What happens when you give male filmmakers access to a ballet company? Within the first two minutes you’re likely to see bare tit, and The Company, Robert Altman’s new quasi-doc, falls right into this cliché. Altman excels at capturing the particular atmosphere—and especially the soundscape—of the communities he films, but he’s defeated here by the fact that these dancers, and their teachers, don’t have much to say. They’re beautiful, moody, petulant, and dull. And like most fictional dance films, The Company has no respect for choreography, cutting away from the dancing whenever it can. Not that it matters; the hideous ballet by Robert Desrosiers that occupies the latter half of the movie barely survives the attention it gets.
Though the ballet troupe—Chicago’s Joffrey—is real, its fictional director is played by actor Malcolm McDowell as a benevolent despot. Neve Campbell’s corps dancer is elevated to ballerina status in the classic way—through injury to another dancer—but keeps working as a cocktail waitress. That unrealistic circumstance—at upper levels in big companies, dancers don’t need grunt jobs—drives the romantic plot but undercuts the authenticity of the movie. The Company hovers between mockumentary and weepy chick-flick. For a real dance doc see Frederick Wiseman’s 1995 Ballet, 170 minutes of high drama, tantrum-throwing, and sublime technique. And for a good story set in the ballet world—hey, no one’s done that really well since Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 The Red Shoes.
Michael Atkinson’s review of The Company