Donya Feuer's THE DANCER looks at the life of a teenage dancer in a Swedish ballet company. Compared to Frederick Wiseman's BALLET, Feuer's documentary is both romantic and dull. More surprisingly, the film does not even provide adequate coverage of the dancing itself.
Like BALLET, THE DANCER observes the backstage story of a season with a ballet company. Whereas Wiseman chose the American Ballet Theater (ABT), Feuer selects the National Ballet of Clint Farha in Sweden. Feuer focuses on the rehearsals and performances of one particular dancer--young, beautiful
Katja Bjorner--tracing her relationships with, inter alia, an older female dancer in the group, Anneli Alhanko; an elderly admirer who watches her during rehearsals (played by Erland Josephson); and the various ballet masters, especially Valentina Savina, her most devoted teacher. Bjorner is seen
performing in such classics as Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, and Sleeping Beauty; she also has ample opportunity to express her thoughts and feelings. The film ends with Bjorner's triumphant work with her company in Swan Lake.
THE DANCER covers the same territory as Wiseman's BALLET (also released in 1995) in half the running time, but fails in almost every way to enlighten and entertain. If BALLET cleverly deconstructed the high-art form of the ballet, THE DANCER heavy-handedly reconstructs it. BALLET featured
Wiseman's customary fly-on-the-wall observations, recording the ABT's daily operation from rehearsals to auditions to performances to sales negotiations to after-hours nightclubbing. THE DANCER stays clear of everything but the dancer's performance, shown in the most glamorous light possible.
While BALLET observes the dancers in long takes without the mediating influences of music, voice-overs, or flashy editing, THE DANCER creates high-toned music videos in the rehearsal sequences.
Other "traditional" documentary film techniques are even more disturbing. During a lengthy sequence in which the viewer watches a ballet shoe being made, a narrator explains what a black shoemaker is doing. Thus, the only person of color in the entire film is without a voice (while other
characters always speak for themselves). Just as unpleasant is the intrusion of Erland Josephson's character. His presence is poorly explained, and he appears to be playing Humbert Humbert to Bjorner's Lolita (the camera tilts and pans so much over her body that the effect is almost pornographic).
Perhaps the worst thing about the film is that Gunnar Kallstrom's cinematography poorly captures the dancer's graceful movements, using close-ups and mid-shots when full-body long-shots would be far more appropriate. Sadly, except for a few pretty shots of Bjorner reflected in mirrors, there is
nothing here to recommend the film. If Wiseman documented tedium in BALLET, Feuer creates tedium in THE DANCER.
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: NR
- Review: Donya Feuer's THE DANCER looks at the life of a teenage dancer in a Swedish ballet company. Compared to Frederick Wiseman's BALLET, Feuer's documentary is both romantic and dull. More surprisingly, the film does not even provide adequate coverage of the da… (more)