Granted, my first and basic mistake was down to my own ignorance. I hadn't realized that the Ballet of the Opera of Paris is a ballet company. I thought it was a corps de ballet attached to the opera company, to dance the interludes in 19th century operas. A leftover, an adjunct, a relict. So it seemed reasonable that the instructors would call everyone by their first name, make them repeat passages over and over, and correct them constantly. I did wonder why this French troupe had British instructors-- and British instructors whose English I had trouble understanding. Eventually it sunk in that maybe these guys were guest choreographers. And maybe they are, but the director isn't telling. Very late in the film when a young beginner is praising one dancer, I finally twigged that the pas de deux-ing dancers being worked like draft horses through the film are the freaking stars of the company. Erm-- one could not have told it from their attitudes during rehearsal.
Wiseman's 'show don't tell' has no end. Reviews will happily inform you that the film follows the process of staging seven ballets. You find that out during the final credits-- the ballets being rehearsed aren't named. Someone comes kuyo-kuyoing about her role in 'the Petipa' but no one says which Petipa it is. I recognized the Nutcracker music. There's a mention of Medea during a rehearsal, and so later on when we're onstage and a woman abstractly 'kills' two small children, um yes, clearly a ballet about Medea. That's about it. Somewhere in there there's a Berlioz Romeo and Juliet, but I cut my teeth on Prokofiev. And so on and so on.
And the pacing of the thing was extremely odd. It wasn't a clear progression from rehearsal to dress rehearsal with side trips into wardrobe and directors' office and the whole background of the theatre (which has its own beekeeper on the roof, a segment that was surreal) and finally the onstage performance. We get the onstage performance (though it's still a full-dress rehearsal, not a public performance, evidently), and the theatre being cleaned, and then we're back to a rehearsal, and another onstage performance and another rehearsal. Which says something about the dancers' life, but takes nearly three hours to make the point.
Oh, and another thing that struck me hard. This is Paris, with a sizable immigrant population not only from the near east but from eastern Africa and south-east Asia. Dancers are longer in the leg than in my day-- stunningly so; so possibly the Vietnamese and Cambodians aren't considered tall enough? But eastern Africans have *exactly* the kind of body this company promotes-- long torso, long neck, long arms, long legs. And there are no black dancers. There are no non-white dancers, period. No people of colour in the wardrobes or prop department or lighting, and certainly not in the management. A black cashier in the cafeteria, a black plasterer working on a wall (the review says he's a painter, but that was pretty thick paint), and the janitor who cleans up. The members of the company are employed by the government; it's a government job, as we find out in a late scene; and what everyone says about France's closed society looks to be entirely true.
So, yes, I should have googled, and am glad I didn't. Because I'd have decided not to go see La Danse if I had, and would then have missed my hat trick. Yoshimune, Maj-Gen Armstrong, and Brigitte Lefèvre, the company's artistic director. She's everywhere. She handles everything. She is une femme formidable. She decides the schedule for the next three years and then addresses a gala dinner. She handles (entitled) fund-raisers with aplomb and dancers with kindness. One dancer who feels she can't dance the roles she's been given comes to ask for a change ('but of course,' Lefèvre says almost as a throwaway.) Lefevre asks, 'Have you worked out how to do it yourself?' 'Oh no,' says the dancer, 'I thought I'd ask God first.'
(She also reminds me how the French hold on to a conversation when they're searching for words. 'C'est question de--(waves hands) de-de-de-de-de-- de faire quelque chose complètement different!' It works. Very hard to interrupt a French person when they do that. If we hesitated over an 'of' we'd be run over roughshod in two seconds flat.)
Using my one Amazing Woman icon.