Ballet and Film at the NFB

Ballet and Film at the NFB

Film and dance are both movement-based art forms, so it makes sense that they would come together in projects focusing on the specifics of one or the other. Take the work of Canadian animation pioneer Norman McLaren for example, who made several films in collaboration with dancers. The best known is Pas de deux (1968), which pushed the limits of animation by bringing together dancers' movements that originally were separated in time. The result is an elegant and delicate film, but also a technical tour de force. Ballet Adagio (1972) is a more modest work, in which the director films a ballet in slow-motion, allowing viewers to watch the technique and the mechanics of movement. Finally, with Narcissus (1983), McLaren offers us an interpretation in dance of the myth of Narcissus.

In the spirit of the NFB's long history with dance, enjoy this selection of films that explore, celebrate and interpret one of our most precious art forms.

  • Pas de deux
    1968|13 min

    This Oscar®-nominated short film by Norman McLaren is a cinematic study of the choreography of ballet. A bare, black set with the back-lit figures of dancers Margaret Mercier and Vincent Warren create a dream-like, hypnotic effect. This award-winning film comes complete with the visual effects one expects from this master filmmaker.

  • Shadow on the Prairie (A Canadian Ballet)
    1953|14 min

    This is a screen presentation of a Canadian ballet created for and identified with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company. The theme centres around the settlement of the Canadian West and concerns the fate of a young wife who comes to the prairies with her pioneer husband to begin a new life. Ingeniously designed stage sets suggest a covered wagon and a rude homesteader's dwelling.

  • Winnipeg Ballet
    1953|15 min

    Fred Davis goes backstage at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

  • Ballet Adagio
    1972|10 min

    This short film by Norman McLaren is a slow-motion study of the pas de deux adagio, one of the most exacting dances of classical ballet. A ballet originally choreographed by the Russian ballet master Asaf Messerer is performed for this film by the internationally known Canadian pair David and Anna Marie Holmes, to the music of Albinoni's Adagio.

  • Ballet Festival
    1949|11 min

    From the Canada Carries On series, this is a look at Canada's first national Ballet Festival. Amateur companies from Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Hamilton and Vancouver perform at Toronto's Royal Alexander Theatre. An Ottawa company dances Les Sylphides. The Winnipeg Ballet appears in Visages by Walter Kaufman and the Volkoff Ballet of Toronto in Red Ear of Corn by John Weinzweig, both new Canadian works.

  • Narcissus
    1983|21 min

    In this short film by Norman McLaren, dancers enact the Greek tragedy of Narcissus, the beautiful youth whose excessive self-love condemned him to a trapped existence. Skillfully merging film, dance and music, the film is a compendium of the techniques McLaren acquired over a lifetime of experimentation.

  • A Delicate Balance
    campus 2018 | 1 h 15 min

    Filmed from the point of view of its young subjects, A Delicate Balance takes an introspective look at the lives of four aspiring ballet dancers who candidly tell their stories and share their hopes and dreams.

  • Dancing Holidays
    1959|7 min

    Ballet by the Lake: The Wilderness Ballet Camp in Ontario's Algonquin Park. Dancing on the Rockies: The Banff School of Fine Arts ballet class practises out of doors.

  • Mavis Staines: Sharing Dance
    2019|4 min

    When Mavis Staines took the helm of Canada’s National Ballet School in 1989, the pedagogy of ballet was due for an evolution. Driven by a belief system that honoured tradition but challenged outdated practices, Staines set in motion a paradigm shift that has transformed ballet training in Canada and around the world.

  • Anik Bissonnette: The Gift of Dance
    2014|8 min

    This short film pays tribute to ballet dancer Anik Bissonnette as she takes the reins of the École supérieure de ballet du Québec. Having dazzled audiences for decades with her astounding talent, she now teaches the rigorous fundamentals and secrets of movement that underlie her art. Bissonnette's grace is reflected through the mirror of time. As we watch the steps and movements of the young dancers she has inspired, we realize that we are witnessing the most beautiful of dances—the transmission of knowledge.

    This film was produced by the NFB in co-operation with the National Arts Centre and the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards Foundation on the occasion of the 2014 Governor General's Performing Arts Awards.