“A dancer is half nun, half boxer, capable of great dedication, endowed with physical strength, and energy. They are both. A dancer is both the racehorse and its jockey, the race car and it’s driver.”
This statement begins to make sense at some point during the marathon that is the three hour French documentary. La Danse follows the Paris Opera Ballet through the production of seven individual ballets. Every single aspect is scrutinized in detail. Repeatedly. Again and again.
“Un, deux, trois. Un deux trois.” Repetition is a common theme as the bulk of the movie focuses on the intense practice the dancers require. Each movement is carefully constructed and modified during the tedious rehearsal process, as the choreographers bark “Down!”, “Not too high”,“Too limb”, and “That’s not enough.”
While some scenes show large groups of dancers, most focus on just one or two so that it is possible to distinguish between individuals. More recognizable though, are the differences between the choreographers due to their verbal tendencies. Some constantly describe motions, while others simply count or make noises.
Whirling tutus, intricate footwork, and fluid movements of the dancers are mesmerizing throughout the film. Soft piano music in the background and rhythmic French speech are also pleasing, but the aesthetics are punctuated with bizarre transitions which feature shots of the Parisian cityscape, but more commonly staircases and hallways.
While the dancing (appropriately) takes center stage, some attention is also granted to sewing the tutus, spray painting the ballet shoes, and managing the racks of costumes which occupy backstage.
Staff meetings are important, and the troupe’s artistic director, Brigitte Lefèvre appears to be the main character the documentary follows. She eloquently discusses some of the major issues the troupe faces in maintaining the standard of excellence, appeasing sponsors, and reconciling the wishes of egotistical dancers and choreographers.
On a more serious note, the indefinite retirement status of dancers as a result of French labor practices was also discussed at length. Since dancing careers are short lived relative to other professions, the administration could only claim that the continual success of the ballet was important for all of them.
Though the documentary did not have any specific chronological order, the final, full-dress performance each of the seven dances were presented. The classic “Nutcracker,” was easily recognizable, but most were eerily conceptual and abstract with unconventional choreography.
One such composition features a dancer on a blue-tinted stage making quick, angular movements to an unsettling cacophony. She then splashes pails of red paint onto two children who then proceeded to “drop dead.” She crawls around with a red dress in her mouth and then lurks around the stage, prowling.
Ballet enthusiasts are likely to appreciate the documentary for its ability to capture the subtleties of the art form and documentary fans for the thematic presentation. However, most viewers are likely to find the lengthiness tiresome, the lack of coherence disconcerting, and the final performances anticlimactic. To put it simply: it looks like a great date movie….. if you aren’t planning to watch the movie.
Original Author: Laura Shepard