“In ‘La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet,’ his 36th documentary in more than 40 years, Frederick Wiseman takes his camera into the stately and elegant Palais Garnier in Paris, observing rehearsals, staff meetings and, finally, performances of seven dances, including classics like ‘The Nutcracker’ and spiky new work by younger choreographers,” writes the New York Times’ A.O. Scott. “To say that the film, sumptuous in its length and graceful in its rhythm, is a feast for ballet lovers is to state the obvious and also to sell Mr. Wiseman’s achievement a bit short. Yes, this is one of the finest dance films ever made, but there’s more to it than that.” “La Danse” opens today at Film Forum in New York City.
“Like all of his documentaries, ‘La Danse,’…forgoes voiceover and identifying intertitles, allowing for spectators’ full immersion into the action within the walls of the Palais Garnier, the 19th-century, neo-Baroque opera house where the company rehearses and performs, while also demanding that we pay closer attention, with none of nonfiction film’s usual cues to guide us,” observes the Village Voice’s Melissa Anderson. “Wiseman and his cinematographer, John Davey, track the development of seven ballets, ranging from Rudolf Nureyev’s more traditional The Nutcracker Suite to the avant-stylings of Pina Bausch’s Orpheus and Eurydice. With so many moving parts, the repetition of certain faces and first names heard during jetés and pliés serves to anchor viewers (particularly those who, like this writer, know little about ballet).”
Time Out New York’s Keith Uhlich: “Wiseman’s films are as much living organisms as they are subjective portraits. The meat of La Danse is the rehearsals, performances and business meetings contemplated at length, though equal emphasis is given to peripheral figures such as the beekeeper who plies his trade on the Palais’s roof or the school of fish who swim in the building’s waterlogged catacombs. These varied scenes of life are typically separated by static-shot montages of empty hallways and staircases, as if Wiseman is working his way through the bloodstream of a singular entity to get to its heart or brain. There’s no summative revelation at the end of the journey, just the sense that we’ve come to a deeper understanding of one integral human endeavor among many.”
“Beyond offering the privilege of watching gorgeously photographed scenes from seven ballets—classically smooth and atonally jarring—by choreographers like Wayne McGregor, Angelin Preljocaj, and Mats Ek, ‘La Danse’ is an anatomy lesson,” writes New York Magazine’s David Edelstein. “When a work of art is ‘transcendent,’ it allows us to see beyond the material world. ‘La Danse’ is not transcendent. It’s about flesh and bone and sinew, about sublimity on Earth.”
“In his latest film, ‘La Danse,’ Wiseman turns his attention to the Paris Opera Ballet and, while that institution may lack the insistent, voyeuristic lure of the hospitals and mental institutions provided by the filmmaker’s more famous offerings, he uncovers plenty of fascination in the daily functions of his latest subject, even as he leaves many potentially interesting areas of inquiry unexplored,” notes Andrew Schenker at Slant Magazine.
Watch the trailer for La Danse on YouTube.