La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet

La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet


Reviewed by: Leanne McGrath

This is a behind-the-scenes look at the production of seven ballets by the world famous Paris Opera Ballet.

Director Frederick Wiseman (Belfast, Maine, High School, Domestic Violence) again employs his notorious unnarrated and immersive approach to documentary making and while the result is visually flawless, the film is often very confusing.

Copy picture

The absence of a narrator or narrative thread means there is no continuity - the film is footage of various rehearsals, performances and board meetings edited together with no explanation or timeline.

­­­­Wiseman's filmmaking is observational and inspired by cinema verite, which combines naturalistic footage and stylised camerawork and editing. One of the joys of his films, particularly La Danse, is the voyeuristic pleasure from spying on a usually unseen world.

His camera captures the dancers' graceful, precise movements and toned bodies through a series of lingering medium shots. His camera rarely moves so never distracts from the action it records.

The dancing, a mix of classical and modern, is beautiful and enchanting but unless you are a ballet aficionado you will rarely know what is being performed. The Nutcracker is easily identifiable but the rest are not obvious. We learn nothing about the individual dancers - no names, ages, details of their training schedules or lives away from ballet.

But Wiseman turns his attention to more than just dancing. His camera records seamstresses creating elaborate tutus, the meals on offer in the lunch room - mostly veg and brown rice - and maintenance men painting.

A lot of time is devoted to artistic director Brigette Leferre - more than to any individual dancer - as she deals with admin such as galas for benefactors and casting details. Most of it is confusing and uninteresting - like eavesdropping on a dull board meeting.

There is too much of it in an already overlong film at almost three hours. Newcomers will not learn anything about ballet or the Paris Opera company, although fans will enjoy this exclusive look at the dance masters’ everyday business.

Reviewed on: 22 Mar 2010
Share this with others on...
La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet packshot
Documentary steps behind the scenes of one of France's cultural institutions.
Amazon link

Director: Frederick Wiseman

Year: 2009

Runtime: 159 minutes

Country: US


London 2009

Search database:

If you like this, try:

Ballets Russes