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Fred Wiseman's New Documentary of The Paris Opera Ballet

180 posts in this topic

"God, what a data-dependent, empirically-obsessed Philistine I am!"

:wink::lol: Ain't it grand to be able to laugh at oneself???

So, I guess we also learn about ourselves while experience highly personal works of art like this.

Brilliant observation. Perhaps therein lies the real power of art.

P.S. Did anyone pick up on the following bit of off-the-cuff bitchiness? "The flaws of Suzanne Farrell became qualities for others."

I heard it like a fire engine siren....loud and clear. Problem is that I didn't understand it. Can someone explain this comment to me?

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P.S. Did anyone pick up on the following bit of off-the-cuff bitchiness? "The flaws of Suzanne Farrell became qualities for others."

I heard it like a fire engine siren....loud and clear. Problem is that I didn't understand it. Can someone explain this comment to me?

To my understanding, this referred specifically to (at least) two of Farrell's "flaws."

When she first came on the scene, Farrell's extensions were considered by some to be extreme, sort of like Zakharova's are today. I'm not sure they were, though. Also, it may have referred to Farrell's ability (encouraged and nurtured by Balanchine) to go off balance.

I attribute today's super-extreme extensions not to Farrell (at least not directly) but more to Sylvie Guillem, a product of POB. So, take that! :lol::wink:

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If we were to replace "Suzanne Farrell" in that sentence with "Sylvie Guillem," we would have a sentence that has been posted dozens of times on Ballet Talk. In a few decades, it will be "Alina Somova." Comparisons like this are always being made, I expect.

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If we were to replace "Suzanne Farrell" in that sentence with "Sylvie Guillem," we would have a sentence that has been posted dozens of times on Ballet Talk. In a few decades, it will be "Alina Somova." Comparisons like this are always being made, I expect.

oh---NEVER mention Somova in the same breath as Farrell and Guillem :smilie_mondieu:

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Since more and more people are getting the chance to see this, or plan to do so, it might be a good idea to repeat DanceActress's post identifying most of the important dancers. Thanks, DanceActress! This was enormously helpful. :smilie_mondieu:

http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/index.p...st&p=258705

Also:

And was Stephane Bullion dancing McGregor's piece? I'm sure I saw him...

atm711, my profound apologies. I didn't not intend to suggest any kind of equivalence among Farrell, Guillem, and Somova, only that witticisms like this have a certain fill-in-the-blank quality. They are fated to be repeated again and again, over the ages, with only a change of names to distinguish them. :wink:

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Thanks to DanceActress for her original post and to bart for reposting. Before I went to the movie, I ran a hurried and futile search for it. A printout in hand would have been useful while watching.

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However, am I the only viewer her to have found the Mats Ek House of Bernarda to be ridiculous. I love this play and have attended several dance and alternate-theater versions of it. Never, except yesterday afternoon, did I experience an audience actually giggling at what was going on onstage. Not even the Trocks could have dreamed this one up.

It made me laugh out loud each time... but I'm sure it was Wiseman's joke of juxtaposition that encouraged this response.

P.S. Did anyone pick up on the following bit of off-the-cuff bitchiness? "The flaws of Suzanne Farrell became qualities for others." Who was it that said that? Lacotte?

mine from earlier:

I was a little shocked by the Tallchief comment… one could say so many things about the dancers of earlier generations… one could say things about Nureyev after all… but why? They trained under different circumstances to different standards, it was a different world… who knows how they would have looked were they trained as today’s dancers are trained? I was less shocked even if surprised when Farrell’s mannerisms were described as flaws that now others copy, because I can see how someone who had been meticulously trained not to do those things might see them as flaws… but a little surprised all the same… has a gauntlet been thrown down? Is there still anger within the POB that an American from outside the system was once promoted above them?

