Frederick Wiseman returns to ballet world with new film


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In 1995, Frederick Wiseman released his documentary ‘Ballet,’ a nearly three-hour immersion into the daily rituals of New York’s American Ballet Theatre. The movie is now widely recognized as the gold standard for dance documentaries. This year, Wiseman returns to the ballet world with a new film, ‘La Danse -- Le Ballet de l’Opera de Paris,’ which is set to open in October in Europe and November in the U.S.

Wiseman spent seven weeks filming the Paris company at work, documenting the process of mounting a ballet production from the costume workshops and lighting design all the way up to public performances. He also spends time with individual dancers to chart the different stages each takes to become a star (or étoile) in the company.

According to Wiseman’s production company, the film follows the rehearsals and performances of seven ballets: ‘Genus’ by Wayne McGregor, ‘Le Songe de Medée’ by Angelin Preljocaj, ‘La Maison de Bernarda’ by Mats Ek, ‘Paquita’ by Pierre Lacotte, ‘Casse Noisette’ by Rudolph Nureyev, ‘Orphée and Eurydice’ by Pina Bausch and ‘Romeo and Juliette’ by Sasha Waltz.


Among the people featured in the movie are the company’s principal dancers, the corps de ballet and students at the company’s prestigious École de danse.

Wiseman has spent his career documenting various bureaucratic institutions around the world, including hospitals, high schools, social welfare groups and arts organizations. His signature style is one of intimate observation that deliberately forgoes the two typical tropes of the documentary form: the talking head and the narrator.

‘La Danse,’ which runs 160 minutes, will mark the second time he has turned his camera on a French cultural institution. In 1996, his four-hour ‘La Comédie-Française’ offered an intimate look into the theater company’s inner workings, with footage of rehearsals, live performances and internal political battles.

‘La Danse’ is being produced in partnership with PBS, which means we can look forward to a television broadcast sometime in the future.

-- David Ng