TOP 10 BALLET MOVIES

If you are as passionate about ballet as we are, you will love all of these great films. 

Ballet is all around us, from our TVs to books, from paintings to fashion, so we soak it in wherever we can.

We included only one documentary (we couldn’t miss it), as this genre is trendy in the ballet world and requires a separate list. 

It still amazes us how different these movies are. However, all of it describes our favorite art form and the complicity of the dancer. While we are stuck at home keeping our social distance, while theatres, ballet companies, and schools are closed, let’s all dive into this beautiful world of ballet through the language of film.

1. THE TURNING POINT

This is a story of two women whose lives are dedicated to ballet.

This 1977 classic featuring Shirley MacLaine and the legendary and amazing Mikhail Baryshnikov, examines the conflict between family and career, envy, aging, and love.

11 Oscar nominations, box-office success, and grateful generations of fans.

2. BALLETS RUSSES

“Ballet Russes” is a fascinating documentary about one of the world’s most iconic companies, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

From 1909 to 1929, the Ballets Russes traveled the globe, becoming one of the most famous ballet troupes in the world. They collaborated with painters and filmmakers and set new standards for artistry in dance production. 

Ballets Russes maps the company’s Diaghilev-era beginnings in turn-of-the-century Paris–when artists such as Nijinsky, Balanchine, Picasso, Miró, Matisse, and Stravinsky united in an unparalleled collaboration.

3. CENTER STAGE

It is hard to believe that Center Stage celebrated its 20th anniversary in May 2020. What was intended to be a small film, teen-romance genre movie with a modest budget ($18, which is modest in Hollywood terms) became a cult classic that has been watched countless times by dance lovers. Tens of thousands of new ballet students lined up to entry exams.

The stars of American Ballet Theatre, dancers Ethan Stiefel, Sascha Radetsky, and Julie Kent became movie stars. It was a first film for Amanda Schull and Zoe Saldana. Both of them have gone on to great success after the film’s release.

4. MAO’S LAST DANCER

Based on a true story, Mao’s Last Dancer chronicles Li’s journey and the struggle for his artistic soul from the day as an 11-year-old boy when he is hand-picked by the government to study ballet in Beijing.

It is 1972, towards the end of Mao Zedong’s era and the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution. After participating in an exchange program with Houston Ballet, Li falls in love with an American dancer, changing his life forever.

5. BLACK SWAN

“Black Swan” is a masterpiece by Darren Aronofsky, starring ex-ballet dancer Natalie Portman.

The ballet is hard, but the mindset of the dancer is the real stress inducer. Even though it seems like madness, we all can relate to it one way or another.

Interestingly enough, this film, out of all, introduced a lot of people to the world of ballet for the very first time. 

6. THE WHITE CROW

Inspired by the book Rudolf Nureyev: The Life by Julie Kavanagh, it chronicles the life and dance career of the legendary ballet dancer.

Young Rudolf Nureyev becomes a top ballet dancer in Russia, but a life-changing visit to Paris soon makes him seek asylum in France. The title refers to his childhood moniker of white crow (with a somewhat similar meaning to “black sheep” in English) because he was unusual. 

7. WHITE NIGHTS

Starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and tap legend Gregory Hines, White Nights grossed over $42 million at the box office upon release in 1985.

Baryshnikov plays Kolya Radchenko, a Soviet dancer who has defected from the USSR. When he’s injured after his flight to Japan makes a rough emergency landing in Siberia, he’s recognized by the KGB and forced to stay behind. Hines plays the expatriate American tap dancer tasked with keeping an eye on him. The movie opens with Baryshnikov performing Roland Petit’s Le Jeune Homme et La Mort and includes original choreography by Twyla Tharp. 

8. BILLY ELLIOT

Before it became a hit musical, Billy Elliot was a hit film.

The 2000 British movie follows an 11-year-old working-class ballet student as he grapples with the bullying and stereotypes that come with being a boy dancer.

While there aren’t any show tunes in the movie version, there’s a lot of adorable footage of young Billy (played by actor Jamie Bell) getting a handle on his ballet technique and a scene from Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake.

9. GIRL

GIRL tells the story of 15-year-old Lara, who wants to become a ballerina, with classical training for female dancers.

Lara is accepted in a ballet school, and her dream seems closer than ever. But there is one problem: Lara was born into the body of a boy. A body that she will push to its limits for her to succeed.

The film is inspired by the journey of Belgian dancer Nora Monsecour. 

10. THE RED SHOES

The most classic ballet movie of them all, The Red Shoes, follows budding star Vicky Page, torn between her need to dance and her love for a young composer. No surprise, that upon release, The Red Shoes received critical acclaim, especially in the United States, where it received a total of five Academy Award nominations. It also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score and was named one of the Top 10 Films of the Year by the National Board of Review. 

British ballerina Moira Shearer stars as Vicky, and the 1948 film includes the 15-minute “Red Shoes Ballet” choreographed by Robert Helpmann and featuring genius Léonid Massine. The majority of the cast were professional dancers. 

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