The Company (2003)

company-2I’ll admit, I approached “The Company” with a closed mind, I mean how interesting could it be to be a professional ballet dancer after all? When I was finished with this, I thought to myself “Boy, was I wrong!”. I mean, I’m a guy, I’ve never seen a ballet, I’ve never met a true ballet dancer, and ballet doesn’t appeal to me, so with Robert Altman’s newest docu-drama, I was hesitant and immensely scared that I was in for a two hour snooze fest, but I was proven wrong. If anything “The Company” shows how surprisingly physically demanding being a ballet dancer can be. Though it’s a pre-requisite with those who enter in to this world, it’s ballsy for the makers here to give the movie going audience a glance in to the world of ballet dancing.

It’s physically demanding, its psychologically stressful, and it’s very dangerous, but they do it anyway. Because that’s passion. “The Company” is a clever and simple but utterly engrossing look in to this deep and powerful world that is both drama–with characters that become romantically entangled, and have over bearing parents–and documentary that shows how these performances are created, how the sets are built, and how these dancers prepare for their performances relentlessly pushing themselves beyond their own limits just to perform. Star Neve Campbell, an accomplished ballerina, personally spearheaded the production and inevitably was lucky enough to get Robert Altman to direct who also became involved largely in the production.

It’s such a fascinating film that shows how these people learn these routines and grow  together as a company of performers (In this case, the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago), and it’s handled with such grace, and class by Altman who never aspires to make this film anything that it’s not. It’s not glorified, it’s never exaggerated, and it never attempts melodrama. For example Campbell’s character Ry gets in to a romance with a man named Josh who she meets at a bar one night. I was on edge throughout the remainder of the film because I was sure the writer would attempt a love triangle, or cheap obstacle between them, but there’s never anything like that, which only made me like it more. They never hog the spotlight, and it never becomes a center stage plot, just one situation in a group of many others with situations.

Josh ends up becoming a sort of kindred spirit to her revealing himself as a chef who also suffers for his art and passion. Franco’s performance is very subdued and entertaining and he and Campbell have much chemistry together, but the true drama is within the in-depth peeks in to the ballet world watching these people practice, and put themselves in these conjoined positions for the sake of the performance. In one fantastic scene they have to perform on  stage outside during a thunder storm which may prove dangerous with all the electronics and the metal stage they’re standing on, but they perform beyond the elements and the thunderstorm ends up as a dramatic device in the performance. But bear in mind, though it does involve the ballet world, there is never anything that alienates its audience from the world that we’re watching.

It never keeps us out looking in, it tells us “These are athletes, these are dancers, they are struggling and pushing themselves all for the passion of their art form” and the message gets through loud and clear. And you learn that ballet is physically demanding. You laugh, but there’s a shockingly gruesome ankle breaking scene you just have to see for yourself that comes out of nowhere. In spite of all its chances to completely be botched writer Hudson and director Altman insist on and succeed in making this an intimate and utterly engrossing film about the world of dance. In spite of my reservations being weary of anything involving ballet, I was proven wrong, and humbled by the immense class and respect that was put in to this production. Altman’s direction is top-notch, the acting is superb, and “The Company” ends as a film about the dance world that really reaches out to everyone.