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'Getting to the Nutcracker' is a corps story without a dramatic core

'Getting to the Nutcracker' dances with affection for its young dancers despite wobbly direction

That hardy ballet perennial "The Nutcracker," muscular and sparkly, is not just a seasonal ritual for audiences. For many young amateur dancers, it's a rite of passage, a testing ground for their nascent career dreams.

"Getting to the Nutcracker" follows one such group of Los Angeles students during the three-month odyssey from auditions to opening night. It's an affectionate and admiring collection of moments, but the director's wobbly choreography never locates a dramatic core for this corps' story.

Filmmaker Serene Meshel-Dillman and her crew move among the classes and offices at the Marat Daukayev School of Ballet in the Mid-Wilshire district, where the beloved director is a former star of what used to be called the Kirov Ballet. The documentary captures the rising sense of purpose among students who range in age from 3 to 18. Among the teens whom Meshel-Dillman focuses on, most are boys, an unexpected choice and one that pays off. They're intelligent and charming, and each offers his own perspective.

One boy's father disapproves of ballet as a male pursuit, but that's the only hint of friction in a film that begins to feel like a scrapbook of fond memories. They're meaningful for those involved but lack a driving purpose for the viewer.

What Meshel-Dillman, who was a child ballerina, showcases best is the collaborative spirit, the community that arises around children's artistic pursuits. And if backstage drama never materializes, there's a small thrill — for Angelenos, at least — in watching two dancers rush across the city on L.A. Metro trains.

"Getting to the Nutcracker."

No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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