Ballet Boys (First Run Features, NR)

dvd ballet-boysThis is a well-made film, one that can be enjoyed even by people who know nothing about ballet.



Here in the United States, ballet is often presented in popular culture as something for little girls (and possibly their stage mothers). That’s silly, of course: Dancers are incredible athletes, and many of the greatest dancers and choreographers in history have been male. Nonetheless, the stereotype persists, and for that reason Kenneth Elvebakk’s documentary Ballet Boys, which follows three young male dancers in Norway over four years, offers a welcome and alternative point of view. It’s also a well-made film, and one that can be enjoyed even by people who know nothing about ballet.

The three young men, Lukas, Syvert, and Torgeir, are students in the same class of a Norwegian ballet school, working at a level that will allow them to audition for the Oslo National Academy of the Arts (KHiO) ballet program in a few years. At the same time, they attend middle school, and aren’t entirely sure they want to pursue a professional career in dance. They also have the usual teenage concerns: A heavy ballet schedule on top of ordinary school means not much time for hanging out with friends, and while they get to be in classes with girls, none has the time for a real girlfriend. The best characteristic of the film is how it balances the artistic progression of these boys with their maturation into young men, and how they balance the everyday concerns of life with their work at the ballet school.

Young teenagers don’t always know what they want, and these boys are no different. Syvert, a young man of Asian heritage, feels he is not devoting enough time to his regular school subjects (his mother has her doubts about ballet as a career), and at one point leaves the ballet program. Lukas, who seems to have the greatest desire for a professional career, is also aware of its downsides, including the fact that it destroys your body and then dumps you out by the time are 40. Of course, they may face better odds than their female counterparts, because so few boys take up the study of ballet in the first place, but it’s still a tough road to travel.

Ballet Boys shares some aspects of its story with a traditional sports movie. The boys compete in ballet competitions, and the auditions for KHiO and the Royal Ballet School in London are their equivalent of the state football championships. At the same time, the teenagers are engaged in an artistic endeavor, and all are clearly in it because they love to dance, not because they need to win. There’s also the issue, inevitable as they grow up, that their paths may diverge, and they may have to make a choice between staying home to continue their friendship or following professional opportunities in different parts of the world.

Their parents come off as supportive but not pushy, willing to trust their sons to decide if they want to continue with ballet, and if so, where and how to do that. The administrators and others involved in ballet education also come off as both calm and humane, and I was particularly taken by one lady who showed Lukas and his family around a dorm, and then reassured them that the school would teach him how to plan and cook his meals. It’s worth noting that he was all of 15 at the time. Many American students rely on eating in the cafeteria throughout their undergraduate careers, so clearly this is no pampered child expecting to be waited on.

Extras on the disc include seven bonus scenes (26 min. total). | Sarah Boslaugh

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