Five Things I Learned From Frederick Wiseman's 'La Danse'

The Palais Garnier as seen circa 1900
The Palais Garnier, Paris. Image via Wikipedia

I know a fair bit about ballet, but after seeing his new documentary about the Paris Opera Ballet tonight, I learned:

1) French dancers, at least this troupe, are allowed to retire with full state pension at the age of 40 — 25 years earlier than other French workers. Dancers, as most people know, have a tightly limited career due to the nature of their work and very few ever dance much past the age of 40 or 45. The film shows a poignant scene of one older dancer negotiating hard with the company’s tough, chic redheaded artistic director Brigitte Lefevre — “I have to take care of my body. I have to be pragmatic about my choices now,” the dancer argues, asking to be let out of one of her assigned roles.

2) Choreographer Maurice Bejart was cremated.

3) There’s an apiary on the roof of the Palais Garnier, the magnificent Beaux-Arts palace that houses both their rehearsal studios and their theater.

4) French female dancers wear watches in class and at rehearsal — taboo at other companies I’ve watched rehearse, like the Royal Danish Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada. I’ve never taken a ballet class, as a child or adult, where jewelry was even allowed.

5) There’s a subsidized cafeteria in the Palais Garnier, with a full hot meal for 4 euros — about $6.

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