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‘Birds of Paradise’: Unique or used?

| Friday, October 8, 2021

Maggie Klaers | The Observer

Editor’s Note: This story includes mention of eating disorders and self harm. A list of resources can be found on the National Eating Disorder Association website or through their helpline.

“[Ballet has] never been an even playing field. It’s always been about sex, blood, and money. It’s all that matters.”

As someone who has danced for most of my life, I am always apprehensive to watch new movies and TV shows about dance, especially ballet. With the release of “Birds of Paradise,” I don’t know how I should feel. 

Set in Paris, Virginia-native Kate Sanders (Diana Silvers) has won a scholarship to study at a prestigious ballet school with the hopes of winning a contract with the Paris Opera Ballet–something that only one boy and one girl at the school will be awarded. In this school, Kate is an outlier. Her lack of wealth and her nationality put her at a disadvantage and isolate her from the other students who have lived at the school since they were children.

After an explosive first encounter, Kate becomes friends with Marine Durand (Kristine Froseth), the wealthy daughter of the American ambassador to France and a wild card of a human being. Marine’s past has filled her life with lots of upset, as her twin and dance partner Ollie had recently committed suicide. Despite the turmoil in her life, she and Kate make a pact to beat the odds and win the prize together, or not at all. 

This movie is filled with the various clichés found in all kinds of dance movies–fierce competition for the final prize, the ticking clock, the toll of dance, and more. In this way, I found it to be quite exhausting. 

However, the movie does address some aspects of dance life that are unfortunately real and rarely discussed in the media. An important moment of the film occurs when Kate and another dancer, Gia, find each other in the women’s restroom. Kate is shellacking the inside of her pointe shoes (a popular technique to make the shoes last longer) because she cannot afford to buy more, and Gia is throwing up in the sink. Gia, who is black, says to Kate how hard it is to compete against a bunch of skinny white girls. 

Ballet is a beautiful expression of movement and of art, but the world of dance is competitive and brutal. Those in charge only want a certain image of a dancer, and to be outside of that is unfavorable and puts you at a major disadvantage. In both Gia and Kate’s cases, they find themselves at places where a slight slip can cause a catastrophic fall. 

Something else that I found interesting about the movie was the quality of dancing. In the movie, Kate has only been dancing for five years. Before she danced, she played basketball, but she quit and started to dance to honor her late mother who was also a dancer. What she lacks in technique she makes up for in strength, and this is clearly seen. Improvements in Kate’s form and precision are shown throughout the movie, and the quality of dancing is quite good. 

All in all, this movie set out with a purpose and accomplished it well. Throughout the movie, there were references to the title with a fancy night club, a story from Kate’s mother, and a quote from the strict headmistress Madame Brunelle (Jacqueline Bisset). The visuals were impressive, and the choices in the score emphasized the beauty and mystery of the film. Despite being riddled with typical tropes of dance movies and TV shows, I enjoyed “Birds of Paradise” and thought the story itself was engaging. Complicated and brutal as it is (as the beginning quote accurately states), dance acts as a symbol of freedom and of passion for the art of life.

Title: “Birds of Paradise”

Starring: Diana Silvers, Kristine Froseth, Jaqueline Bisset

Director: Sarah Adina Smith

If you like: “Black Swan”, “Center Stage”, “Fame”

Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5

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About Anna Falk

Anna is a sophomore studying neuroscience, French, and linguistics. You should follow her Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/user/annam.falk?si=88e09848b64547c3

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