Dancers (1987)

Synopsis:

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.

P.S. This is my contribution to The Ballet Blogathon, hosted by Christina Wehner and Michaela (Love Letters to Old Hollywood).

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16 responses to “Dancers (1987)

  1. Pingback: “En Pointe: The Ballet Blogathon” Begins Today! | Christina Wehner·

  2. Baryshnikov dancing up a storm sounds like my cup of tea! That is too bad the plot and directing did not rise to the dancing. I was actually just watching a recording of Giselle, though, and this might be a good place to go next.

    That is extremely interesting about the blocking and acting and emotional side of ballet! I had never considered that, either. It helps me appreciate that ballet is also a form of acting (I’ve recently been wondering about the affinity between ballet and silent films, too) and not just executing beautiful steps.

    Thanks so much for joining and bringing a new perspective to ballet!

    Liked by 1 person

    • “I’ve recently been wondering about the affinity between ballet and silent films …” That’s a clever observation! Chaplin’s pantomime does have a certain rhythm to it. Silent movies tend to have some of the movements associated with ballet (and opera). It’s interesting to see how movies have evolved into something less melodramatic, yet ballet remains stubbornly entrenched in tradition …

      Liked by 1 person

      • True! Perhaps that is part of the appeal? When I talk to kids and teenagers about silent movies, I try to show how silent films have some affinity to ballet, just so they don’t approach silent movies with a modern movie acting paradigm, otherwise it seems very disappointing to them. But the comparison with ballet seemed to make sense to them.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Don’t you find interesting that modern viewers don’t like to see in a movie what they readily embrace in a theater? I’ve always seen naturalism, not as the de facto method, but as a mere a technique. That’s why I like silent movies as much as I like modern films. You just have to learn to adjust/readjust your internal frequency depending on the style and/or content. 😀

          Liked by 1 person

          • That is a very interesting perspective about naturalism as being a technique among many! That makes a lot of sense.

            I know what you mean! I’ve been surprised at the assumption young people (or people in general) have that natural acting must be real acting or the best kind of acting on film. Instead of seeing that many styles of acting can reveal different aspects of truth, reality and emotion.

            But it’s also led me to wonder if that is why we are starting to see people watching facebook videos of people torturing other people. It’s about as “real” and “natural” as it gets, but seems perverse.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. As I’m reading everyone’s posts, I’m noticing a common thread of ballet being an extremely passionate art form. It makes sense considering the punishment dancers put their bodies through (you must love it if you’re willing to physically and sometimes mentally suffer), but it’s something I kind of took for granted. How fascinating that this film explores that. Thanks for contributing to our blogathon!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you, Eric. I viewed this film when it was first shown. It was quite disappointing, after Turning Point. In any case, this glimpse into the lives of the dancers and their art will always be there to enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve only recently begun to appreciate how much acting ballet dancers must put into their performances. It’s not just their bodies that have to tell the story but their facial expressions as well. It’s no wonder it is considered the “highest” form of dance. I’m going to watch Dancers because your review really intrigued me….even if it film isn’t another masterpiece like The Red Shoes.

    Liked by 1 person

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