The documentary La Danse opens not with ballerinas but with a series of static shots of the innards of the building in which they rehearse and perform: coiled wires, cracked plaster, sturdy columns. Eventually Frederick Wiseman’s camera moves on, intermittently, to the dancers, but the same coolly observational aesthetic remains as the film cuts about the Palais Garnier. It’s as though an alien has floated down to study the Paris Opera Ballet, indiscriminately taking in everything from the dancers, choreographers, and artistic director to the costume makers, cafeteria cashiers, fundraisers, maintenance workers, and even the beekeeper (?) who manages the hives (?) on the roof.
As bizarre and unexpected as the beekeeping sequence is, it does seem to suggest Wiseman’s outlook on his subject: that it is abuzz with disparate activity that nonetheless builds toward a single goal. That’s a romantic notion rendered with paradoxical dispassion—and I don’t find it particularly convincing, if that’s even what the directed intended. Regardless, the effect is both mesmerizing and frustrating.