I went and saw this tonight at the Crest. Wonderful, wonderful documentary! The imdb summary says just about all that anyone need know when going:
The film follows the production of seven ballets by the Paris Opera Ballet.The film should be around for the next week at the Crest Theatre.
Ballet is nothing if not academically exacting, and the film shows that well. Much of the film is preoccupied with classes and small studio rehearsals, where the dancers learn the craft they do so well.
Towards the end of the film, the focus shifts to performances, where the lessons we have been privileged to watch are executed, sometimes nearly-unrecognizably so, once the elements of costume, music, and lighting are added.
I missed about 5 minutes of the film (a projector bulb apparently burned out and I took a break). Bizarre stuff on a Spanish theme greeted me on my return (Mats Ek’s The House of Bernarda Alba, in performance). Just the way I like it! Absolutely jarring!
Here is a portion of the San Francisco Chronicle review (by John Killacky):
"La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet," Frederick Wiseman's astoundingly beautiful documentary, has sumptuous delights to satisfy every balletomane. Clocking in at more than 2 1/2 hours, though, it is clearly a film for the committed dance lover.Another review (by Pamela Cohn):
...Underground labyrinths, backstage corridors, dressing rooms, rehearsal studios, sewing rooms, cafeterias, administrative offices and the personalities that inhabit them embody the film and are in stark contrast to the public's experience of the opulence of the gilded proscenium, scarlet velvet seats, Chagall ceilings, chandeliers and grand marble staircases.
Intimate rehearsal shots detail contemporary choreographers Wayne McGregor and Angelin Preljocaj developing and refining movement phrases step by step. Viewers also witness repertory classics such as "Nutcracker" and "Paquita" being remounted and taught to a new generation. What a pleasure to be brought into the creative process as dancers go about their work unself-consciously.
Juxtaposing scenes of extraordinary dancer-athletes refining their craft are those of administrators in labor negotiations, designing benefactor events and discussing repertory. Occasionally, a snippy remark is captured: "Suzanne Farrell's errors become everyone else's standards." However, we also see the machinations of a huge bureaucracy at work.
But the evolution of story, of structure, of narrative, is clear. It is clear in the way [Wiseman] captures the language of the choreographer to the principal dancer, of the ballet masters and mistresses to the corps de ballet, tasking them, individually and as a group, to embody the unrelenting drive to achieve a perfection that transcends the human form. Over the course of two-and-a-half hours, we watch pieces move from rehearsal studio to luxurious theater, replete with 2,200 scarlet velvet seats and Marc Chagall ceiling, all lovingly and meticulously vacuumed, scrubbed, and kept in pristine condition by a silent army of maintenance workers.
Interstitially, Wiseman inserts static portraits of the institution of the Palais Garnier, the 19th-century building that houses the company—cold, opulent, and solid like an ancient netherworld, almost ominous in its stillness and emptiness—and the city of Paris, shot aerially for the most part—staid, stony and gray—a bustling place seemingly oblivious to the microcosmic realm where the dancers, the choreographers, the administrative staff, the seamstresses, the food service workers, the cleaners and painters and musicians, live out their days working hard to keep a cultural institution alive and flourishing. These stills flesh out geography and story, and act as counterpoint to the sweating bodies, stretched tendons, pounding feet and corporeal sensuality of dancers entwined in impossible positions to illustrate the lust, vengeance and celestial love of these choreographed dramas. They all make it look “indecently easy,” as one ballet master describes the leaps and pirouettes of one male dancer who can suspend himself in mid-air with powerful lift and grace. Wiseman subtly, slyly, interjects snippets of a larger drama that is, at once, astonishing and exhilarating, routine and mundane, a hallmark of his and something that makes watching his films such a full and satisfying experience. This technique enables a viewer to, as Wiseman says, “think through their own relationship to what they are seeing and hearing.” As one fellow film lover put it to me after watching La Danse, “For the first time, I finally got ballet.”
The seven dances featured in the film, both in rehearsal and in performance, by a slate of the most exciting international choreographers, are: Pierre Lacotte’s Paquita, Rudolf Nureyev’s Casse-Noisette (The Nutcracker), Wayne McGregor’s Genus, Angelin Preljocaj’s powerful and bloody Medea, Mats Ek’s The House of Bernarda Alba, Sasha Waltz’ Romeo and Juliet, and Pina Bausch’s exquisite Orpheus and Eurydyce.
It is a joy and a rare privilege—and not just for balletomanes—to watch these artists perform at the highest level of their craft, all captured in sound and motion by an artist working at the highest level of his.