The 14 Best Ballet Movies of All Time — Barre None
To love dance is to eat, sleep, and breathe it. The obsession is by no means limited to your time at the barre — ballet is everywhere, and those who have a passion for it will soak it up wherever and whenever they can. Ballet movies can range from extremely realistic documentaries to fantastical portrayals of the perceived dramatics of the dance world and everything in between. If you're a true ballet-lover, you watch it all — the good, the silly, and the all-too-real films that really sum up what being dancer is like. Whether you're a dancer in practice or just in your heart, these 14 ballet movies will satisfy your cravings for the art we love above all others.
If there's a dark side to dance, no one understands it more than Sergei Polunin. The Ukranian-born dancer's roller-coaster career was documented in Dancer, a film that chronicles Sergei's childhood, his mother's struggles to ensure his success as a dancer, his own rebellion against dance and the life he and his family worked for, and his process of coming to terms with his talent — and with how to be happy. The film is a gripping look into Sergei's life, with footage of his performances, and a compelling story full of both emotion and inspiration.
A Ballerina's Tale
Misty Copeland, the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer for the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, is an inspiration to many. A Ballerina's Tale is a documentary that follows Misty as she continues to knock down barriers in the ballet world and carves a name for herself as a dancer.
Three words: red pointe shoes. Center Stage is a lot of things: nostalgic, dramatic, corny, romantic — and oh yes, amazing. The film stars mostly professional dancers, with the exception of a few main characters who had doubles for the tougher scenes. It follows Jodie Sawyer — a fresh-faced dancer with marginal turnout and bad feet — as she discovers where she belongs in the dancing world, even if it isn't where she always dreamed it would be. The final dance scenes of the movie (enter red pointe shoes here) are the perfect combination of choreography created for both film and dance, complete with a fusion of classical ballet music and moves and modern pop culture.
Set in north-Eastern England in the mid-80s, Billy Elliot is the story of the son of a coal miner who's an aspiring dancer. Despite facing bullying from his brother, lack of support from his father, and the stereotypes of a male dancer, Billy Elliot continues to pursue his dream of attending the Royal Ballet School in London. The film was later adapted for stage as Billy Elliot the Musical, where it was performed in London's West End and on Broadway.
New York City Ballet: Bringing Balanchine Back
New York City Ballet cofounder and legend George Balanchine returns to St. Petersburg, Russia, with his company to perform at the Mariinsky Theatre in the documentary film New York City Ballet: Bringing Balanchine Back.
Dark, romantic, and psychologically thrilling. Black Swan doesn't reflect the true nature of ballet in the most realistic way but it captures the essence of what a dancer goes through — in a more exaggerated way. The drive, intensity, the pain, and yes, the romance of real dance is entwined with director Darren Aronofsky's fantasy world, creating a compelling film that dancers and nondancers alike can appreciate.
The Turning Point
The world of ballet looks undeniably glamorous to those on the outside looking in — but we don't always get to see the drama behind the scenes. The Turning Point centers around the world of ballet in New York, and stars Shirley MacLaine as a former ballerina who returns to help a young aspiring dancer find success in the city.
The documentary film First Position is an authentic look into the process six young dancers between 9 and 19 go through while preparing for the Youth America Grand Prix in New York. The annual competition decides the path many dancers will take, because it helps determine which school or company they will be accepted into.
In 2013, the artistic director of the world-famous Bolshoi Ballet in Russia was attacked with acid to his face. When male soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko was arrested and charged with the crime, it pulled the curtain back on deeper issues within the company, like "personality clashes, power struggles and professional jealousy" — something Bolshoi insiders had known for years. Bolshoi Babylon is a documentary film that features backstage footage, interviews with insiders, and stunning performances — and delves into the internal world of the Bolshoi Ballet.
Mao's Last Dancer
Based on professional dancer Li Cunxin's autobiography of the same name, Mao's Last Dancer is the story of a Chinese boy training in ballet in Beijing. When he goes to America as an exchange student, he begins to question his life in China and decides to marry an American dancer in order to make it possible for him to stay in the States — even if it means never being able to return to his home country.
Audiences are seldom given the chance to see the process behind a performance; we view (and are in awe of) the final product, but the rigorous work that goes into each ballet is the true work of art. Ballet 422 takes viewers behind the scenes of New York City Ballet as Justin Peck, a choreographer, crafts a new work. Ballet 422 gives us "unprecedented access to an elite world" and sheds light on the process behind the creation of a ballet.
White Nights is a thriller that follows the story of a Soviet ballet dancer who has defected from the Soviet Union and is on the run from the KGB. The film stands out because of Mikhail Baryshnikov's very real ballet talent.
Save the Last Dance
While Save the Last Dance is admittedly pretty "ballet lite," the main character of the film — played by Julia Stiles, who performed most of her own scenes — is a dancer with her eye on Juilliard. The main story shows Sarah Johnson as she begins to incorporate different styles of dance into her Juilliard audition, based on the new friends she makes when she moves to Chicago and falls in love.
The Red Shoes
Drawing inspiration from the fairy tale of the same name by Hans Christian Anderson, The Red Shoes is a 1948 drama about a ballerina who has to decide between love or pursuing her dancing dreams.