Back in 2000, Billy Elliott showed us that despite preconceptions, there’s nothing wrong with being a boy who wants to do ballet. However what’s it actually like if you’re a teenage boy who’s devoted themselves to an artform that many consider to be just ‘for girls’?
The Norwegian documentary Ballet Boys tries to find out, following Lukas, Syvert and Torgeir, who are all in the same class together at a ballet school, where they’re the boys amongst a sea of girls. To be honest, while early on the documentary asks questions about why the boys want to do ballet, it quickly realises there’s no better reason than ‘why not?’ After all like anything else, once you realise you have a talent, it’s no surprise you’d want to pursue it. However there are undoubtedly reasons to stop, not least the time, passion and dedication needed, especially knowing that there are no guarantees of a successful dancing career at the end of it.
While there are insights into the world of ballet in the movie – such as the ridiculous strain it puts on your body – it largely shows that these are teens like any other, looking for girls (the film initially seems keen to point out male dancers aren’t automatically gay), telling silly jokes and worrying about their grades.
Ballet Boys spends plenty of time introducing the young dancers and the bonds that have grown between them over their years together, and it’s here the film finds its main drama, as it’s approaching the end of their schooldays and they must decide what to do next. Do they want to continue with ballet at another school, and even if they do, what would going to different places to dance do to strong bonds between them?
The core is a story that could be told about many young people as they finish school and have to decide what to do next, although the stakes here are a little higher, especially for the Lukas who’s been invited to audition for the Royal Ballet School in London, which wouldn’t just mean he leaves Syvert and Torgeir behind, but has to move to a whole new country, all by himself, at just 16-years-old.
Thanks to the fact it allows you to get to know and care about the teens, Ballet Boys is surprisingly effective and watchable. There is a slight sense that the film might have found a better way to tie together what is universal and what it unique to the world of ballet, but it does ensure that those who aren’t that interested in dance will be pulled into what is essentially a coming of age tale about three young men.
As a sidenote, the documentary does seem to have a slightly uncomfortable interest in showing the boys in their changing room. It tries to explain it by saying this is where they are most themselves and where they relax, but after a while it starts to feel a little voyeuristic.
Overall Verdict: A well-made and interesting documentary which may find its core in a story that’s pretty universal, but still offers plenty of interest for those who like dance.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac