

These men and women, many of them now in their 80s and 90s, are still totally alive and articulate, including the regal Markova, the coquettish Nathalie Krassovska, and the red-convertible driving octogenarian Tatiana Riabouchinska, who continues to teach because "what will I do, sell fruit? This is my life." These dancers, choreographers, and impresarios were shamelessly passionate in pursing their professional and personal lives, and the result is a story filled with enough backstage intrigues, romantic rivalries and unlikely assignations to make it the juiciest of artistic soap operas.

The male dancers are equally compelling, there's Frederick Franklin, who talks movingly of his nearly 20-year partnership with Danilova and also the 90-year-old Marc Platt, who had his name changed to Platoff because everyone had to seem Russian, and the vital George Zoritch, captured reliving the past with Krassovska in a moment from "Giselle." Their grainy performance clips give us an emotional quality that is not to be matched, and their interviews reflected an era of excitement, novelty, innovation, and yes, even sexiness!

The Ballets Russes is one of the best documentaries of the year, a wonderful story of a grand moment in high-art culture, the archival footage so breathtaking, and the reminiscences so piquant, that even a novice can't help being swept up in this ode to one of the world's greatest art forms. Mike Leonard February 06.
"Let's remember the old days."
CodeMaster Talon | Orlando, FL United States | 01/16/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Today practically every one-horse town in America has a ballet studio: One room affairs with tinkly piano music and an aging grand dame leading rows of tu-tu-clad little girls. We take it for granted, but at the beginning of the last century ballet was almost nonexistent in the US, and elsewhere in the world it was in serious danger of dying out. When two banker-types decided to restart a legendary dance troupe and give the art of ballet a new, modern face, they single-handedly resurrected the art form and changed the world of dance forever.

"Ballet Russes" documents the golden years of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and its offshoot, the Original Ballet Russe. Through wonderful archival footage and delightful interviews with surviving dancers (of which there are a surprising amount; dancing is very good for your health) we witness incredible athleticism, heartbreaking artistry, and enough drama to fill ten seasons of "Desperate Housewives".

There's the machinations of warring choreographers Massine and Balanchine (he of the "baby ballerinas"), the love affairs and feuds of the dancers ("The Russians weren't very nice to each other," recalls Fredrick Franklin, still delightfully gossipy in his eighties) and of course recollections of playing a Salvador Dali ballet in Middle America ("Strange people dressed in strange costumes doing strange things", as one dancer puts it.).

These were some spectactular-looking people, as the photos attest. Three ballerinas, now pushing ninety, get all giggly remembering the hunkiness of George Zoritch (who is still alive and looks at least twenty years younger than he is). Zoritch and his old partner Krassovaska dance out a scene from Giselle for the cameras in what has to be the documentary's most adorable moment (he later recalls Krassovaska's six week marriage to a Hollywood musician with a roll of his eyes). Every interview snippet with spitfire Tatiana Riabouchinska is also a treat. Her story of how she started taking ballet classes is hilarious ("No one said no to my Mother.").

As they toured across America, the dancers ignited the love of ballet in young people of every background. The filmakers interview Native American Maria Tallchief (who inspired me to take up ballet), as well as the company's first black ballerina, Raven Wilkinson (whose career was cut short thanks to the Klu Klux Klan). The troupe made a brief stop-off in Hollywood, where they casually cranked out a couple of films. None of them really stayed, though. Dancing was their love and their life, and even though they were treated more or less like circus animals, they all had the bug. Sixty years later, many of them tear up when they remember their time on the stage for the greatest ballet company in the world.

You don't have to be a ballet nut to enjoy this film, and you don't have to understand why a person would want to dedicate their entire life to prancing around in tights. The passion of these still-spry dancers will explain it for you. They did what they were born to do, and they had a blast doing it. We can all understand that, can't we?


NOTE: Watch for my favorite moment in the film, a clip of the Rita Hayworth film, "Tonight and Every Night" with Ballet Russe dancer Marc Platt. You think Gene Kelly was the greatest dancer in film? Think again."
Singularly important documentary
Jacques A. | 02/04/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Of course I and every dancer and afficionado am grateful to Geller and Goldfine for this documentary, a resource of unique film footage as well as just-in-time interviews with some of the most important dancers of the early 20th century. But it is the very uniqueness and importance of the material that I wonder if Geller and Goldfine fully appreciate.
I heard Geller and Goldfine interviewed on the radio in 2005 and they spoke excitedly of great quantities of archival footage and interview material they had to leave out of the film for theatrical release, but which they looked forward to putting on the dvd. Well, on the dvd there is a "bonus" section of snippets of interviews with Franklin and 4 others for a total of 10 extra minutes. Those 10 minutes are interesting and valuable but far short of what Geller and Goldfine were talking about in the interview. Perhaps problems arose with the plan to incorporate the extra material into the dvd.
A small problem, but telling: in the archival footage of the different ballets the music has been dubbed in, and it is almost always the wrong music for the ballet (sometimes it's not even the correct composer). Why bother dubbing in music at all if it's the wrong music? This suggests the film makers don't think it matters. For people who know better the wrong music distracts from the experience of seeing such rare footage.
The film centers around a reunion of the elderly surviving members of the 3 Ballets Russes companies. Personally I found the scenes of this big, cheerful, relaxed, often clownish reunion boring, and finally, as the scenes go on, a bit grating. I realize that like most dancers I come to this film deeply aware of the immense professional and artistic stature of the people in it. I don't begrudge these extraordinary artists their fun at all, but the scenes of the reunion are anything but extraordinary, and in their place I'd much rather have seen more of that historical footage Geller and Goldfine said they didn't have room for.
In the end I can only be grateful to Geller and Goldfine for this documentary, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they don't really quite realize the artistic stature of the people they filmed, nor do they quite understand the art those people gave their lives to."
For Every Ballet Fan
Michael Gunther | Maryland, USA | 03/04/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is an absolutely delightful DVD. It combines narration, archival footage, and interviews with original(!) members of the companies to produce a very engaging history. To clarify, the DVD is about two companies: the "Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo" and the so-called "Original Ballet Russe" company, both of which split off from the _real_ original Ballet Russe - which as all of you know was the company of Najinsky etc. - after 1929.

Everything about this DVD is first-class. The archival footage is very clean. The narration clarified many points of history about which I was very confused, including how George Balanchine bounced around like a pinball from place to place during those early years. Best of all was the contemporary footage and oral history interviews of company members. I could hardly believe how many dancers from the two companies are still around in the 21st century! We're talking WWII-era here. If this were Japan, we would declare them National Treasures. Many of them in their 80s, they are still vital and active in teaching, and in at least one case, performing! And they are still such lovely people that my heart just went out to them.

The DVD cover includes a url for more information: [...]; do check it out, and I hope you like it as much as I did!"