There are two moments in Ballets Russes that bring gasps from the audience. Half an hour into the documentary, we've already met many of the surviving members from the heyday of the touring ballet company, now in their mid to late 80s. We've been told by the narrator that they were the great beauties of their day, plucked from the stage and from Max Reinhardt's stable, among other places. This comes across as a perfectly acceptable platitude - what else would the narrator say, after all? Then comes the moment when we see archival photos and films of two of the octogenarians in question: one of them is a mirror image of a young Ava Gardner and the other could be described as a flapper-era Nicole Kidman. That's when we know that the film has a story to tell, about a time and place when the silver screen was not the only place for besotted aesthetes to catch a glimpse of world-beating beauty and intimate stagecraft, fused together. It's a rather lengthy story - a snapshot of the entire 50-year history of the Ballet Russes, skipping across the decades while maintaining a tight, insular focus. As we're fed the numerous personal histories of the dancers, there's only a slight, Gumpian patina of history-history to serve as a backdrop. When the story reaches 1939, for example, the filmmakers wedge in a brief shot of a Nuremberg rally, followed by a shot of the entire Ballet Russes company on board a steamer, leaving Europe for America.

categories Cinematical