uLet me say it straight away – this film does discuss the differences between classical academic dance on the one hand, in particular the famous narrative ballets of the nineteenth century, and contemporary dance, embodied here by the British-Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter and his signature piece ” Political Mother” from 2010, on the other hand. But the Betisen, which sometimes determine the discourse about the past, present and future of dance in this country, simply cannot be brought to France.
The dancers who work at the Paris Opera today, and among them the leading actress of “Life is a Dance”, Marion Barbeau, may stylistically love one piece of the repertoire more than the ballet of another era, but Lev Ivanov, Marius Petipa Playing off Jules Perrot and Jean Coralli aesthetically against Hofesh Shechter, Trisha Brown, William Forsythe or Pina Bausch would not occur to them. It is definitely the subject of Cédric Klapisch’s film to show how a première danseuse, a first soloist at the Paris Opera – in the film her name is Elise – seriously injures her ankle as the temple dancer Nikija in the final apotheosis of the ballet “La Bayadère” and reinvented in contemporary dance during the convalescence period. But this is also very realistic in two respects.
In the spring, the Paris Opera Ballet premiered with a full evening of choreography by Hofesh Shechter. He and his generation, which also include Sasha Waltz and Crystal Pite, do not speak in foreign language of movement for the dancers of the Paris Opera. Second, the stress to which the female foot in pointe shoes is subjected during a performance of “La Bayadère” or “Swan Lake” is disproportionately higher than in sixty minutes of contemporary choreography danced in socks – and therefore easier to cope with after an injury. Hofesh Shechter also plays himself as a very patient, calm, empathetic director of a dance company. The interaction between his dancers is also friendly and helpful. This is of course a more conducive environment than the Paris Opera Ballet, where behind every injured dancer stand three others, inwardly cheering because now they are the ones getting a shot at the role.
In fact, she can
“Life is a Dance” tells the story of Elise’s accident at the beginning. The terrible fall is preceded by backstage scenes. Elise, while preparing for her performance, watches as her boyfriend is pulled backstage and kissed by another ballerina. This upsets her so much that her nervousness about the twisted foot when landing on the last jump is certainly not innocent. This introduction creates such tension through the well-captured mood behind and on stage that one feels reminded of the thriller “Black Swan”. But that is not the direction that Klapisch then takes.
He seeks and hits the typical tone of French “c’est-l’amour, c’est-la-vie, c’est-comme-ca” films, so that one is constantly torn between smiling, because the film is sometimes really charming and funny and beautifully translates the truths of the dance into pictures, and being annoyed because it’s too nice, too expectable, too clichéd, too flat. The latter predominates.
Marion Barbeau in the leading role holds her beautiful French girl’s bare face to the camera and smiles gravely and pensively. Of course, her extremely strong and super-sensitive physiotherapist also falls in love with her. But then it is the dancer Mehdi with whom Elise dances together at Hofesh Shechter and sits by the sea and later walks hand in hand through Paris at night. Her father, emotionally withdrawn since her mother’s long-ago death, kisses her forehead and weeps in the audience when Elise makes her debut with the Shechter Company.
There is a film on the Paris Opera Ballet website in which Marion Barbeau comments on George Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco”, in which she has been appearing since 2020. It takes her a few minutes to give very clever descriptions of what it’s like to dance the balanchine, what she likes about it and also thinks it’s very timely – like the way an all-female group dances together. In reality, she can do it, which makes it all the more incomprehensible that her film character is not allowed to radiate this dancing cleverness.