Russian classical ballet is exceptional. It has glorious traditions, and is a distinct part of Russian self consciousness. The popular engagement is huge, and dance is taken to higher levels of perfection than anywhere else. The Perms Order of Honour Choreographic School lies far east in Russia, close to Siberia, and is one of the most renowned schools in the world. Of five hundred children selected for the annual audition at the school, only 30 are accepted. To get a place in the school the body has to be perfect: each part of the body is given marks, 5 is perfection. Then they look to see how supple the girls are, stretching their small bodies in every direction. Most of the girls spend 9 years at this school, sacrificing their youth and suffering unbearable pain - only to realize that their dream will not come true. Their ultimate goal could crash at any given moment. The main teacher, Sacharova, is a living legend in the world of ballet. Her portrait hangs on the wall. She is very strict with the girls, making them cry of exhaustion. She takes one of the girls aside and tells her angrily that more important than her physical abilities is her intellectual aspirations. Only the intelligent will become good dancers
"Idiots don't dance!"
’A Beautiful Tragedy’ is about striving to perfection. This is the story of the class of 2004/2005, the most talented class the school has experienced in many years. A group of teenage girls that live, eat and sleep together, where tempers flare, and jealousy is not unheard of. The price of success through the eyes of a group of young girls. It is the story of the silent Oksana (2nd right), the popular Masha (3rd left) and their teachers. We will also meet Nadia, who is about to end her education and little Sucha, who is just at the start. A story about girls and women whose lives are about one thing: dance.
The main character is Oksana Skorik. The camera has been following her for a year. For Oksana the ballet is her opportunity of getting away from poverty. She dreams about the ballerinas 'life on the sunny side of society'. She wants to see the world and to be admired by large audiences that appreciate her perfect and passionate dance. Oksana has perfect legs and therefore encounters a lot of jealousy from her classmates, she is at the lower ranks of the pecking order that exists among the young girls. Oksana wishes that everybody would love her like they love her classmate Masha. She is lonely, longing for someone to play with and she misses the caring arms of her mother who lives far away in the Ukraine. The mother, living alone encourages her to continue. Oksana is not only making her own fortune, she is also her mother’s only hope for a more prosperous life. She started stretching her daughter when she was three months old so that she would get a long and slim body - fit for ballet. Now Oksana must fulfil her mothers plan. Oksana is 5ft 3ins and weighs 81.4lbs. During the annual check up the doctor tells her to eat more. Like several other girls she does not menstruate. Her body lacks the lipids needed to build hormones for normal development of the body of a girl in her teens.
Maria Menshikova is the same age and in the same class as Oksana. She is beautiful and funny, everybody loves "Masha". She is a trendy girl, who always gets nice clothes and money from her parents. Masha was born to dance on the stage and could be the star of the whole class, but has not the perfect legs like Oksana. Secretly Masha wants to be as talented as Oksana. When Masha is celebrating her birthday Oksana is not invited.
Nadia is completing her last year at school. Next year she will be dancing professional. Competition is hard, but she dreams of being rich and famous and giving her family the life they could only dream of. Nadia comes from a very big family, with 5 brothers and sisters, they are not rich but happy. Nadia is one of the very few girls who feels sorry for Oksana and tries to give her some encouragement. When Nadia receives the news that she will have a job with the Perm theatre, her dream has come true.
At school Oksana and the other girls watch an audition for new students. 9 and 10 year old girls are presented by their mothers. They do rehearsals, get their bodies stretched and a few are selected, among them Sucha. Sucha will be living with the other girls in a boarding house and will get to see her family only once every six months. The daily routines are clear: cleaning the rooms (where little Sucha is responsible for scrubbing the floor), washing their socks so that Sacharova doesn't get angry, avoiding the meals so that they don't gain weight. The teachers have told Sucha that she cannot eat cake and chocolate anymore. She might be young, but wants to dance so badly, that it is a small price to pay. The Siberian Ballet Championship is coming up and the class of Oksana participates in this competition. This is a glimpse into the world they want to be a part of. Even though they are representing the same class, Oksana and Masha do not speak a word to each other. When Oksana is winning a prize she is the happiest person on earth.
The film is reflecting the ballet as a constant aspect of the integrity of Russian culture. During the last 100 years the Russians have lived through several dramatic changes of their society. Communism overthrew the Tsars empire, dictatorship and uniformism overthrew communism, Gorbachev overthrew the dictatorship, and Putin reinstalled it with the blessing from capitalism - all this, and the ballet remains the same. Regardless the color of the political leadership of the country, the ballet remains the pride of the Russian nation. The ballet is pure beauty and an arena for emotions. But the ballet also carries an implicit expression of the brutality and the demand for subordination in Russian society. The girls at the ballet-school in Perm, under the guidance of the legendary Sakharova, know nothing about the world. As if in a monastry they live in isolation, dedicated to the 200 year old conventions of classical ballet. Movements shall be perfected until the demand for beauty and grace is fulfilled. If the beauty is not glittering bright, the road back to reality is short. A kilo too much or a tired muscle - and the girls will be finished before they got started. Beauty demands sacrifices. Only in a society that demands an extreme level of sacrifice can one have such expectations of children as the ones we meet at the school in Perm.