The film was a long one – 158 minutes – but it was glorious from beginning to end. The Paris Opera Ballet Dancers are exquisite – especially when they are 20 feet tall and filmed from a low angle which further exaggerates their length.
The only complaint that Haglund has is that Wiseman overdoes the audio on the film. We hear every squeak, clomp and brush of the pointe shoes, all the grunts and heavy breathing of the dancers, and the amplified but mundane sounds of a clerk’s pencil eraser, a custodian sweeping paper, someone walking up the stairs, and lots of noisy traffic.
The documentary follows rehearsals and portions of performances of Genus by Wayne McGregor, Paquita by Pierre Lacotte, The Nutcracker by Rudolf Nureyev, Medea by Angelin Preljocaj, The House of Bernarda Alba by Mats Ek, Romeo and Juliet by Sasha Waltz, and Orpheus and Eurydyce by Pina Bausch.
Haglund found the rehearsal footage of the contemporary works far more interesting than the actual performance clips. The dancers were intensely focused when working with the choreographers and truly seemed to be devouring the new works. Watching that process was watching theater itself. But when the actual choreography appeared on the stage, it was just not that great. There was a performance clip of Medea killing her children that was rather gruesome for the amount of “blood” used, but the actual movement or dance was not particularly compelling.
On the other hand, the rehearsal and performance clips of Paquita and The Nutcracker were fantastic. The word Paquita certainly must be French for Paris Opera Ballet. Haglund hopes they bring their production to New York in 2012. Such beautiful style with no grossly overdone extensions. In fact, dancers were cautioned about extensions being too high, knees being too high, and even passes being too high,. There were complaints about plies not being juicy enough and an exchange between ballet masters about a dancer not getting her heel down on a plie. When one ballet master defended it as an evolution, the other ballet master disagreed sharply and quipped that Suzanne Farrell’s faults have become other dancers’ qualities.
The arabesques in Paquita with the front arm parallel to the floor were exceptionally beautiful. All of the dancers’ feet were gorgeous with ample arch to them. During supported pirouettes and fouettes, it was hard not to focus on the rotation of the supporting feet because they were so beautifully shaped.
It seems to take a very long time for a dancer to rise to the level of Etoile at the Paris Opera Ballet: Letestu 10 years; Dupont 11 years; Cozette 9 years; Gillot 14 years; Ciarovola 19 years, to name a few. True, they enter the company at an early age, usually 18 and much younger; but that is still a long time for a dancer to ferment. Nevertheless, the institutional results are remarkable, as you will see from this film.