La Danse: Le Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris
Preview the Film

For his 38th film in a career spanning more than 40 years, master documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman turns his attention to one of the world’s greatest ballet companies, the Paris Opera Ballet. Observing daily classes, rehearsals, and performances, the camera roams the vast Palais Garnier opera house, the company’s opulent home: from its chandelier-laden corridors to its labyrinthine underground chambers, from its light-filled rehearsal studios to its luxurious theater replete with 2,200 scarlet velvet seats and Marc Chagall ceiling. La Danse – Le Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris devotes most of its time to watching young men and women — among them Nicolas Le Riche, Marie-Agnès Gillot, and Agnès Letestu — rehearsing and/or performing seven ballets, including: Genus by Wayne McGregor, Paquita by Pierre Lacotte, The Nutcracker by Rudolf Nureyev, Medea by Angelin Preljocaj, The House of Bernarda Alba by Mats Ek, Romeo and Juliet by Sasha Waltz, and Orpheus and Eurydyce by Pina Bausch. La Danse will air as part of THIRTEEN’S Great Performances series on PBS stations nationwide on June 16, 2010 at 9 p.m. (check local listings).

Watch the documentary:

Frederick Wiseman, widely praised for his observational documentary films, has had a long and prolific career. His oeuvre includes Titicut Follies, High School, Basic Training, Public Housing, Domestic Violence, and Ballet (on the American Ballet Theater). Critic Philip Lopate has called Wiseman “the greatest American filmmaker of the last 30 years.”

Of his desire to make a film about the Paris Opera Ballet, Wiseman says, “Since movies are about movement, I wanted to make a movie about a group of dancers and choreographers who represent the highest level of achievement in the conscious use of the body to express feeling and thought. I have great admiration for the dancers, choreographers, administrators, and technicians at the Paris Opera Ballet and welcomed this opportunity to film them at work.”

A Zipporah Films, Idéale Audience, Opéra National de Paris Production, in association with THIRTEEN for WNET.ORG, La Danse – Le Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris is directed and edited by Frederick Wiseman, with sound by Wiseman and photography by John Davey, and produced by Pierre-Oliver Bardet, Frederick Wiseman, and Francoise Gazio.

Great Performances is funded by the Irene Diamond Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, Vivian Milstein, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, public television viewers, and PBS. Major support for the telecast is also provided by The Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund. For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is series producer; David Horn is executive producer.

  • Fernando Vargas

    I will like to receive the schedules for the next Great Performance at the Metropolitan for this year. Tank you,
    Fernando Vargas

  • Melanie Blackman

    Can you tell me if and when this will be released to DVD? Thank you!

  • Leon

    precision and perfection

  • Laura

    Is this being replayed on either WNET13 in NYC or WLIW21?

  • Stephany

    Watching it right now – this is great! I’d also like to know if a DVD will be released.

  • John

    “La Danse…” is a wonderful film. When will it be released on DVD ?

  • Simone Vest

    In my view, not a very interesting documentary unless you are a dancer. Anyway what did the beekeeper clip had to do with dance?

  • Marty Gilbert

    Breath-taking! Beautiful and deeply moving. Will this be available in DVD? When?

  • Catherine Cole

    Perfection! I would like to know when it will be released on DVD too.

  • Kyle

    Please release it on DVD ASAP!

  • Bill Chuckles

    On the contrary, I think the film is especially enthralling for those who are not dancers (I am a middle-class writer with no dance experience whatsoever)–particularly because of scenes like the beekeeper. What Wiseman seems to be striving for in scenes like this one is presenting the degree to which Paris Opera is not simply a group of dancers, but a multifaceted unit–a complex operation where everyone from the dancers and artistic director all the way down to the costume designers, cafeteria workers, and maintenance staff contribute to the makeup of the ballet company’s identity. Wiseman’s method here is actually quite sublime. He does not simply show how a ballet moves from its rehearsal phase to its ultimate realization on stage; he also demonstrates how the hard work of each staff member makes that much finer and richer the tapestry of the Paris Opera Ballet on the whole. This has been Wiseman’s lifelong documentary approach: probing and exploring various types of institutions.

    In terms of the beekeeper, I think it goes without saying that a documentarian’s job is not simply to enlighten us on a (new) subject, but also to expose us to its interesting aspects. The honey created on the rooftop of the Palais Garnier is one of the more famous–and fascinating–kernels of Paris Opera lore, where bees have produced many gallons of honey per year for decades now. Check out this NY Times article about it:

    http://www.nytimes.com/1987/12/30/arts/the-paris-opera-is-abuzz-literally.html

  • Cheryl McQueen

    Thanks for your elucidating response, and the link to the article about the bees – missed it.

  • Cheryl McQueen

    From Zipporah, the film company http://www.zipporah.com :

    NOT YET AVAILABLE ON DVD–
    release to be determined (expected summer 2010). If you wish to be notified of the DVD release of LA DANSE, please send an e-mail to orders@zipporah.com

    From the responses here, looks like the DVD will be much in demand – tres bon!

