5 Ballet Movies to Watch Around Christmas

Just in time for your Christmas holidays, we spotlight five recent ballet films that plug at our heartstrings, and that are great real-life alternatives to the usual reruns of It’s a Wonderful Life:

1) Dancing in Jaffa - Directed by Hilla Medalia:

“May I have this dance?” –“With pleasure!”

Decorated ballroom champion Pierre Dulaine takes his education program “Dancing Classrooms” to Jaffa, a city deeply divided by political conflict.

Palestinian and Jewish-Israeli children from several schools are brought together for ballroom lessons (not without facing the opposition of parents and school administrators first). At the end of the program, a few students are selected to test their skills in a ballroom competition. Trophies are a nice bonus, but it’s the young dancers who really shine at the end. In particular one of them: little Noor. Her development over the course of just 10 weeks, from coping with a terrible loss at a young age, to regaining a more positive outlook on life is mesmerizing. There are some wonderful moments in the lessons that could take place in any elementary school classroom around the world. Apparently, everyone knows Justin Bieber and the fact that boys HAVE to dance with girls is just “yuck”. Pierre Dulaine’s insistence on teaching values of mutual respect through dance and his enthusiastic approach to teaching is riveting. Fair word of warning: get a box of tissues ready!

Watch the trailer here.

2) First Position - Directed by Bess Kargman

“Be seen!”

The spotlight is on the world’s largest ballet competition, the Youth American Grand Prix and future ballet stars in the making. One can’t help but admire the courage of these aspiring dancers (some as young as 9 years old!), their dedication and, more than anything, their ability to pick themselves up after things don’t go so well. The way they deal with pressure from coaches, parents and, of course, the critical eye of the judges is often well beyond their years. One stand out in this movie is Michaela DePrince. She discovered her fascination with ballet as an orphan in her native of Sierra Leone, where she happened upon an issue of Dance Magazine, with Joffrey ballerina Leslie Carothers on the cover. After being adopted by an American family, her journey began as a dance student fighting against stereotypes in ballet (SPOILER alert: She now calls Amsterdam her home and is a member of the Het National Ballet II). Whether or not these young protegées become professionals, one thing is for certain: memories are made that last a lifetime. For example, Rebecca Houseknecht, a 20-year old also featured in the documentary, has since traded pointe shoes for a lab coat: she now studies speech pathology at Towson University.

The Youth American Grand Prix just released its “Ballet Greatest Hits” compilation on iTunes. Check it out here. First Position is also available on Netflix.

3) Only When I Dance - Directed by Beadie Finzi

“Victory… For those who are born rich, it comes easy.”

The film follows two promising students discovered by Brazilian ballet-legend-turned-educator, Mariza Estrella: Irlan Silva (now in the corps de ballet at Boston Ballet) and Isabela Coracy (who recently joined Ballet Black as a Junior Artist).

Aside from everyday life in the studio, it is most enjoyable to experience some wonderful firsts with the youngsters. Irlan discovers the wonder of “ice-droplets” (aka snow!) falling from the sky while in Switzerland, where he makes a name for himself at the Prix de Lausanne. But what truly sets this film apart is that it is as much a tribute to the parents, as it is to the dedicated teacher and the talent of the two young protagonists. Their determined families work day and night to come up with the money to pay for extraordinary expenses like ballet slippers, travel to competitions, and lessons while living in some of Rio de Janeiro’s most dangerous and poverty stricken areas.

Keep the tissue box close!

4) Dancing Across Borders - Directed by Anne H. Bass

 “It is a ‘one in thousands’ chance that this could work out – I think we’ve found the one” – Peter Boal

Dancing Across Borders is the story of Sokvannara “Sy” Sar (now at Carolina Ballet). His natural ability for dance got him noticed in a Khmer dance group back home his native of Cambodia. His “diamond in the rough” attributes, a natural sense of movement and musicality brought him all the way to the School of American Ballet in New York. Dance became his way of overcoming language barriers and the culture shock of moving to the States.

It is his spunky personality; his spirit is beaming with life and curiosity, which makes this film so enjoyable to watch. Besides the fact that yes, his classical ballet technique is refined and like himself, full of personality, it is his dynamic sense for all movement that wows. Here’s “Sy” dancing Marco Goecke’s Mopey at Pacific Northwest Ballet.

5) Love Tomorrow - Directed by Chris Payne

The 2012 Raindance festival winner (Best UK feature) follows two dancers after a chance encounter on the tube over the course of 24-hours around London. There is an undeniable sense of connection between the two as they discover truths about each other’s past and present struggles. Dance, as a beautiful visual medium is used to tell the universal story of letting your guard down when developing new relationships. As the two protagonists discover and expose details about one another’s life, the beauty found in vulnerability becomes apparent through dance. Cuban dancer Oriel is played by ENB principal Arionel Vargas and classical ballet dancer Eva by former Royal Ballet dancer Cindy Jourdain.

Choreographers are none other than William Trevitt and Michael Nunn of the BalletBoyz. And if you’re looking for a holiday gift for a dance lover, the film is already out on DVD.

About the Author:

Wiebke Schuster currently lives in Los Angeles. She completed her Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Dance Theatre and studied Arts Administration at the Limón Dance Company in New York. Follow her on Twitter @wiebela.

1 Comment

  • December 30, 2013


    These movies seem really good :)