I was a classical dancer once and if I had the talent that matched my dreams I would never have given up on pointe shoes. However, I kept this passion (which borders on obsession) for my consumption of shows, videos, and films.
To my great frustration, although Ballet is an Art of delicate and profound movements, gestures, and expressions, revealed with music and steps, neither Cinema nor TV has been able to capture its nuances perfectly. Ballet still eludes cinema.
I have already listed here in MISCELANA the films I consider the best about the topic, but I really wanted to see the Spanish film, Las Niñas de Cristal, which arrived on Netflix in early April, to enjoy the two things I love the most: dancing and film. In yet another parade of clichés, the film’s ballet company is far from what it really is with others.
I’ll quickly talk about the plot to move on to what bothered me. Starring Maria Pedraza, one of the actresses of Money Heist, the film is directed by Jota Linares and sort of combines three films: Heavenly Creatures, Suspiria, and Black Swan. In this case, instead of Swan Lake, they chose the greatest classic of traditional ballets, Giselle, which deals with madness, betrayal, and death to guide the narrative. The 1987 film Dancers has already tried to bring the heart of the drama of Giselle into the present times to no avail. In Las Niñas de Cristal we follow the young Irene (Maria Pedraza) who “inherited” her position in the company after the main dancer killed herself and is working on a contemporary version of Giselle. Isolated by the envy of the other dancers and pressured by the relentless director who demands total surrender to the role, Irene becomes close to the shy Aurora (Paula Losada), whose fertile imagination helps her deal with anxiety. However, the friendship practically turns into a mutual obsession between them and comes up against external opposition, which leads to tragedy.
Just as Black Swan forced a hand on the dual personality of Odette and Odile, here Las Niñas de Cristal forces the question of Giselle’s innocence – which is Aurora, not Irene – who suffers from a loving betrayal and, in the midst of crazy, well, if you don’t know the ballet I won’t give the spoiler. But it’s understandable, right?
What gets in the way of backstage ballet movies are clichés. The first thing that is sold is that every ballerina, in order to be a star, ends up unhappy (or crazy or both). It’s been that way since the perfect The Red Shoes was reinforced with Black Swan and now repeats the formula in Las Niñas de Cristal. Dancing – and dancing well – hurts physically, but the pleasure it brings to the soul is what makes so many girls dream of being ballerinas. It’s not suffering, it’s just hard. And not all of them are crazy, insecure, antisocial, and distressed. Although there is a lot of competition, there is a camaraderie in rehearsals, in classes that don’t reflect what they like to show.
The figure of the relentless, almost sociopathic, and manipulative Director or Choreographer also appears in almost every film. This legend emerged from the strong personalities of dance, however, if it were only this military discipline they would hardly be able to inspire the emotion that dance arouses and demands. Yes, they charge, they yell sometimes, they correct us often, but they also talk affectionately and care about all the dancers. The dancers’ relationship with their teachers is much more complex and closer than what the films show.
The frustrated mothers use their daughters to achieve what they couldn’t. Well, I confess that this is very true. I lived with several, fortunately, my mother, who is a Biologist, never interfered. I empathize with the colleagues I’ve seen suffer from having to deal with a dream that wasn’t necessarily theirs.
If you really want to understand the backstage of a ballet company, the unbeatable film on the subject is still The Turning Point, which turns 45 in 2022. For now, Las Niñas de Cristal is a dark film, but it is based on the wrong view that the search for dance perfection can go crazy. Giselle and Ballet deserve better than that.