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Unless I'm mistaken, that was Ghislaine Thesmar and Pierre Lacotte on the bench, and the incredible wicked hilarity of their conversation may not be quite as bitchy and wicked as we might think --

Thesmar was a member of the New York City Ballet for a time, and she did have an unearthly silkiness of execution that was very very different from ANY American dancer's. (I'm basing this on her performance in Lacotte's reconstruction of "La Sylphide," which has been out on video for decades and is an absolutely astonishing performance, with NO evidence of effort, she just seems to subside to the floor and rise like thistledown on the breeze. By contrast, Tallchief showed a LOT of effort -- her strength was right out in the open.... if you want to see how grisly that can look, check out her performance with Rudolf Nureyev in Flower Festival at Genzano, where her attack and power are very much in evidence but kinda awfully misplaced in that role, That's what I thought of when Thesmar said that about her.

Re Suzanne, it may mean a million things -- it may be a compliment, to the effect that Suzanne's imagination was so radical and powerful that the unpolished things in the then very young woman's technique became -- since Balanchine famously loved putting very young dancers onstage, starting back in the 30s with the baby ballerinas -- so hte evidence of naivete and youth became things to copy if you wanted to please mr b.

She might be talking about high extensions, but I doubt it. And she may have been talking about very fine shades of technique, like how much plie to use, when to put the heel down, which edge of the box you should touch down when descending from a lift onto pointe -- I THINK Thesmar was talking about VERY VERY fine points of technique, and of the differences between the NYCB style and that she'd learned at the POB school and was one of the very great exemplars of. Thesmar's plie was truly amazing -- I'll say it again, she could plie all the way to the floor, and get back up without using her hands or ANY visible assistance..... Check out the first minute of Sylphide.... well it's not on youtube, but the first moment of the following will give you the idea.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OrhyGrNMc0

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I'm glad my rudimentary list of dancers, choreographers, etc. was useful!

My questions were answered earlier in the section:

Alice Renavand dances the role of Creuse in Medee

Yann Bridard is rehearsing Pina Bausch's Orphee et Eurydice- which has just been released on DVD

The young choreographer discussing casting with Brigitte Lefevre was Emmanuel Gat

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Unless I'm mistaken, that was Ghislaine Thesmar and Pierre Lacotte on the bench, and the incredible wicked hilarity of their conversation may not be quite as bitchy and wicked as we might think --

Thesmar was a member of the New York City Ballet for a time, ...

Not quite. Thesmar guested with NYCB for a few seasons, as Dupont has done more recently, dancing one or two roles each season. I remember her in Concerto Barocco and In G Major.

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But the film is so damn long that it will be great to get it someday on DVD so that you can get up and sit down, and start and stop it at leisure. Personally I couldn't sit all the way through it but went twice and saw it in halves. Maybe we could have done without the shots of the cafeteria meals, etc.. MP

I"m going to be watching it with a printout of DanceActress' post in hand.

I am always fascinated by how differently we "in depth" fans can react to things.
Me, too. I was actually rather appalled by my reaction, which somehow seemed overly-literal or even anti-cinematic. "God, what a data-dependent, empirically-obsessed Philistine I am!"

My name is Helene, and I am a data-dependent, empirically-obsessed Philistine.

They could sell 200,000 copies of the DVD if they had the option to display the name of the choreographer (where applicable) and people in each section in one corner of the screen.

Contrary to the review, I didn’t think Lefevre was so manipulative, but rather right… rather very right… she seemed to be most concerned with keeping the quality of the POB up very high, but still going forward, not becoming a museum, while acknowledging that she still needed to work within the bureaucracy of the opera …

Lefevre is such a great film subject. Where she turned into a monster for me was towards the end of the film when she comments to the young dancer in her office -- the girl was tiny compared to an overall thin company -- that she noticed the girl's weight loss, clearly in her eyes a good thing.

Re: the works, Paquita was beautiful. The minute or so of Manuel Legris partnering in the Grand Pas was one of the highlights for me. Apart from that, I can't believe such a great, beautifully schooled company of dancers has a rep that is knee-deep in merde. I wouldn't have guessed that the Tree Stump and Pails work was based on Medea -- I found it laughable in performance, although I enjoyed the score by Mauro Lanza -- or that the Screaming on a Table work was based on "The House of Bernarda Alba", which kind of grew on me in the parts with the chord strums followed by the drum-beats.

Someone noted here before that one of the drivers for the composition of the repertory was the 3-5 year contracts they have with the choreographers, and it was interesting to hear Lefevre say in the rep meeting that some of the modern works needed to be seen again as a matter of course. If she wasn't just performing for the camera, she has one of the finest sets of leadership skills and acumen that I've seen in a long time. I just wish she were using it for decent rep.

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Just saw the movie for a third time (yes!) in Hartford at RealArtWays where one can bring a glass of wine into the theater, and where they broke for intermission halfway through... (I had some friends who wanted to see it, so I thought why not go once more and hear what they think...)

It was somewhat different to see it out here in the hinterlands... I know the dance world is very very small here, but was still surprised to find only about 8 people in the theater after the long lines in NYC... perhaps because it is the middle of a holiday week.

What struck me this time was Lacotte... I liked Thesmar, but Lacotte seemed to be so "me, me, me... back when I was a dancer", perhaps more conscious of the camera than anyone else... and while I understand his wanting the dancers to go in to the floor a little more generously instead of lightly staying above it, it kept reminding me of the strange Coppelia he set on Shanghai Ballet that was performed here a few years ago on one of those college road tours... where the folk dance stomps sent all their energy dying into the floor instead of stamping a rebound out of it... very odd I thought then... maybe putting weight into the floor is his thing? Makes me think about how someone here (or on the sister site?) talked about going down into the floor in chassé being necessary to understanding Tudor's vocabulary...

I got to thinking about Lefevre's trouble with young dancers not training to the current repertory standards... and wondering if it were a problem of the teachers in the school... perhaps the excellent ballet teachers are so focussed on traditional ballet technique (as they should be), that as a side effect one gets this conservative view toward movement...? Who were those people she was talking to about getting the young dancers to avail themselves of the modern technique classes offered once a week? At first I thought they were some sort of dancers' union representatives, or artistic staff of the company... now I'm wondering if they are teachers in the school? It's not such modern technique any more... some of those teaching it were quite far from their youth.

Also, I was confused by some of the coaching of Medea... Was part of the ballet set by the choreographer and the person giving meaning to the movements a different coach? I would have thought that was the choreographer, but then it seemed to be a retired dancer, or secondary coach? Or am I confusing Medea with Eurydice? At least this time I got to watch a few of the credits!

I still can't watch the dysfunctional shooting of Medea before she kills the children... once she kills the children the camera regains it's focus... when it's not watching anything, I can't either.

I spent a little time watching Wiseman's framing this time... but mostly he is watching the process and the environment more than the choreography (I was hoping to watch him watch the choreography, but I guess whenever he did, I became fascinated by the choreography and forgot to watch the camerawork), usually he's watching the coach as much as what the dancers are up to.

One of my favorite humor moments is McGregor's comment after the dancer has just finished an awesome virtuostic dance and is lying on ground... all he talks about is how nice she is lying on the ground! I know what was up, but it's still a funny set up.

The technique in the class degagé exercise with the pas-de-cheval-like coupé is so interesting, so unlike what I've seen here. They scoop instead of push off...

And the dancer who can't jump... I get confused... now I see it is the same bit of choreography as we later see on stage with the strange pantaloon warm-ups dancer whom the headset people are complaining so much about... but... is this the young girl taking on the abandoned pas de trois part? Or is it the old dancer who thinks it's too much and is abandoning it? Is the same dancer in rehearsal as on stage? Yes, credits option on the DVD, PLEASE

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The Nation (Jan. 11/18) has a brief interview with Wiseman. It's not available online, but here are a few of his observations. There's an interesting deadpan quality to what he says, at least as it comes across in print. Clearly, he's an eccentric, but a pretty canny one.

