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September 8, 2014

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia

Copie de Dance x 3 Photo Torstein Nodland

In his latest documentary, Ballet Boys, director Kenneth Elvebakk follows the trials and ambitions of three young Norwegian ballet students. Whilst centered on the theme of ballet, this is first and foremost a look at the everyday issues faced by teenagers around the world.

The film focuses on Lukas Bjørneboe Brændsrød, Syvert Lorenz Garcia and Torgeir Lund who are, as the title suggests, three male ballet students. Throughout the film Elvebakk appears keen to steer away from the usual feminine and elegant images usually associated with the art. His choice of subjects is the first step in attempting to ensure that this is the case. When we see these young men practicing we are not generally shown the usual pirouettes and plies that spring to mind but sit-ups, weights and hard stretches. Furthermore, the camera often focuses in on the dancers’ faces scrunched up in pain with beads of sweat running down them, proving that this is not a sport to be taken lightly. Given the elegance of the final product that we are used to seeing on stage we often forget the sheer hard work and physicality involved, all in search of making everything appear effortless and seamless.

Elvebakk also makes use of the film’s music to steer the audience away from the usual preconceptions that are held with ballet. Instead of the expected classical he makes use of something we would think more likely to be heard in a nightclub than the theatre. And yet, when put to this alternative soundtrack, the ballet movements still work. This once again shows the audience that underneath the beauty and elegance of the medium there is a certain brutality involved. Strangely, in using this type of music, the physicality and effort of the dancers seem somehow more visible on-stage.

The raw nature of Ballet Boys is not always a bonus though. The dance sequences are very impressive due to the skills of the dancers involved but the manner in which they are shot can sometimes come across as a bit static. Whilst the camera is put to good use to show another side of the art, one cannot help but feel that at times this leads to somewhat of a missed opportunity. Ballet is something which could easily lend itself to some beautiful, flowing camerawork and yet this never really takes place. There are long periods of the film where we simply follow the boys around or have them talk to the camera. Whilst this is partly down to the film focusing on the personal lives of the youngsters just as much, if not more so, than the ballet itself, these moments sometimes feel as though they drag on too long, making certain sections of the film a slight chore to sit through. Not great given that the film is only seventy-five minutes long.


However, this visual style, whilst at times a little tedious, does allow both director and audience to focus more on the actual lives of the subjects. The film is extremely relatable as we are following them through that most turbulent of times, their teenage years, a period of our lives which we all know and understand the difficulties behind. We see first loves, the difficulties of balancing dreams with ‘realistic’ expectations, sacrifice, friendship, the list goes on. These are themes that every Hollywood film attempts to explore in order to drag their audiences in, but Ballet Boys succeeds more so than most in its pure relatability.

The simple fact that this is a documentary helps hugely, but in remaining so grounded in its explorations Ballet Boys is elevated even further in this respect. The main difference between these young men and the average person on the street is that they are striving towards becoming professional ballet dancers as opposed to going to university. The only issue with this down-to-earth approach is that there are moments where the film finds itself re-treading obvious themes surrounding adolescence on several occasions. This is rare enough to be forgivable though.

Overall Ballet Boys is a film that explores its themes and subjects very effectively. This is largely down to Elvebakk’s style of filmmaking that although a little unimaginative and plain at times, allows for the actual ideas behind his work to come to the forefront, mostly an understanding of the harsher side of the ballet world and the lives of those that strive to achieve the perfect movement and beauty that we see on stage. Ultimately though this is a film not only for fans of ballet, but one of interest for all of us who have gone through the difficulties of growing up.

Ballet Boys is out in UK cinemas on September 12th

Jon Heywood