  • Stephanie says:

    The preview looks wonderful but unfortunately I am reading this on June 18th. :(( Will it be run again on MPTV, Milwaukee Public Television?

  • Elizabeth

    Thank you, Bill, for your critique and for explaining the bees.
    I also like to think the bees are like the artists in the building, all working very hard, a great team putting aside egos and supporting one another to create drops of wonder and beauty.
    And thank you, PBS, for the opportunity to see these superb artists at work.

  • Linda

    Will this be aired again in northern CA? I was so psyched to watch it, having recorded it the other night, but lo and behold the recording was blank! Apparently this was due to an outage of the KQED tower signal…
    I sincerely hope this will be shown again.

  • Nora

    Magnificent. Loved every aspect of this film from every possible angle presented. I appreciated the focus on the obvious dedication to the fiber artistry by those making the costumes, each and every one a master artist in his or her own right.

  • Gus Vasiliadis

    I hope this will be available on DVD; it will solve several Xmas gift options for me!
    Not only does this film give insight to the complex issues faced by a dancer and a dance company, but it reveals the human face of French culture, politics, and its people in beautiful French.

  • Phill

    DVD Blu-Ray please!

  • David

    please let me know when this will be released on DVD or replayed on TV. It looks amazing. My ballet dancing daughter will love it.

  • Joanne Henriot

    I completely concur with Bill Chuckles’ comments. What more can I add but that now I must add that building to the list of places I must see on my next trip to Paris.

  • Peter

    I highly enjoyed La Danse, but in the July 4th airing I viewed, at about the 2hr 46min mark it was apparently unceremoniously chopped off and ended, obviously short of the filmmaker’s intended length, with a jarring, loud Great Performances commercial. Not so much as a fade out, just cut to the disruptive, loud and long series promo, then back for the closing credits.

    Did I miss the film’s last 13 minutes, or it’s final 5 seconds? Who knows. Either way, I think both the viewers and Mr. WIseman were cheated.

    PBS: After an investment of nearly 3 hours, please at least give the piece a moment of breathing room.

  • david ernst

    Dear Peter,

    We do our best to give our programs as much artistic “breathing room” as possible. However, we must fit the program within a certain time slot which must fit to the exact second. Due to the length of the film, the GREAT PERFORMANCES credits which thank our funders – without whom there would be no broadcast of this wonderful film – come in quickly. Rest easy knowing that the film itself was not cut or edited in any way. Thank you for your comment. We hope you stay tuned for more GREAT PERFORMANCES on PBS.

  • M Preston

    I’ve just emailed zipporah to request a DVD release of this excellent documentary (thanks Cheryl McQueen for the earlier post with their email address). I really wish I’d taped it, but didn’t catch it until 3AM on the last showing day.

    Peter: I’ve noticed that several PBS shows are unceremoniously, abruptly, and jarringly cut off at the end…including Independent Lens, American Experience, Frontline, and NOVA. It reminds me of how I once heard a DJ on the local PBS radio station say that in Dresden it’s not uncommon to encounter 10 minutes of silence after a symphony performance…he claimed that it took them that long to emerge from the ecstatic trance (my words) the music created. I guess PBS television has no such ambitions for its audience. Granted, a TV documentary of Jim Morrison ain’t exactly Beethoven’s 9th at the opera house, but the experience is still a bit like a punch in the stomach at the end of the show.

    PBS: Credits that thank funders, ok; MIND-BLOWING VOLUME during credits, no!

  • M Preston

    Update: The DVD is already on sale at http://www.zipporah.com.

  • Theodore Titolo

    November 7, 2010: I watched the Paris Opera Ballet broadcast, in my previous email I offered a criticism of the ballet company, not realizing I was supposed to enjoy watching an arty documentary film maker at war with his subject matter.

  • Marissa Taylor-Lee

    Thank you for this information, Cheryl. I’d been looking for a DVD of this Great Performances episode for quite some time. I’ve now ordered mine from Zipporah.

  • Michelle Crocker

    I would like to see this on TV soon. I love ballet and this looks fascinating

  • Peter

    Does anyone know what the song from 5 sec to 8 sec is? It is also the first song to play on the actual trailer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOzkWakRLmE. I have been searching for it for a month! Please help.

  • Mikki Lieberman

    La Danse has been available on Amazon for awhile now. Check my previous replies. In February,, Paquita , in it’s entire version of the earlier French act one and Petipa’s newer act 2 was released by the Paris Opera ballet. It is the first and only time this wonderful ballet has ever been released in one complete ballet. I believe , and it is only my opinion, that Mr. Wiseman held back the dancer’ names ( Agnes Letestu and Jose Martinez) and the ballet itself deliberately until it was released.

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