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Ballet used in "non-ballet" movies

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Guest Shanynrose

"Being John Malkovich" has already been mentioned, but I thought I'd add my two cents on that subject.

When we still lived in the AZ mountains, we had a guest teacher coming in monthly and all I knew was that she danced with a company in California. So I ran a web search on her name and besides figuring out which company she was with I also found mention of her on the Malkovich cast list. So of course I ran out and rented it to see if I could catch a glimpse of someone I knew.

Said teacher was credited as "Ballerina," but by the time I got to the ballet sequence the movie had taken its place as one of my geekyweird favorites. And to the credit of the ballerinas in the sequence, I couldn't distinguish our acquaintance from the other ballerinas. Uniformity they had :)

My kids are starting to do some background work and soon I'll be going to see movies to catch a glimpse of my own. Trying to see if I know anyone in the film won't be a novelty anymore, but I'm glad I got "Being John Malkovich" all the same.

I also liked "Hans Christian Andersen" - great visuals and I loved the colored pointe shoes.

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Claude Lelouch's "Les Uns et les Autres" has a pretty-near complete "Boléro" towards the end - can't remember which company, as it's easily 15 years since I've seen it. The film is in English, German and French, if I remember correctly, and starts Geraldine Chaplin and Jorge Donn, among others.

Damn, having just remembered it, I'll have to go find it on e-bay!

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First of all, a plug for the home team: the ballerinas in "Being John Malkovich" were all from San Diego's California Ballet. Discovering this company is one of the joys of having moved here.

The movie version of "Chicago" has just been released on DVD. The role of Hunyak (the Hungarian-speaking and only innocent member of the "Six Merry Murderesses") is played by Ekaterina Chtchelkanova (aka Ekaterina (Katya)Schelkanova or Shelkanova). She was trained at the Vaganova Institute, danced as a soloist with the Kirov before joining ABT as a corps member in 1995. Some of us have fond memories of her as a soloist with ABT. She can also be seen on film as one of the four little swans in the Swan Lake excerpt from "Center Stage." Since leaving ABT she's been a guest principal with several regional companies and the last I heard she was in the ensemble of Tharp's "Movin' Out" on Broadway.

In the hyper-aggresive "Cell Block Tango" number in "Chicago" her segment stands out for being lyrical and balletic, finishing with a graceful penchee. It's interesting that among all these jazz dancers they used a ballerina to represent the innocent (and tragic) character.

According to director Rob Marshall, she was also quite daring. The character gets hanged twice; once in a realistic scene and also in a vaudville representation where she dives off a platform with a noose around her waist. Katya insisted on taking both drops herself rather than using a stunt double.


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:huepfen: It's Steve! It's Steve!


Someday when you have a minute, tell us more about the California Ballet. If it's the one I'm thinking of (Denise Dabrowski is the ballerina?) we did a feature on them during Ballet Alert!'s first year. I saw their program book and, from the photos, it looked very impressive. (If I've got the wrong company, sorry!)

Thanks for the update on Shelkanova (as I knew her at ABT. I was very impressed with her in "Lilac Garden;" Dale interviewed her for Ballet Alert!, too -- to place her for those who read us.) It's good to know she's still dancing.

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I wonder if anyone mentioned:

- "Isadora" with Vanessa Redgrave who did all the dancing scenes herself;

- joint American and Soviet film production of "The Bluebird" based on a play by Metterlink (forgive me my spelling) with Elizabeth Taylor. She did not dance of course but the Bluebird I think was danced by Nadezhda Pavlova;

- "The White Nights" with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Alla Osipenko;

- "Men in Her Life" where Loretta Young played a ballerina Lena Varsavina. It is such an old film but I remember, quite vaguely, that she danced there a ballet "The White Rose" produced by her despotic coach and husband (played by Konrad Weidt).

Edited by coda
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Vanessa Redgrave is magnificent in the Isadora film.

I read Isadora's autobiography in June and then watched my video of the film (again). I'm wondering why her richest benefactor and father of her son is called Singer in the film and is named Lohengrin in the book.

