This is Babette’s Feast on steroids for balletomanes, but really for anyone drawn to the impossible dream and glory hotly pursued by the administration, production staff, and étoiles of the Paris Opera Ballet. Legendary large-scale documentary filmmaker Frederic Wiseman has done it again, shadowing every department, corridor, class, rehearsal, performance, and some low-key (but high-impact) backstage politicking: the delicate preparations for an “event” for Big-and-Bigger Donors, and—worst-case scenario—changes in government pensions for artists and performers. To say nothing of extended sequences of mealtimes in the company’s cafeteria (Condé Nast staffers: eat your hearts out)! “God” (company artistic director Brigitte Lefèvre) orchestrates the entire mechanism, determined to keep it ticking to perfection.
There are some terrific performance excerpts of everything from Nutcracker to The House of Bernarda Alba and Romeo and Juliet. But, for me, the absolute standout was a slice of Angelin Preljocaj’s The Dream of Medea. You won’t forget it anytime soon.
At two-and-a-half hours, La Danse never lags. And, when a breather from the action is needed, there are John Dancy’s lust-inducing shots of Paris. Wiseman, at 79, the film’s producer, director, recordist, and editor, is at the top of his game. Don’t miss this – just eat before viewing and dive into the feast.