La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet

Poster for La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet

Autumn 2010 Documentary series

Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 7:00pm

Acadia Cinema's Al Whittle Theatre
450 Main Street, Wolfville, NS

Directed by Frederick Wiseman


Rated G · 2h 38m
France, United States

View trailer

La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet (La danse – Le ballet de l’Opéra de Paris)

The documentary master Frederick Wiseman makes his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but he’s always had a thing for Paris. During the mid-fifties, he gave himself a film education in Parisian movie theatres while studying on the GI Bill. After returning to the United States and receiving a degree in law, he started directing documentaries. Beginning with Titicut Follies in 1967, he went on to make more than thirty-five feature-length films.

Now seventy-nine years old, Wiseman ventures back to Paris for his latest documentary, La danse – Le ballet de l’Opéra de Paris. If you love documentary or dance, this is happy news. In this veritable feast of a Mavericks session, Wiseman will present the full 158-minute film, followed by an extended conversation about this new work and his career. Wiseman has devoted the past four decades to studying institutions, making classics such as High School, Law & Order and _Public Housing. He resists simple interpretations of his work. “If I could summarize it in twenty-five words,” he says, “I shouldn’t make the movie.”

His typical working method is to spend several weeks embedded in an institution, with his long-time cinematographer John Davey shooting on 16mm. While editing the material, Wiseman avoids narration or text cards, and doesn’t force the events into a simple narrative arc. Rather than telling viewers what to think, he wants them to watch carefully and take away their own meaning.

In La Danse, Wiseman allows us to observe multiple corners of the Paris Opera Ballet, from rehearsal studios to costume rooms to administrative offices. We get extensive access to choreographers as they work with dancers in both classical and modern styles. You needn’t be a dance aficionado to marvel at the beauty and athleticism on display. Wiseman doesn’t ignore the reality that all this art costs money. He observes a marketing team as they strategize on how to give American benefactors something extra for their $25,000 contributions. For such a generous gift, they get to sit in on a rehearsal. Tagging along with Wiseman, our access is priceless.