New animated Ballerina highlights the need to decolonise ballet

Ballerina is set in France in the late 1800s. A half-built Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty (or Statue of Puberty as one of the characters calls it) and a reference to Sherlock Holmes set the scene. In this animated story a little girl called Félicie Milliner and her friend Victor escape from an orphanage and make for Paris. Upon reaching the city they are determined to pursue their dreams: Félicie as a ballet dancer, Victor as an inventor. Through a series of serendipitous events Félicie finds a place to stay and becomes a pupil at a famous ballet school where she has the chance to audition for a main role in the Nutcracker.

Félicie is an orphan that goes on a journey to fulfil her dreams of becoming a ballerina. Picture source: http://www.beyondthecartoons.com/ballerina/2016/5/16/weinstein-co-picks-up-us-rights-to-gaumonts-ballerina

Félicie is an orphan that goes on a journey to fulfil her dreams of becoming a ballerina.
Picture source: http://www.beyondthecartoons.com/ballerina/2016/5/16/weinstein-co-picks-up-us-rights-to-gaumonts-ballerina

The dancing visuals, with a mix of modern and classical music, are lovely to watch. Clumsy, but sincere Victor brings a humorous touch to the film and younger primary school children are likely to enjoy it. However, A Feast of Tales found too many things wrong with the movie to wholeheartedly endorse it. It comes across in some parts as cartoon-like, and in others as realistic. The combination means that some of the plot steps are contrived and over coincidental. The antagonists – in the form of another dance pupil and her mom – are not meaty enough. Snippets of what look like copies of Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit films appear right at the beginning. And, very importantly, there were no children of colour in the story. Perhaps in 1879 Paris there wouldn’t have been. But it does seem disingenuous to make a film for children of today that perpetuates the idea of White elite.

On the plus side, in the wake of recent media discussions about ‘decolonising ballet’, Ballerina could serve as a counterpoint to discussing how much ballet and the perception of it still needs to change to be inclusive.

Ballerina opens at Ster Kinekor theatres in South Africa on 6 January 2017.

 

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