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Originally published Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 3:00 PM

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Movie review

"Ballerina" lets its subjects flit away too quickly

Bertrand Normand's documentary "Ballerina" focuses much too briefly on the lives of five Russian ballerinas: Alina Somova, Ulyana Lopatkina, Evgenia Obraztsova, Diana Vishneva and Svetlana Zakharova.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2.5 stars

"Ballerina," a documentary by Bertrand Normand. 77 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. In English and Russian with English subtitles where necessary. Varsity.

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"A ballerina provides an image of constant metamorphosis," we're told in French filmmaker Bertrand Normand's frustratingly brief documentary "Ballerina." The film focuses on five dancers at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg (formerly the Kirov Ballet), all at different places in their careers. One (Alina Somova, a heart-meltingly pretty teen) is newly hired at the company; at the other end of the spectrum, Ulyana Lopatkina is a veteran dancer and the mother of a toddler, working to find balance in her complicated life. The other three — Evgenia Obraztsova, Diana Vishneva and Svetlana Zakharova — take their places in between, a stairstep line of progress in this ethereal yet strictly regimented art form.

And yet, their metamorphosis is never truly shown to us; this 77-minute feature is too crowded with subjects for any one to emerge clearly. Normand's interest flits from one dancer to another, never landing on one long enough for her to say much that's enlightening. A male dancer from the Paris National Opera makes the interesting observation that Russian ballerinas mature sooner; they're thrust on stage young and not allowed to indulge in nerves and panic. But this isn't really discussed with the women, who mostly smile and speak in platitudes.

Nonetheless, there's plenty to see here, if not so much to hear. (An added-on English narration, by Diane Baker, is flat and uninformative.) Each of the five is magnetic in performance, projecting that very Russian sense of drama and hauteur. In too-brief clips, we see Obraztsova as a delicately beautiful Juliet; Zakharova's breathtaking pointed-to-the-sky arabesques in "Swan Lake"; Lopatkina practicing "The Dying Swan" in an empty, dark studio, making something so mesmerizing of tiptoeing feet and rising, reaching arms that young students gather at the glass door to watch. Vishneva, in class, casually stretches with one leg propped up vertically on the mirrored wall; it's as if she's twin contortionists, doing the impossible with ease. Such a brief glimpse into these women's lives and art whets the appetite for more; alas, "Ballerina" ends far too quickly, leaving only their willowy shadows behind.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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