'Getting to the Nutcracker': Film Review

Courtesy of Serene Meshel-Dillman
The film to see before you buy tickets to your local production

Serene Meshel-Dillman's documentary chronicles the creation of a production of the holiday ballet perennial, featuring young dancers ranging in age from 3 to 18

For most people, getting to The Nutcracker simply means procuring tickets to one of the roughly 600 productions staged every holiday season in this country alone. Serene Meshel-Dillman's documentary examines one such venture put on by Los Angeles' Marat Daukayev School of Ballet, from the first auditions to the final results. Detailing the trials, tribulations and joy experienced by its dancers, who range in age from 3 to 18, Getting to the Nutcracker, one of 134 documentaries submitted for this year's Oscars, makes a nice cinematic complement to the ballet perennial.

Founded and led by Marat Daukayev, a former star of the Kirov Ballet, the school puts on an annual production of the holiday chestnut featuring its students. Narrated by Daukayev's wife, Pamela, who jokingly refers to herself as the school's "barely managing director," the film offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective that should inspire budding young dancers to ask their parents to buy them tights and tutus.

We're introduced to several of the young performers who reveal their anxieties and aspirations. Fourteen-year-old Mikhael is the heartthrob of the group but struggles with the fact that his father doesn't approve of him dancing. Luis, who joined the school only after escorting his younger sister, finds himself cast in the plum role of the prince, confessing to feeling "terror and excitement at the same time." Adam is already thinking ahead, planning on eventually joining a contemporary dance company "as my body starts breaking down."

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The production enlists the dancers' parents to participate in the production as well, and we see them going through their simple paces with parental pride. The father of one little girl points out, "My daughter is learning more from failure than success."

And failure is inevitably part of the process, as illustrated by one little girl crying hysterically after not getting the coveted part of Masha.

The filmmaker attempts to add suspense to the proceedings with a countdown of the days leading to the performance, but there's little doubt that it will be a triumphant experience for its young participants. We're treated to generous excerpts from the finished product, which is all the more resonant for the moving profiles that have preceded it.

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The end credits reveal that several of the spotlighted dancers have received scholarships to such prestigious companies as the American Ballet Theater, the Bolshoi and the Boston Ballet. So don't be surprised to see them performing on other stages in the future.

Director: Serene Meshel-Dillman
Executive producer: Serene Meshel-Dillman
Producer: Ray Dillman

Director of photography: Areni Khachaturan
Editor: Brian George
Composer: Keith Kenniff

No MPAA rating, 98 minutes