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films: la danse opens friday—behind-the-scenes bees and ballet

image from NWFF’s e-mail
By Rosie Gaynor

Thank you, Northwest Film Forum, for bringing us this film that has been gushed over by critics in other cities! Glad to have it showing here for a whole week—December 4 through December 10—and happy that tickets are only $6–$9.

I’ve screened a low-res version at home, but as the cinematography is supposed to be a crucial part of the success of this intense collage, I’m looking forward to seeing the crisper version in the theater.

If you’re not big into ballet, don’t be deterred by all the tutus you see in the trailers. There’s plenty of modern dance. And don’t be deterred by Alastair Macaulay’s NYT article either. He makes good points but, as can happen to anyone, he missed a way of looking at the film that could have increased his enjoyment.

This film isn’t really about the dancers and it’s not really about showing dance movement…it’s about the dances that make up the totality of the Ballet de l’Opéra National de Paris: class, rehearsal, performance—plus negotiations, costume construction, building maintenance, the rhythm of the city outside, etc. Director Frederick Wiseman doesn’t catch every single dance, but in two hours and 38 minutes you get quite a tour of this institution…from the honeycombed basement to the actual bee-happy honeycombs on the roof.

Bees? Who knew there were bees on the roof of the beautiful Palais Garnier? Apparently Craig Smith did; he published an article about the bees in the New York Times, 2003. (Short version: Prop man orders hives, needs a place to store them,”an opera house fireman who had been raising trout in the building’s huge cistern (a firefighting reservoir and the inspiration for the underground lake in Gaston Leroux’s ”Phantom of the Opera”) suggested he put the hives on the roof where the bees would not bother anyone.” Trout too? Smith’s short article is totally worth a read!)

“La Danse” is in French, but the language switches to English for some dancers, some choreographers, some administrative folks. There are subtitles, but no indicators of who is who. (You’ll recognize some folks from another Paris Opera Ballet movie I love called “Étoiles,” which was more about the dancers than this movie is.) There are also very few indicators of which ballet is which. Don’t worry about it. There won’t be a quiz.

Click here for a high-res trailer on IMDB…or check out this low-res version I’ve a right to embed from YouTube.

And here’s some useful copy from NWFF’s recent e-mail, more or less verbatim:

“La Danse: Le Ballet De L’Opera De Paris
December 4-10 at 7pm
Special introductions by local dance critics and professionals

The Paris Opera Ballet is one of the world’s storied ballet companies and Fredrick Wiseman is one of the world’s legendary filmmakers. In his latest film, Wiseman employs his fly-on-the-wall technique to following the rehearsals and performances of seven ballets: Genus by Wayne McGregor, Le Songe de Medée by Angelin Preljocaj, La Maison de Bernarda by Mats Ek, Paquita by Pierre Lacotte, Casse Noisette by Rudolph Noureev, Orphée and Eurydice by Pina Bausch, and Romeo and Juliette by Sasha Waltz. The film reveals the work of administering the company and the coordinated and collaborative work of choreographers, ballet masters, dancers, musicians, and costume, set and lighting designers.

Introductions will be made by the following people:

Friday: Alice Kaderlan (KUOW Dance Critic)
Saturday: Lodi McClellan (Cornish)
Sunday: Rosie Gaynor (SeattleDances Editor)
Monday: Sandi Kurtz (Seattle Weekly Dance Critic)
Tuesday: Peter Boal (Artistic Director PNB)
Wednesday: Dean Speer (Dance critic)

“It all adds up to a portrait of an exquisitely ephemeral art, all the more beautiful for its fleeting quality.” -Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times

“To say that the film, sumptuous in its length and graceful in its rhythm, is a feast for ballet lovers is to state the obvious and also sell Mr. Wiseman’s achievement a bit short. Yes, this is one of the finest dance films ever made, but there’s more to it than that.” -A. O. Scott NY Times”

[end of material quoted from NWFF]

Here’s the link to that A.O. Scott review mentioned by NWFF
. He’s really onto something. Here’s the part I like. It’s not anything a marketing person would use as a pull-quote, but it does get at the core of the film for me: “[The film] is, rather, about two kinds of time that exist outside traditional narrative frameworks: the long, slow, repetitive cycle in which institutions exist, and the fleeting moments of bodily motion and musical expression that make ballet such a singular and elusive art form. // All this makes the film sound remote, even abstract, but it is really the opposite.”

See you at the movie theater.