Remember, the first free streaming performing arts festival, Promenade begins on September 15th! Click here to learn more!
Different art forms have a way of overlapping. For example, singers dance, dancers act, writers play musical instruments, and visual artists delve in the performing arts. None of the combinations we just gave you are set in stone, and an artist who excels at one discipline might find themselves dedicating themselves to an entirely different one. What we are trying to say is that in the world of art there are no rules. That said, a crossover we don’t feel we see enough of is ballet in the movies. Sure, now and then a ballet movie reaches critical acclaim, but being the ballet buffs that we are, we would sure like to see Hollywood put out more movies that focus on the classical art of ballet dancing.
Of course, this inspired us to create yet another list. These are our favorite movies about a dance form we love, ballet.
1. Center Stage (2000)
This teen movie revolving around the art of ballet introduces us to twelve young dancers auditioning for a coveted spot in the American Ballet Academy. Like most teen movies, Center Stage is filled with drama and conflict. The best dancer of the twelve, Cooper, is rivals with the academy’s director and choreographer Jonathan. This feud started when Cooper’s longtime girlfriend Kathleen left him to marry Jonathan. Maureen who is Jonathan’s best student secretly struggles with a debilitating eating disorder. Jody is driven but has bad feet that get in the way of her dreams of stardom. The movie follows the ballet dancers through love and tough decisions. Spoiler alert: this movie has a bittersweet ending. Maureen leaves the ballet and settles for a quieter life at a University, Jody is offered a spot in the American Ballet Company, while Cooper starts his own dance company with the backing of a wealthy female humanitarian of the arts. Jonathan is jealous because he planned on asking the same woman for a donation.
2. First Position (2011)
Unlike the first movie about ballet on our list, First Position is a documentary and not a work of fiction. The film makers take us on a journey through the world of high-level children’s ballet to follow six young dancers as they train rigorously to compete in the Youth America Grand Prix. This is a yearly contest where dancers between the ages of nine and nineteen vie to earn a position in a famous ballet school or company. We watch as these six children, all hailing from diverse backgrounds, train to be the best. The film’s name First Position is from a standard position of the feet during ballet dancing.
3. Black Swan (2010)
One of the most famous movies about ballet in recent years, Black Swan has received critical acclaim. Natalie Portman plays a ballerina who dances for the New York City Ballet. Like most dancers, Nina, Portman’s character, lives for the dance and not much else. She lives with an overbearing mother who was once a ballerina herself. When the new season approaches Nina becomes the director’s choice to play the lead in Swan Lake, but he meets a new dancer to the company Lily, played by Mila Kunis, who soon becomes competition for the role. Leroy, the ballet company director is impressed with Lily and her abilities to create the Black Swan side of the main character in Swan Lake. Thus a rivalry and friendship is born that allows Nina to investigate the darker side of herself.
PS: Speaking of swans, check out the magnificent A Swan Lake, performed by the Norwegian National Ballet – enjoy today!
4. Billy Elliot (2000)
The Elliots are a family of coal miners living without a mother or wife during the 1984 strike against the closing of the British coal mines. Young Billy, age eleven, is forced to take boxing classes at the local community center but soon he realizes he would much rather be in the ballet class. When his family discovers his new secret activity, he is ridiculed, and his masculinity and sexuality comes into question. The community center dance teacher recognizes Billy’s natural abilities and convinces his father to let him compete for a chance to attend the Royal Ballet.
This sweet film never touches on the sexual orientation of Billy even after he is a successful ballet dancer. We find this the best way to have handled the subject because Billy’s dancing talent has nothing to do with his sexuality. This classic movie inspired a wildly successful musical of the same name, and you can find more information about it here.
