The 15 Best Documentaries About Ballet (Updated 2024)

Here are the top-ranked docs about ballet I’ve found.


1) Dancer

“Dancer” captures the tumultuous journey of Ukraine-born dancer Sergei Polunin. The youngest (19) principal dancer for the Royal Ballet.

The 85 minute doc, directed by Steven Cantor (“Chasing Tyson”) focuses on Polunin’s rise from humble beginnings to the top dancer in the world.

Polunin’s parents recognized his talent early on and made significant sacrifices. To finance his ballet education, his father went to work in Portugal. And his mother went to Greece.

That left young Sergei behind.

Doc highlight? It might be Polunin’s viral dance to Hozier’s “Take Me to Church”. That’s choreographed by Jade Hale-Christofi — here’s a link just to that video: (29 million views!).

Watch the full “Dancer” doc for free on Kanopy (with library card of student ID) at; or on Tubi at or these other options:

2) Ballets Russes

Ballets Russes, directed by Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller, brings viewers a dazzling dance back in time. From the golden streets of 1909 Paris to the bustling performance halls in 1960s New York, this 118-minute doc unfolds the history of the famed Ballet Russes companies.

The ballet troupe sparks a wildfire of creativity as their influence spread from Europe to the Americas.

One striking moment in Monte Carlo, aged dancers (then in their 70s-90s) recounting tales, their eyes still alight with passion.

Through archival footage and vibrant interviews, we meet iconic figures: choreographer George Balanchine, prima ballerina Tamara Toumanova (just 14 when she skyrocketed to fame), and the effervescent Alicia Markova.

A haunting rehearsal scene in wartime London—dancers, silhouetted against dim lights, determined amidst adversity—captivates.

Watch it on YouTube for free at You can also watch it for free on Kanopy (with library card or student ID) at Other paid options are at

3) Mr. Gaga

Mr. Gaga unveils the life of Ohad Naharin (at age 64). Directed by Tomer Heymann (I Shot My Love), this doc traces Naharin’s journey from his birthplace in Mizra, Israel, to his meteoric rise to choreographer and artistic director of the Batsheva Dance Company..

Clocking in at 100 minutes, the doc takes you from the Israeli kibbutz fields of his youth… to the bustling streets of New York in his 20s and 30s.

One cool scene in Tel Aviv: dancers (ranging from early 20s to late 40s) in a dimly lit studio, bodies contorting, eyes shut. The birth of the “Gaga movement”. Naharin’s language that connects physical and emotional.

Naharin challenges norms. Some examples;

  • Diverse Casting: He often casts dancers of different body types, ages, and backgrounds, going against the grain of many traditional companies that seek specific body aesthetics.
  • Interactive Choreography: In some pieces, Naharin breaks the fourth wall by involving the audience, blurring the lines between performers and observers.
  • Innovative Techniques: He integrates non-dance elements into his routines, using everyday movements or gestures, transforming them into a complex dance sequence.
  • Rejection of Perfection: While classical ballet, for instance, might stress achieving a certain ideal or perfect form, Naharin values the individual dancer’s unique expression, flaws and all.

None of the streamers are showing Mr. Gaga right now.

Thhe film’s site ( says to email [email protected] if you’re interested in screening it in your home. You can also check back at to see if it’s streaming anywhere.

4) First Position

“First Position”, ballet meets unwavering determination. Bess Kargman’s 2011 doc (90 minutes) unveils the cutthroat world of youth ballet vai the Youth American Grand Prix (YAGP), the world’s largest student ballet scholarship competition.

Clinching victory at theYAGP can catapult a dancer’s career — winners get scholarships and contracts from top international ballet school. A dancer’s entire future is at stake.

Dancers Miko Fogarty and Aran Bell face brutal hours, aching muscles, and competition nerves. Miko’s strained ankle (tears in her eyes) adds to her challenges. Aran grapples with growth spurts affecting his dance form — his mentor reprimands him for a missed step, his frustration mirroring Aran’s exhaustion.

Teachers don’t mince words; parents oscillate between concern and motivation. In one vivid moment, a dejected Miko, after a challenging pirouette, finds solace in Aran’s camaraderie. ARAN, showing a blister, asks, “Another one?” MIKO simply nods.

It’s endless pirouettes, jumps, and lifts.

Such is the weight of dreams—every step, leap, and fall under watchful eyes, judges making or breaking futures.

