The majority of ballet films, while showing the rigor, discipline, and endless stamina required for the profession, nevertheless have a tendency to exaggerate certain aspects of the art. The “glass in pointe shoes” theme from the movie “Black Swan”, and the starstruck relentless stage mother in “The Turning Pointe” are two that give ballet a bad name, or at least embellish the negative, establishing connotations that are not constants in every ballet company or for every dancer. Some films include poor acting, bad camera angles, and campy scenes meant only for mass consumption, and few are the films on ballet that truly capture the internal life of ballet dancers.
The documentary genre differs, thankfully, in that by its nature it shows reality by capturing slices of a dancer’s everyday life. In October 2022, a new film called “Temporary Limitations” premiered as part of the LenDoc film festival. Supported in part by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, it chronicles an unbelievable story: identical injuries incurred by a couple of dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet, Vladislav Lantratov and Maria Alexandrova, both of whom incurred full tears of their Achilles tendons just weeks apart. The couple, who live together offstage and have been onstage partners for a number of years now, cared for each other throughout the period of surgery and recovery, which included a trip to the Hessen Clinic in Germany for specialised rehabilitation treatment.
Against the background of performance clips dispersed throughout the film (including clips from their student years), the film is a story of Fate, of how positivity and deeply rooted bonds of love can overcome anything. It treats the viewer to clips of the couple gathering mushrooms — a truly Russian pasttime — in preparation for a lunch prepared at the dacha, or summer home, of the legendary Vladimir Vasiliev, former star of the Bolshoi Ballet, now also a choreographer and sculptor.
We see the couple in Pilates classes, and back at the barre in solo coaching sessions with Valery Lagunov inside the Bolshoi studios. There is little narrative here, and little is needed. By observing the progression of the dancers throughout the recording, one gains a sense of their internal struggle, and the emotions they need to keep in check against a torturously slow recovery period. At one point Alexandrova sheds silent tears in the doctor’s office, and the viewer senses how deep the fears must run when at risk of losing one’s lifelong profession due to a split second injury that takes months –and sometimes years– to fully heal.
“Temporary Limitations” is a must-see for anyone in the dance world. It is a short, honest depiction not just of the path of these two ballet stars, but of the spiritual aspect of serendipitous, chance circumstances, and it speaks to the silent presence of a Higher Power overseeing us all.