Straight to the Pointe

Frederick Wiseman's "La Danse"

“Over the years, I have learned the importance of paying attention to the peripheral thoughts at the edge of my mind,” says the revered documentary film-maker Frederick Wiseman. This acute sensitivity to the most inconsequential of details is evident in his latest—and 38th—film, La Danse, an exploration of the Paris Opera Ballet that exhaustively documents the day-to-day workings of the institution, from decorators re-touching the white walls to the ballet’s etoiles (the top stars in the company’s rigid hierarchy) wrestling with the physical and artistic demands of their profession. Running at a mighty three hours, La Danse, in its quietly voyeuristic approach, is much like Wiseman’s earlier works such as High School (in which he visited an urban high school in Philadelphia) and The Store (in which he hopped behind the counter at Neiman Marcus). The director doesn’t conduct interviews or step in front of the camera; instead he cedes to the atmosphere of the ballet and its characters, including innovative British choreographer Wayne Macgregor, captured putting dancers through their paces in preparation for a performance of his Darwin-inspired ballet Genus, and the ballet’s indefatigable company director, Brigitte Lefévre, who is given ample room to philosophize from her cluttered desk. La Danse is currently screening at select independent theaters in the US, and will be released in the UK on April 23 before screening on PBS in June, with a DVD version to follow. In this clip, the ballet’s teachers airily dissect the dancers’ foibles in rehearsal—a humorous moment that typifies Wiseman’s light, unpretentious directorial vision.

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