Republication from Dennis Grunes.
“Grace under pressure.” What about innate grace—grace without pressure?
The young ballerina who boards ship in Balerina na korable suggests somewhat Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot: she is so focused on whatever she is doing—in her case, rehearsing dance and dancing—that she is oblivious to the rest of the world and to the impact that her activity has on others. She reminds me also, a little, of Wordsworth’s Solitary Reaper.
Practical, rough-hewn, the sailors (plus one officer, possibly the captain) manning the ship’s steering wheel are sequentially distracted by the ballerina and her exquisite grace at their own risk; but at the risk of the ship? At a critical moment, when a dark storm intercedes and plunges the fate of the ship into doubt, the ballerina’s mirror-imaging intercession saves the ship.
Beautifully written by Roza Khusnutdinova and directed by Lev Atamanov, and all set to Alfred Schnittke’s original music, this prize-winning Soviet short reminds us that different people exist in different worlds that are nonetheless also parts of the same world. The artist—this in some sense is the central point of Chaplin’s The Circus (1928)—exists in her own head, her own world; while Chaplin aches to participate in the larger, commonly shared world, however, Atamanov’s ballerina, poised and self-possessed, commands her own world as a captain might hope to command his ship. Hers, of course, is a dreamed existence, one in which the animation itself abets her grace by releasing her from the confines of time and space. The role of the artist in society is to help liberate the rest of us, imaginatively, from these harsh and routine confines.
While The Circus tends toward tragedy (as Chaplin always does), Atamanov’s film tends toward misadventure’s redemption by impossible grace.