There are times when you wished you’d bought popcorn. The press screening of La Danse: Le ballet de l’Opera de Paris was one of them. Eschewing captions, voiceovers and backing music US documentary director Frederick Wiseman takes us on a single camera peek at the rehearsals, classes and preparation leading up to the opening night.
The film is almost two hours long and without the nurturing of a narrative voice, captions or soundtrack even the most ardent ballet fans will be twitching in their seats dreaming of a sugar hit to get them through to the final credits. The agility, variety and musicality of the Company are undeniably awe inspiring. If only Wiseman had teased us with a bit of personal information on the dancers – my interest in the art is genuine but I was really craving some human insight. Perhaps that is why one of the true stars of the piece turns out to be artistic director Brigitte Lefevre. Feisty, funny, maternal yet firm her presence gives a unique insight into the tensions at the creative epicenter of the Company, that of commercial sensibility versus creative integrity.
The film looks dated; yellow, beige and brown seem to dominate the stock. In reality this isn’t the stock, but an unadulterated representation of the battered and struggling facilities The Paris Opera Ballet ballet must endure. This realistic vision gives a rather dreary tone to the film, but only serves to heighten the ability of the dancers who shine in these fading surroundings
‘Le danse’ is worth watching if you’re a ballet fan, but make sure you take popcorn and don’t feel guilty if you turn it off half way through. I would liken it to a ballet class; at points it is uplifting, at points exhausting and at times you just wish you could eat some food. But inevitably you leave feeling like you’ve learnt something worthwhile and been allowed a precious glimpse into a world you will never be athletically or artistically worthy of being a part of.