Gawky Vadim Muntagirov is painfully shy and worried that the people he speaks to won’t think he’s interesting enough – pretty typical concerns for your average twenty-year-old. Except Muntagirov is far from typical; he’s come straight from school into the lead male role of Siegfried in English National Ballet’s 2011 production of Swan Lake, with potential to become a world-recognised ballet star.
Of course such a talent hasn’t come easily. Trained at Russia’s prestigious Perm Ballet School, he cowered at the sight of his teachers who would scream at the class and smack out any mistakes. And now that he’s joined English National Ballet not an awful lot seems to have changed as the curtain is pulled back on the inner workings of the company’s dancers, choreographers and managing directors in BBC Four’s Agony & Ecstasy: A Year with English National Ballet.
In this real life version of recent box office hit, Black Swan, all of the film’s counterparts are there: the mass of underpaid and overworked swans including innocent little girly girl loner Rachel Ware with her proud mummy; Polina Semionova as the adored prima ballerina who can do no wrong despite never being there; Daria Klimentová as Seminova’s patient but utterly unappreciated stand-in; and of course the deliciously demanding bad-guy choreographer, none other than Derek Deane OBE.
Deane suffers no fools. At all. Ever. The epitome of a bitchiness that makes him worthy of his own TV show, his temper is short and his expectations are high as he admits, “I hate the word ‘bullying’, but I do bully them.” Injuries are only reluctantly accepted because of the presence of the camera crew, and explosive outbursts bluntly inform dancers in no uncertain terms how useless they are. And there’s no exceptions; despite an impressive and long career as one of National English Ballet’s senior principal dancers, Klimentová can’t dance, can’t move, can’t wear her hair in a certain way without utterly vexing Deane who won’t be happy until she’s replaced by the absent but goddess-like “Cindy Crawford” of ballerinas, Semionova.
In the end, Semionova has visa troubles and Klimentová reluctantly steps in on opening night to rave reviews, which result in Muntagirov and Klimentová becoming English National Ballet’s number one partnership. Even Deane has a few words of praise for her – before quickly reminding her of her shortcomings of course. Wow. Now Klimentová really knows that she’s done well. Because for all the fear Deane instills in the dancers, they respect him in equal measure and a commendation from him really means something. And, as an aerial shot pans across the sixty swans as they sway effortlessly like blossom in the lens of a kaleidoscope, all of the blood, sweat, tears and Deane suddenly seem beautifully, blissfully worthwhile.
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