In Italy, a world-renowned Russian ballet dancer (Mikhail Baryshnikov, White Nights) is immersed in his latest project, a new version of the romantic ballet Giselle, which he wants to record on film for posterity. The arrival of a new dancer (Julie Kent, Center Stage) creates unexpected problems for the famous dancer and his ballet troupe.
Reaction & Thoughts:
This is what I call a noble failure. Dancers, written by Sarah Kernochan (Sommersby and What Lies Beneath), directed by Herbert Ross (The Sunshine Boys and The Goodbye Girl) has mighty ambitions, but the end result leaves you wanting a bit more.
Not unlike the 1948 masterpiece The Red Shoes, Dancers attempts to create a storyline that somewhat parallels the story within the ballet. The classic 19th century Giselle is about an innocent young woman who dies of a broken heart after she finds out that her beau is engaged to another woman. Dancers is about a naive ballet dancer who falls for a famous dancer only to find out that he just is not that into her. The film goes back and forth between the stage melodrama and the backstage drama.
Sadly, the experimental narrative is not as engaging, or as illuminating, as it meant to be. The editing is a bit choppy and I felt that the plot was rushed — it’s a relatively short movie — yet there is something appealing, endearing about a movie that tries to say that ballet, or any art form for that matter, is a mirror-image of life itself.
What I like most about Dancers is how it shows in great detail the work required to stage a successful ballet. The idea of acting being as important as dancing in a ballet piece is something that I hadn’t considered until now. We see Baryshnikov’s character consumed by the things mostly associated with straight plays, like blocking, motivation of characters, etc. Baryshnikov is, in fact, much more worried about projecting the right emotions than about executing perfect dance movements — that took me totally by surprise!
There is also an interesting subplot regarding the protagonist, an acclaimed dancer, trying to rediscover his passion for ballet. He can do the steps, but the emotions are not there. The film once again insists that ballet is a physically, mentally, emotionally, even spiritually demanding profession (more food for the thought).
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
The movie was clearly made by people who knew a few things about ballet. Dancers reunited most of the team responsible for the classic ballet film The Turning Point. Director Ross, actors Baryshnikov and Leslie Browne, producer Nora Kaye, editor William Reynolds, they all participated in both movies. The backstage atmosphere is vividly captured by Ross and his team. Unfortunately, the script let them all down. Despite its flaws, this is the kind of movie fans of ballet don’t want to miss. You also get to look at Baryshnikov dance up a storm. Color, 99 minutes, Rated PG.