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Review: A Beautiful Tragedy

Posted Dec 29 2008 4:41pm

Today, I was finally able to see A Beautiful Tragedy, a film by Norwegian director David Kinsella documenting Mariinsky Theatre dancer, Oksana Skorik's training at the Perm State Choreographic Institute.

The opening scene narrated how Oksana ended up at the ballet school: after her birth, Oksana's mother realized that she was adequately proportioned for ballet and began stretching her daughter's feet and legs. When she was 4 years old, her mother attempted to "give" her to the ballet school, but she was not accepted until a year later because of her age. Three things about Oksana, then 15, become immediately apparent: her talent, her desire to leave the Perm school, and her skewed sense of reality.

Much of the story is told through Oksana's diary entries, which describe her emotional struggles with food/eating, her strict and sometimes flat out cruel teachers, and her troubles relating to and befriending other students at the school, specifically with golden girl Masha Menshikova. At times, her anorexia and self loathing overcome her; she goes days without food before her end of semester exams and then worries about what her scores will be, assuming that she will get the lowest grades in her class. She receives a 4+, which I understand to be the highest score one can earn in this type of exam, along with a harsh criticism from Sacharova, the main classical ballet teacher at Perm.

Despite her teachers' and mother's encouragement to eat, Oksana struggles with the constant pressure to be a "perfect" thin dancer. She repeatedly denies her talent and thinness, thinking of herself as fat and a horrible dancer.

At times, her mood changes: she is hopeful, finds joy in dancing and rehearsing, and realizes her tremendous grace and talent. Eventually, in the epilogue of the film, Oksana is shown in her final year at the Perm State Choreographic institute. She is happy again, has overcome her anorexia, is awarded the lead role in her class's graduation performance, and is offered a job at the Mariinsky Theatre, where she is currently dancing in the corps de ballet.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, but I thought the media I had seen about it was a little misleading. The film is much, much more focused on Oksana's weight and social problems than it is on her dancing, which I would have liked to see more of, especially in the classroom scenes, which were portrayed, I'm sure intentionally, as a place more for scoldings and criticism than for learning to dance.

All in all, A Beautiful Tragedy was definitely worthwhile and provides much insight, somewhat biased as it may be, in to the lives of the young kids at the Perm school. I highly recommend it to any ballet lover.

Stay on your toes,

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