A Delicate Balance
| 76 min
Selections and Awards
They may be ambitious, determined perfectionists, but the remarkable kids in A Delicate Balance are also incredibly endearing, and not the least bit averse to laughing at themselves. These adrenalin-fuelled 10-, 12-, and 14-year-olds are already striving to attain the highest performance standards. Filmed from the perspective of four students from the École supérieure de ballet du Québec, A Delicate Balance takes an introspective look at the lives of young people on the cusp of adolescence—that critical time in one’s life when childhood fantasies begin to collide with the realities of being an adult.
The girls and boys in this restrained first feature doc view themselves with a combination of lightheartedness and seriousness that’s typical for their age. Ultimately, their coming of age experience is not so different from the path we all must take when facing those big decisions about our future, those watershed moments that force us to take a good look at ourselves in the mirror.
About the film
Filmed from the point of view of its young subjects, A Delicate Balance takes an introspective look at the lives of four dancers on the cusp of adolescence—that critical time in one’s life when childhood fantasies begin to collide with the realities of being an adult. A tender and captivating documentary in which students of the École supérieure de ballet du Québec candidly tell their stories and share their hopes and dreams.
Filmed from the point of view of its young subjects, A Delicate Balance takes an introspective look at the lives of four aspiring ballet dancers who candidly tell their stories and share their hopes and dreams.
They may be ambitious, determined perfectionists, but the remarkable kids in A Delicate Balance are also incredibly endearing, and not the least bit averse to laughing at themselves. These adrenalin-fuelled 10-, 12-, and 14-year-olds are already striving to attain the highest performance standards. They dream of joining the world’s most prestigious ballet companies and they’re prepared to do whatever it takes to make that dream come true. This feature doc gives four students from the École supérieure de ballet du Québec free reign to express themselves, alternating between a chronicle of the school’s unusually intense training program and a portrait of the personal and social lives of these young people on the cusp of adolescence.
A Delicate Balance offers a rare, unvarnished behind-the-scenes look at the art of ballet, taking us inside the walls of this renowned training school in Quebec. Transcending the clichés about a discipline that’s both artistic and athletic, the film conveys the students’ astonishing commitment to a program in which perseverance, hard work, and sore muscles are all essential parts of the daily routine. “Beauty is not easy,” notes the filmmaker.
Filmed from the perspective of the children over the course of a school year, Christine Chevarie-Lessard’s first feature documentary examines the inner lives and illusions of dancers on the verge of being teenagers. A Delicate Balance follows Camille, Lola, Emma, Shô and their friends into the studio, to auditions, and backstage as they experience the pain of dancing and the meticulousness it demands; but it also takes us into their rooms and to the park, where they go to share their secrets with one another.
Chevarie-Lessard’s sensitive portrait of the students places them centre stage—no teachers or parents are interviewed—and incorporates excerpts from many hours of audio interviews, revealing their innermost thoughts. These frank confessions complement footage of their faces and bodies, capturing the students’ self-doubt, anxiety, longing, and disappointment. Driven by the visceral need to find acceptance in this prestigious institution, they endure the hardships of training and constantly come face to face with reality—the physical constraints of their bodies and the difficulty of achieving excellence. Injuries, feelings of failure, and thoughts of giving up are perennial hazards, and some will wrestle with the serious question of whether or not to abandon a discipline in which, despite their young age, they’ve already invested years of training and hope.
Viewers witness both the blossoming of personalities and the evolution of athletes trained according to a strict code and proven methods. Even under pressure, they display an incredible amount of empathy. Though they’re utterly dedicated to their training, it doesn’t prevent them from worrying about other things—their friendships, their first crushes, how others see them, and the frustration of having a body that can’t be perfectly moulded to suit the needs of the discipline. Surprisingly mature and clearheaded in their thinking, these children are also in search of their identity, and they find themselves struggling with the challenges of their generation.
After six years of painstaking work, showing a level of dedication not unlike that of her subjects, Chevarie-Lessard has made a first feature that’s refined, restrained, accessible, and formally rigorous. Her team included seasoned professionals such as director of photography François Vincelette, editor Vincent Guignard, sound designer Catherine Van Der Donckt, and musical director Jérôme Minière. She was also assisted by producers Chantal Lafleur and Geneviève Thibert of Productions Avenida and Nathalie Cloutier of the NFB. The film’s strength lies in its authentic tone and insider’s perspective. The students tell their stories and view themselves with a combination of lightheartedness and seriousness that’s typical for their age, when the fantasies of childhood collide with the realities of adulthood. Ultimately, their coming of age experience is not so different from the path we all must take when facing big decisions about our future—those watershed moments that force us to take a good look at ourselves in the mirror.
For me, the main difference between childhood and adulthood is a thin but strong thread: children still believe anything is possible. Being an astronaut, playing in the National Hockey League, walking on the ceiling, or being a veterinarian—every path is open to them. I wanted to explore this period between late childhood and early adolescence because this is when our dreams slowly begin to clash with reality.
