Frederick Wisemans magnificent La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet offers a portrait of suppleness and agilitynot just that of the dancers bodies but also of the august institution of the title. Like all of his documentaries, La Danse forgoes voiceover and identifying intertitles, allowing for spectators full immersion into the action within the walls of the Palais Garnier, the 19th-century, neo-Baroque opera house where the company rehearses and performs, while also demanding that we pay closer attention, with none of nonfiction films usual cues to guide us. Roughly two-thirds of La Danse is devoted to rehearsal and performance, shot in deeply satisfying long takes of gorgeous young men and women starting, stopping, listening, questioning, repeating, perfecting. The rest is behind the scenes, and as Wiseman shows empty corridors, the cafeteria, sewing rooms, and the nightly clean-up of the 2,200-seat theater, the stealth star of La Danse emerges: Brigitte Lefèvre, the companys composed, elegant artistic director. Shown in a meeting discussing the finer distinctions between benefactors and big benefactors, Lefèvre nimbly tackles the potential messinessbut absolute necessityof crass commerce fueling high art. When not administrating, Lefèvre seems happiest as a maternal martinet, reminding one new student, To do is the most important."
Jan. 8-21, 6:30 p.m.; Jan. 16-17, 3 p.m.; Jan. 22-28, 8:20 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 23, 3:15 p.m.; Jan. 29-30, 6 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 30, 2:45 p.m.; Feb. 1-3, 6 p.m., 2010