Festival du Nouveau Cinéma: ‘Une vie de ballets’ offers a portrait of dance in the moder ers

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Une Vie de Ballets

Directed by Marlene Ionesco

France, 2011

Through the central romance between Pierre Lacotte and Ghislaine Thesmar, filmmaker Marlene Ionesco paints a portrait of the story of ballet in the latter half of the twentieth century. The film features contemporary interviews as well as videos of ballet performances since the 1950s, many from productions shot for French television. The film’s formal qualities unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired; the film’s structure is a bit too loose and many tangents are introduced but never explored.

The film excels when focused on particular productions. Pierre Lacotte is an artist with a strong passion for all aspects of his craft: as a dancer, choreographer and director, everything he does is calculated and well-researched. His youthful experiences under the instruction of important figures in ballet like Lioubov Egorova former prima-ballerina of the Theatre Mariinsky in St. Petersbourg, shapes his education and passion as a young dancer. Her knowledge and influence would inform Lacotte’s style for years to come, and her tutelage would help create a link to the past and many ballets that were thought to be long lost.

This relationship is pivotal to the film and is convincingly drawn. In many ways, the film’s ability to evoke the importance of inter-textuality and history in art is it’s greatest strength. Lacotte not only draws on the past as a means of creating his famed works, but he draws from contemporaries like Charles Aznavour and Edith Piaf to create unique and progressive works. After the death of Piaf, who lends her voice to a ballet called “La Voix”, it is also Lacotte who proposes making a film version as tribute to Piaf’s important legacy in French society. Extensive use of archival footage demonstrates fully the creativity and dedication on display in each one of Lacotte’s productions.

Ghislaine Thesmar is not necessarily as influential in dance history but the film nonetheless paints her as an extremely talented dancer with an unusual aptitude for dramatic performance. The success of her career offers a very worldly perspective to the film and she becomes the force that draws the narrative outside of France.

The decision to focus on parallel stories throughout eventually distills the film’s power. Due to the insulated presentation of Lacotte and Thesmar’s story from beginning to end, we never get a convincing portrait of their romance. An obviously passionate affair, their influence on each other seems pivotal to their mutual success. The film would have benefited from a stronger focus, like their relationship, as a means of connecting different aspects of the story. Especially in the last three decades were are sometimes skipping 8-10 years between narrative threads; a little bit more continuity would have made for a stronger documentary. It is in this final segment that the film introduces many ideas or aspects of Lacotte and Thesmar’s story that seem like afterthoughts and do not fit within the larger focus.

La Vie des Ballets remains a strong portrait of dance, and it frequently plays to its strengths as more than half of the film’s screen time is devoted to performance. In many ways, the film points to the importance of preservation in performance arts. Time and time again, Lacotte is put to task to recreate ballets that have been lost for time. Due to his experiences with many prominent ballerinas from this lost era, Lacotte is able to do a remarkable job but even he can’t help mourning the lost history of his chosen art.

– Justine Smith

The Festival Du Nouveau Cinéma – October 12 – 23 – Visit the official website

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