Review by Ed Nguyen
The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, Neve Campbell, Malcolm McDowell, James Franco
Director: Robert Altman
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: French; English closed-captioning
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: Commentary, Making-of featurette, The Passion of Dance featurette, dance sequences, trailers
Length: 112 minutes
Release Date: June 1, 2004
only thing a person can leave behind on this Earth is a light in themselves."
movies are a rarity in today's entertainment industry.
Aside from an occasional Nutcracker
every generation or so, ballet on film has generally been relegated to
infrequent PBS broadcasts of taped stage performances.
That is a pity because ballet offers so much more than the stereotypical
image of wafer-thin ballerinas pirouetting about in tutus. Perhaps The Company
(2003) will help to alter some public perceptions about the world of ballet.
a pet project for Hollywood starlet Neve Campbell, best known for her starring
role in the mock-horror Scream
trilogy. Campbell may seem an
unusual actress to harbor any interest in ballet, but as a former
classically-trained dancer herself (believe it or not), Campbell's passion for
the performing arts is actually not so surprising.
(after much persistence on Campbell's part) to direct the film was iconoclastic
director Robert Altman. His flair
for working with ensemble casts and his willingness to experiment in new genres
made Altman an ideal director for this film, which would document the backstage
and on-stage drama within the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago.
As a result, The Company has an anachronistic feel to it, as might be expected
with Altman in control, and seems equally a product of the 1970's as of the
set in the world of modern contemporary dance, so viewers should set aside any
images of Swan Lake ballerinas and nutcrackers.
With the enthusiastic participation of Chicago's real Joffrey Ballet, the
film chronicles a "fictional" season of performances and rehearsals
for this ballet troupe. Eschewing a
standard plot, The Company offers a
loosely structured, documentary-like backdrop for some incredible dancing,
mostly conceptual but occasionally classical, too.
is no true central character in the film. The
closest thing to one is Loretta Ryan (or Ry, for short), a young member of the
ballet troupe portrayed by Neve Campbell. The
Company occasionally skirts through her personal life, from her side job as
a waitress at a Goth club to supplement her income (many ballet dancers live in
poverty) to her budding romance with a young chef, Josh (James Franco).
More essential to the film's structure, however, is Alberto Antonelli
(Malcolm McDowell), the wildly-exuberant artistic director modeled loosely after
the Joffrey Ballet's real-life artistic director, Gerald Arpino.
Some of the dancers essentially portray themselves, too, as do noted
choreographers Robert Desrosiers and Lars Lubovitch.
of the film's loose narrative proceeds in an unhurried manner, with flashes of
the dancers' personal lives. We
follow various injuries, rehearsal arguments or artistic differences, and scenes
of relaxation (a night out bowling, Christmas party comedy skits).
Many of these side stories offering little in the way of resolution or
further development, which can understandably be frustrating to viewers
expecting a straight-forward story or a concrete narrative structure.
However, the "story" for The
Company, what little exists of it, is not central to the film. The "loose ends" in the film represent not plot
gaffes in the screenplay but rather a reflection of the flow of real life, that
not everything is always tidily wrapped up at the end of the hour.
of the dances in The Company are quite
exhilarating. The film opens with
Alwin Nikolais' Tensile Involvement, a
visually exciting piece that incorporates colored ribbons into the choreography
of its multiple performers. Among
the dances choreographed by Gerald Arpino himself are Light
Rain, Trinity, and a classical Suite Saint-SaŽns piece performed at
Chicago's Grant Park. Other dances
include Laura Dean's Creative Force,
Davis Robertson's Strange Prisoners,
and the thrilling ensemble salsa La
VivandiŤre Pas de Six. The
definite showstopper among them all, however, is the mesmerizing MOMIX piece White
Widow, an aerial ballet filled with arabesque spins and twirls.
It's very dreamy and is certainly a highlight in the film.
herself has two big dances in the film. One
occurs in the nocturnal Grant Park concert, a Lars Lubovitch-choreographed pas
de deux to the Roger & Hart tune "My Funny Valentine."
