Caption from MSNBC: This 1939 photo shows Frederic Franklin, center background, George Zoritch, center, and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in their production of "Rouge et Noir," which was choreographed by Leonide Massine. The production's sets and costumes were designed by Henri Matisse. The photo was used in "Ballets Russes," a new film directed by Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine, which covers roughly 30 years of the famed ballet company.
A new documentary has arrived, with a stellar review, featuring none other than my first ballet teacher, George Zoritch! From Salon:
If you have some received ideas about ballet as a snooty art form imposed on the upper levels of the bourgeoisie by its culture ministers -- as I more or less did -- then Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine's marvelous documentary "Ballets Russes" comes as a humbling corrective. In telling the amazing story of how a group of dancers who sprang from the exiled and impoverished Russian aristocracy in Paris conquered America and the rest of the Western hemisphere, this movie reminds us that culture flows in all directions at once. It's a profoundly optimistic and delightful movie, for balletomanes and neophytes alike. It made me happy for days afterward.
The original Ballet Russe was the troupe founded by Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev in 1909, which captivated French society but collapsed with the coming of the Great Depression. Geller and Goldfine sketch that history quickly, but focus on the story of the second (and in fact third) Ballet Russe, which produced many of the legendary choreographers and dancers of the 20th century, and spread the art form to all corners of the globe. Small and middle-size cities in Missouri and Queensland and Uruguay have ballet companies and ballet schools today because of the Ballets Russes' indefatigable touring schedule.
Amazing as all this history is, the real fun comes from meeting the former Ballet Russe dancers, a supremely confident and defiantly eccentric bunch who have lived extraordinary lives and in many cases are still living them. Legendary ballerinas Mia Slavenska and Tatiana Riabouchinska taught in Los Angeles into the 21st century. Nathalie Krassovska taught at her Dallas ballet school until the day she died last February -- and we see her here, rehearsing a famous Ballet Russe duet with her longtime partner George Zoritch, who founded the ballet program at the University of Arizona.