I decided to focus on 10-to-13-year olds training to be professional classical dancers. In this environment, childhood—which we usually associate with a time of play and carefreeness—merges with a more “adult” world. At ballet school, the disciplines’ demands are similar to the demands of adult professional life: you must endure a rigorous selection process, follow rules and respect authority, work long hard hours, and be responsible and highly organized. Most of these students started dancing at about 3 or 4 years old, dreaming about the big stage, tutus, applause, being strong and agile and defying gravity. But it’s one thing to dream and quite another to face the huge workload and obstacles that star dancers deal with.
Their time at the ballet school necessarily changes them physically and, above all, psychologically. I wanted to capture this transformation by filming them over many months, but as a filmmaker, I focused on the human side rather than their physical prowess. Some discover that their bodies—their “instruments”—have limits and that, despite all their efforts, they cannot compel them to do all that this classical art requires. Others see their motivation falter in the face of their teachers’ corrections and a heavy workload. All must learn to deal with physical pain and injury, which are nearly inevitable with such an intensive training regimen.
Ultimately, dance becomes a way for them to learn about themselves and life. And in this sense, their art aside, we can all recognize ourselves in them. I know that in observing and interviewing them, I recognized the child I was and the adult I’ve become—the passion, demanding nature, perfectionism, and determination that guided me but also scarred me. In their own way, Lola, Emma, Camille, and Shô show us the predicament of living with a spirit that wants to fly but is constantly brought back down to earth by gravity. Watching them invest so much in a discipline without knowing whether they’ll achieve their goal, we experience some of the beauty and adversity of being an artist.
At 12, Lola is entering secondary school and beginning her third year in the professional program. Elegant and musical, she dreams of dancing on major international stages, but she has had to cope with numerous injuries and knows the physical challenges she faces. Her response is to work harder than ever to reach the required level. She is realistic about her chances: knowing that only a few dancers achieve the longed-for career in classical ballet, she thinks about other options that are available to her—she loves fashion, photography, and costumes, and even serves as a model for Mondor dancewear. Lola and her friends have studied ballet together since they were very young. They support and confide in each other, and on Friday nights they go out together to dance hip-hop… after their week of ballet.
His friends call him “Showtime” because he likes to make them laugh and can jump higher than any of them. This year, Shô, a 13-year-old Quebecker of Japanese origin, is entering the professional dance program and starting high school, all at the same time. He faces several challenges. On top of academic difficulties, he will take on the daunting task of learning the demanding techniques required of a male ballet dancer. He wonders if he’ll be able to maintain his motivation. “Will I be able to do what they ask of me?” Conscious of his physical limitations, including his too-thin arms, Shô is all too able to laugh at himself. He is a dedicated fan of manga, and shares his love of comics with the other boys at the school. They often talk about the hazards of making a career in dance, a predominantly female universe.
Emma is small and slim —the smallest of her group—but she doesn’t go unnoticed. Expressive, enthusiastic and hyper-organized, this Argentinian-Swiss 11-year-old does not lack charisma. This year is important to her: now in her second year in the professional program, she will put on her first pair of pointe shoes and audition for the role of Clara in The Nutcracker. If she gets the role, she’ll have to go onstage in front of three thousand people. An animal lover, Emma sees herself as a veterinarian one day.
At 10, Camille is just discovering the extent of her upcoming challenges as she enters the professional ballet program. With her impeccable ballet bun, she warms up in preparation for class. She sometimes has trouble with the constant corrections, because her muscles have a tendency to cramp. After developing persistent pain in her feet, Camille is faced with a real dilemma: Should she continue professional ballet, or withdraw from the program? Leaving ballet would be a terrible loss that she’s not yet ready to accept, having always been a hyper-perfectionist driven by rigour and high expectations. Camille likes to escape to her secret hideaway, a pine tree in a park near her home in Ahuntsic. When she climbs up to a certain branch, she can spy on the boys playing soccer.
Photo : ONF
Christine made her first film at age 16 during a running race called Course destination Brossard. After earning a bachelor’s degree in communications from UQAM (2005) and working for several years as a researcher, she graduated from Québec’s image and sound institute (INIS) documentary film production program in 2011 and dedicated herself to filmmaking. She has made the short film Quand tout est possible (2011), winner of the 2013 Canal D young documentarian competition; La comédienne d’Amérique (2013); and Worcestershire (2015). She received a Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec grant to research and develop her first feature documentary, A Delicate Balance. Her work also includes projects for television, such as the documentary Les chiens pisteurs (85 min., 2014), interviews for CinéTFO, and youth programming (MiniTFO). She produces, directs, and edits videos of all genres for the web. Since 2015, she has organized and led the DAMES DU DOC film club through the organization Réalisatrices Équitables, whose board she also sits on. In her spare time, she has racked up 10,000 km cycling the US west coast and Canada.
Chantal Lafleur has more than 20 years’ experience in the production and distribution sides of Quebec’s film and television industry.
Prior to founding Productions Avenida, she produced several films in the popular Contes pour tous (Tales for All) collection for Productions La Fête, including the documentary La guerre des tuques… au fil du temps, about the reunion of the actors in the beloved film La guerre des tuques (The Dog Who Stopped the War) 25 years after it was made.
