Sunday, January 31, 2010

Paris Opera Ballet "La Danse"

Yesterday, I ventured out to my first public entertainment venue since the ACL surgery to catch the last screening of 'La Danse' at the Roxie Theatre in SF. After sitting to view the 2 1/2 hour documentary my knee was killing me and it was painful to walk the few blocks back to the train station but the movie was well worth the physical discomfort cost !

'La Danse' is a camera roaming the environment of the Paris Opera Ballet institution to give a view of the life that exists within its walls. For people like me who will never be professional dancers, it's a glimpse into a world only imagined. The camera looked at all facets of the Ballet: the dancers, the directors, the costume and makeup staff, the cafeteria staff, the custodial staff, the building repairs, even a nice sequence that started by gazing upward at the beautifully ornate ceiling of the performance hall proceeding all the way down to the Paris sewer beneath the building looking down showing the fish swimming in the sewer water !

The primary point of view of the movie though is (as I interpret it) from the point of view of a dancer in the company. Hence, the bulk of the footage concentrates on rehearsal. That's rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal. Thus, appropriately, there is comparatively way less footage of actual performance. It's right that it should be this way since most of the dancers time will be spent in rehearsal. Right after some performance footage, scenes cut straight to the next days rehearsal just as the dancer would experience life.

If you're not interested in dance, or watching professional dance rehearsals, this movie will be 2 1/2 hours of sheer boredom as there is no plot and there is no focusing in on any 'personal story'. It's the professional's life here. The quality of the dancing is superbe, bringing gasps from the movie audience myself included. The company was shown to have a balance of classical and modern dance. Indeed some of the energy looked like Michael Jackson Amplified (and with greater training and discipline !). Spectacular !

A few interesting non-dance moments from the movie stuck in my mind:

- cut to the executives (in a modest office BTW) planning what they were going to do for visiting American 'premium donors', those individuals that have donated more than $25000 US to the dance company. One of the donor groups ? People from Lehman Brothers..

- In countries like France, Germany.. there are Ballet/Dance companies that are state organizations. The Paris Opera Ballet is a state company so it's the 'same' as working for the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) here. You're a government employee with the same concerns as gov't employees everywhere. In particular a meeting was shown in which the Director explained that the Dancers in the company were recognized as having on average a 'different useful working life' as compared with other gov't workers therefore they didn't have to wait until 65 to be eligible for their gov't pension, instead they are eligible at age 40 for the same benefit. The director added that the high level of achievement of the company was key in that decision and that 'slackening of standards' might put the special consideration in jeopardy.

- In one rehearsal scene a dancer could not shake her habit of pausing her movement with her leg swung back behind her (in Arabesque). This undoubtedly coming from a lifetime of training that way. "She keeps thinking that there is an Arabesque there, when there is none" the choreographer and others keep saying...

- The artistic director describing dancers as being:
1/2 Nun and 1/2 Boxer
Being both the Jockey and the Horse
Being both the Driver and the Race Car

- A choreographer trying to describe the feeling that he wanted from a pair of dancers:
C: "It is like the XMen movies, they want to be in love but because of their dangerous powers they cannot and must stay apart"
D: "Like Edward Scissorhands !"
(editorial comment from me: Hollywood rules the entertainment world...)

A movie worth watching if you're interested in dance and one to avoid like the plague if you're not !

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