films: la danse – creating a cheat sheet

By Rosie Gaynor

The first time I watched “La Danse” I was content to let it wash over me, not knowing which ballet was which. But before I see it again on Sunday, I’d like to have a better sense of what it is that I’m watching. So, I did a little internet research… Here’s my best guess as to which ballet is which. If you have any corrections, please put them in the comments section. Thanks! (All pix are screenshots from the Frederick Wiseman film.)

Nureyev’s “Nutcracker”
Looks like “Swan Lake” to me, but it’s “Nutcracker.” The nice thing about “Nutcracker” is that much of the music is well known that it’s easier to identify scenes from that ballet. For that reason, I’ve only included this one shot.

Paquita by Pierre Lacotte
I.d. this ballet by its ultra-classical steps and beautiful épaulement…plus ornate costumes and a huge, old-fashioned set…or by the cruel commentary during staging?

“Le Songe de Medée” by Angelin Preljocaj

To i.d. this bloody piece, look for buckets or a huge tree branch. Preljocaj, the choreographer, is shown in striped sweatpants in the first photo. Later on there’s a stager as well. Does anybody know his name? He appears pretty frequently in the movie working on other pieces, so possibly he’s a ballet master?

Angelin Preljocaj is choreographer and artistic director of the Ballet Preljocaj. We’ve seen his work in Seattle, earlier this season at UW World Series.
Link to his company website.
Link to a review.

“Romeo et Juliette” by Sasha Waltz

Did anybody see the choreographer in the film? I missed her. I also didn’t see too much of the ballet in rehearsal; maybe I missed it…

“Genus” by Wayne McGregor
To i.d. the piece, listen for choreographer Wayne McGregor’s British accent and uncanny ability to recreate the pops and clicks of this work’s music. In the first photo, McGregor is in striped sweatpants. Photos #3 & #4 show the costumes.

McGregor is artistic director of Wayne McGregor | Random Dance, resident company at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. He’s also Resident Choreographer of the Royal Ballet (appointed 2006) and the government’s first Youth Dance Champion (appointed 2008).
Link to his company’s website.
Link to a review of “Genus”premiere

Emmanuel Gat with Paris Opera Ballet Director Brigitte Lefèvre
I wish we’d gotten to see what Gat did with this company. I’ve only seen one piece of his—”Winter Variations”—but I loved it.

“House of Bernarda” by Mats Ek

Mats Ek is a Swedish choreographer, formerly artistic director of the Cullberg Ballet. I couldn’t find any great links, but check out his “Swan Lake” image…scroll down to 1987 on Cullberg’s site.

Is this Mats Ek? It kind of looks like it to me, but if it is…Bernarda, what are all these men doing in your house? Anybody know what they’re dancing here? The music includes organs. Boy, this fellow can sure dance. [Thanks, Debra Levine, for confirming that this fellow is Ek. They’re rehearsing “Un sorte de…”]

Anybody know who this gent is with Mme Lefèvre?

Any i.d. on this ballet or this woman (in striped pants)? [Thanks, Debra Levine, for identifying her as Pina Bausch’s rehearsal assistant.]

I missed the Orphée and Eurydice by Pina Bausch…Can anyone point us in the right direction?

Mystery #1

[Actually, I think this is Dominique Mercy running a rehearsal…it matches a photo of him here with Pina Bausch. That would make this a rehearsal of “Orphée et Eurydice,” I’m guessing, which fits the vocal music you can hear in the background in this scene.] [Thanks, Jessica from On the Boards, for your comment: “I’m 95% sure that that is indeed Dominique Mercy. I just saw him in Masurca Fogo and think that I also recognize him from various Pina pictures. Maybe also reference this clip fom Nelken – He was (and is) a beautifully skilled dancer.” Looks like we know who this mystery man is now.]

Mystery #2

Mystery #3
[Thanks, Debra Levine, for identifying the man in front as Pierre Lacotte… So this would be a scene from Paquita then.]

And the bees!!!

Debra Levine, who answered some of the questions above, is a dance writer in L.A. Here are links to her two articles on Wiseman. On ArtsMeme
On AFI Fest Daily News

More Mysteries…
In the comments below, Sandy mentions “The tall atheletic woman absolutely blew me away (she kind of looked like Karin von Aroldingen).” So sad that I never saw Aroldingen…or that I have to resort to matching up “Étoiles” images with “La Danse” to figure out who’s who… Anyway, here’s what we’ve got. Both gorgeous dancers, but so different! Images on the left are screenshots from “Étoiles.” Images on the right are promo shots for “La Danse” by Laurent Philippe.

