La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet
Ben Kenigsberg reviews La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet.
La Danse is as much a dance film as Che was a biopic, emphasizing process over result and physicality over ideology. Although it observes a wide variety of dance styles at sometimes extreme length, the movie covers everything from lighting to cafeteria cuisine to PR to the architecture of the opera house. It even takes time out to watch a ceiling being grouted. Wiseman covered this topic before, in 1995’s Ballet, and artistry is in some ways a subject ideally suited to his noninvolvement style: Unlike with a muckraking work like Domestic Violence, the director’s refusal to ask questions doesn’t seem like a liability. Declining to explain the dancers’ ideas, Wiseman emphasizes the cyclical quality of performance, following a finished piece with a rehearsal and cutting from the beauty of a completed dance to the drabness of the Paris fog.
Not as radical as Pedro Costa’s as-yet-unreleased, thematically similar Ne Change Rien (which fragments the songs of actress-turned-chanteuse Jeanne Balibar into a series of endlessly repeated lyrics), La Danse locates its pleasures in the dances themselves. The idea, to paraphrase Norma Shearer from The Red Shoes, is that dance is life—a notion made literal when pensions come up for discussion. Wiseman seems in awe that such incredible work goes into producing an essentially ephemeral art. But thanks to this movie, the art won’t be ephemeral at all.
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