Hila Shachar styles her favourite dance films.
There are few ballet films that inspire such a sense of nostalgic glee as The Turning Point (1977). Although failing to win anything out of its 11 nominations in the 1978 Academy Awards, it has definitely won its way into many people’s hearts as a classic ballet film. One of the reasons for its cult status is of course the performance of Mikhail Baryshnikov, who spends much of the film looking dreamy, wearing tight tops, or sweating shirtless while seducing pretty ballerinas.
Despite Baryshnikov’s obvious charms, the focus of the film is on a group of women. The film’s plot follows the fates of two ballerinas whose lives have taken different turns. In her youth, Deedee (Shirley MacLaine) gave up dancing to get married and raise a family. However, her former friend and dancing rival, Emma (Anne Bancroft), follows her dream of becoming an accomplished ballerina and a star with the American Ballet Company. The film opens with their reunion; soon, their choices clash, with each woman wanting what the other one has. In the middle of their dramas and jealousies is Deedee’s daughter Emilia (Leslie Browne), who must decide whether to take her mother’s path or follow in her godmother Emma’s footsteps as a star ballerina in New York. The Turning Point provides a female-centred drama that examines the familiar theme of art versus love with a decidedly 1970s women’s-liberation tone.
The Turning Point also takes the audience straight into the mechanics of a ballet company. We glimpse beautifully shot rehearsals in the studio and classes, flawless performances on stage, and behind-the-scenes peeks at the ballet world through the dancers’ perspectives. Featuring some spectacular dancing by ballet greats such Antoinette Sibley, Marcia Haydée, Peter Martins and of course, Mikhail Baryshnikov, this is one of the most technically superb ballet films. The scene depicting Baryshnikov dancing Le Corsaire, for example, is breathtaking. It’s a credit to the strong acting of Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft that they are not overshadowed by the film’s many stunning ballet sequences.
What lingers in the memory, along with these dancing sequences and MacLaine and Bancroft’s acting, is the pastel aesthetic of The Turning Point. Before Sofia Coppola revived 1970s bohemian clothes in The Virgin Suicides (1999), The Turning Point had already encapsulated the fluttery romance of this fashion. The beautiful Emilia is often clothed in white and various cool pastel shades, particularly green, perhaps symbolising her youth, freshness and naivety. These colours sometimes shift onto the clothing of Deedee and Emma as they navigate feelings of jealousy and a wish to reclaim, relive and rewrite the past through Emilia. But mostly, the two women hover around Emilia in pastel pinks and peaches, dressed in an abundance of the most romantic clothes the 1970s had to offer: smocks and blouses with poet sleeves, drapes and ruffles on everything, and tiered maxi dresses that float on the body like a dancer’s costume. While others have tried to imitate this 70s aesthetic in later dance films, you simply can’t beat the classics.
Borrow from Deedee, Emma and Emilia’s bohemian wardrobe: