Peeking Beneath The Tutu: Frederick Wiseman's New Doc About The Paris Opera Ballet

Cours public du ballet national de Cuba (Grand...
Image by dalbera via Flickr

If you are as passionate about ballet as I am, this new documentary, “La Danse”,  will be a three-hour joy, a behind-the-scenes look at life at the Paris Opera Ballet by legendary film-maker Frederick Wiseman. The film opened yesterday in Manhattan at Film Forum and is due to open nationwide soon.

I studied ballet for years and was extremely fortunate to have spent a lot of time traveling with and writing about the National Ballet of Canada. I even (true!) took part in eight performances of “Sleeping Beauty” at Lincoln Center with Nureyev, my role that of a “Lady in Black”, someone who presaged the arrival of the wicked witch Carabosse, whose spell on Sleeping Beauty is central to the story. I was not a professional dancer, (but a journo writing a story), didn’t see my costume ’til 30 minutes before opening night curtain — and came down the sweeping staircase onto the stage about 10 bars too early. Few weeks have proven as terrifying and as fun as that one: staying across the street at the Empire Hotel (sung about by fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell), exiting the stage door each night, hearing Nureyev swearing his head off off-stage and sharing a dressing-room with some real dancers.

Anyone who understands ballet knows that dancers are extreme athletes, their careers often ended by injury or “old age” in their 30s after decades of training. It’s an extraordinary world, and I was lucky enough to be a part of it for a while.

Here’s a story about the new documentary.

2 thoughts on “Peeking Beneath The Tutu: Frederick Wiseman's New Doc About The Paris Opera Ballet

  1. LeeAnn Maton

    Wow! As a former ballerina myself, that assignment you described just left me gape-mouthed and salivating. Any story that would require me to turn pirouettes AND turn phrases would be a dream come true. I’ll make sure to check out the new doc, too.

  2. Caitlin Kelly

    It was a ton of fun, but also pretty scary. I didn’t know the score or the choreography — but there you are, as a paid extra, essential to the overall action.

    The second night, leaving the stage, my costume got caught on a soldier’s sword and I couldn’t move for fear of tearing the fabric…The music kept going as all the principal dancers behind me are freaking out because, they, too, need to get offstage…Insane! It all made for a funny newspaper story, that’s for sure, and some cherished memories. The PR person who got me into the story remains a dear friend all these years later.

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