Deep in the bowels of a Paris Opera Ballet rehearsal studio, a young Principal Ballerina goes effortlessly through her steps. Her elegance and poise are mesmerising, and one marvels at the fluidity of the human body. Her grey-haired instructor, however, clearly has other ideas. “Arms higher, Angelique!” he yells, “Back straight!” and then, shaking his head, “Stop! Stop! No, can’t you get it right?!”.
Such is the life of a ballerina in the Paris Opera Ballet, and director Frederick Wiseman’s documentary Le Danse captures the every-day workings of the most prestigious ballet company in the world. His previous films Highschool and Public Housing are fly-on-the-wall insights into the banalities of an organisation and he is doing the same again here. As the loudly snoring individual in the cinema next to me would attest, the uncompromisingly cinema verite style (including long, uncut scenes of rehearsal rooms and performances) will sustain only the most avid dance devotees.
For the rest of us, it is the all-too-rare glimpses into the workings of this infamously traditional institution that captivate – the company’s Artistic Director discussing what to do with those demanding American benefactors, the tens of sweaty costume designers gluing every sequin and stitching every elaborate tutu, and dance instructors mourning the death of ballet as a true craft.