THIS will certainly appeal to ballet aficionados, but you don’t need a background in dance to catch documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman’s piercing gaze into one of the world’s greatest ballet companies.
In La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet, Wiseman takes an unobtrusive approach to his subject matter. There are neither interviews nor introductions – it’s a quintessential trait of Wiseman’s style.
He captures everything from behind the stage to when the curtains open: the daily rehearsals, the orchestra pit, lighting checks, the meticulous tailoring of costumes, makeup artists and hairdressers, the administration – even the workings of the cafeteria.
Wiseman’s other observations – the sweat stains on the clothes of the dancers as they seek to perfect their moves, fatigued dancers stretching and lying limp on the floor – also tell an oft-neglected story.
The art of ballet and the magic that we witness on stage is a culmination of a long and painstaking process. It reminds us of the transient nature of such an art, beautiful movements that are over as quickly as they are executed.
The Paris Opera building itself also provides a sub-text to Wiseman’s narrative.
Generations of dancers have passed through the institution since it was constructed in 1862, and Wiseman contrasts the company’s enduring tradition with the short, if not, evanescent lifespan of a dancer’s career. Dancers retire at 40, bodies beaten by the rigueur of this fine art form.
But all in all, Wiseman has restrained himself from dramatising the hardships endures by its dancers, and La Danse is an honest observation of the inner workings of the Paris Opera Ballet.
The lack of a discernible plot made the nearly three-hour long documentary feel like a stretch at times, but it was still an absorbing watch nonetheless.
La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet opens October 21 at Cinema Nova.