La Danse - Le Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris


La Danse - Le Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris documentary motion picture made 2008 on film stock by Frederick Wiseman. Per a blurb on the package, the film: "follows the rehearsals and [brief excerpts from] performances of seven ballets: Genus by Wayne McGregor, Medea by Angelin Preljocaj, The House of Bernarda Alba by Mats Ek, Paquita by Pierre Lacotte, The Nutcracker by Rudolph Nureyev, Orpheus and Eurydice by Pina Bausch, and Romeo and Juliet by Sasha Waltz. The film shows the work involved in administering the company and the coordinated and collaborative work of choreographers, ballet masters, dancers, musicians, and costume, set, and lighting designers." Grade A

Frederick Wiseman is maybe the most prolific and successful of America's almost unknown documentary film makers. He is eccentric, uncompromising, and non-commercial---the only way you can get one of his films is to buy it directly from him. His style is nothing like that of better known documentary makers like Ken Burns (didactic) or Michael Moore (polemical). Wiseman is an artist whose paintbrush is a 16 mm camera. What he shoots is, of course, as realistic as true crime, but the edited result bears the same relationship to his subjects as Kafka's Der Prozeß bears to the social science of justice systems.

Weisman is considered to be one of the leading exponents of the "Direct Cinema" school of documentary film. Weisman's subjects are institutions. His MO can be illustrated by his shooting of La Dance. He first got permission. He made no preparation. He then hung around the ballet building with a skeleton crew with light-weight gear shooting color film. He shot whatever he stumbled onto that seemed interesting. Nothing was arranged in advance---all was pure serendipity based on the daily schedule published by the Ballet School. After 3 months or so, he felt he had enough "in the can", which was 130 hours of rushes. Then the editing began. Wiseman spent one year editing La Dance. Although his film had no script or objective, he created what he calls a "drama" showing what life is like at the Paris Opera Ballet. The drama lasts 2 hours and 38 minutes. 98% of his rushes stayed on the shelf. The only thing added to the raw film were translations in English of the French conversations that appear in the film. Wiseman added no voice-over or other didactic material ("spoon feeding") to explain anything about what is portrayed.

Imagine you were allowed to hang around the Paris Opera Ballet for 3 months. Then a year later someone asks you after drinks to tell what you saw and heard. What you would say would be similar to Weisman's film. This is pure existentialism. If you love ballet already, you are probably going to be interested in La Dance; if you are not a ballet lover, you are probably going to be ready to quit after 30 minutes. The fact that you are still with us says you are interested, so read on.

We now have (November 2010) four wonderful HDVDs of productions by the Paris Opera Ballet, all A+ titles on this website. These are Swan Lake, Giselle, La Dame aux camélias, and Orpheus und Eurydike. By comparing credits, we have established that no fewer than 24 named dancers in these HDVDs also appear in La Dance. For the groupies and trivia fans among us, La Dance is a diamond mine of delights! Also, La Dance has excerpts from 6 ballets that have not yet appeared in HDVD. So this documentary gives us a preview of some fantastic shows that we may eventually get in HDVD. La Dance will be a valuable item in your collection if you are a fan of HDVD ballets.

Here are a number of identifications of famous dancers of the POB that may help you enjoy La Dance. Many of these appear in the 4 HDVDs mentioned above. Multiple dancers train for each role so they can rotate through the performances. If you can add additional identifications, please let us know:

  • 0:52 --- Benjamin Pech
  • 4:36 --- Stephane Bullion, Émelia Cozette, and Alice Renavard in Medea rehearsal. Stephane Bullion is the male lead in our Orpheus and Eurydice HDVD. Here you see he is modest is size and slender. But he is also strong, as he demonstrates in Orpheus and Eurydice with his many complicated lifts of his partner, Agnès Letestu.
  • 7:05 --- José Martinez and a female dancer, probably in rehearsal for the Nutcracker. The female dancer can't get it right, and the instructor almost berates her. The female just happens to be Laëtitia Pujol, the POB star of our Giselle HDVD! Even the stars get one-on-one tutoring until they can do everything perfectly. José Martinez is the male lead in our Swan Lake HDVD.
  • 10:16 --- Agnès Letestu and Hervé Moreau, probably in rehearsal for Paquita. Letestu is the female lead in our Swan Lake HDVD.
  • 20:25 --- Benjamin Pech and Marie-Agnès Gillot in rehearsal for Genus under supervision by Wayne McGregor himself. Gillot danced Myrtha in our Giselle HDVD. So here we see an example of one of the top classical/romantic dancers in the world also working on cutting-edge modern dance.
  • 37:02 --- Émelia Cozette and teacher working on Medea. Wiseman must of been proud of this shot. The teacher explains to Cozette, "The character [of Medea] is layered from the beginning. The coherence is built step by step as the ballet develops." This statement also describes perfectly the process used by Wiseman in La Dance to produce his "drama."
  • 42:19 --- Yann Brigard, Muriel Zusperreguy, and Preljocaj himself working on Medea.
  • 45.09 --- Unidentified girl holding a big loaf of bread prop. This prop appears in the Orpheus und Eurydike HDVD.
  • 55.22 --- Emmanuel Thibault in cameo. He gets off the elevator and walks down a hall. Thibault dances the Pas de Trois in the Swan Lake HDVD and also dances in our Giselle HDVD.
  • 55:57 --- Aurélie Dupont and Hervé Moreau in performance of Romeo and Juliet.
  • 1:05:19 --- Genus rehearsal---looking good!
  • 1:08:51 --- Medea dress rehearsal with Émelia Cozette and Wilfried Romoli, who danced Hilarion in the Giselle HDVD.
  • 1:13:31 --- Nutcracker rehearsal with Laëtitia Pujol.
  • 1:16:17 --- Fantastic Genus performance excerpt. Marie-Agnès Gillot takes command at 1:18:50.
  • 1:26:29 --- Astonishing scene where the beautiful Alice Renavard seduces Medea's husband, danced by Wilfred Romeli. Somewhere we get the impression that this scene was written with Renavard in mind.
  • 1:41:54 --- Marie-Agnès Gillot shows her classical chops in a rehearsal for Paquita.
  • 1:54:18 --- Bone-chilling performance excerpt of scene where Medea, danced by Delphine Moussin, kills her children.
  • 2:02:04 --- Puhol and Nicolas Le Riche dance in a Nutcracker performance. Le Riche dances the leading role of Albrecht in the Giselle HDVD.
  • 2:08:30 --- Dorothée Gilbert and others in Paquita. Gilbert has important roles in the Swan Lake and Dame aux camélias HDVDs.
  • 2:13:20 --- José Martinez one-on-one with teacher.
  • 2:15:38 --- Gillot and Pujol and others in performance excerpt of Mason de Bernarda Alba. This unforgettable scene involves speaking (of a sort) and screaming by dancers.
  • 2:23:03 --- Yann Bridard rehearsing for our Orpheus und Eurydike HDVD performance.
  • 2:29:22 --- Back to Genus with more brilliant moves by Gillot and Letestu to wrap up the film.

We should also point out the weakness in this title. Wiseman's video is, compared to the brilliant and clear images we are now used to, often unacceptable even though it was made on film. The sound is pretty good, but only in stereo. The packaging is primitive and there is no helpful booklet. We overlook all this because Wiseman did the best he could with his shoe-string approach. We are lucky to have this document to support our enjoyment of our HDVD ballets. Because this will only be of interest to some fine-arts HDVD fans and because of the technical defects in the work, we give it a designation. But we then give it an "A" grade because we think most ballet lovers will want to have it.

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