Dancers Trending

A Conversation With the Artists Behind Your New Favorite Ballet Movie

Niels Schneider and Anastasia Shevtsova in a still from Polina. Photo courtesy Oscilloscope Laboratories.

In the new ballet film Polina, opening Friday in New York, the camera keeps closing in on people intently watching dance: teachers appraising pupils; a mother focused on her child's recital; rapt spectators at a performance; dancers in the studio concentrating on a choreographer's moves.

It's no accident, say the movie's co-directors, famed French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj and his filmmaker wife, Valérie Müller, speaking in French during a joint phone conversation. Citing Marcel Duchamp's assertion that it is the observer who completes a work of art, Preljocaj contends, "A statue in a museum at night does not exist. It exists only when the first visitor arrives and enters into a relationship with it. We wanted to honor that gaze." Müller quickly suggests another reason: "There's a lot of looking in a dancer's life. I'm not a dancer, but I've filmed them. And I've always noticed that part of the job is looking at the other dancers—'Is she doing this better than I am?' "

The title character, an aspiring Moscow ballerina played for most of the movie by wide-eyed Vaganova Ballet Academy graduate Anastasia Shevtsova, isn't one of those competitive, sharp-elbowed types familiar in movies like Black Swan and The Turning Point. Polina has plenty of doubts and anxieties, but Müller, who wrote the script, notes that the filmmakers were consciously discarding clichés: "We wanted to show a present-day young woman who lives normally, going to clubs with friends who aren't dancers." Another point of pride is that Polina, which opens nationwide after its Los Angeles premiere September 1, uses no body doubles—the actors all do their own dancing, and lots of it.

As Polina's dreams of a career at the Bolshoi start coming true, she's dazzled by the contemporary dance of a French choreographer (who in some ways resembles Preljocaj and whose dances are, of course, identical) as well as a gorgeous French dancer (Niels Schneider). Like many young people before her, she leaves home to find her own destiny, first following the dancer to the south of France—headquarters for Preljocaj's company and that of the movie's fictional choreographer Liria, played by French actress Juliette Binoche—and then striking out on her own to Belgium, where she meets a street choreographer portrayed by Paris Opéra Ballet étoile Jérémie Bélingard.

French actress Juliette Binoche plays the choreographer Liria. Photo courtesy Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Polina's journey from classical ballet to contemporary dance to hip hop originated in an eponymous 2011 graphic novel by the popular French comic-book artist Bastien Vivès. Preljocaj and Müller were fans, but their film goes beyond the book, fleshing out Polina's childhood and family (she's played as a girl by Veronika Zhovnytska); and the French choreographer portrayed by Binoche in the film was a man in the novel. "We felt Polina had too many men in her life," Preljocaj says.

The original plan was for Müller to direct the actors while Preljocaj dealt with the camera. But, they say, it went so well that they were soon sharing the tasks equally. And they laugh off a question about whether there were problems dispelling work-day irritants when they left the set and returned home. They found they liked having the other around as a sounding board. "When you're making a movie," Müller says, "it's all you think about anyway."

Show Comments ()
Irina Dvorovenko's latest role: Playing Elizaveta Grushinskaya in Grand Hotel at New York City Center. Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy New York City Center.

Whether playing a saucy soubrette or an imperious swan, Irina Dvorovenko was always a formidable presence on the American Ballet Theatre stage. Since her 2013 retirement at 39, after 16 seasons, she's been bringing that intensity to an acting career in roles ranging from, well, Russian ballerinas to the Soviet-era newcomer she plays in the FX spy series "The Americans."

We caught up with her after tech rehearsal for the Encores! presentation of the musical Grand Hotel, directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes and running March 21–25 at New York City Center. It's another tempestuous ballerina role for Dvorovenko—Elizaveta Grushinskaya, on her seventh farewell tour, resentfully checks into the Berlin hostelry of the title with her entourage, only to fall for a handsome young baron and sing "Bonjour, Amour."

