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Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet, Nils Tavernier, son of renowned French director,
Bertrand Tavernier, offers a romantic and
respectful portrayal of the Opera Ballet, one of the worlds finest companies. It is
not a film with conflict or drama, there is no main character, no journey. Combined with
some fascinating rehearsal scenes and interestingly filmed performance excerpts, the piece
is mainly a valentine to dance. What the dancers have to say is mostly predictable, about
the dancing life; after all, thats what they do 8-12 hours a day, from
the age of 8 or 9 until 40. They know work, the routine, the joy of dancing, and they know
The film jumps from a company tour of Japan back to rehearsal in Paris, to the dressing rooms, the stage, the school, the stage again, with a few exterior shots of the palatial theatre (one of two) where the company performs. The interviewees share their views about the life of a dancer. The choreographers (including Jiri Kylian and Maurice Bejart) and teachers talk about the art and the sacrifice. The excerpts show a warts-and-all view of both the glorious achievement of these dancers and the less-glamorous reality of sweat, bickering, exhaustion, fear and superiority. If it werent for the superb dancing shown throughout, the main story would seem rather trite. But the minute you watch the ballerina who had been extemporizing in front of her dressing table mirror step on stage, you get a sense of the magic of this world, the potential for great denial, the opportunity to live a rarified life. Vicarious pleasure is available here in spade for anyone who ever dreamed of dancing.
If an American had made this film, there is no doubt that the cut-throat nature of the school exams (where only the best young dancers are allowed to proceed every year) would be played-up, as well as the politics involved with reaching the etoile category, the top of the heap. Tavernier seems mostly interested, however, in the glory of it all, not the drama, but the dance. As a documentary, the work fails to create any memorable narrative or point-of-view; as a backstage view, as dance lovers candy, it is one fabulous truffle.
- Michael Wade Simpson