SO, after a brief stomach flu and Thanksgiving, we're back.
I went to see La Danse last weekend, as promised. It's wonderful, though I wouldn't go so far as to say it's the best dance movie ever made, as some have said. If you like watching dancers rehearse, then it probably is. If not, your patience might be tried.
Me, I love watching any artistic process, from weaving to acrobatics, so I was totally into it. Frederick Wiseman followed the dancers around, concentrating mostly on rehearsal and performance of several pieces, including “Genus,” by Wayne McGregor; “Paquita,” by Pierre Lacotte; “The Nutcracker,” by Rudolph Nureyev; “Medea,” by Angelin Preljocaj; “The House of Bernarda Alba,” by Mats Ek; “Romeo and Juliet,” by Sasha Waltz; and “Orpheus and Eurydyce,” by Pina Bausch.
Wiseman follows the dancers around in every aspect of rehearsal, capturing solo time as well, especially of Delphine Moussin as she prepares to dance Medea. We watch her mark her performance, working out details painstakingly as she figures out the character. The choreographer works with her on a final moment, and we seem the discussing a particular gesture, the final gesture in the piece. Later in the film, we watch her dance the role in performance, ending in a the gesture spoken of. It doesn't strike a chord in the rehearsal, but seen in context with a fully committed performer, the moment is spine-tingling.
Also incredible are things like watching Marie Agnes Gillot in a crazy challenging pas de deux as part of this piece, Genus, By Wayne McGregor (not her, but this is the ballet--her portion was full of really close partnering, unbelievably quick isolations, and what looked to me like ballet hip-hop ending with her being lowered to the ground):
And then watching her do this insane number of pirouettes, seemingly endlessly, in Paquita (I think). Even the people watching in rehearsal stop to say how incredible she is. It's astounding to watch what they can do. Here below is the style and the dncer, but not the clip:
What's brilliant about it as well is that Wiseman explores every corner. Silent hallways, building exteriors. And, of course, the artistic director Brigitte LeFevre, who is a force of nature. We watch her talking to dancers, counseling on the phone, in marketing meetings, talking to choreographers. In one session she speaks to a choreographer about the heirarchical nature of the company, and the importance of using an "etoile" (star) in a ballet if you have them, rather than just as part of an ensemble. That, she says, would be like buying a sports car and driving it 6 miles per hour. She's riveting to watch as well.
Wiseman also films the costumers, the cafeteria workers, the janitors, the laborers, and the man who cleans the auditorium. And, without saying anything explicit, you might realize for yourself that the only people of any color are the painters, cleaners, the concierge, and the cashier in the cafeteria. The dancers are all European. As are the choreographers. It's not explicit, but it became noticeable to me, especially considering the young man vacuuming the auditorium had the same build as many of the male dancers. Wiseman shows everything--the water in the basement, and the beekeeper on the roof (what a surprise that was). It's a true documentary--documenting. No narration, no interviews, fly on the wall.
The most enjoyable thing for me to watch was the capture of that difficult work to make something good great. All the dancers in the film are great, though some are obviously better (you begin to discern that as well). The stars are stars for a reason. But it's thrilling to watch an incredibly gifted performer work to make it even better. I can't remember that ever being captured on film, or at least this well. It's wonderful when two older cantankerous dancer/coaches are arguing about what they like and what they don't, all the while coaching an exquisite dancer about what needs improvement while she's rehearsing.
These dancers are incredible athletes and artists. It's funny--I've been watching So You Think You Can Dance, which I enjoy a lot. After watching the dancers in this film, though, I can see the difference in that rigorous training and work. Not to say the SYTYCD dancers don't work hard, but what an incredible difference having a company that challenges a corps of artists to stretch every muscle and work at their best. I wish we had something like that in this country. It's truly a gem.