Etoiles: Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet (Tout Pres des etoiles)

Etoiles: Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet (Tout Pres des etoiles)

In Etoiles: 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 world’s 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, that’s 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 pain.

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 theless-glamorous reality of sweat, bickering, exhaustion, fear and superiority. If it weren’t 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

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Santa Fe, NM
Mr. Simpson has a BA in Journalism from the University of Southern California and worked as an advertising writer in Los Angeles before moving to New York to pursue a different passion: dance. He danced professionally in New York and Boston before founding a community-based modern dance company, Small City Dance Project, in Newburyport, MA. His fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. He was a teaching fellow at Smith College, where he received his MFA in choreography. While living in the Bay Area for 15 years, he wrote about dance for the San Francisco Chronicle and other periodicals. In 2005, he was a NEA Fellow at the Dance Critics Institute, American Dance Festival. For culturevulture.net, he reviews dance, theatre and film. He moved to Santa Fe in October, 2008. He writes for "Pasatiempo," the Arts magazine of the "Santa Fe New Mexican."