Montreal Film Journal


Robert Altman:
"Dancers do the impossible. Here are worldclass artists who, for the most part, are poorly paid and live hand to mouth; often in very unglamorous conditions. Their daily reality includes bloody feet, bludgeoned ambitions, and the work itself – in all of its demanding beauty."

This all sounds fascinating but Altman's film, while still interesting, doesn't truly convey what it intends to. We follow the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago for a year and we do get a sense of what they go through day to day but Altman's naturalistic docu-fiction approach isn't entirely effective, as we get neither the direct insights of a documentary nor the dramatic tension of fiction.

It's great that most of the people onscreen are real dancers and choreographers with the Joffrey Ballet company, but we don't actually get to know them all that much. We see them practice and perform, and we get glimpses of some of them piled up in a smallish apartment, going out to play bowling, there's a quick wedding scene and an overlong Christmas roast, etc. But we never hear them talk more than a few lines.

The only dancer who is allowed to make an impression off stage is, unsurprisingly, Neve Campbell, who also co-wrote and produced "The Company". I don't mean to attack her for making what should be an ensemble piece about herself. Even though she's the only character who gets some sort of storyline, none of this is pressed on too much. Her fling with James Franco, for instance, simply happens, it's just little touches to give Neve and the audience a character to know a little more. Same thing goes for Malcolm McDowell, whose hard-ass queen artistic director enlivens each scene he's in but doesn't take over. Ultimately, it's still all about the dancing.

Now, I don't pretend to know shizzle about ballet, but I can appreciate how the dancers put hard work into their art yet make it look so easy and graceful. I liked how for each of the ten musical numbers, we get to see both the practice and the final performance. Every ballet has its own particular flavor: the psychedelic Tensile Involvement with the ribbons and the percussive synthesizer music, the My Funny Valentine pas de deux at an outdoor show during which a rainstorm breaks out, the dreamy White Widow with the girl in the swing on music by Angelo Badalamenti, the over-the-top "The Blue Snake" with vivid colors, crazy costumes and even a mechanical giant that eats the dancers...

"The Company" never bored me, but it never truly moved me either. I liked it, but I wanted to fall in love with it. If you're passionate about ballet, your mileage may vary, but personally I felt either as fiction or documentary this could have been more memorable.