La Danse: The Paris Ballet Opera Frederick Wiseman

La Danse: The Paris Ballet Opera Frederick Wiseman
Stubbornly refusing narrative threads, interviews and voiceover, documentarian Frederick Wiseman chronicles the inner-workings of institutions with a refrained, observant eye, juxtaposing differing agendas and processes through conversations and outcomes. With La Danse, he offers a look at the Paris Opera Ballet, rigorously and repeatedly detailing the artistic process as dancers prepare and practice while administration discusses funding and appeal.

While not as eerily fascinating as some of his previous work in high schools, hospitals or state legislation, his self-conscious and seemingly detached look at art versus commerce hammers home an impression of the ballet quotidian.

The first half of the documentary deals chiefly in choreography, practice and training, with classes for group dances, acting, one-on-one coaching, with fleeting glances of set and costume design. We get a sense of how sizable and seemingly detached all the elements are from each other, and can only assume how much organization and thought go into putting it all together.

Artistic director Brigitte Lefevre is the only discernable constant, casually assessing dancers and dealing with matters of the corporate variety, separate from the machinations of her vision elsewhere. Static shots of dimly lit hallways and greyish cafeterias drive home this oddly passionless and mundane divide between the visionary and the performers, drawing an entity not much different from a corporation.

Of course, the latter chunk of the film shows scenes from the live performance, giving context to what we, the audience, eventually take from our brief involvement with this creation. This perception is indeed astute, but comes at the price of spending two-and-a-half-hours watching ballerinas practice the same moves in drab rehearsal spaces.

Given the limited voyeuristic appeal to those outside of the dance world and the rigid adherence to art as construct, La Danse is likely limited to either those familiar with the craft or those that appreciate Wiseman's directorial style, seeing as all of his films fall around the three-hour mark. This certainly is not something for the average filmgoer looking to watch a documentary about ballet that resembles the fashion-focused September Issue. (Kinosmith)