Thanks to the magic of my new Blu-Ray player with wireless Netflix streaming, I was able to watch Ballerina, a documentary that follows five ballerinas with the Kirov Ballet, and Mad Hot Ballroom, a documentary about a ballroom dancing program offered in New York City public schools, back-to-back. It was quite nice and the picture and sound quality was very good on both.
First up was Ballerina, directed by Bertrand Normand. The five ballerinas are all at various stages in their careers from graduating student to prima ballerina to returning to full-steam after an injury. Alina Somova is the first ballerina introduced and the youngest, at age 17, just graduating from the Vaganova Academy with the starring role in the graduation performance. She joins a classmate, Evguenya Obratsova, and both show promise as future soloists (Evguenya also acted in Les poupees russes which gives her a career alternative if necessary). Svetlana Zakharova is a talented, driven young woman, a prima ballerina barely in her twenties; she moved to the Bolshoi during the filming of the documentary. Diana Vishneva is an established prima with a schedule of international guest appearances. Uliana Lopatkina is working her way back from a two-year hiatus that included surgery for a major ankle injury and the birth of her daughter; Lopatkina is the ballerina the younger dancers look up to, emulate. The structure of this documentary is very informal but it is shot very, very well. The footage includes both performance and rehearsal scenes (I love rehearsal shots as much as performance footage) and I loved watching this film.
I followed up my ballet binge with Mad Hot Ballroom and this was such a joy to watch. The ballroom dancing program in the New York City schools is sooooo different from the "square dancing unit" I had to endure in grade school PE. The kids have so much fun and you can see how invested the teachers and kids become in learning the steps and competing against the other schools. I kept thinking that, for some of the kids, they were on familiar ground with tango, rumba, and swing (which looked more like a Lindy Hop variety), particularly in the Washington Heights school where many of the kids are African-American or Hispanic; you could see the pride just bursting of one of the kids who proudly shouted out "Dominican" when asked where merengue steps originated. The film didn't offer any follow-up commentary so I do hope all the kids featured in this documentary are doing well; the teachers have such hopes for the kids and I was rooting for all of them.