Caught on Film

Stupid Wim Wenders! He stole my music!

Wenders is the director of the  film ‘Pina’ – a 3D feature-length dance film featuring the choreography of legendary Pina Bausch, who passed away in 2009. The movie was released in 2011 but not in the US, so I have not seen it. We got hits like the new ‘Footloose‘ instead (which I also did not see. No one replaces Kevin Bacon!)

I just watched the trailer and realized that the featured music is a piece that I have had on my computer and wanted to use for choreography since I first heard it in about 2006. If I use it now, it will just look like copying. (The music is Jun Miyake’s ‘Lillies of the Valley’)

In the surge of dance-related movies, I can’t think of many that I have really cared for in the past decade or so. ‘Center Stage’ is a dancer chick-flick, ‘Save the Last Dance’ is infuriating because Julia Stiles is accepted into the most prestigious of schools, Juilliard, after a truly dreadful audition, and all the rest that I can think of off the top of my  head (Step Up, Stomp the Yard, Honey, Fame) are obnoxious hip-hop-ized clubbing footage with a loose narrative,bad clichéd writing and stereotyped characters. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t watch youtube clips for inspiration before I go out dancing myself but to me there’s a big difference between “I’m going to steal that hot move!‘ and ‘yes, I will submerge myself in the stench of faux butter to watch this in it’s full big-screen glory‘.

Recent dance films that I do enjoy include: (Click the titles to watch clips! Images via ‘Pina’ website and Dance Magazine)

1. Mad Hot Ballroom– a documentary on the Ballroom dance lessons  included in the curriculum of Public school system of New York and the fierce competition between the school’s for the trophies. I love the interviews with the kids as they talk about their goals, teachers, how they feel about being chosen or not chosen to take part in the competition, who they do or do not want to dance with,etc. It’s a film where you can get involved with the characters and get excited to see if your favorites will take the prizes at the end of the film. It has the same appeal as reality TV- sans barf-inducing bachelors or ‘real’ housewives composed of silicon and stupid.

2. Dancing Across Borders– a documentary of the capture sponsorship of Sokvannara ‘Sy’ Sar, a teenager from Cambodia who was discovered by filmmaker Anne Bass and brought to study dance at the School of American Ballet (the school that ‘Center Stage’ is based on) in New York. It’s a very thought-provoking film, particularly for people who understand the love-hate relationship that can exist with ballet. I must admit a bias having seen Sar dance in person. He performed last year as a guest artist for St. Louis Ballet’s ‘Tributes‘ concert and he was outstanding in contemporary choreography. I think part of the enjoyment of the film is knowing that a true talent has made a career for himself doing exactly what he loves- which seems to be contemporary and not traditional ballet. I can’t really imagine loving anything more than ballet so the idea that someone could ‘kick the habit’ so-to-speak makes me  a little jealous. Oh ballet, you old ball and chain you.

3. Ballet Russes– a documentary about the revolutionary company ‘Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo” by directors Danya Goldfine and Dan Geller. This film has rare footage of performances pictures, and interviews with the stars of the company (who are now doddering adorable old people). It’s a charming and sentimental history lesson – like finding your great grandmother’s secret diary in your attic- instead of spiders and Mr. Rochester’s secret psychotic bride. (I hope everyone gets that reference!)

4. The Company– the Robert Altman 2003 film based on the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. Oddly enough, this is the one ‘non-documentary’ on my list and it has almost less of a narrative ‘story’ than any of them. Still, I love the ‘look at a dancer’s life’ and I like the performance aspect of it. The heart of this movie is the dance production, most of which I found beautiful. Neve Cambell is surprisingly good in it, and the solo piece done on the swing is absolutely heart-stopping. Also James Franco plays a chef, if the gorgeous dancing isn’t enough for you.

I still need to see ‘Mao’s Last Dancer’, which I heard is truly wonderful, and also on my list is ‘Mirror Dance’– a documentary about two famous Cuban Ballerinas who are twin sisters and one fled during the Cold War, barely escaping while the other stayed and helped develop the National Ballet of Cuba. Both had illustrious performance careers and the documentary shows the parallels of these two incredible contributors to dance. I also have not seen ‘Burlesque’ or ‘Nine‘ but I’m not sure that I’m truly missing much. Am I?

I am a huge fan of the Swedish Cullberg Ballet– I unfortunately have not seen then live but I do have two DVD’s that I adore- one is their wacked-out version of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ that uses the Tchaikovsky music but Carabosse is a mad scientist gynecologist who drugs out the pregnant Mom-to-be and turns Aurora into a slutty crack-baby. It’s amazing. I also have the Carmen DVD-  fabulous.

My favorite is their ‘Giselle’. Normally in the second act, Giselle has died of a broken heart and is a ghost-like ‘willi’- with the corps of other dead jilted women. Not so here! Rather than become an immortal and lovely spirit amongst vengeful brides, this Giselle goes bonkers and is placed in a mental institution. As you can imagine the choreography is truly inventive and strange and the dancers make it playful and beautiful. I would of course buy this, but there is full frontal male nudity so America says no no no! Why it’s ok for that Fassbender guy in the film  ‘The Descendants’ and not ok for a dancer onstage is beyond me but I don’t make the rules. I bet if Stephen Colbert becomes Prez he’ll  nip that nudity barrier right in the bud. The bare bud. All are choreographed by the phenomenal Mats Ek.

Here is a trailer for a film featuring the amazing company- 40 M Under. Why don’t we have stuff like this in the US? Instead we get that dreadful Legion of Extraordinary Dancers and the tragic-and-blasphemous Dance Moms, which even amongst a slew of junk TV, I cannot add that to the lineup. There are far better things to see, and ways to waste my time.

3 thoughts on “Caught on Film

  1. I got to see Dancing Dreams (a Pina documentary) when I was living in France. I’m not sure if they’re ever releasing it here, but try to see it if you can! It follows a group of HS students she worked with and shows just how dance can bring everyone together and what an impact it can have. I hope that they bring the new Pina movie over. I say use Lillies of the Valley anyways and make it your own 🙂

  2. Pingback: Lines Ballet « BODIES NEVER LIE

  3. Pingback: CBC Ballet Mockumentary ‘Off Kilter” is On Point | BODIES NEVER LIE

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