LA DANSE: THE PARIS BALLET OPERA BALLET
A glimpse into the world of ballet in one of France's famous cultural institutions and one of the great ballet companies of the world: The Paris Opera Ballet.
Review by Louise Keller:
Offering carte blanche access to the Paris Ballet Opera, this hypnotic documentary takes us behind the scenes for a stunning fly-on-the-wall look at the world of ballet. In his trademark style, acclaimed filmmaker Frederick Wiseman has shot and edited 100 hours of film to capture the essence of life behind the doors of this famous institution. There are no interviews or commentary, just an entrée into the rehearsal rooms, the administration offices and the stages of one of the world's famous Ballet companies. Meditative, harmonious and exquisite, this is a pearl of a film for lovers of ballet.
The film begins with a few establishment shots of Paris and the building in which we are about to spend the next few hours. We go straight into the rehearsal rooms with its distinctive circular windows, where the wall of mirrors scrutinises the pliés, arabesques, pointes, sauts, pas de bourrées, jetés, glissades and pirouettes. Dancers are stretching on the wooden floor, massaging feet, while bodies contort, flex and legs extend to impossible proportions. Men in black tights and girls in tutus over rehearsal tights offer themselves to the rhythmic art of movement to music. Bodies gracefully come together before separating. Beyond the sound of the rehearsal piano, we hear the squeak of ballet shoes and the gentle thud from high leaps into the air. Time is elastic and we become absorbed in the compelling world of ballet.
In the administrative offices, there are discussions between choreographers, the planning of schedules, an insight into the psychological challenges of an artist and preparations for guided tours and galas. As French choreographer Maurice Béjart is reported to have said, a dancer is both a racehorse and the jockey; the race car and the driver; half nun, half boxer, capable of great dedication endowed with physical strength and energy.
As the week comes to an end, the sun sets over Paris' striking skyline; quickly we are back in the rehearsal studios, the canteen and the costume department, where intricate beading and sequins are painstakingly sewn by hand. The orchestra tunes up, hair and make-up is in place in time for the performance to begins.
If I have a criticism of the film, it is the fact that there is little light and shade. The film's strength is its immediacy and the feeling as though we are there as we watch substantial chunks of rehearsals and performances from a mix of seven classical and contemporary ballets. These include Rudolf Nureyev's The Nutcracker, Sasha Waltz's Romeo and Juliet and Pierre Lacotte's Paquita. Ballet lovers will swoon.
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LA DANSE: THE PARIS BALLET OPERA BALLET (PG)
PRODUCER: Pierre-Olivier Bardet, Frederick Wiseman and Françoise Gazio
DIRECTOR: Frederick Wiseman
SCRIPT: Not credited
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John Davey
EDITOR: Frederick Wiseman and Valérie Pico
MUSIC: Joby Talbot
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a
RUNNING TIME: 152 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 21, 2010