5. The Red Shoes (1948)
Our heroine, Vicky Page, becomes torn between her love for ballet and her love for composer Julian Craster, who is quickly rising in the world of dance. Under the overbearing and obsessive direction of Boris Lermontov, she quickly rises to stardom. Boris urges Vicky to remove all of her distractions so she can focus only on dance. Once Lermontov finds out Vicky and Julian have been romantic he gives her an ultimatum, it is either the ballet or Julian. Vicky chooses her love and they marry, much to the dismay of Lermontov. After she is married Vicky starts to miss being a dancer and is given a chance to dance “The Red Shoes” show once again. Even though Vicky tries to resist but she is eventually sways by Lermontov and this decision subsequently causes strife in her marriage with Julian. This movie was nominated for five Academy Awards in 1948 and won two. Not only is this a fantastic ballet movie, it is also one of the greatest films of all time.
6. Ballet Shoes (2007)
Sylvia Brown, a young orphan, is sent to her uncle Gum’s house in London with her nurse Nana to live. Her uncle isn’t pleased, but he relents and agrees to take care of her because she has no other family. They grow fond of each other, and we watch Sylvia grow up. She still lives with Nana and Gum. Gum decides to adopt a baby girl named Pauline who was orphaned when her parents were killed on board the Titanic. When Pauline is two, Gum decides to adopt another child from Russia whose name is Petrova. Finally, Gum adopts his final girl Posy, who is brought to him with ballet shoes that once belonged to her now dead mother. The movie follows Petrova and Pauline audition for parts as fairies in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Posy’s desire to attend ballet school in Czechoslovakia.
7. Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)
Set in a Chinese village, the protagonist Li Cunxin is an eleven-year-old selected by the Communist Party to study ballet in Beijing at Madame Mao’s Dance Academy. Li finds himself years later in Houston as part of an educational curriculum focusing on ballet and the arts. He meets ballet dancer Elizabeth Mackey and they quickly fall in love. When the Chinese government requests Li to return, he marries Elizabeth and defects to the United States. Li and Elizabeth move to Florida, but their marriage falls apart soon after. Li eventually returns to China to perform. He and his new wife visit the village where it all started for Li.
8. Save the Last Dance (2001)
When Sara Johnson’s mother dies, she is required to move from the suburbs of Chicago to her father’s inner city apartment on the south side. Sara is training for the ballet, and she dreams of being a professional ballerina someday. Still, in her new community, she finds that making friends isn’t that easy. Until she meets Chenille and her brother Derek, who both take her to local dance clubs and teach her what hip-hop dancing is all about. Sara incorporates her new moves when auditioning for ballet school.
9. The Turning Point (1977)
Shirley MacLaine plays DeeDee, a professional dancer who is forced to quit her position at the ballet company when she realizes she has become pregnant with fellow dancer Wayne’s baby, played by Tom Skerritt. The two get married and move to Oklahoma City to run a school of dance. Anne Bancroft plays Emma, who stays in New York and achieves the status of prima ballerina. When the company comes to Oklahoma City DeeDee takes her children to see the performance. Emma and DeeDee become enemies throughout this film, and each struggles with their life choices.
10. White Nights (1985)
Mikhail Baryshnikov plays ballet dancer Nikolai Rodchenko who has defected from the Russia to the United States. While on his way to perform in Tokyo his plane has engine trouble, and he is forced to land in Siberia. Once Nikolai is recognized by the KGB as a defector from Russia, the chief officer contacts American dancer Raymond Greenwood, who is living there after he defected to the Soviet Union. The friendship between the two men takes time to develop but once it does they become thick as thieves. Raymond learns that his wife is going to have a baby and he decides he doesn’t want that child to grow up in Russia. So the trio plans to escape. The escape plan works for some, but Raymond sacrifices his own freedom to give his wife hers.
11. The Company (2003)
Another movie that brilliantly combines the world of ballet with the silver screen is The Company starring Neve Campbell and James Franco. Loretta, played by Campbell, hopes to become a prima ballerina with the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. Still, being a professional dancer is a lot of work, and the requirements begin to wear on her. She begins dating Josh, played by Franco, who has no ties in the world of ballet. This dramatic film touches on other character’s lives including the director. Original members of the Joffrey Ballet dance in the numbers we see in the movie.