This is a long, cool view of the Paris Opera Ballet Company. We see theatre staff, managers, fundraisers and costume technicians at work, and above all dancers, rehearsing and performing their roles. We even see the bee-keeper on the roof, but for dance-fans the glimpses of rehearsal-work are probably the most interesting aspect of this well-made documentary. Some of the overheard comments at rehearsal are priceless, but there is no actual commentary to this film.
Most of us are interested in dancers as people, but in this documentary we don't often hear them speak, we simply watch them at different moments at work in the theatre. Highlights are two short scenes in which two dancers are in conversation about their careers with the supportive Ballet Director, Brigitte Lefevre. This is a 'fly-on-the-wall' style documentary: the invisible film-maker (Frederick Wiseman, from the USA) simply observes and listens, he does not comment or ask questions.
The people we see aren't identified by name (unless referred to by someone else), so unless you are familiar with the Paris Opera Ballet, there is some mystery as to who people are; the ballet-excerpts featured aren't identified either. Most of the dance included here is from the contemporary repertoire, the lengthiest excerpt a scene in which Medea murders her children- and there is blood in buckets (literally!) There are a few minutes from (what appears to be) "Casse-Noisette", with glorious Georgiadis costumes: if only this were more than just a glimpse!
Some rehearsal-moments are telling, and memorable: a star ballerina is corrected by her teacher, "don't let your head fall back like that- if you do that, you are just doing it for the audience". In other scenes it's surprising to see dancers -for whom 'line' is so important- rehearsing in floppy track-suits.
The image-quality of this engaging documentary varies, and is disappointing. After the pin-sharp menu-card, the film itself was often so fuzzy that, except in moderate close-up, it was difficult to identify the individual dancers. The English subtitles are so out of focus they jangle. Apparently, it was originally photographed in 35mm. and unfortunately it doesn't transfer too well to a wider format. Blu-ray and high-definition are tending to make other formats for ballet look less good.