The world of ballet is quite a demanding profession. Physically, it takes years of practice, tough training, a certain amount of comfort in tights and can take a real tole on one’s feet. In The Turning Point, we see that the honor of touring with a ballet company can mean sacrificing many of life’s milestones. Unfortunately, there are regrets on either side of the decision to keep dancing or to have a family.
Deedee (Shirley MacLaine) and her husband Wayne (Tom Skerritt) were both professional ballet dancers together, but decided to give it up and have a family. Now in their forties, they have three children, two who seriously practice ballet and Deedee runs the town’s dance studio. When the old company they used to tour with comes to their Oklahoma town, they host a party for them in their little suburban home. They get to catch up with old friends, especially Emma (Anne Bancroft).
In their days together with the company, Deedee and Emma were great friends and very competitive, but their separate paths show what the other wishes they had accomplished. Deedee had just as much potential as Emma, would she have been a great dancer as well if she had not had a family? And Emma is obviously lonely, but wildly successful. Would she be happier if she gave up dancing for a family life?
When Deedee’s eldest daughter, Emilia (Leslie Browne), is invited to go to New York with the dance company, Emilia realizes what a big decision it is. The decisions her parents have made are weighing on her and she is quietly pulled between one day having a happy family life or being a great ballerina. But she’s still very young, so she can dance now and come to those bridges later. In New York, with her mother and brother visiting for the summer, Emilia becomes romantically involved with a Russian dancer, Yuri (Mikhail Baryshnikov). The strain between ballet, Yuri, family and trying to learn all she can from Emma can become overwhelming for Emilia and Deedee.
Within the course of this blog, I have discovered a love for ballet on film. Here in The Turning Point, everything is centered around the dance form. We are shown bits of practice as well as the beautiful stage performances. In practices, the details are key. There are close up images of toes pointed, sliding across the floor and the barre shaking as a row of hands grip it in rhythm. The performances take a step back and give us a view from the audience, hardly cutting away. In the final performance, we’re given details within the program, telling us the name of the ballet, the choreographer and the character on stage performing. These small captions do not disrupt and go a long way for those of us wanting to know more.
The whole film is like going to the ballet, with a captivating story about the dancers inserted and not having to dress up or look between heads to see the stage. The film was nominated for eleven Oscars, but sadly didn’t receive any. If you don’t appreciate ballet, mother-daughter relationships or a strained friendship between aging women, this may be a stretch for you. But between the thoughtful story, the thrill and beauty of ballet, I really enjoyed The Turning Point.
“Dancers have such ugly feet. Ugh. If I was a man, I could have all the feet… I mean, children I wanted to… and still danced.”
I’ve never really gotten to the point of appreciation for ballet which didn’t help in the viewing of this film (though, inexplicably, I loved BLACK SWAN). The performance of Bancroft and MacLaine are what makes this film work at all…worth the watch.