Thursday, February 4, 2010
Movie review: La Danse
Anatomy of a dance troup -- right down to the sewer level.
Subtitled "Le ballet de l'Opéra de Paris," documentarian Frederick Wiseman's fly-on-the-wall look at that prestigious dance troupe (and its administrative and infrastructural underpinnings), provides an insidery and exhaustively comprehensive view of the Paris Opera Ballet.
If the prospect of getting up close and personal -- not to mention down and dirty (we're talking right down to the subterranean sewer level) -- with the dancers, choreographers, directors, cafeteria workers, and wall painters at work in the Palais Garnier for the better part of three hours doesn't daunt you, then go ahead an cue up at the Angelika Dallasfor your ticket.
Because in addition to being long-winded (in a voyeuristic sense) and heavy on seemingly extraneous detail, Wiseman's latest production delivers in the usual Wiseman way, by providing us with a revelatory understanding of the subject matter at hand.
In observing the intensive practice and the fine-tuning of choreography of the dance, we get a great feel for the complexity of directing bodies in motion. And when the run-throughs are finished, we see the dancers gasping for breath on the floor -- we, mere spectators, seldom consider how strenuous the dance must be, and thus this proves to be an eye-opening revelation.
In the course of the unscripted narrative we see bits and pieces of seven different dances, from the very traditional (Nutcracker) to the deeply experimental (Genus by Wayne McGregor). Furthermore, we see these various dances at different stages of their evolution, from initial practice sessions through staged, costumed performances.
The act (and it is, as mentioned, a voyeuristic one) of observing such finely-tuned, perfectly toned bodies in episodes of intimate embrace and release is a beautiful and distinctively sensual experience. We're reminded how sexy the art of dance can be.
On the other hand, the numerous episodes involving back office strategizing, public relations phone calls, talent management, and event scheduling prove less than compelling. As do the glimpses we get of prop designers, costumers, seamstresses ... even the resident bee keeper who's seen harvesting honeycomb from the rooftop hives. We're presented with abundant art and extravagent artifice, but little in the way of drama, which leaves us wondering: "Where's the big payoff?"
If we think of this film is a universe -- which, given its level of detail, it very nearly seems to be -- it's a universe operating under steady state mechanics: No big bangs are in the offing.
ALIEN LIFE FORMS: "The dancer is both the racehorse and its jockey, the car and its driver." - artistic director of Le ballet de l'Opéra de Paris (aka "God")
METHOD SCHOOL: "Instead of having your arm here because they asked you to, it has to be meaningful to you." - director's instruction to dancer
WHY, INDEED?: "Why these long underpants?" - patron, re. dancer's costume