‘Dancing on Glass’ is a depressing view of the corrupt ballet industry
Content Warning: Suicide Mentions
Watching “Dancing on Glass,” learning about the trials and traumas of ballet, made me glad I made the decision to quit the sport. I’m sure if you’ve seen “Black Swan” there’s nothing shocking about this film’s revelations. But I, who was five years old, prancing in ballet class, had no idea of the hidden traumas that often reveal themselves in art as ballerinas improve. And I’m glad I never discovered it on my own. If I hadn’t made the decision to leave the ballet, I could have faced the same tribulations as the main characters of the film, Irene (María Pedraza, “El Verano Que Vivimos”) and Aurora (Paula Losada, debut) . While the film highlights the beauty of ballet through otherworldly dance scenes, many of the negative aspects of the sport are addressed in this film. The Spanish film tells the journey of two sad and stressed young women whose lives revolve around their professional ballet company. The off-putting film contains a whirlwind of drama, mystery and thrill that chronicles the details of many dancers’ unrelenting need for perfectionism. Director Jota Linares (“Who Would You Take to a Desert Island?”) clearly articulates a depressing message that paints ballet as a lost cause, with no hope of changing the art for the better.
The desperate film reveals the darkness of ballet through Irene, an overworked bulimic girl newly promoted to principal dancer, and Aurora, an anxious ballerina who is new to Irene’s dance company in Spain. Unfortunately, Irene’s bulimia is common among dancers, as many struggle with various eating disorders due to pressure from those around them to maintain unrealistic standards. The pair quickly become friends and never fail to find refuge in each other through the immense pressure they constantly face. While trying to achieve an inhuman level of perfection through their performances, the two escape to the imaginary otherworldly scenes that unfold in their minds that allow them to enjoy the beauty of dance and avoid all the negativity that comes with it.
These scenes definitely brought a kind of serenity to the film, but the beauty of the ballet in these scenes doesn’t seem to be worth all the trauma the girls are dealing with. It made me wonder why they even chose to continue dancing professionally. I understand Linares’ intention to raise awareness of the mistreatment of ballet dancers, but it was disheartening to realize that these girls were doomed from the start with no chance of salvation. If Linares had addressed the underlying issues of the characters in the film (mental health issues, stress, and anxiety) with some sort of solution, he might have inspired audiences to do the same. But what is insinuated is that the only way out of their vicious cycle of ballet was death. Solely based on this movie, I would never recommend anyone to practice ballet because the whole industry seems to be beyond saving.
When you’re delivering a powerful message, there’s a difference between trying to inspire change in the audience and trying to upset them. The film definitely exposed the darkness that shadows every successful ballerina and left me feeling anxious. I feel anxious for all the young girls in ballet, completely unaware of the potential black hole this could lead them down. I found myself seeking the happiness of the main characters, but the accumulated anxiety never had a chance to be even partially resolved.
The cinematography present in the film, however, was rather impressive. Surreal scenes of mountains, lakes and more were displayed in a 360 degree view as the girls danced in the center. I liked the concept of building a mental fortress around an idealized world to retreat to during hardship, but while these mental health issues never have an easy fix, I was also disappointed that the girls can never fully cope with their problems.
The subject of suicide is often brought up indirectly, as the former principal ballerina was driven to madness and committed suicide. It was disappointing to have the same depressed energy exhibited in the main characters traveling in a downward spiral throughout the film. It makes me wonder if this movie was really raising awareness and trying to change the ballet industry, or if it was just a nihilistic warning to the public. Simply put, “Dancing on Glass” was an effectively disturbing but unnecessary perspective on the popularly corrupt ballet industry.
Zara Manna, Everyday Arts Writer, can be contacted at [email protected].