Center Stage Nicholas Hytner
Published May 01, 2000There is little original about Center Stage, the new film about a group of young ballet dancers trying to make it at the prestigious American Ballet Academy. The story is overflowing with one-dimensional characters in cliched situations delivering poorly written dialogue. At the centre of the film is Jody Sawyer (Amanda Schull), who has the passion for ballet but the wrong body and "bad feet." Surrounding her are: Eva (Zoe Saldana) - who has the talent but also has a bad attitude; Maureen (Susan May Pratt) - who is the best dancer in their class, but unhappy and bulimic because of it; a gay guy (Shakiem Evans); a foreign guy (Russian Olympic figure skating champion Ilia Kulik); a really bland guy who loves Jody (Sascha Radetsky); and the hotshot star of the professional company, Cooper Neilson (played by real life American Ballet Theatre superstar Ethan Stiefel) whom Jody loves. All of these characters and their story lines are woefully underdeveloped and uninteresting, and everything wraps up too neatly and perfectly in the end to be remotely believable.
The story just seems like an excuse to string together a bunch of dance numbers, which are numerous, long, and range in style from strict classical ballet to salsa and jazz. In casting real dancers, the film does add tremendous integrity to these dance sequences, and it is far more satisfying to be able to watch these well-executed dances performed realistically, instead of having the body-doubles, tricky editing and lots of close-ups on fancy footwork that is the norm for this type of film. Unfortunately, this casting decision also does a huge disservice to the film's already shaky story, since most of these dancers cannot really act their way out of a paper bag.
If you do have a passion for dance, and ballet in particular, then the dance performances included in this film may well make this film worth the price of admission. Excerpts from traditional ballets such as Ivanov's Swan Lake, MacMillian's Romeo and Juliet, and Balanchine's Stars and Stripes are incorporated into the film, as well as new pieces choreographed specifically for the film by Christopher Wheeldon and Susan Stroman. Just don't go in expecting any kind of interesting story or character development.