Ballets Russes

2005, NR, 118 min. Directed by Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine. Narrated by Marian Seldes.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Feb. 17, 2006

Ballets Russes

AFS@Dobie This rousing documentary tells the story of a once-celebrated, now long-defunct ballet company that changed the face of modern dance. Three companies, actually – the original Ballet Russe, built to exercise the talents of all the Russian refugees in Paris, went bust in 1929, when its founder, Diaghilev, died. It was resurrected two years later by Wasily de Basil, a banker and former colonel; several years after that, de Basil and his choreographer, Leonid Massine, split acrimoniously. In what was heralded at that time as “the ballet wars,” the two men squabbled over rights to the choreography, the dancers, and the name itself. Massine’s troupe became the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, while de Basil’s company went by the Original Ballet Russe. That’s a dry summation for history that plays far livelier in Geller and Goldfine’s terrific doc. Deftly mixing talking-head interviews, archival footage, and sly musical cues, Ballets Russes impressively catalogues 30 years of the companies’ triumphs and failures, and does so in a way that a dance neophyte can easily absorb – owing largely to how absorbing the dancers, now in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, are. They are characters in the best sense of the word – especially the aging prima ballerinas, extravagantly made-up and dishing, in their divine Slavic accents, on who diddled who and who was an awful taskmaster. Although Ballets Russes has an admirable sense of humor about itself, there’s a holiness here that’s easy to sign onto. Curiously, it’s the ballet corps – members of whom grew up into a pioneering gay porn director (Wakefield Poole) and Batgirl (Yvonne Craig) – who sound the most reverential about the companies. The stars are less dewy-eyed, but when they gather for a reunion in 2000, it’s obvious that dance is a bug they caught young and never got over. There is one scene in particular that’s a hell of a heartbreaker, in which George Zoritch and Nathalie Krassovska re-create a scene from Giselle, which they danced 50 years prior (a scene made all the more poignant by the revelation that Zoritch once proposed to Krassovska, who married often, and badly, it would seem). Krassovska, one of those flamboyant primas, bats her eyes coquettishly; they coach each other in Russian; and George dissolves into laughter as he sputters, “Don’t run away, I can’t move so fast!” The moment – and the movie – are nothing short of majestic.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Films
Us
Jordan Peele has met the enemy, and they is Us

Richard Whittaker, March 22, 2019

Level 16
Horror mystery used dread in a tale of the lies we tell young women

Danielle White, March 22, 2019

More by Kimberley Jones
Gloria Bell
Julianne Moore excels (as always) in this funny, poignant character study

March 22, 2019

Trump’s Twitter Library, a Ferris Wheel of Cheese, and More From the Wide, Weird World of SXSW
Trump’s Twitter Library, a Ferris Wheel of Cheese, and More From the Wide, Weird World of SXSW
Festival-adjacent events abound!

March 8, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Ballets Russes, Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle