However, this documentary’s first images of male dancers limbering up in one of the Royal Opera House’s capacious studios are accompanied by the voice of the American morning TV presenter Lara Spencer, just a few months ago, reading a heavily scripted apology for her deeply naff and homophobic comments on the news that Prince George loved his ballet classes.
Men at the Barre: Inside the Royal Ballet is a film by Richard Macer, the director of documentaries on subjects as varied as Morris dancing, dyslexia, British Vogue magazine.
Clearly a newcomer to ballet, Macer sets out to understand and show how ‘a golden generation of male dancers’ at The Royal Ballet is changing the misconception that ballet is simply about girls in diaphanous tutus.
He focuses on a group of principals and first soloists of varied backgrounds: Marcelino Sambé, the Royal’s newest male principal, is the child of poor African migrants in Lisbon; Matthew Ball comes from Liverpool; César Corrales’s Cuban father was himself a principal ballet dancer in Canada; and the prince of them all, Vadim Muntagirov, is Russian.
We see them in rehearsal, not so much in performance (probably because of copyright restrictions), and hear their views of themselves and their art. And we’re left in no doubt that these are athletes in peak condition, with the superhuman stamina to make light work of the most demanding choreography, the brute strength to lift ballerinas and the grace to disguise the effort required. And they come across as terribly nice and unpretentious, too...
Men at the Barre also hears from the previous generation of dancers such as Gary Avis, currently senior ballet master and principal character artist, who admits to having been bullied as a child for doing ballet, but also says he didn’t care. As he put it, you take up ballet ‘not because you have a gender’, but because you have the compulsion to dance.
And we catch a glimpse of a promising new generation, as three jubilant young graduates of the Royal Ballet School are offered their first contract with the company.
If you are a regular at the ballet and wouldn’t dream of using the expression ‘men in tights’ in a derogatory manner (or at all), you may wince a little at some of this documentary’s narrative imprecisions, but you’re very likely to enjoy going behind the scenes and coming up close and personal with these ‘Olympian gods’ in their Covent Garden home.
If, on the other hand, you don’t often go to the ballet and still wonder about ‘men in tights,’ then Men at the Barre is sure to come as a fascinating eye-opener, for it achieves its stated aim to challenge preconceptions of masculinity and illustrate the power, grace and beauty of male ballet dancers.
Oh, and if you’ve always wondered what male dancers wear under their tights, Men at the Barre will tell you all you need to know about jockstraps…
READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH DANCERS MARCELINO SAMBÉ AND CÉSAR CORRALES HERE
|What||Men at the Barre review|
|Where||BBC Four | MAP|
27 May 20 – 27 Jun 20, 21:00 Dur.: 1 hour Available on iPlayer afterwards