(photo taken from here)

Since seeing Frederick Wiseman’s excellent film La Danse a couple days ago — a documentary about the Paris Opera Ballet — I have not been able to get the fascinating etoile (star, highest level of dancer over there), Laetitia Pujol, out of my mind. The film is basically a series of rehearsals with some actual performance footage thrown in, and, unbelievably, it’s absolutely mesmerizing. If anyone’d described it that way to me beforehand — a bunch of rehearsal footage — I would’ve thought I’d be bored out of my mind, but it’s so incredibly interesting watching these dancers rehearse with top choreographers like Wayne McGregor and Angelin Preljocaj and Mats Ek. And the performances — omg – -that company does everything from the aforementioned contemporary choreographers, to Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater, to Petipa to Balanchine. Parisians are so damn lucky! We get either Petipa or Balanchine over here… not at all fair…

Anyway, Pujol blew me completely away. I’d never seen her dance before and somewhere in the middle of the film she’s rehearsing and she does the most mind-blowing series of turns all over the damn room. I’ve spent the past couple hours searching YouTube and, yay, finally found what she was doing! It’s Etudes, here:

For some reason, the spins looked a slight bit faster in the film, but you get the idea.
Here are a couple of others of Pujol:
The first, Le Baiser, which I love,

And Giselle, with Nicolas Le Riche:

One odd thing about the movie is that it’s a documentary, but there are no captions, so you have to try to guess who all the choreographers and dancers are. There are credits at the end, but you can’t possibly figure out who is who at that point, when there are all these names filling up the screen. At first I thought this was kind of a discredit to the artists not to list their names and titles or bios when they are shown in the film, but then I thought, well, it would kind of interrupt the flow of the action; this made it seem more like a narrative film, like one of those narrative films that’s shot with a handheld camera or the like to make you think you’re eavesdropping on someone’s actual life — which, it turns out, you are! Interesting filming device…

The real-life rehearsals do have their moments of (probably unintentional) humor, such as when one of the choreographers is describing to a young dancer learning the role of Medea that she’s portraying a god, a person whose intense, other-worldly powers make loving fraught with danger, and she says “Oh, like Edward Scissorhands.” At times, though, people laughed at seemingly odd things, like when a young dancer new to the company tells the director she longs to dance like Pujol and the director tells her, “Well, she has her own personal intelligence.” People in the audience seemed to think that was funny, but clearly, Pujol does have “her own personal intelligence”; dancing isn’t just about excellence of technique, it’s about using your brain. And these dancers are so fascinating because they’re so clever, they’re such powerful performers.

Go see this movie if you at all can. In NY, it’s at Film Forum.


  1. ““Well, she has her own personal intelligence.””

    Hm, I like this – mostly because it encourages people to strive to dance like themselves, not like someone else. I think Hee Seo mentioned something like this in her road to transforming into the dancer that she is now. It's about finding your own voice, or “making it your own” in the words of Paula Abdul.

    Sounds interesting. I love watching rehearsals.

  2. Tonya,

    Thanks for posting this. Exquisite is the only word that comes to mind. I'll try to atch the film.

  3. she's the most artistic etoile right now!!!
    great artist and person
    your blog is nice

  4. she's the most artistic etoile right now!!!
    great artist and person
    your blog is nice

  5. I recorded “La Danse” on my DVR, and I have been watching it over and over for the last couple of months. I didn’t know much about ballet before seeing this film, but I am hooked! I love watching Laetitia Pujol! I think the “series of turns” that you refer to is from “The Nutcracker.” She’s rehearsing the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and at the end of the dance is a roundabout, where she does the turns all over the room. (The instructor watching her and commenting on her dancing actually refers to it when he says “your roundabout was really good.”) A bit later in the film, another dancer does a spectacular series of pirouettes. The dancer is Marie-Agnès Gillot, and she’s dancing her pirouettes in a scene from the ballet “Paquita.” Another favorite of mine is Agnès Letestu, who is shown in several scenes rehearsing “Paquita” with her partner Hervé Moreau. These dancers are not directly identified in the film, but sometimes they’re called by name, and by looking at the production credits for the film on the Great Performances Web site, I was able to start figuring out who these people are.

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