This week’s selection started out as one film but has morphed into TWO selections. This week also comes with the following caveat: I love to dance and to watch it on film.
The first film I am discussing is Center Stage from 2000. The film was directed by Nicholas Hynter (History Boys, Madness of King George, The Crucible). The cast consists mostly of unknown actors with the exception of some of the supporting players, including Peter Gallagher, Donna Murphy and Debra Monk. This film also served as a pre-fame Zoe Saldana’s first big screen role.
The other distinction that the majority of the cast share is that they are either ballet dancers or, in the case of Saldana, a dancer with ballet training.
To put the plot in a nutshell, we are given an inside glimpse of the trials and tribulations of a group of young dancers at the fictitious American Ballet Academy in New York City. We have the ingenue (Amanda Schull), the dancer with the talent but with too much attitude (Saldana) and the young prodigy driven by a pushy stage mother (Pratt). You even have the “rebellious” dance instructor who just cannot be confined by the rules of the academy and who eventually breaks away and starts his own company.
Due to the acting inexperience of the central cast – notably Schull (whose story is one of the front burners), this is a film that one can find easy to dismiss. Also as a piece of storytelling, it reads more like a soap or after-school special than a motion picture. But for me, this film is all about the dancing. In my own life, I never amounted to much in the world of dance, aside from the compulsory ballet/tap/jazz/modern performances of my youth. But that never diminished my love of dance as a piece of performance – especially the ballet.
At nearly two hours of film, this may be more than many of you can bear but if you are someone who likes to dance or watch dance performances, I suggest you give this film a chance.
My second selection is Robert Altman’s 2003 film The Company, which stars Neve Campbell, Malcom McDowell, and James Franco. In The Company, we again have a film where the principal star (Campbell) does her own dancing. All the other members of the company are actual member of the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. There are no fictitious elements surrounding the company of dancers; we are watching the “real” Joffrey Ballet in action.
This was a passion project for Campbell, who spent the earlier part of her career studying as a ballet dancer in Canada.
There is no plot construct as such in The Company, except for a minor sub-plot of the burgeoning relationship between Campbell and Franco. The film mostly focuses itself at looking at the world of the Joffrey Ballet and the blood, sweat and tears (literally) that is involved in being a part of this team of world-class dancers. In this way, The Company reads kind of like a documentary, sans narration. We are merely observers caught up in the action.
The Company also clocks in at under two hours and given its pace and non-linear narrative, many viewers may tire of it before the film’s closing sequences. But it is in my opinion, a lovely story and of the two films I have discussed this week, the one that has more universal viewing appeal.