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Body Shop: Frederick Wiseman’s “La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet”

Body Shop: Frederick Wiseman's "La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet"

La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet, Frederick Wiseman’s 38th film in about as many years, and his second about dance (after 1995’s Ballet), begins with a series of shots of Paris, immediately establishing the renowned company as subject to the city’s daily grind. Though La Danse features a number of administrative meetings and extended glimpses of finished performances, Wiseman’s primary interest is in the grueling rehearsals. Dancers run through their movements in mirror-lined rooms, usually to the accompaniment of a pianist in the corner, and choreographers, exacting and for the most part stinting on praise, pick those movements apart, suggesting ways to make them more expressive. What specific ballet is being rehearsed and who is doing the rehearsing are more or less beside the point. The fragments of performances shown, mostly in the latter half of the film, rarely correspond directly to the parts we see painstakingly practiced; even during the performances Wiseman and cinematographer John Davey seem determined not to acknowledge the presence of the audience. La Danse is less about the development of certain specific movements executed by the dancers than it is about the process of development itself. The emphasis is on the interplay between the able-bodied dancers and the usually older choreographers, more carefully attuned to the nuances of movements but not (or, perhaps, no longer) lithe enough to do the dancing themselves. Click here to read the rest of Benjamin Mercer’s review of La Danse.

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