This academy award-nominated 1977 film is a co-production of western and Soviet film professionals, narrated by the late Princess Grace of Monaco. There are no subtitles--all translations are done by voiceover. It is one of three documentaries about the Kirov Ballet and its school, the Vaganova Choreographic Institute, in St. Petersburg, Russia (called Leningrad at the time of this film). The others--"Backstage at the Kirov" (1984) and "The Leningrad Legend" (1989)--are better in terms of production values and believable candid scenes. But "Children of Theatre Street" is the only one that focuses primarily on the students, and therein lies its great appeal.
Theatre Street is the popular name for Rossi Street, on which the entrance to the Kirov's school is located. Entrance exams are held annually. Thousands of children, aged 10-12, apply; only 20 are selected. Some of the rigorous audition process is shown--the children are chosen for specific physical proportions and natural physical abilities. As the narrator tells us, "Talent is considered worth measuring only when it occurs in the right body." Those chosen face eight years of relative luxury and privilege in the Soviet Union, but also a life of hard work and discipline.
Featured are an 11-year-old girl, a 13-year old boy, and two girls from the graduating class, with much of the focus on preparations for the upcoming graduation performance. The students are shown going to performances, a beach on the Gulf of Finland, and Petrodvorets, the tsars' summer palace near St. Petersburg. They are also shown in a meeting of the Pioneers, the first step in becoming a member of the Communist Party. Some of the activities and interviews with the students were obviously staged (such as a pillow fight when the boy "sneaks" into the girls' dorm) and many are suspect. I wondered how much of the purported closeness between the featured students was for the sake of the film. One real and touching moment, which the scriptwriters chose not to translate, was when the two graduating girls, who are roommates, have finished their much-anticipated (and dreaded) graduation performance and are congratulating each other, full of excitement and relief.
Marring the film is its frequent stage-iness, as well as one messy sequence which intersperses classroom scenes with performances of "Swan Lake," while the music of the ballet is superimposed over the classroom piano, and music from one part of the ballet is played while the dancers perform another part. However, there are plenty of views of beautiful St. Petersburg, and the scenes of the students in classes and performances are delightful, so I give this film four stars. One of the Kirov's illustrious alumni, Rudolf Nureyev, is quoted on the jacket: "...at the Kirov School, there will always be another vintage year, and 'Theatre Street' tells why."