(Paris) Sadistic teacher, almost deadly competition between dancers: from Black swan to the series Tiny Pretty Things (Netflix), the world of ballet is often portrayed as unhealthy onscreen, although at times reality has overtaken fiction.
Tiny Pretty Things recounts the rivalries and love stories within a ballet school, against the backdrop of an attempted murder of one of the students. The series shows dancers in the throes of neurosis, eating disorders, fits of jealousy, a flirtation with drugs or a school principal who plays the role of matchmaker.
Experts and dancers regret that the environment is constantly portrayed on the screen as pernicious or depraved, to the point of caricature.
“There is like a”checklist“When it comes to making a fiction about ballet,” Adeline Chevrier-Bosseau, lecturer in American literature and dance studies at Clermont-Auvergne University, told AFP.
“There is first of all the physical suffering with the obligatory close-up on the nails of the ballerinas who fall, a fascination for“ masochism ”in the relationship between students and ballet masters or even the mother of the ballerina who is very unhealthy. », She says.
The series has also been criticized for the abundance of sex scenes. As in Black swan or the series Flesh and Bone, “The ballerina is either depraved or completely stuck and only dreams of that”, according to Mme Chevrier-Bosseau.
According to her, some pictures go back to the XIXe century, where the image of the “little rat of the Opera” was that of the ballerina from a modest background “sold by the madam mother to the highest bidder”, notably to the rich subscribers of the Opera. As a nod to the series, school ballerinas are hired as waitresses to wealthy donors.
“The abuses exist, but it must always be very exaggerated in the fiction”, adds the researcher who contributed to the recent work “New history of dance in the West”.
“There is a whole fantasy about ballet, we are much calmer than what people imagine,” said Thursday on France Inter Hugo Marchand, star dancer at the Paris Opera who presented his first book, Dance.
He tells about his anxieties and his passion since childhood, the comparisons with other dancers and the tensions that can exist within a professional company. But nothing comparable to what is often found in fiction.
“It’s amplified 150 times! », Affirms to AFP Allister Madin, dancer at the Opera who did not go beyond the first episode, even if he appreciated the technical level of the dancer-actors.
Between oneself and silence
“Yes, I’ve seen girls and boys dance on anti-inflammatory drugs and push the pain to the limit, but it’s not our daily life. Yes, there is competition, because it is difficult to get a contract in a company; but we are not here to hit each other, ”he said.
“Carrying these clichés tarnishes the image of dance”, assures the dancer.
Anecdotes dating in particular from the Soviet era have entered the annals, such as that of the dancers who sometimes found shards of glass in their points. The most shocking incident is recent: the acid attack in 2013 against the artistic director of the Bolshoi which will reveal stories of jealousy and cheap blows.
For Astrid Boitel, a former student at the Paris Opera School of Dance where she was also assistant director, the clichés come in part from the world of dance itself, which has long cultivated “the inter- self ”and an“ education of silence when there is suffering ”, while noting that“ tongues are loosened more and more ”.
She is the artistic coordinator of the series Opera, which is scheduled to air in the spring on OCS and whose heroine is a dancer who seeks to prove her level of star. “We do not completely break the myth, but we make sure to show the reality of the profession,” she says.