Recently, I re-watched the heart-wrenching, award winning documentary from 2008 called A Beautiful Tragedy. The documentary focuses on a young Ukranian girl, called Oksana Skorik, who's mother decided when she was born, that she would 'give her to ballet'. Ballet is seen in Russia by many families as a way for their children to leave Russia and have a prosperous future, so many children are 'given to ballet', before they are even born.
Oksana was sent off to a very prestigious ballet school in Perm, Russia, at 5 years old, along with many other young girls, who are faced with the reality of only getting to see their parents twice a year once they attend the school. The competition is fierce, with 500 girls every year auditioning to join the school. After nine years of training, 30 students will graduate, but only one or two of them will succeed in becoming a prima ballerina.
In the documentary we hear Oksana's thoughts and feelings through her diary entries, which is the key narrative running throughout the film.
The film is brutal at times, as we see the ballet mistresses verbally abusing the young women, calling them fat, ugly and useless, leaving them in tears. It really brings home that the perfection of Russian dancers most certainly comes at a price, as most of the girls are anorexic or bulemic, constantly berating themselves for eating a square of chocolate or cheese in the food parcels their parents send them. At one point we see a tiny little girl, no more than 6 years old, telling us that she cannot eat because she is fat. I cried at several points in the film, as Oksana is often ostricised from the other girls and we hear her despair as she writes to her mother, begging her to let her come home.
The girls are pushed incredibly hard and throughout the film it feels like the school operates more like an army camp, with the aim of breaking the girls' spirit in order to turn them ballet machines.
I was prompted to rewatch the film because we now know that Oksana did indeed make it as as she is now a soloist with the esteemed Mariinski Theatre.
Harpers Bizarre recently created a beautiful photoshoot featuring the young dancer, bringing to life the likes of Lanvin and Dolce & Gabbana.
Oksana had become a bit of a controversial dancer in ballet for a while, as many felt she was simply not ready to be a soloist. There was a even a somewhat cruel video on YouTube which comprised of all her misshaps and mistakes, which I believe Oksana was, understandably, very upset over.
However, in my opinion, mistakes happen and we are taught in our graded class that it's how you recover from an error that counts. If you fall over or make a mistake, you simply get up, keep dancing and smile. Dancers are only human afterall and errors reminds us, and them, of that fact. It also serves to reminds us that ballet is bloody hard and that even the most accomplished dancers have off days.