Real dancers fill most of the roles in Robert Altman's ensemble drama about day-to-day life in a Chicago troupe closely modeled on the world-renowned Joffrey Ballet. Ambitious newcomer Ry (Neve Campbell, who studied at the National Ballet of Canada's school until injuries sidelined her as a teenager) is devastated to realize she's the last to know her boyfriend has been cheating with fellow dancer Noel (Emily Patterson). But as luck would have it, Ry is chosen (by real-life choreographer Lar Lubovitch, playing himself) to replace the injured Noel in a new pas de deux that could be her professional breakthrough. Guest choreographer Robert Desrosiers, also as himself, begins creating Blue Snake, an elaborate theater-dance piece and company director Alberto Antonelli (Malcolm McDowell) juggles fund-raising to pay for the extravaganza, scheduling the season's other productions and rehearsing his dancers, whom he alternately coddles and bullies. Ry, meanwhile, waits tables to supplement her salary and meets a new boyfriend, aspiring chef Josh (James Franco). Over the course of nearly two hours, Barbara Turner's script, developed from a story by Campbell and incorporating improvisation by the Joffrey dancers, weaves together the petty conflicts, small triumphs and heartbreaking defeats that define dancers' lives. A young corps member is replaced mid-rehearsal, family turmoil forces an apprentice to camp out on a colleague's floor, a senior ballerina (Deborah Dawn) resists changing steps in a piece she's performed for years and later snaps her Achilles tendon during rehearsal. Dramatic scenes are interspersed with substantial excerpts from the Joffrey's repertory, leading up to Blue Snake's triumphant world premiere. The polar opposite of the fiercely artificial and much-loved THE RED SHOES (1948), this documentary-style film demystifies the world of ballet while paying loving homage to the dedication and discipline of dancers. Altman painstakingly coaxes convincing performances from the dancers, and Campbell's dance sequences are carefully staged to emphasize what she can do physically and bypass what she can't there's no conspicuous cutting away to extreme long shots or stunt feet. Though the ballets themselves are beautifully shot, they lean heavily in the direction of gimmicky and prop-heavy pieces; they're visually interesting but, by and large, they're not great dance. And the supremely tacky Blue Snake (created in 1985 and set to new music for the film) is a particularly bad choice for the climax: The dancers who we've seen working so hard to train and refine their bodies wind up hidden under costumes that make them look like bulbous sea anemones and colorful floor mops.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Real dancers fill most of the roles in Robert Altman's ensemble drama about day-to-day life in a Chicago troupe closely modeled on the world-renowned Joffrey Ballet. Ambitious newcomer Ry (Neve Campbell, who studied at the National Ballet of Canada's schoo… (more)