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aka - Danse: Le ballet de l'Opéra de Paris, La
France 2009
Directed by
Frederick Wiseman
155 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet, La

Presented in a strictly observational mode La Danse purportedly records the work of dancers, teachers and staff of France’s premier ballet company as they prepare for their 2008 season. Certainly their is some interest here, most of all in watching the dancers rehearse and in learning something of the language of ballet, but why we really need to see the janitors and cafeteria staff at work and attend a union meeting is another matter, particularly as the film has a running time of over 2 and a half hours.

It's not that there is an inherent problem with this level of detail, indeed fly-on-the-wall documentaries are often fascinating. There is however a problem with director/cinematographer Frederick Wiseman’s approach. On the one hand he eschews any dramatisation of his subject. There are no “characters”, no to-camera interviews, no privileged points of view. Everything is present with exemplary detachment. Or so it seems for too much felt self-conscious to be taken as other than a carefully constructed piece of artistic propaganda. This was particularly so in the scenes with the artistic director of the company, Brigitte Lefèvre, with her constant invocation of the artistic burden the company carries and with some of the scenes with the teachers, for instance that with Angelin Preljocaj instructing Emilie Cosette on her acting and citing Cocteau to make his point. Of course artistic self-consciousness is an important part of being a member of such a famous compagnie but too much feels, if not exactly scripted, then played for the camera and as if anything not demonstrating artistic high-mindedness was left on the cutting room floor. I suspect that there was more interesting stuff there than found its way to the final cut.

DVD Extras: Theatrical trailer

Available from: Madman




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