Watch First Position for free on Kanopy (with library card or student ID) at The doc is also AMC+ which has some deals on Prime Vide and Roku. Check out for options.

5) Dancing for Mr. B: Six Balanchine Ballerinas

“Dancing for Mr. B: Six Balanchine Ballerinas” is reminiscent of “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, but for ballet. Directed by Anne Belle and Deborah Dickson, this doc focuses on George Balanchine, the genius behind modern ballet.

We delve into the lives of six dancers he mentored: Mary Ellen Moylan, Maria Tallchief, Melissa Hayden, Allegra Kent, Merrill Ashley, and Darci Kistler.

Archival footage—priceless. Interviews—candid. The doc paints Balanchine as both a stern taskmaster and a visionary. Allegra Kent’s recount of Balanchine’s precise guidance stands out, showcasing his dedication to perfection.

Not a ballet enthusiast? This might feel niche. But for those enamored with dance, it’s a treasure.

It’s a deep dive into a bygone ballet era.

Watch “Dancing for Mr. B” for free at

6) Suzanne Farrell: Elusive Muse

I could find only one trailer for “Suzanne Farrell: Elusive Muse” and I couldn’t embed it here. Click this link to see the trailer:

“Suzanne Farrell: Elusive Muse” is directed by Anne Belle and Deborah Dickson (known for “Dancing for Mr. B”), this doc hones in on Suzanne Farrell, the ballet prodigy and muse to the iconic George Balanchine.

It features many great ballet dancers including Jacques d’Amboise, who I took a group workshop with as a 5th grade boy!

Back to Suzanne….from her early days, aged 15, at the New York City Ballet, to her turbulent relationship with Balanchine, every leap and turn of Suzanne’s career is captured. Balanchine’s controversial infatuation? Unveiled. Farrell’s brave stance against his advances? Applauded.

Critics? Some may feel it’s too ballet-centric. But aficionados? They’ll appreciate its depth and detail.

It’s more than dance; it’s about power, artistry, and resilience. A waltz through the life of a legend.

Discover the woman behind the myth. Watch “Suzanne Farrell: Elusive Muse”.

I can’t find it online anywhere to watch. However, the DVD is for sale on Amazon here:

7) On Pointe

“On Pointe” is “Billy Elliot” meets real-world ballet. This doc brings us inside New York City’s School of American Ballet (SAB). Young dancers, ranging 8-18, juggle academic pressures, friendships, and grueling rehearsals.

The Nutcracker show preparation is a tense climax: anxiety, ambition, and artistry clash.

This doc isn’t about sensationalized drama but the genuine challenges and joys of aspiring ballet dancers at SAB.

However, if you’re seeking behind-the-scenes controversies, this might not be your dance jam.

There’s no place to watch this doc right now (strangely, Disney+ does now have it). I do recommend you check Disney periodically ( and perhaps there will be other options at

8) Backstage at the Kirov

Intensity. Grace. Pressure. “Backstage at the Kirov” plunges you deep into the world of ballet.

Directed by Derek Hart in 1988, this doc captures a pivotal time for the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) during the late Soviet era.

Altynai Asylmuratova, then 28, shines. Her grace, talent, and commitment make her the crown jewel of the Kirov. Ballet isn’t just dance; it’s life. The doc zeroes in on rehearsals, capturing sweat, dedication, and the weight of expectations.

Some might find it niche. Yet, even without a ballet background, you’ll appreciate the raw, unfiltered look.

Watch it for free on YouTube at

9) Étoiles: Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet

Hopefully you’re ok with sub-titles.

Elegance. Rigor. Heartbreak. “Étoiles: Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet” , directed by Nils Tavernier in 2001, shows the intense world of the Paris Opera Ballet, a pinnacle in the dance sphere.

At its core? Dedication. The dancers, some as young as 16, grapple with immense pressure. Their passion and sacrifice? Palpable. Tavernier masterfully captures behind-the-scenes moments: sweat, pain, joy, rivalries. It’s raw, revealing.

Dancers who appear in the doc include: Hervé Moreau, Emilie Cozette, Josua Hoffalt, Marie-Agnès Gillot, Jérémie Bélingard, Laëtitia Pujol, Mathieu Ganio, Alice Renavand, Amandine Albisson, Mathias Heymann, Dorothée Gilbert, Stéphane Bullion, Karl Paquette, Benjamin Pech, Aurélie Dupont, Ludmila Pagliero, Myriam Ould Braham.