Keep reading... Show less
Breaking Stereotypes
Photos via Instagram

When Andrew Montgomery first saw the Las Vegas hit Le Rêve - The Dream 10 years ago, he knew he had to be a part of the show one day. Eight years later, he auditioned, and made it to the last round of cuts. On his way home, still waiting to hear whether he'd been cast, he was in a motorcycle accident that ended up costing him half his leg.

But Montgomery's story doesn't end the way you might think. Today, he's a cast member of Le Rêve, where he does acrobatics and aerial work, swims (yes, the show takes places in and around a large pool) and dances, all with his prosthetic leg.

Keep reading... Show less
Rant & Rave
Is this the turning point when we'll finally see an end to dancer mistreatment? Photo by Gez Xavier Mansfield/Unsplash

Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:

If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.

The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.

Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet, wrote his thoughts about the issue on his company's website on Monday:

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Via Instagram

When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.

"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
Jayme Thornton

Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.

An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.

"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."

Keep reading... Show less
Breaking Stereotypes
Ballez class staples include no mirrors and barres arranged in a circle. Photo by Elyssa Goodman, Courtesy Pyle

A flock of polyamorous princes, a chorus of queer dying swans, a dominatrix witch: These are a few of the characters that populate the works of Katy Pyle, who, with her Brooklyn-based company Ballez, has been uprooting ballet's gender conventions since 2011.

Historically, ballet has not allowed for the expression of lesbian, transgender or gender-nonconforming identities. With Ballez, Pyle is reinventing the classical canon on more inclusive terms. Her work stems from a deep love of ballet and, at the same time, a frustration with its limits on acceptable body types and on the stories it traditionally tells.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Take your self-massage to the next level. Photo of TheraGun G2PRO via Amazon

The latest fitness fad has us literally buzzing. Vibrating tools—and exercise classes—promise added benefits to your typical workout and recovery routine, and they're only growing more popular.

Warning: These good vibrations don't come cheap.

Keep reading... Show less
Advice for Dancers
Losing a dance company can be like losing part of your family. Photo by Thinkstock.

My life is in complete chaos since my dance company disbanded. I have a day job, so money isn't the issue. It's the loss of my world that stings the most. What can I do?

—Lost Career, Washington, DC

Keep reading... Show less
In The Studio
Dance Theatre of Harlem performing Dougla. Photo by Matha Swope, courtesy DTH.

Dance Theatre of Harlem is busy preparing for the company's Vision Gala on April 4. The works on the program, which takes place on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., reflect on the legacy of Dr. King and his impact on company founder Arthur Mitchell. Among them is the much-anticipated revival of legendary choreographer Geoffrey Holder's Dougla, which will include live music and dancers from Collage Dance Collective.

We stepped into the studio with Holder's wife Carmen de Lavallade and son Leo Holder to hear what it feels like to keep Holder's legacy alive and what de Lavallade thinks of the recent rise in kids standing up against the government—as she did not too long ago.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance As Activism
Nathalia Arja as the Novice in Jerome Robbins' The Cage. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy Miami City Ballet

The encounter with man-eating female creatures in Jerome Robbins' The Cage never fails to shock audiences. As this tribe of insects initiates the newly-born Novice into their community and prepares her for the attack of the male Intruders, the ballet draws us into a world of survival and instinct.

This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins' birth, and a number of Robbins programs are celebrating his timeless repertoire. But it especially feels like a prime moment to experience The Cage again. Several companies are performing it: San Francisco Ballet begins performances on March 20, followed by the English National Ballet in April and New York City Ballet in May.

Why it matters: In this time of female empowerment—as women are supporting one another in vocalizing injustices, demanding fair treatment and pay, and advocating for future generations—The Cage's nest of dominant women have new significance.

Keep reading... Show less


Viral Videos



Get Dance Magazine in your inbox