While the art of dance in its multitude of styles and forms has been represented widely in films throughout the ages, those centring on ballet stand out due the particular elegance, determination and skill inherent in the art form. While the stories, characters and tone of such films representing this art vary greatly across the board, they all maintain the elements of beauty and grace that form the basis of ballet performance.

Ralph Fiennes’ upcoming film The White Crow tells the incredible real life story of the legendary Rudolf Nureyev’s training as a ballet dancer and his ultimate defection to the West during the height of the Cold War. It masterfully showcases the power that Nureyev had in the field and the impact of his actions on his future and the future of ballet.
To celebrate the film’s release on March 22, we take a look at some of the best ballet movies of all time.

The Red Shoes (1948)

This beloved production of The Archers, based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale about a pair of enchanted ballet slippers, follows the story of a young ballerina, Victoria Page (Moira Shearer), who is poised for ultimate stardom under the tutelage of the great Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). Her success at ballet, however, must come at a price – that of total dedication to her art, a commitment Vicky finds impossible to keep when she finds love. When forced to decide between the two, she is torn between her disparate lives. The film is notably one of Martin Scorsese’s favourites, and was Moira Shearer’s first film appearance.

Black Swan (2010)

Aronofsky’s stylish thriller Black Swan follows timid ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), a young woman who is simultaneously coddled and put under pressure to perform by her strict ex-ballerina mother. When she is cast as the lead in a production of “Swan Lake”, she struggles with the commitment and the toll it takes on her sanity, leading her down a dark path as she tries to meet the high pressure standards of the role. In preparing for the film, Natalie Portman lost twenty pounds in weight and trained for a year as a dancer, going so far as to pay for the training herself when the film was yet to find an investor.

Billy Elliot (2000)

Set against the backdrop of the 1984 coal miner’s strike in southeast England, a young boy, Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell), who seems destined to end up working in the mine like the rest of the men in his family, discovers his talent and love for ballet. Fighting against the principles of his family and the perceived societal norm, he pursues his newfound dream to perfect the art of ballet. When Elton John first watched Billy Elliot in Cannes, he immediately pitched the idea of the now very successful stage musical version to the director of the film, Stephen Daldry.

Save The Last Dance (2001)

Save The Last Dance follows the story of Sara Johnson (Julia Stiles), a girl who dreams of becoming a professional ballerina but finds her hopes derailed when her mother dies suddenly and she is forced to move to the south side of Chicago with her estranged father. Sara finds herself frustrated and lost until she meets a fellow student, Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas), at her new school who reignites her passion for dance. Sara must overcome her misplaced guilt and feelings of loss to rediscover and embrace her drive to follow her dreams once again.

The White Crow (2019)

Ralph Fiennes’ The White Crow tells the story of iconic ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, from his humble and difficult upbringing in the Soviet Union, to his eventual defection to the West. While his incredible skill as a performer earned him the chance to visit Paris with the Kirov Dance Company in 1961, his rebellious behaviour in the city troubled the KGB agents watching over him, and he was ultimately forced to make a life-changing decision in a dramatic airport standoff. The film exhibits the drama and elegance of ballet through immaculate representations of Rudolf Nureyev’s performance by professional dancer Oleg Ivenko in an impressive acting debut.