(Jennifer Homans's article appeared in The New Republic, 12/28.)

The Art of Work

La Danse: Le Ballet de L’Opéra de Paris

Frederick Wiseman

Frederick Wiseman’s new film about the Paris Opera Ballet begins with a building. In a series of staccato shots that follow one after another like a silent slide show, we move from an overview of Paris into the streets of the city until we find ourselves squarely in front of the Palais Garnier, the ornate nineteenth-century theater where the company performs. The next image is a shock. From this light-filled, outdoor Parisian world we suddenly find ourselves in a dark underground tunnel: we are in the catacombs and the bowels of the theater. The “slides” continue, still in silence: shots of dimly lit backstage areas with ancient-looking pulleys, cranks, pillars, and ropes neatly wound on the floor as if on an old ship’s deck. The weight and the age of the theater’s physical plant is palpable. Then we see a hallway, hear music, and Wiseman cuts to a rehearsal studio where dancers are taking class.


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