Watch “Etoiles: Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet for free on Kanopy (with library card or student ID) at Amazon Prime/Fandor might have it too (check to make sure.

10) La Danse

La Danse brings you behind the curtains of the prestigious Paris Opera Ballet. Directed by the notable Frederick Wiseman (Titicut Follies), this doc (159 minutes) captures the hard work… the sweat… and the pure artistry of ballet.

We watch as dancers, young (some as young as 16) and seasoned, perfect their techniques. We’re privy to intense coaching sessions. Witnessing Benjamin Millepied and Agnès Letestu—masters of their craft—is a treat.

But, not everyone’s a ballet enthusiast. If you’re not into dance details or rehearsals, this might feel lengthy.

For ballet lovers? Pure gold. For others? A cultural education.

Watch La Danse for free on Kanopy (with library card or student ID) at

11) Release Creature: Wendy Whelan

Wendy… One of ballet’s most revered figures. This doc exposes her illustrious 30-year journey at New York City Ballet.

Whelan’s raw emotions, her intense physical challenges, and pure dedication—captured brilliantly.

Directed by Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger, the film offers an intimate gaze… And, like their prior works, this one grips too.

“WENDY: The pain’s real. But so’s my passion.”
The grueling comeback after her surgery… Moving.

Not everyone’s cup of tea: If behind-the-scenes ballet dynamics don’t intrigue you…

Yet her resilience that stands out. How age and injuries challenge even the greats. But Whelan? She redefines tenacity.

Ends with: her transcending traditional ballet, embracing contemporary.

Watch Release Creature: Wendy Whelan for free on YouTube at or on Kanopy at It’s also on OVID and possibly other options (try

12) Ballerina Boys (American Experience)

Experience the unique artistry and joyous comedy of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (The Trocks).

It’s an all-male ballet company that has captivated audiences for 45 years.

These male ballerinas, dancing on pointe shoes, skillfully blend classical ballet with exuberant humor, poking fun at the strictly gendered art form with every performance.

It first aired on PBS’s American Experience June 4, 2021.

Check here for streaming options:

13) Ballerina

“Ballerina,” a 2006 flick that’s less “Black Swan” and more “White Russian.”

Director Bertrand Norman takes us on a toe-tapping journey through the hallowed halls of the Vaganova Ballet Academy, where dreams are made and toenails are sacrificed.

We’ve got a lineup that’d make Putin pirouette: Diana Vishneva, Svetlana Zakharova, Ulyana Lopatkina, Alina Somova, and Evgenia Obraztsova.

These five show us what it takes to make it in the cutthroat world of Russian ballet.

From grueling practice sessions to the glittering stage of the Mariinsky Theatre, this 80-minute tour de force will have you reaching for the Stolichnaya and wondering if you should’ve stuck with those childhood ballet lessons.

Watch “Ballerina” for free by clicking the video embed above or check here for the latest streaming options: (last I checked, Kanopy also had it for free (with library card).

14) Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq

“Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq,” a 2013 documentary that’s part ballet, part tragedy, and all captivating.

Director Nancy Buirski serves up a 91-minute slice of dance history in this one.

Le Clercq was known for having a body unlike any before hers with what some called an elongated, race-horse physique.

She was a ballerina so mesmerizing she had both George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins tripping over their tutus to choreograph for her.

She later married Balanchine, and Robbins even created Afternoon of a Faun for her.

But this isn’t your typical rags-to-riches story. At the tender age of 27, Le Clercq’s career took a nosedive.

She was struck down by polio and paralyzed.

She never danced again.

Her story has haunted the ballet world ever since.

Jacques d’Amboise (who I took dance lessons with!) and Barbara Horgan join the chorus line, offering insights that’ll make you say “plié-se tell me more!”

You can watch for free on Kanopy and Hoopla (with a library card). It’s sometimes available elsewhere so check here for the latest streaming options:

15) Ballet Boys

Director Kenneth Elvebakk, clearly a glutton for teenage angst and Tchaikovsky, serves up 75 minutes of pure, unadulterated boy ballet realness.

These lads are determined to make it in the cutthroat world of Norwegian ballet. It’s like “Chariots of Fire” meets “Billy Elliot,” with a dash of Norse mythology thrown in for good measure.

You can watch “Ballet Boys” on GuideDoc and Ovid — check here for the latest options:

Thanks for reading!

Rob Kelly

Chief Maniac, Daily Doc