You didn't shoot the audience.

Well, it's dark, and I wasn't particularly interested in the audience. The only time you see the audience is walking up the steps. As far as I was concerned, that had no place in the film. ... The dancers don't mingle with the public. The don't mix and greet, or whatever it's called.

Your films reveal the routines and rhythms of the subject under consideration. Can you talk about what place surprise has in those routines?

The whole thing is based on surprise -- surprise to me. I don't know what's going to happen next. That's the Las Vegas aspect of this kind of filmmaking. And that's a great part of the fun. When I go to rehearsal I know it's going to be a rehearsal, but I don't know what the ballet masters are going to say, I don't know what the choreographers are going to say. I don't know what the response of the dancers is going to be. I don't know if it's going to be a beautiful rehearsal or if they are going to make a lot of mistakes. You have to be alert.

You're a well-known independent filmmaker. How much time do you have to spend raising money for projects?

I don't spend a lot of time raising money, because you know pretty quickly whether you're going to get it or not. For a documentary filmmaker in America, you can go to PBS, NEA, NEH, the Ford Foundation, in the past the MacArthur -- the MacArthur is in transition; I don't know how much more they're going to do on documentary -- and maybe a couple of other foundations. Occasionally I've been able to get money from the BBC and from ARTE France, and that's it.

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I think Jennifer Homans really touched on some central points in her New Republic review, especially this comment

"Wiseman has said that he is interested in work and what constitutes it." I watched the film again, on a screener DVD, and I have to say that I really didn't mind the lack of titles/identification. For me, it was about the institution, and the tradition of working, rather than the individuals. But that's my opinion, and your mileage may vary.

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For me, it was about the institution, and the tradition of working, rather than the individuals.
The same thought occurred to me while I was rereading the thread a day or two ago. I think he wants us to see POB as a huge, complex machine with many gears and levers. He doesn't want us to zero in on the cogs, as wonderful as some of them are.

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I think he wants us to see POB as a huge, complex machine with many gears and levers. He doesn't want us to zero in on the cogs, as wonderful as some of them are.

There is a series of shots, close to the beginning of the film, of the stage rigging, with those beautifully coiled ropes -- Homans compares them to a sailing ship, but I think your machine image is even closer. In the Margot Fonteyn-narrated series, The Magic of Dance, there's a backstage sequence filmed in Copenhagen at the Royal Theater, demonstrating 19th century 'special effects' -- this feels very similar.

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:( I found the film very interesting, although I am very familular with the backstage area and

workings of a large Opera House or Theatre, it is always an advantage to see other venues, especially when it is s a beautiful building and company such as the ballet at the Paris Opera Garnier. Even a "lay person" would be amazed at this production. I recently purchased Fred Wiseman's ABT Dance. film, and hope to do the same with La Danse as soon as it is available. Thank goodness for his love of Ballet. I hope he will look at another company soon.

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The Nation (Jan. 11/18) has a brief interview with Wiseman. It's not available online, but here are a few of his observations. There's an interesting deadpan quality to what he says, at least as it comes across in print. Clearly, he's an eccentric, but a pretty canny one.
You didn't shoot the audience.

Well, it's dark, and I wasn't particularly interested in the audience. The only time you see the audience is walking up the steps. As far as I was concerned, that had no place in the film. ... The dancers don't mingle with the public. The don't mix and greet, or whatever it's called.

Your films reveal the routines and rhythms of the subject under consideration. Can you talk about what place surprise has in those routines?

The whole thing is based on surprise -- surprise to me. I don't know what's going to happen next. That's the Las Vegas aspect of this kind of film making. And that's a great part of the fun. When I go to rehearsal I know it's going to be a rehearsal, but I don't know what the ballet masters are going to say, I don't know what the choreographers are going to say. I don't know what the response of the dancers is going to be. I don't know if it's going to be a beautiful rehearsal or if they are going to make a lot of mistakes. You have to be alert.

