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teaser Ballerina (1938)

Ballerina (1937) was based on the novella La mort du cygne by Paul Morand. It tells the story of a 12-year-old dancer (played by Jeanine Charrat) who, fearing her idol will be replaced by a rival dancer, takes matters into her own hands with tragic results.

The film was directed by Jean Benot-Lvy, who adapted the novella with Marie Epstein. Starring in Ballerina with Charrat was Yvette Chauvir and Mia Slavenska, who was the prima ballerina with the Zagreb Opera. She had come to France to study ballet with Lubov Egorova and Olga Preobrajenska and danced with Ballets Russe star Serge Lifar in David triomphant that same year. Lifar would serve as choreographer on Ballerina along with Lone Mail.

Benot-Lvy, who shot the film at the Joinville Studios outside of Paris, where he meticulously recreated the Palais Garnier, later wrote in his book, The Motion Picture, "My film Ballerina originated in an idea which had obsessed me for some time. Indeed, I am convinced that love for his work is the most solid foundation of man's happiness, the element most calculated to instill in him a love for life. I found this practice in that glorious and ephemeral art known as the Dance. This gave me the two basic elements - the idea and the environment - and I was fortunate enough to find a point of departure for the dramatic construction in a novel by Paul Morand. But in order to build up the story and people it with flesh-and-blood characters, we were obliged to study the real environment. For this purpose, we spent a few months living at the Paris Opra, this temple of dance, this academy, this training school. Like every theater, the Opra has two sides to it: one made of velvet and gold, magic and pleasure, the other of dust and painted canvas, reality and work and self-sacrifice. It was the latter side we wanted to portray, and to do so we had to live among real people and breathe the same backstage air that they breathed. Accordingly, we set to and took a hand in everything that went on, in the prompter's box and in the highest flies, in classes and rehearsal rooms; we shared in their joys and in their labors; by following the creative artists and performers of the dancing school and the Corps de Ballet in their daily tasks, we got to love the ballet and all the people in it. By observing the thousand and one details of their daily life, we were able to write our scenario and bring it to life through the veracity of the details we had noted down from day to day....When the final day of shooting for Ballerina arrived, three or four of our most sensitive young ballet students began to snivel at the thought of the good-bys they would have to say that evening. Before long, we were obliged to give up trying to shoot a supposedly gay sequence with some sixty little girls who had all given way to tears." These children would help contribute to the film in another way. The scene in which a seven-year-old girl refuses to go onstage because she was frightened of the Devil costume was based on an actual occurrence at the Paris Opra.

Ballerina was released in France on November 25, 1937, and became a box-office hit, winning "le Grand Prix du Cinma francais." It was remade in 1947 as The Unfinished Dance, starring Margaret O'Brien in Charrat's role.

ra Ballet and years later, the director. She was awarded the Lgion d'Honneur. Charrat also became a ballet star and choreographer. In 1961, she overcame horrific burns suffered during a performance and was back dancing after less than two years.

In 1998, Jeanine Charrat and Yvette Chauvir were reunited onstage at the French Institute in New York, for a panel discussion with Mia Slavenska joining them via telephone from Los Angeles, where she was still teaching ballet until her death in 2002.

Director: Jean Benot-Lvy
Screenplay: Jean Benot-Lvy, Marie Epstein (screenplay and dialogue); Paul Morand (novella)
Cinematography: L.H. Burel, Henri Tiquet
Music: Claude Delvincourt, J.E. Szyfer
Cast: Yvette Chauvir (Melle Beaupre), Mia Slavenska (Nathalie Karine), Jeanine Charrat (Rose Souris), Mady Berry (Clestine), France-Ellys (Madame Souris), Suzanne Gumard (L'Inspectrice), Mauricette Cebron (Le Matresse de danse), Claire Grard (Madame Bijou), Jacqueline Quffelec (Coc Battut), Micheline Boudet (Clara Bijou).

by Lorraine LoBianco

Benot-Lvy , Jean The Art of the Motion Picture
Burrus, XX Paul Morand, Voyageur de XX Siecle"
Kisselgoff, Anna "Critic's Choice/Film; Ballerina Gone Bad: Unsought Swan Song" The New York Times 20 Nov 98
Millard, Gadant, Dictionary of Modern Ballet
Thibault, Bruno "Paul Morand 13 March 1888 - 23 July 1976" Dictionary of Literary Biography
Ulrich, Allan "'Ballerina' French to the Corps" San Francisco Examiner 21 Apr 00
Vincendeau , Ginette Encyclopedia of European Cinema

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