I pretty much bailed on the "I wanna be a ballerina!" phase of my life when I found out I couldn't take my teddy bear onstage, but apparently Russians are made of stronger stuff when it comes to following their dreams of tutus and pointes. French director Bertrand Normand's documentary Ballerina succinctly chronicles the career trajectories of five Russian women who dance with the historic Kirov Ballet—from an 18-year-old in her first year in the ballet de corps to an injured former prima ballerina staging a comeback.
Ballerina is an intimate look at how hard ballet dancers work to make flitting across the stage seem effortless, with grueling hours, ironclad willpower, lack of sleep... all since the age of 10, when they were handpicked to study ballet based on their slender bodies and tiny heads. In one scene, Uliana Lopatkina, the former prima ballerina, rehearses for Swan Lake with a beautiful aviary dance, lost in concentration, while dozens of jostling, awestruck Russian girls peer in through the rehearsal studio doors. The documentary is interesting and engaging, even for a person with little love for ballet in her heart, but I suspect the most appreciative audience will include quite a few bigheaded women who once had some girlish dreams.