"A Ballerina"s Tale"

"A Ballerina"s Tale" was first film at TPH Film Club of fall series

Editor's Note: We introduce Mark Sidgwick"s new Arts and Entertainment Blog with this article on The Picture House Film series debut screening of “A Ballerina’s Tale” on Oct. 9.

By Mark Sidgwick

Another sold out Picture House Film Club series debuted on Oct. 9 under the vaulted roof of the renovated historic movie house on Wolfs Lane. The crowd was abuzz with anticipation; most present having witnessed previous runs of Critic in Residence Marshall Fine’s groundbreaking Wednesday-night sessions. The film selection made by the celebrated critic always primes a post-screening discussion between Mr. Fine and a special guest attached to the project, a writer, actor, director or producer. A lively Q&A with the audience is then encouraged, with both Mr. Fine and his guests responding to questions, shedding fresh light on the intricate and delicate process of film making. Picture House patrons from out of town often make a night of it in Pelham, dining out beforehand at one of the local eateries. We welcome Prime 16 to that fold.

Mr. Fine introduced the new Film Club series, celebrating its second year. He never reveals the movies in advance so that the audience can approach the film with a fresh perspective and share their immediate reactions. “A roomful of strangers,” as Mr. Fine puts it.

The Oct. 9 offering was “A Ballerina’s Tale,” a brand-new documentary from Brooklyn resident Nelson George, who by chance found himself witness to a fascinating moment in the life of a world-class artist. In narrative form we follow a ballerina, the fetchingly named and thoroughly winning Misty Copeland, at close range as she spins her way through triumph, disaster, recovery and possible redemption. This is not, as Mr. George noted in conversation after the screening, a biopic, and much of the precocious dancer’s earlier life is not revealed here. Rather it is an observed moment that also touches on issues of race and body image within this most demanding of artistic disciplines. And the question of whether Misty will come back from injury keeps you on the edge of your seat to the very end.

Copeland was already a sensation in dance circles when Mr. George met her and had achieved cross-over celebrity that has ended up with her being featured on 60 Minutes and appearing in major billboard campaigns for sporting goods companies. (Is she Big Ballet’s Ronda Rousey?)

Identifying as an African American (Copeland is of mixed race), this superbly gifted and notably curvy performer has broken many barriers within the hallowed halls of traditional ballet, which has assiduously resisted change to the skinny white ballerina image first promoted by George Ballanchine. Modern dance long ago absorbed urban and ethnic forms and shapes into its mainstream and thereby developed a new audience; but classical ballet had not, and with financial difficulties always pressing a new ethos is emerging.

Mr. George, who is prolific as a writer and filmmaker, spoke of his first encounter with the perky ballerina. After meeting her at a cocktail party, she invited him to her debut as lead in “The Firebird.” “I’d never been to a ballet,” he said. “It’s an incredible experience, when you really go to see that kind of performance and artistry. It was amazing.” Shortly after the ballet Ms. Copeland had to undergo tricky surgery on her failing left shin. Mr. George stayed in touch with her as the tough rehab began, and the two agreed that he should start filming, with no idea of how things would turn out. ”Misty was remarkably open in terms of the access I had and was oblivious of the camera…. She’s also one of the strongest people I’ve ever met,” explained Mr. George admiringly. ”We started this movie of an interesting person with an open-ended story,” he said.

What resulted is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the absolute dedication and sacrifice required to achieve the highest level of athletic and artistic achievement in classical dance and the remarkable ascent of an unlikely star. Misty Copeland combines huge talent and a great look with a completely unambiguous and approachable personality that has charmed the world. In full tutu she almost overwhelms the classic roles with the sheer force of her will. Mr. George also believes that the film is debuting at an important time in history. “There’s something going on in the culture that struck a nerve with us,” he observes as Missy’s star continues to soar.

It’s been a busy summer and early fall for the Picture House, with movie star Ryan Reynolds sprinkling fall magic over the Picnic in the Park fundraiser and numerous special screenings of freshly released movies lighting up the big screen. The main hall has shown summer blockbusters alongside indie favorites.

Of note among the many great upcoming events at The Picture House check out an October 20 screening of the delightful “Cairo Time,” starring Patricia Clarkson, who will also be in attendance for a Q&A. Check www.thepicturehouse.org or sign up for the e-mail blasts for more on this and other events. The Film Club continues next Wednesday.

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