Tag Archives: ballet

Rise of the Phoenix

A Ballerina’s Tale

by Hope Madden

Misty Copeland has a fascinating story to tell. Unfortunately, director Nelson George is the one telling it. From the title to the structure, from the focus to the finale, A Ballerina’s Tale is a needlessly homogenized package of what could have been an amazing film.

Earlier this year – this year! – Copeland became the first African American prima ballerina in the 75 year history of the American Ballet Theater.

Why did it take so long? What did Copeland possess to not only reach the absolute height of her craft, but to overcome classical ballet’s longstanding prejudices about body type as well as skin color? Where did she come from? How did she get here?

If you’re looking for answers to those questions, well, this is not the film for you.

To a certain degree, George seems to understand the historical significance of Copeland’s achievement. He deserves credit for spending time talking with Copeland and even more insightful voices about the staunchly white face of ballet. He also devotes attention to the unhealthy physical aesthetic imposed on ballet dancers, as well as the punishment their bodies take. He just doesn’t really help us see how these things relate to Copeland or her struggles.

George meticulously avoids coverage of Copeland’s difficult childhood and rocky road toward dance, perhaps to keep the focus on challenges she faced once she’d made it to ABT, but in doing so he sketches too vague a picture of the courage and talent she needed to excel as she has. And though he mainly films during the period where she struggled to overcome a potentially career ending injury, he remains so removed from her trials that he sucks all drama from the events.

This is not really the story of a changing paradigm in classical ballet – there’s not enough history or enough documentation of contemporary impact to make that claim. It’s certainly not a clear version of Copeland’s personal journey toward the pinnacle of her career. It’s not even a dance movie – aside from a handful of snippets, we’re provided no real footage of Copeland’s skill as a ballerina.

The struggles, triumphs, and historical significance of Misty Copeland’s life story has all the drama of a great movie. Too bad A Ballerina’s Tale does not.


Dancing with the Past


by Hope Madden

Match opens on a ballet instructor – smilingly supportive yet rigorous, the kind of mentor with a joy for teaching that inspires. He is Tobi, an aging Julliard ballet instructor played with confidence and enthusiasm by the wonderful Patrick Stewart.

Director Stephen Belber adapts his own Broadway play for the screen, and though Frank Langella originated the role on stage, it feels custom made for Stewart.

Tobi craves his solitude, yet he’s agreed to meet with Lisa (Carla Gugino), who, with her husband Mike (Matthew Lillard) in tow, wants to interview Tobi for her dissertation on classical dance choreography.

Like the Richard Linklater film Tape, also penned by Belber from his own stage play, Match is a three-way dialog about the effects of the past. But where Tape was a grim exercise in regret, Match pairs regret with celebration, and the entire effort is buoyed by Stewart’s nervous showman’s energy.

Gugina and Lillard are solid as well, she conveying the depths of tenderness and heartbreak with an expression, and he capably animating his character’s pain and its protective layer of anger. Their chemistry with the lead, particularly in more intimate, one-on-one scenes, packs a punch. But the show belongs to Stewart.

Tobi is a character, not a type, and Stewart so fully inhabits this fascinating, multi-dimensional man that the actor ceases to exist.

Belber’s casting is spot on, and his dialog is sharp and insightful. How could Stewart do anything but soar with such magnificent lines? But the film feels trapped, confined. Belber is rarely able to open up, take advantage of the opportunities cinema offers that the stage cannot. His film feels like a play.

And though the second act, surprisingly fresh and raw as Lisa and Tobi get to know each other, is very strong, the entire effort feels just slightly stale, a bit contrived, and inevitably predictable.

Still, it’s a lovely film about chance, consequences, choice. If nothing else, it’s a magnificent showcase for an underappreciated talent.