Sacred Stage: The Mariinsky Theater (January 21/06)
Generally speaking, the most effective documentaries are able to draw in viewers that would otherwise have no interest in a specific subject (ie Grizzly Man, Murderball, etc). Sacred Stage, revolving around St. Petersburg's famed Mariinsky Theater, is not such a documentary.
By infusing the movie with all the style of a made-for-PBS production, filmmaker Joshua Waltezky transforms Sacred Stage into a particularly dull history lesson/performance video. In terms of the latter, Waltezky inexplicable spends large chunks of time on actual performances from the theater (ie he devotes almost ten minutes to an extraordinarily dull adaptation of Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty). Unless one is already a fan of ballet, it's highly unlikely this segment (and others like it) will come off as anything other than entirely superfluous.
Waltezky relies on both narration (provided by Richard Thomas) and on-camera interviews to place the theater into some kind of a historical context, though the interviews are either incomprehensible (ie Valery Gergiev, the artistic director and principal conductor, speaks with a heavy accent and mumbles) or rife with hyperbole (one person actually says that were anything to happen to the Mariinsky, the downfall of ballet would shortly follow). Far more problematic is the fact that, out of a one-hour documentary, only about 15-minutes are devoted to the theater itself, with the aforementioned performances and random digressions making up the rest of the film's screentime.
Sacred Stage finally improves just prior to its conclusion, with the introduction of a prima ballerina who has literally devoted her life to the art - eschewing anything even resembling a personal life (ie no friendships, boyfriends, etc). It's interesting, compelling stuff that's sorely missing from the rest of the film, although - to be fair - those with more than a passing interest in this sort of thing will undoubtedly find something here worth embracing.