Are you looking for a film about beauty and aesthetics? Look no further; Fredrick Wiseman’s latest documentary, LA DANSE, about the Paris Opera Ballet has it all: amazing dancers, spellbinding choreography, beautiful photography, and gorgeous architecture all set against the backdrop of the city of Paris.
Through the course of 158 minutes, Wiseman introduces us to seven different choreographers and lets us spend time with them and the dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet, who easily adapt to each of their particular styles and creative processes.
In addition to the rehearsal footage, Wiseman also takes us behind the scenes to meet with Artistic Director Brigitte Lefevre. We witness her daily meetings and dealings with her staff, marketing personnel, the dancers, as well as sponsors and prospective guest choreographers. From the creative work done to make the costumes—all the way to the hard work in the catering department—Wiseman offers a glimpse into the huge machine that keeps going everyday to provide the audience with mesmerizing performances.
In addition to the cast and crew of the Paris Opera Ballet, another protagonist of this documentary is the actual Opera building, the Palais Garnier. Wiseman uses serene shots of the buildings hallways and staircases to transition from one segment to the next. He shows us parts of the building that are hidden from the public including the roof, where he visits a bee keeper and his hive, and even a trip to a small fish lake in the basement of the building.
The Paris Opera dancers are featured in works by internationally celebrated choreographers like Pina Bausch, Wayne McGregor, Rudolf Noureev, Angelin Preljocaj, Pierre Lacotte, Mats Ek, and Sasha Walz.
Observing the rehearsal processes as well as the final performances made me curious to see more of similar works. Unfortunately, Wiseman does not use any lower thirds to identify his protagonists, so it takes a while to figure out who is who.
Personally, I was most intrigued by British choreographer Wayne McGregor during the rehearsal of his choreography, GENUS. McGregor mixes classical with contorted, aggressive and syncopated movements. His use of music is similar in style: combining modern and classic elements, producing an energetic, explosive and exciting piece.
For an audience without a dance background, Wiseman’s engaging photography combined with his even-paced editing offers a first-hand idea of what it means to be a dancer and also what it takes to run an operation like the PARIS OPERA BALLETT.
Shot on 16mm – a rarity in documentary films these days – LA DANSE is a true visual treat to be enjoyed on the big screen!
LA DANSE will theatrically premiere in New York at Film Forum on November 4th
LA and Chicago will follow starting November 20.
For more information on the documentary and running times, please visit