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Lucinda Hennessy reviews Madame Ida

Lucinda Hennessy reviews Madame Ida

5 April 2011

Reviewer Lucinda Hennessy discusses Madame Ida, a poignant short film that looks at the life of Russian ballerina, Ida Rubinstein.

On the evening of 20th January I was lucky enough to attend a private screening of Madame Ida, a short film about the Russian ballerina, Ida Rubinstein, produced by Cecilia Frugiuele for Parkville Pictures, and written and directed by Lisa Forrell. In March, Lisa gave a talk about the film with excerpts at the V&A in conjunction with a dance photography exhibition, and is now heading out on the film festival circuit.

Originally beginning as a theatre piece funded by the Arts Council and The Playground Studios two years ago, Lisa Forrell thought the material lent itself more for the screen. Despite running at only 17 minutes in length, the film contains a lot of depth and substance and I could easily see how it could be developed further into a feature-length film.

"On the last day of her life infamous ballerina Ida Rubinstein is a frail, lonely and forgotten figure with only her three greedy and scheming servants in attendance. With one last supreme effort Ida reveals her ancient ballet shoes and begins to dance."

There is one particular beautifully poignant moment when Madame Ida, inspired by the haunting strings of Saint-Saëns' The Swan playing in her head, lifts her dressing gown to step out of her slippers to reveal her feet still in pointe shoes. She then dances through her last few minutes before collapsing from sheer emotion into the Dying Swan pose and we discover from the end credits “she died in total obscurity.” Here the director has imagined these last few moments of Ida Rubinstein’s tragic final years at the film’s denouement.

The cast of four includes the Olivier Award-winning actress, Celia Imrie and Bond girl, Maryam d’Abo. Former American Ballet Theatre principal, the wonderfully dramatic Naomi Sorkin, plays Ida Rubinstein, after a long-held dream to play her was first proposed to her by the late Bill Como, founder and editor of Dance Magazine in the US: “Naomi may one day be regarded as one of the lost ballerinas of American dance” (Christopher Street Magazine). 

I asked Lisa Forrell about her inspiration for the film: “I was inspired by the extraordinary life of Ida Rubinstein, which involved most of the cataclysmic events of the first half of the twentieth century, including the radicalisation of the ballet and all performance art. But mostly, I wanted to tell the story of the short life of dancers; of the end of a performer's life, when all is lost and the fleeting nature of art is deeply felt; how Ida holds on to the great moments in her life; and the story of people who surround the artist, people who want a piece of her and yet at the same time destroy her.” 

Lisa studied jazz and ballet at a young age, although says she never had the right body to become a professional dancer. But she has still held on to her first pointe shoes wherever she goes; they lie in a cupboard by her bed.

When asked about how she went about researching the life of Ida Rubinstein and the ballet world, Lisa replies: “Ida Rubinstein is better known in France than the Anglo world, so there are numerous accounts and a few biographies of her life in French which I studied in depth, and visited many of the places in Paris where she danced and lived. The world of the Ballets Russes is well-documented and my research included that extraordinary period.”

She hopes the film is seen at the various international festivals and then hopefully released for the cinema: “A full-length version would be very exciting - if we can get the funding.”

Lucinda Hennessy

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