The tune also serves as a repeating leitmotif for Ry's off-stage romance
with Josh (the New York City Ballet, after the release of The
Company, debuted its own extended 45-minute version of this dance with
further choreography by Lubovitch).
second shining moment is in a performance for The Blue Snake. She has
another duet and also a solo dance in this fantasy ballet by Desrosiers, the
contemporary piece that serves as the finale of the film.
Throughout The Company, we catch glimpses of the Joffrey Ballet rehearsing this
choreography (and even mocking the piece in a comic Christmas skit), but it is
not until the end that we see the actual The Blue Snake. Though
somewhat shortened to fit within the film, this ballet still provides for some
of The Company's most colorful and
inventive costumes and images.
not concerned with a formulaic plot; it is instead about the essence and joy of
dance. In the real world, all these
performers face long hours of hard work with little pay and routine indifference
from mainstream American pop culture, not to mention the omnipresent spectre of
a potentially career-ending injury. Yet
through all these obstacles, their love of performance, for the sake of the art
itself, always perseveres. Therein
lies the true heart of The Company.
TRIVIA: Neve Campbell performed all
her dances throughout the film with a broken rib!
video quality on The Company looks
awesome, with cinematography that literally glows at times.
Since the film was photographed using high-definition video, much of it
(particularly the dance sequences) possesses an extraordinary degree of clarity
with brilliant bursts of luminous colors. Flesh
tones are accurately produced, and dark scenes display a deep black level. The overall richness of the color saturation in The
Company is a perfect complement to the performances of the Joffrey Ballet.
The Company is a highly-visual film,
the English 5.1 track is quite good and features a score by Van Dyke Parks and
performances from the Kronos Quartet, too.
Also included are Angelo Badalamenti's "The World Spins,"
featured in the White Widow solo, Mark O'Connor's music from Appalachia Waltz, and excerpts from Camille Saint-SaŽns' Pas
redoubliť, Op.86. There is a
soothing, at times hypnotic, quality to this music which enhances the surreal
quality of the high-definition images.
the audio track to The Company is not
a bombastic one, it is a true 5.1 track and is
very effective at recreating the ambience of being in the midst of a live
are a few interesting, if short, extras on this disc. First is a commentary with
Robert Altman and Neve Campbell. Robert
Altman remains as sharp as ever and is extremely clear-headed for an
octogenarian, while Neve Campbell sounds like an innocent youngster, complete
with nervous little giggles every so often. In fact, she exhumes such a bubbly cuteness that only the
most cynical of viewers will not become utterly disarmed and enchanted by this
commentary track. It all makes for
a highly entertaining, if unusual, listening experience.
Altman and Campbell discuss the structure of the Joffrey Ballet,
including many of its individual dancers. They
also reveal how many of the anecdotes in the film were based on true experiences
and that most of the dances were filmed entirely in only one or two takes,
including all of Neve Campbell's dances!
is a Making-of featurette (7 min.)
that offers short clips from the film and the production.
Members of the cast and crew, including Altman, Campbell, and Franco,
appear periodically to talk about the film's premise.
Passion of Dance
(4 min.) is another short featurette in which Neve Campbell talks about how she
trained for the film, working for four months, eight hours a day, to prepare for
her dances. The solid results can
be seen on-screen, in which Campbell fits in quite well with the Joffrey
dancers. Altman also discusses the
Joffrey dancers and their discipline and grace, which he highly praises.
are two dance-oriented extras. First
is an extended dance sequence Studio A /
Show Off (2 min.), which shows the dancers practicing in the studio.
This is quite an elegant scene that displays the remarkable physical
agility of these dancers, although the scene was apparently cut from the film.
Admittedly, the Joffrey dancers are the best thing about The
Company, so viewers who wish to re-watch the performances outside of the
film itself can opt for the 34-minute bonus feature that compiles all the dances
together. The dances are present
back-to-back, from the first one to the very last one.
there are a great many previews to look over on this DVD.
Included are trailers for The
Company (and its soundtrack), Big Fish,
Bon Voyage (a French romantic drama about World War II), The
Cuckoo (another WWII drama), The Fog
of War (a documentary about Robert McNamara), Masked
and Anonymous (an amorphous film about civil rights...or a traveling circus
or something...weird), Mona Lisa Smile,
Respiro (a romantic Hispanic film), Something's
Gotta Give, and The Triplets of
Belleville (an acclaimed French animated film).