You're a well-known independent filmmaker. How much time do you have to spend raising money for projects?

I don't spend a lot of time raising money, because you know pretty quickly whether you're going to get it or not. For a documentary filmmaker in America, you can go to PBS, NEA, NEH, the Ford Foundation, in the past the MacArthur -- the MacArthur is in transition; I don't know how much more they're going to do on documentary -- and maybe a couple of other foundations. Occasionally I've been able to get money from the BBC and from ARTE France, and that's it.

Ditto to the above.

(et Merci bart for posting these Q&A excerpts.)

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Charlie Rose interviewed Wiseman about this film yesterday (1/28/10). You can view the interview online by going to the following link and clicking on Wiseman's picture:

http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/10838

I saw this when it was broadcast -- it's worth seeking out. He speaks very engagingly about the company, and about his filmmaking practices.

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Saw it this afternoon/evening. Some thoughts:

1) I thought the tart remarks about Maria Tallchief and Suzanne Farrell added some much needed humor to the film. They're not demi-gods, after all. As to the specific remark about Farrell, I took it to mean that those dancers who came in her wake adopted the flaws instead of the attributes. In other words, they built a cult around the wrong things.

2) For all that Madam LeFevre went on and on about maintaining the high classical standards of the troupe, you would never know it was a classical troupe based on the works shown on-stage. If you didn't know it was the Paris Opera Ballet heading in, you could have easily thought it was Pina Bausch's company you were watching.

3) The discussion about Lehman Brothers was unintentionally "funny" considering Lehman Brothers no longer exists.

4) The conversation in LeFevre's office about the small numbers for contemporary classes was interesting. I found myself asking, "What are the dancers afraid of?" An occasional modern/contemporary class would give them a reasoned framework with which to approach contemporary work (which, from watching this film, appears to be much of the time.) Does the school instill in them a fear that a modern/contemporary class will destroy their hard-earned classical technique? Impossible to know because this film is so busy not taking a position that interesting lines of inquiry aren't pursued. (And was that Laurent Hilaire sitting in the back during the meeting? He had this sick expression on his face -- from what exactly I couldn't tell.)

5) Disappointed to see that the only people of color in the movie were the maintenance workers and I'll leave it at that.

Overall, my reaction to this 3 hour movie (which cried out for editing and lots of it) is much like it would have been if someone had filmed a behind-the-scenes documentary of M-G-M during its glory days in the 1930s and the 1940s. Yes, it would have been interesting to see Louis B. Mayer ruling the lot with an iron fist or watching the inner workings of the Freed unit. But to what end? The magic was on film just as the magic of the Paris Opera Ballet is on stage. To me, this backstage look stole THEIR MAGIC and made them mundane.

Grade: C-

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Grade: C-

Saw it Sat. at MOMA and could have watched hours more (with a bathroom break). I could see how an audience could get restless because a clear arc of rehearsal to performance wasn't really established. I loved that it showed so many aspects of the institution - class, rehearsal, coaches, costume shop, cafeteria, building upkeep, what to do for donors, what to do for various dancers, dancers using studio time on their own etc. As for people of color - I just don't look for that in every film I see.

Grade as a documentary - A

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I'm with you vipa (altho I might hedge slightly by giving it a grade of: A-).

I'm very much looking forward to seeing it again on DVD. I have it on my Netflix queue altho there is no announced availability date. The film has an interesting quality of seeming slow paced, but really there was much I missed. Being able to see it again, stop, back it up, etc, etc will give me a chance to catch that which I missed. A narrator would have allowed me to catch some of that which I missed, but at what cost I wonder? The more I think about it the more I like Wiseman's style of simply being a witness (especailly after having heard Wiseman make his case on Charlie Rose). It's almost like visting the Paris Opera Ballet inside of my life instead of via the eyes of another.

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As for people of color - I just don't look for that in every film I see.

I don't either. But in a three hour movie, I found it hard to ignore.

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