Robert Altman’s “The Company”

Five years after the release of Robert Altman’s “The Company”, a film based on life in the Joffrey Ballet, I finally got around to seeing it. The movie is heavy on the dance scenes – mostly excerpts from ballets in the Joffrey repertoire (as opposed to pieces created specifically for the film), and very light on the plot. In fact, the movie really doesn’t have any plot at all. It gives the audience fleeting glimpses of the professional and personal: dancers struggling through a rehearsal, the artistic director and choreographers in a tense meeting, dancers hanging out at a bowling alley, and most of all, dancers performing on stage. With the exception of Neve Campbell, James Franco, and Malcolm McDowell, the rest of the cast consists of Joffrey dancers, along with Lar Lubovitch (whose excellent 40th-anniversary season came to a close last night at City Center) playing himself.

Considering the lack of character development and dialogue, it was difficult to form an opinion about any of the characters. However, I saw glimpses of the following: a diva artistic director (the most visible character in the film), an aging dancer who peaked years ago, a humiliated apprentice who’s a step or two behind the others, a nagging ballet mom, and a choreographer whose deep explanation of his new ballet is laughable. According to the DVD synopsis, Neve Campbell’s character is a “gifted by conflicted” dancer, but what exactly is at the heart of her conflict? We never find out. And the outcome of her sometimes-rocky romance with a chef (played by James Franco) who clearly feels like an outsider when hanging out with the dancers? It’s never revealed. In addition, a few inaccuracies stood out in terms of how a company is run: it looked like the company had at least six different performance seasons in Chicago over the course of a few weeks, which is highly unlikely. And since when does the artistic director, played by McDowell, rant about budget limitations when talking to a guest choreographer? It’s far more likely that he would have gone to the executive director or the director of development and said, “We need X amount of money to produce what this particular choreographer wants to do. Find a way to raise that amount.”

I can understand why “The Company” doesn’t have the fan base of the fantastically cheesy-but-lovable “Center Stage”. It’s much more like a documentary than a feature film, and the dancing is more authentic and “serious” than the fun scenes in “Center Stage”. Setting aside the film’s weaknesses (including the final performance, which included some heinous animal costumes that looked like something out of a performance one would see at Universal Studios), the majority of the dance scenes and cinematography were superb. For this alone, it’s worth seeing, and I’m glad I saw it. The above clip is from the opening of the film.

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3 Responses to Robert Altman’s “The Company”

  1. Nichelle says:

    Thanks for the review of this movie! Despite the lack of plot, I found it quite refreshing when compared to the formulaic plots of many movies in the “dance” genre. The weaving together of on-stage and off-stage scenes of the every-dancer’s life, was an interesting way to market and/or introduce the repertory of a dance company to an audience that is perhaps outside the typical theatre/PBS crowd. The few known actors like Neve and James Franco have the ability to draw in and expose those who have seen little concert dance. The Company is not everyone’s type of movie. I’m sure the meandering, low-key atmosphere of the film frustrates some viewers used to over-stated and flashy dance movies but, the images and dancing/choreography (which are the true star of this film) leave lasting impressions, I think, of what dance and dancing are really about. It won’t rank highest in popularity among the general public or even student dancers, but I feel it could be particularly horizon-broadening for these groups.

  2. Nichelle says:

    Oh, and I wanted to add how much I love My Funny Valentine and its repeated appearance throughout the film!

  3. Katie Glasner says:

    Herb Ross’ 1977 The Turning Point is a classic, beating out both “The Company” and “Center Stage”. Anne Bancroft and Shirley McLaine are wonderfully crafted characters, early Baryshnikov is delicious and you can’t get better than seeing Mme Danilova and the “old” ABT studios (where the fabulously exclusive Fifteen Central Park West now sits).

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