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Glebb, I also thought the film was excellent, and am especially haunted by the composition of the screen when a fortune-teller tells Isadora to fear death by water or something of that sort, and she turns to face the camera, close-up on the right of the screen. VR has such a graphic expression of anguish at that point, which marks the transition to the drowning of her children. I haven't read the autobiography, but I would imagine that Lohengrin serves a dual purpose of concealing the identity of a living personage (my mother had a Singer sewing machine in my childhood, by the way and I vividly remember the clusters of gold foliage on a glossy black background) and also to encode the idea of a knight in shining armour, since in Wagner's opera, Lohengrin appears from nowhere to save Elsa--no doubt an allusion to the fact that Singer's fortune enabled ID to open her school in Paris.

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Fred Astaire and Audrey Heburn performing the 'ballet' sequence (she wears a bridal gown resembling a tutu) in a movie called, ahem, er, uh, oh yeah -- "Funny Face" (!!!)

Katherine Healey and Mary Tyler Moore in "Six Weeks." Healey portrays a young girl with leukemia whose days are numbered, but who has many wishes to fulfill, including auditioning for "Nutcracker," which she does when she goes with mom on a trip to NY. There's also a scene with Moore and Healey taking barre together.

Regarding made for tv movies, Melissa Gilbert portrays a Russian ballet dancer opposite her real life husband, Bruce Boxleitner, in "Zoya." Gilbert, who obviously had ballet training, is credible in the role. Incidentally, during my first go round, years ago, as a dance major, one of my classmates was Bruce Boxleitner's sister, Terri Boxleitner, who displayed an early flair for choreography with a piece called "Pulsar," that she bowled us over with.

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Perhaps I missed it, but has anyone mentioned "Talk to Her", Pedro Almodovar's latest film?

One of the main characters is a ballet dancer who falls into a coma. The man who eventually comes to be her nurse observes her in ballet class from his window, and the two characters are later visited by the dancing girl's teacher, who describes her plans to choreograph a ballet based on WWI.

Also, there are several scenes in which we observe some of the film's characters watching Pina Bausch and her troupe in the theater- that's actually how the film opens.

I'd be interested to know who the background dancers in the ballet class scense are (the movie was filmed in Spain) and whether the stars had any dance training.

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What about Suspiria? Innocent american ballet dancer goes to top school somewhere in middle Europe, only the school is an ancient, deeply sick witch coven . . . The ballet (what little there is) is pretty pathetic, but the horror is pretty decent. Scared the hell out of me anyway. The director (who is famous in horror circles, but not my circles, so I don't remember his name) is known for being very intellectual and all that, so I'm sure he had some deeper purpose in mind. I think, sadly, it has a lot to do with an outsider's view of a female dominated profession (both in terms of performance and training).

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I scrolled through all the posts in this thread and did not find a reference to the movie David Copperfield. I was distractedly watching it last night on TV and there was a charming ballet that was going on which almost no one in 2 adjoining boxes was watching as they were deep in animated conversation!

One character was trying to keep her eyes on the ballet, but was continually being talked to by a character (I think it was the young Copperfield) who never once looked toward the stage! The shadows of the dancers were even swirling behind the heads of the actors as they continued ignoring the ballet.

I do not know which ballet it was or who the dancers were, but the dancing wasn't t-o-o-o bad!

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This is the same post I just added to the "Diaghilev Era" thread. :D The 1996 film, "Surviving Picasso," aired this evening on local tv. It is a recollection of Francoise Gillot's relationship with the artist from Francoise's viewpoint, and it depicted (among other events) Picasso viewing a performance with Diaghilev where he sees Olga for the first time and is intrigued. Diaghilev explains that he hired some of his dancers because they are wonderful dancers and that he hired others for their social connections, that Olga belonged to the latter group.

What powerfully influential forces, those guys, Serge and Pablo, but I sure wouldn't want to spend time in the company of either! :devil::)

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While definitely on the dark side there is a scene in the Uprising (Ghetto Uprising WW II) where a young ballerina has her legs

broken by friends to prevent her from going to the concentration camp. Deeply effected my son (ballet dancer).

The ballet scenes were totally unexpected in such a setting but where very effective in depecting how they where trying to live a normal

as possible under the circumstances.

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This topic should be made a "sticky". I have referred to it many times when purchasing movies since finding this on the boards. All great references. Can't remember if anyone mentioned "Can Can" The ballet is lousy, but all of the other dances and the rest of the movie is great. Shirley MacLaine, Frank Sinatra, Maurice Chevalier and Louis Jourdan are in this movie.

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Anybody mentionned this old "masterpiece" that is "Sissi". I wonder if you know it apart from Europe... It is an old movie of the 50's relating former Austria empress Elisabeth's life. The main actress is Romy Schneider.

