Behind-the-scenes access to the world-renowned Paris Opera Ballet was an unprecedented privilege enjoyed by legendary documentary maker Frederick Wiseman. The resulting film shows us the various ballets in rehearsal, both classical and contemporary, plus all the other aspects of the ballet school from the maintenance workers right up through to the artistic director negotiating with a guest choreographer.
Typical of Wiseman’s ultra-distanced approach to documentary, there is no sense of a traditional dramatic structure nor are there voiceovers or explanatory titles. Instead, La danse delivers the pleasure of seeing some of the most disciplined and talented dancers in the world rehearse. Wiseman shoots mainly in continuous medium-long shots, which is the best possible way of presenting the full bodies of the dancers and capturing their intricate movements.
La danse is essential viewing for anybody with even the slightest interest in dance and for everybody else this is as good a way as any to discover the extraordinary combination of control, strength, precision, beauty and art that goes into creating ballet. The two and a half hour running time does get arduous but it’s also necessary considering the scope of the film.
Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 361, 2010