More recently, she produced Vanja d’Alcantara’s Kokoro (Le cœur régulier), a co-production with France and Belgium. She also produced two seasons of the documentary series Bing Bang (Historia), and Jenny (Unis TV), a multiplatform project that includes a youth drama series and an interactive website.
Lafleur recently completed production of A Delicate Balance, a feature documentary that takes a behind-the-scenes look at a professional ballet school for children.
Photo : Sophie Quevillon
Nathalie Cloutier studied Arts and Letters and collaborated on a number of theatre projects early in her career. But after participating in the 1998‒1999 edition of the TV show La Course destination monde, she made a turn towards filmmaking.
In 2003, Nathalie came to the NFB as a production coordinator and worked with teams in Studio A, the International Co-Production Unit and French Program’s Quebec Studio. She later went back to school, studying to be a producer in the documentary program at the Institut national de l’image et du son. After completing the program, she returned to the Film Board, where she has been a producer since 2010.
Nathalie has been involved in producing a number of interactive experiences, including the website The Hole Story Interactive, which accompanied the film The Hole Story, by Richard Desjardins and Robert Monderie; Here at Home, a multi-award-winning website about homelessness; and You, Me, and the Charter, an interactive project directed by Jérémie Battaglia and Vali Fugulin, in collaboration with Urbania magazine.
In addition to her work in interactive productions, Nathalie has also produced and co-produced a number of feature documentaries, including Ariel, by Laura Bari, The Wind at My Door, by Pierre Goupil and Rénald Bellemare, and Little Big Girls, by Hélène Choquette. In 2015, she launched three documentaries that distinguished themselves on the national and international scenes: Ève Lamont’s The Sex Trade; Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan’s The Wanted 18, which premiered at TIFF; and Sophie Deraspe’s The Amina Profile, whose world premiere was at the Sundance Film Festival.
Geneviève Thibert studied theatre and has been working in the audiovisual industry for about 10 years, primarily on documentaries. She’s curious and versatile, as evidenced by her wide-ranging interests—in production, editing, photography, the visual arts, sound and cinematography. She’s developed a discerning eye and acquired experience in every aspect of production through her work on various video and film projects for television and the web. Geneviève loves meeting people and is fuelled by her need for creativity, adventure, and discovery.
Written and Directed by
EMMA GARAU CIMA
FRANÇOIS N. GAGNÉ
And all the students at the École supérieure de ballet du Québec
CHANTAL LAFLEUR (AVENIDA)
NATHALIE CLOUTIER (NFB)
GENEVIÈVE THIBERT (AVENIDA)
COLETTE LOUMÈDE (NFB)
Director of Photography
ÉVANGELINE DE PAS
CATHERINE VAN DER DONCKT
ÉVANGELINE DE PAS
Technical Advisor – Camera
Technical Support – Editing
CATHERINE VAN DER DONCKT
Translation and Subtitling
Direction, Animation and Compositing
GABRIELLE LE BLANC
Choreography – Lola
Dancer – Lola
Dressmaker – Lola
AVENIDA PRODUCTIONS TEAM
ÉLAINE SARRAZIN (GESTION RL)
Music Rights Clearance
BANQUE NATIONALE DU CANADA
GROUPE CINÉMA ET TÉLÉVISION
GLOBALEX MEMBER OF FRONT ROW
Excerpts from The Nutcracker 2016 show
GRANDS BALLETS CANADIENS DE MONTRÉAL
Choreography by FERNAND NAULT
With the permission of Fonds chorégraphique FERNAND NAULT
EMMA GARAU CIMA
Excerpts from the corps de ballet show
Choreography by SHAWN HOUNSELL
Directed by SOPHIE-ESTEL FERNANDEZ
BIBLIOTHÈQUE ET ARCHIVES NATIONALES DU QUÉBEC
COLLÈGE JEAN-EUDES – O-TAKU MANGA LOUNGE – PLACE DES ARTS ROSSETTI DE MONTRÉAL – SALLE PIERRE-MERCURE
Thank you to the École supérieure de ballet du Québec for its support
Special thanks to
ANIK BISSONNETTE, Artistic Director
LILI MARIN, Assistant Director – Communications and Public Relations
ALIX LAURENT, Co-CEO and Administrative Director
Teachers and Staff
ENZO DE ROSA
Thank you to the parents of the participants
PASCALE BARETTE BRISSON
Thank you to the Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal
IXION Communications for the NFB
Director, Communications, Partnerships and Public Affairs
Productions Avenida is an independent company that produces original, high-quality film, television, and transmedia projects for all audiences.
Over the years, Productions Avenida has developed its expertise as well as many trust-based partnerships with international co-producers. This know-how has led to co-productions with France, Belgium, England, and Austria.
About the NFB
The NFB is Canada’s public producer and distributor of award-winning documentaries, auteur animation, interactive stories and participatory experiences, working with talented creators across the country. The NFB is taking action to combat systemic racism and become a more open and diverse organization, while working to strengthen Indigenous-led production and gender equity in film and digital media. NFB productions have won more than 7,000 awards, including 12 Oscars. To access this unique content, visit NFB.ca.