Manuel Legris, a French dancer interviewed in Bertrand Norman's involving study of the Russian ballet, insists that a Russian ballerina is easy to spot in a crush of tutus and fluttering hands. Beyond the severity of their posture and discipline, there is a maturity even in the youngest dancers that takes others years to develop. The women profiled here—ranging from a star student at St. Petersburg's Vaganova Ballet Academy to several members of the Mariinsky Theatre (formerly the Kirov) at various stages of their careers—support that claim and its mysterious implications. In one of the strangest sequences, Norman gains access to the auditions that will either set a young girl on the course to a life in leg warmers or send her back to the drawing board: A roomful of topless 10-year-old girls leap and pointe for their lives, then each one is flexed and patted down, like a thoroughbred colt, before an affectless panel. It's almost impossible to tell their identical thin, cold limbs and tiny heads apart. Yet watching these women perform is a striking lesson in ballet's rigorous aesthetic alchemy—and the extreme, exquisite individualism that prevails.
Ulyana Lpatkina in Swan Lake.
Runs at Varsity, Fri., Feb. 27–Thurs., March 5. Not rated. 77 minutes.