Marie-Agnes Gillot

Agnes Letestu (with Mathieu Ganio)


  1. There’s a scene where two dancers are rehearsing in a relatively small space. The music they’re practicing to is deeply affecting and features keening and spare cello. In mood it reminded me of Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3., in tone it recalled Arthur Russell’s solo cello. I can’t identify the piece or the composer. Can you help?


  2. Shoot. I loaned my screener copy out. As soon as it comes back I’ll check. In the meantime, I’ve posted your comment, Mark, in case it rings a bell with someone who has a better musical memory than me. I skimmed through the credits that I posted to see if there’s a likely match… Any chance it could be Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice? Shot in the dark…and actually, I should know that opera, since I worked for an opera company for 7 years. It’s just that we did more Wagner than Gluck. Cheers,

  3. “Genus” by Wayne McGregor

    Struck my “dance soul” most of the comtemporary pieces.

    Roise…..thanks for the “score card”; it really helped me to know what I was seeing.

  4. “And weren’t the dancers just amazing in his work!”

    The tall atheletic woman absolutely blew me away (she kind of looked like Karin von Aroldingen). Her commitment and energy had me thinking I was watching not jsut a dancer, but something that showed what is possible for dance in human being (at least within one style).

  5. I know what you mean…and maybe even whom you mean 🙂 Not sure how to post images in the comments section so I added them to the end of the blog post…

  6. “So sad that I never saw Aroldingen….”

    I now realize my comment may have been misleading. I never saw Aroldingen either; but I’ve read about her, and I’ve seen her on video, and there was something about that dancer in Genus that had me think of Aroldingen. The raw power and physicality I think.

  7. The Pina Bausch rehearsals include the music for organ… they appear to be held up in a high room at the top of the building… a somewhat round room. There is one group rehearsal of all men I believe… and another with just a solo male dancer, where they are discussing how to let his arm fall from a particular movement.

  8. I was most impressed by the tall ballerina with the very beautiful posture, who was rehearsing Casse Noisette with a male dancer while a middle-age man and woman looked on and commented. The watchers had some very amusing asides, commenting on and dissing various famous dancers, while they were watching.

    Who was the ballerina?

  9. Their commentary was so interesting!

    For some reason I thought that was Paquita…see our Mystery #3 image…is that the middle-aged man?

    I loaned out my screener copy of the movie (which, now that I think about it is probably a no-no) but when I get it back I’ll look at the music to see if it’s Casse Noisette or Paq.

    According to the film credits, if it’s CN, then maybe Dorothée Gilbert or Laetita Pujol? Gilbert’s pix is on

    If it’s Paquita, maybe Dorothée Gilbert, Marie-Agnès Gillot, Agnès Letestu. I thought it was Letestu for some reason…can’t remember why. All 3 have their pix on ballerinagallery.

    Maybe someone else will tell us before I get my screener back. Here’s hoping!

  10. Assuming that’s the second picture under Paquita above (Picture+4.png) … no, it’s a different guy. The rehearsal room wasn’t the round room at the top of the building. In the scene with all the asides, the watchers are sitting next to each other at the right-hand side of the frame, looking to the left and (as I recall) mentioning that some well-known dancer has a generous derrière.

    After she (Pujol?) executes a beautiful series of turns with her partner behind her (hands near her waist), the male watcher comments that he would like her to have a lower position as she progresses through the turns. She looks a bit puzzled and (as I recall) mentions that he usually asks for more height (I think this was the only time she spoke during the film).

    She has chestnut (reddish-brown) hair, and the most beautiful carriage and posture that I’ve seen, with an elegant, relaxed use of her hands even during passages with demanding leg and body work.

  11. Yep. We’re thinking of the same scene, same woman…only you put it so very beautifully!

    I’m sad I don’t have my screener copy…

    I do, however, have the 2003/2006 DVD of Paquita…with Letestu in that role. Her body looks similar (although she seems to have more elastic and a prettier carriage in La Danse – beautiful!). Facewise it’s hard to see her pretty face under that stage makeup. Could be the same person.)

    If you can’t find a copy of the DVD at the library, send me your e-mail address and I can loan you mine. I won’t post your address : )

    1. Appears to be Agnès Letestu and Hervé Moreau rehearsing the Pas de deux from Act II of “Paquita,” with Pierre Lacotte and his wife, ballet mistress Ghislaine Thesmar.

  12. La Danse was so interesting, but also very frustrating to watch! I almost couldn’t stand not knowing what was what… but it’s so beautiful, you don’t want to care, but I still couldn’t stop myself from caring!
    Campanola Watches

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