Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Review of La Danse : The Paris Opera Ballet

La Danse : The Paris Opera Ballet

Released in the UK on 23rd April 2010
Running time 159 minutes

Still Photograph :  Soda Pictures

La Danse is a film that goes everywhere at the Paris Opera Ballet, one of the world’s greatest companies. Seven ballets are used as the basis of the film, showing you classes, rehearsals and performance footage. The ballet’s are : Paquita (Pierre Lacotte), The Nutcracker (Rudolph Nureyev), Genus (Wayne McGregor), Medea (Angelin Preljocaj), The House of Bernarda Alba (Mats Ek), Romeo & Juliet (Sasha Waltz) and Orpheus and Eurydyce (Pina Bausch). As you can see the selection is predominantely contemporary, something the Artistic Director picks up in one of her many meetings with staff and dancers when she says that she is “unsettled” as very few young people attend contemporary classes and yet they are the very classes where they could learn the technique. The company set their work three years ahead so that they can be rights cleared.

Frederick Wiseman’s film needs no explanation – and none is given – and so you find yourself staring down many a long, empty corridor or drainpipe, occasionally rising to the lofty heights of the beguiling Paris skyline and the beekeeper tending his hives on the roof.

If you are familiar with the Company then this approach of dumping you right in the action (or a long corridor) will work for you; if you are not then the subtitles are there to help with the French language but the rest of the work is largely left up to you. What will you get out of it ?

Still photograph :  Soda Pictures

The Étoiles (stars) featured are : Émilie Cozette|Aurélie Dupont|Dorothée Gilbert|Marie-Agnès Gillot|Agnès Letestu|Delphine Moussin|Clairemarie Osta|Laetitia Pujol| Kader Belarbi| Jérémie Belingard|Mathieu Ganio|Manuel Legris|Nicholas Le Riche|José Martinez|Hervé Moreau|Benjamin Pech|Wilfried Romoli|Isabelle Ciaravola|Mathias Heymann.

The film also features some of Les Premiers Danseurs (The First Dancers), who are : Nolwenn Daniel|Ève Grinsztajn|Mélanie Hurel|Myriam Ould-Braham|Stéphanie Romberg|Muriel Zusperreguy|Yann Bridard|Stéphanie Bullion|Christophe Duquenne|Karl Paquette|Stéphanie Phavorin|Emmanuel Thibault.
You may recognise some of the dancers names, for example Manuel Legris, who was seen recently in the UK dancing spectacularly well at the Nureyev gala.

The ballets and their choreography might be less familiar, but that’s what makes this film different, and worth watching. Wayne McGregor is a choreographer most people are familiar with and here you can see him in the rehearsal process, marking the timing with clicks and strange vocal sounds to keep the dancers on the music. He works with a female dancer with beautiful feet, as they practice a pas de deux over and over again.

For a lot of the time, there is no music, you just arrive in the middle of a class, or rehearsal - Laetitia (Pujol) being told “no arabesque!”, the aim of the choreographer being that “the final result has to be a gift to the public.”

Still Photograph :  Soda Pictures

I found the dancers wearing mostly very unattractive practice clothes and thought how wonderful the dancers in the UK dress for class and rehearsals by comparison. Their building is cluttered around the edges – though the auditorium and entrance are spectacular, in the studios my eye was continually distracted by the endless lines of detritus marking the perimeters.

The Artistic Director admits that the company is hierarchical in one meeting, talks to a dancer worried about her workload in another (and mentions that she has lost weight at the end of it), then we are off to the costume department where they are sewing, pining, cutting, dyeing and ironing. There is even a close up shot of a worker painstakingly applying jewels to a tutu with tweezers. On then to the canteen for lunch, where we are shown several plates of food, inexplicably not forgetting the baguette shredding machine !

The Artistic Director has many meetings where we burst in, in the middle of proceedings. In one such meeting she is explaining that people don’t understand the troupe, that to be a dancer you have to be “half nun, half dancer”, and that “the dancer is the race car and the driver”. Then she attends a company meeting with the dancers to discuss reform of the retirement system and how the dancers should regard the changes.

The film is a mash-up of a dancers daily life at the Paris Opera Ballet, and you get the sense that it’s very much like any other company – protective of its hard won reputation and employing dancers who will work extremely hard, often under a critical gaze, and come out smiling at the end of the day.


  1. In the last year, I took up learning French because of the DVD "Etoiles - Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet". I consider that DVD to be the most beautiful of the various ballet company documentaries.

    My favorite choreography in "Etoiles" is Maurice Bejart's Mozart's 9th Symphony. I really like Marie-Agnès Gillot.

    YouTube has quite a few video segments of their ballet school.

  2. It sounds spectacular, and the photos are gorgeous!


  3. Thank you for taking me into this beautiful world ... I love your blog ! xoxo, Lisa

  4. I look forward to seeing their work behind the scenes but am less keen on the contemporary emphasis - & can't abide Pina Bausch's choreography! I liked watching aspects of Paris Opera Ballet's work on an arts programme I used to be able to get on French TV.

  5. Whenever I saw a beautiful ballet picture or just a pretty gesture pose ...I get goose bump..I am not sure if it is because I am so moved by the motion or something else...

    I am taking kids to see some musical performance and then I think I am going to find a ballet teacher for my older daughter this summer. Do you know a good academic ballet school in bay area? :)My Abby is only 5 yr. old by they way. hahah....

    Oh, I have a giveaway going on my blog, please do check it out.

  6. Wow this looks great! I've been looking for ballet movies to watch and this sounds perfect.

  7. balletomane1 - hello and thank you. How great that you have taken up French.

    Inspiration in Italy - from one who always has great photo's too !

    Andrea - thank you

    lisa golightly - very kind of you to say so ! Thank you

    Anne - hope you get to see it.

    litlstrawberry - thank you

    Regan - hope you enjoy it. It's very different.


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