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Film Review, 7-24: Altman Introduces "The Company"
A Valentine to Dance
by Susan Yung
Copyright 2003 Susan Yung
NEW YORK -- "The
Company," a film directed by Robert Altman, is produced by
actress Neve Campbell, among others. She is also credited with Barbara
Turner on the story. Campbell stars as Ry, a member of the Joffrey
Ballet of Chicago, whose company members also appear in the film.
James Franco plays Josh, Ry's love interest, a sous-chef who works
as hard as she does (she moonlights as a waitress in a goth nightclub),
and who shows his affection by cooking her meals. The film could've
been an embarrassing vanity project for Campbell, who dances her
own scenes surprisingly well. Between the parts chosen for her to
dance and the editing, she'll be plausible to the untrained eye.
(She has studied since the age of six and trained intensely for
a couple of years.) "The Company," a well-made glimpse
at a life in dance, may enlighten some about a rather exotic existence.
For others familiar with such a lifestyle, if it doesn't shed light
on anything revelatory, it at least lovingly immortalizes some beautiful
Campbell performs "My
Funny Valentine," a charming duet by Lar Lubovitch choreographed
for ABT; different renditions of the Richard Rodgers song run throughout
the film, underscoring Campbell's scrunch-nosed charm. We see intriguing
performance shots from all angles and distances. The numerous close-ups
show the intensity of performing, yet they also make apparent how
artificial it all is. Unfortunately, the work chosen as the finale
-- "Blue Snake," choreographed by Robert Desrosiers in
1985 for the National Ballet of Canada and commissioned by then-director
Erik Bruhn -- could easily be mistaken for a spoof on Cirque du
Soleil, complete with outlandish costumes and a smoke-spewing, grunting
Olmec monster that consumes dancers. The viewers who actually find
artistic merit in "Blue Snake" will probably not have
much familiarity with the Joffrey, which is lucky for the company
-- the number of dance fans it wins will probably lose out to those
flaunts Andrew Dunn's breathtaking cinematography, indulging in
lengthy pure dance scenes of Joffrey repertory. Altman leaves in
sounds of footfalls, including the satisfying chunky thuds of toe
shoes on the stage. A scene revolving around a holiday party "talent
show" not only gives us a sense of involvement by satirizing scenes
and characters we've just seen, but it pokes fun at the theatricality
of dance while reminding us of how precious the real thing can be.
The film treats the
frugal lifestyle of some of the dancers, a bunch of whom sleep flop-house
style in one generous dancer's living room. (In contrast, Campbell's
small apartment has a spa-like bathroom where she takes candle-lit
soaks.) We also witness the hard work of rehearsals, the ruthless
competition for roles, and the complex intertwinings of the company
members' relationships. Malcolm McDowell plays Alberto Antonelli,
the company's artistic director ("Mr. A, " based on Gerald Arpino)
whose omnipotence veers from paternal to tyrannical and who fondly
calls everyone "babies." His performance raises the quality of this
film immeasurably. Ultimately, the show must go on in the face of
financial hardship, injuries, even inclement weather. Performance
is a allegory for life, which we continue to live despite what it
throws at us. "The Company" is is slated for a December
release by Sony Pictures Classics.
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