Saturday, November 14, 2009

Gotta danse!

I don't know if Frederick Wiseman's "La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet" is (as the Times critic put it) "one of the finest dance films every made" - I haven't seen enough others to say. But it is certainly marvellous, if so rich and exhilarating as to leave one rather exhausted by the end. Over nearly three hours, you get to see every part of the Palais Garnier, from the basement to a beekeeper on the roof, from the costume shop to the choreographers, from the canteen to the director's meeting room. There's no narration, no interviews - we never "get to know" anyone, or even hear what they say to each other before and after. It's mainly wonderfully intimate scenes of dancers working with teachers and choreographers, as well as scenes (taken from the wings!) of the final performances, always in perfect scale - you can see the whole dancer, filling the frame - so the musicality and athleticism of the dancers is on full display, as well as the exquisite alchemy of duet and ensemble work. Works from the classical repertoire through new works (some nicer than others) are being rehearsed and performed, so you also get a good sense of the different but perhaps complementary charms of classical and modern dance. (The image above isn't in the film - it's all I could find on the website, but in no way conveys the movement and energy of the film.)

The almost sacramental power of dance is on full display in this film, pushing me anew to wonder in what ways dance is a sort of religion, not only for its practitioners (someone is quoted a having said that a dancer has to be part nun, part boxer) but for its devotees...

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