In the third part of this trilogy, Sissi and her husband go to opera house to see a performance of Gounod's "Faust", and there we can see the Vienna opera ballet.

Edited by traviata
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This thread is so long now, I hesitate to sift through the entire thing to see if this film has been mentioned. (Maybe we should do a sticky of previously listed films?]

Just caught a part of the classic Bathing Beauty (1944) on TCM, an Esther Williams vehicle (or vessel!) with Red Skelton as her goofy composer boyfriend. Directed by Kitschmeister George Sidney at his Technicolor best.

Featuring a long ballet studio schtick-fest complete with Red in pink tutu...uses lots of Nutcracker...the corps appears to be mostly Hollywood showgirls, but some appear to have taken more than a few classes. Appalling caricature of sadistic Russian ballet mistress played by Anne Codee as Madame Zarka. She slaps poor Red around in what is more like a roles-reversed apache dance than a ballet class.

Noticed that Anne Codee reprised the role of Ballet Mistress in another Red Skelton laffer, The Clown (1953).

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Ah, good old eBay. This is being auctioned, and the title and summary were in German. Passed it through Babelfish. An Edgar Wallace film, perhaps I shall now try to figure out what film it is.....


Myrna Fergusson (Lyvia farmer), a dancer in the Londoner "Royal clench", is in a biligen descend murdered. As the supervisor Craig (Hansjoerg Felmy) at the scene, assigned of Scotland yard the case, arrives, the corpse however already disappeared. But suddenly its sister Danny (Uschi glass) emerges, which lives in Australia, by Myrna before her death was however briefly asked, into the British capital too kommne. Where always Danny is, also Milton S. Farnborough (Harry Riebauer) is not far, a strange man, she learned whom to already know in the airplane. Soon Danny and Craig find out that the author is to be searched in the midst of a ring from dealers - no miracle, Myrna had been transferred by the yard as an informer into these circles. However the situation goes out of control and it happens further murders. The vorbestrafte Jim Donovan (Michael Miller) and the unusually good informed photographer David Armstrong (Vadim Glowna) belong to the main suspects... "the dead one from the Themse" belonged to the late works the Edgar Wallace row and one seized here in the case of occupation unfortunately completely beside it. Hansjoerg Felmy may not have delivered one prima "Tatort" commissioner, to the British Inspector was suited it. And also one selected Uschi glass probably predominantly, because she was announced at the youth straight - and one needed young spectators urgently, the last Wallace films not so well had nevertheless run, which had led to a production break before the "dead one from the Themse". So unfortunately also this strip cannot convince - commercially it was however success and smoothed the way for further Wallace filmings in the next two years.

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Last night Turner Classic Movies showed an early Cold War film called Never Let Me Go. In it, American journalist Clark Gable, who is stationed in Moscow, falls in love with a Russian ballerina played by Gene Tierney ("Number Four Swan"), and they marry. Gene has it all worked out: San Francisco, Clark's home town, has an opera house, and she will dance there. And teach their children ballet -- "Ballet makes pretty bodies, and you want our childrens to have pretty bodies, yes?" Trouble is, the Soviet authorities won't grant her an exit visa, and throw Clark out of the country. Their displeasure has no effect on her career, though, and she gets more leading roles -- "Only now I dance better, because I am dancing my love for you" she writes him. An escape attempt fails because Gene is kept in Moscow to dance Swan Lake for a military hero. Clark steals a Russian army uniform and attends the performance, then carries Gene off (literally -- she had fainted when she saw him in the audience). Before they can escape, one of the swan corps recognizes Clark as Gene's American husband, and blurts it out. "Shut up, honey, you're the next Swan Queen," Clark tells her, but she figures that squealing to the authorities is a more reliable way of ensuring promotion. A car chase ensues, but Clark and Gene manage to elude their pursuers, plunge into an unspecified body of water, and swim to freedom.

The story may be naive in many respects -- the real Soviet government would have punished a citizen who married an American far more harshly -- but the ballet scenes are treated with respect and are marked by an absence of howlers that Hollywood movies sometimes commit when dealing with ballet. There are several short dance sequences, all from Swan Lake Act II, performed by the London Festival Ballet, with Anton Dolin as Gene's partner. And, appropriately, Gene doesn't do Odette's mime scene. Prescient, since Soviet ballet hadn't yet made its appearance in the West in 1953.

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