The film starts with a colossus, the great Serge Diaghilev, who had Nijinsky dancing to Stravinsky’s finest music, and left a huge void when he died in 1929 – a void soon filled by two rival companies, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and (ahem) the Original Ballet Russe, who spread the gospel of dance in punishing tours which criss-crossed the war-torn globe in the years ahead. There are ballet companies today from Queensland to Uruguay thanks to the sheer excitement these Russian émigrés brought on their travels, at a time when ballet seems to have enjoyed a much less snooty image than it does, perhaps unfairly, today.
With cameras recording their performances even back in the ’30s, this is a goldmine of archive footage, but as in any documentary, it’s the people interviewed who are the real stars and, frankly, these are incredible human beings. Sprightly is not the word for these octogenarians, still teaching their classes and demonstrating the authentic Ballet Russe choreography. They’re the dance equivalent of the super-grandpas from the ‘Buena Vista Social Club’. Their sheer spirit and sense of purpose is totally infectious, and the film’s assured construction makes the most of their captivating contributions. Bravissimo!