BALLETS RUSSES (Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine, 2005)

The U.S. documentary Ballets russes has proven popular among the culture-vulture set. Unfortunately, it isn’t clear what theme, if any, directors Geller and Goldfine were pursuing. Moreover, the chronological approach wreaked havoc when the ballet company split into two companies, so, after pursuing one of these to the end of the 1940s, the film had to go back in time to address the other. It was painfully confusing.
     Another complaint of mine: there was little, if any, poignancy generated by the contrast between clips and photos of the young dancers way back when and their present-day selves; I would have hoped for some wonderful sense of the passage of time, as there is in Josh Waletzky’s Partisans of Vilna (1986), which shows photographs of young Jewish Resistance fighters way back when and, if they survived, their filmed, interviewed present-day selves; in this instance, the passage-of-time thing kept walloping my heart.
     Still another complaint: nearly all the old dancers in Ballets russes seem incredibly narrow-minded and self-centered. This may or may not be their fault. The interviewers did not seem much interested in revealing a range of the people’s humanity.      Finally, I got exasperated by the snippets of snippets of people dancing—a few steps in this clip, a couple of moves in that clip. Once or twice there should have been something closer to a dance. If no such old film exists, the dance might have been reconstructed in the requisite style using current young dancers. However, the archival footage is by far the best material in the film; but each bit of it is like a bit of glass from a broken kaleidoscope that drops into the film. I am afraid Ballets russes is one of those documentary occasions when the filmmakers really had nothing in mind except to be informative, making their product PBS-ish rather than a film, a work of art. Still, the result is informative, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to know something about the Ballets russes.

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