Ballet drama Birds Of Paradise is a 'current coming-of-age story'
A tale of two competing friends, Birds Of Paradise blends beautiful dancing with timely themes. Georgia Humphreys meets the filmmaker and lead stars
GRUELLING physical training, mental breakdowns in rehearsals, and Covid-19 pausing filming for several months - making Birds Of Paradise certainly had its challenges for stars Diana Silvers and Kristine Froseth.
The intriguing coming-of-age drama, written and directed by Sarah Adina Smith, and adapted from a novel called Bright Burning Stars, sees the young stars play ballet dancers competing for a prestigious prize at a Paris dance school.
"They make it look so effortless," Froseth - who grew up between Norway and New Jersey - says of real-life ballerinas.
"I understood there was a lot of discipline that must have gone into it, and sacrifice, but to what degree... I just didn't know how far.
"We trained three months in advance, and the schedules were, for me, personally, really hectic and long and intense. But what an actual dancer does is a whole lot more."
The 26-year-old star, who has also appeared in TV series Looking For Alaska and The Society, continues: "I felt like I had so many mental breakdowns during rehearsals because we had those three months where I was just trying to hone in and really get in tune with my body.
"I'd never danced before, and so there was a lot of just trying to learn everything super quickly, and then we had to put it into practice with the actual choreography."
"It was really hard to show myself compassion," confides LA-born Silvers (23), who made her acting debut in M. Night Shyamalan's thriller Glass and has gone on to star in Netflix series Space Force and comedy film Booksmart.
"I expected myself to be a dancer. Our choreographer, she'd be like, 'Diana, you look amazing, you're doing the work, it's OK. You are literally doing the best you can and then some, it's OK'.
"She was so encouraging and supportive and patient with both of us, and same with all of the actual dancers, they were always there to help us."
As well as giving us another fascinating insight into the lives of aspiring ballerinas, Birds Of Paradise also deftly explores themes of grief, redemption, betrayal and sexual awakening, through the eyes of young adults.
Silvers plays tomboy Kate Sanders, an ambitious ballerina from Virginia who is awarded a scholarship at the prestigious, cut-throat institution because of her low-income status.
There, she meets the beautiful Marine, who we learn is struggling after her brother, who was also her dance partner, recently took his own life.
They are pitted against each other as they both desperately want to win a contract to join the Opéra national de Paris, but end up forging a friendship along the way - one that faces jeopardy and could potentially end in turmoil.
"The thing I loved about Kate is that she starts out with such pure intentions, of just, 'I'm good at what I do, and I'm going to go and bring home this prize, and then my whole life is going to change', and slowly but surely, that changes," explains Silvers.
"The pressure of being a female in this very male-dominated world gets to her and she is no longer as pure of heart. It's this challenge of, 'How far am I willing to go? What am I willing to do to be the best, to achieve greatness?'"
On the appeal of her character, Froseth notes: "I feel like a lot of it for me was just exploring where she's at when we first meet her, and how she's coping with her trauma and loss, and hoping that it will hopefully make other people feel less alone, and knowing that at the end of it, you can find some sort of peace or healing and that you can always begin again, it's never too late."
"Nothing is linear, whether it's healing, whether it's sexuality," jumps in Silver, which Froseth nods along with.
What do they think the film says about female friendship?
"I feel like females are very competitive with each other, and I don't think that's our own faults, I think that it's so ingrained in us and how we're supposed to operate," says Froseth.
Silvers echoes this, chiming in: "It's been passed down through generations. It becomes this weird autopilot because, for so long, a woman's role was about pleasing a male.
"It's like we're all trying to just unlearn that and be more aware of it. You see it in ballet - the dancers would tell us so often it's about the male dancer, and fitting into his world, which is so twisted and so toxic."
The women forged their own friendship throughout filming and Silver suggests this shows "just because you're in the same competitive arena does not mean you have to dislike someone.
"It's better to be friends than enemies. We can help each other. There's room for all of us."
Smith, who has worked on Amazon's Hanna, FX's Legion, and HBO's Room 104, says that she does not want this movie to be a statement about female friendship in general.
"I'm definitely not trying to say that all female friendships are this contentious, necessarily," she elaborates.
"But in my own life, I have sisters, I have very close female friends, and those relationships are incredibly important to me.
"What I did want to do with this movie is have a story about female friendship that is mixed up with ambition and libido too, where it's a confusing time in your life, about a character who's looking in on a world that she wants to be a part of and becomes obsessed with somebody who symbolises that world for her."
As for why she felt now was the right time to make this movie, she reflects: "There are a lot of themes I was interested in exploring about identity and gender fluidity, and I think the world of very traditional ballet was an interesting place to tell that story because gender lines can be very strictly drawn between what males are supposed to do and what females are supposed to do.
"I wanted to tell a coming-of-age story that feels very current, about two people who are still figuring out who they are, who don't fit neatly into boxes, who are perhaps a bit more non-binary and just a bit more fluid and exploratory," she finishes.
"And I wanted to set those two things against each other and see what happened."
::Birds Of Paradise is available to watch now on Amazon Prime Video.