Picks and Pans Review: Ballet
Renowned documentarian Frederick Wiseman brings his cameras and his penchant for generic titles (Zoo, Racetrack, Model, etc.) to bear on the American Ballet Theatre. The three-hour film is boiled down from nine weeks Wiseman and his crew spent in 1992 at ABT's loft-building rehearsal space in Manhattan. It culminates with the corps de ballet performing in Athens and Copenhagen.
As always with Wiseman, there is no narration. Without it, viewers are forced to concentrate and make their own connections. (Having said that, allow me to provide one hint: that white-haired woman directing dancers from her wheelchair is the late, legendary choreographer Agnes de Mille.)
Even ballet philistines (That's me!) will find these young dancers and their aesthetics—encompassing paradoxical suggestions of rigid discipline and utter abandon—remarkable. You also meet the backstage staff: ballet masters, costumers, bookers, musicians, recruiters, photographers and a physical therapist.
The film illuminates the mesh of art, craft and commerce that goes into a large-scale creative enterprise. And once you've witnessed all the tedious planning and practice during rehearsal, the performances seem exquisite.