THE FIRST HOUR or so of La Danse is completely enthralling. There's no storyline, no narration, no attempt to introduce interesting characters or explain any backstories—just a curious lens observing the Paris Opera Ballet as the company prepares a handful of new shows. The dancers dance; choreographers observe, give notes, demand a rounder arm, a heavier landing, and the dancers make minute adjustments that reveal the totality of their training and their art. The institution as a whole is considered: The company's artistic director schemes to woo American donors; the dancers worry about their pensions, about getting too old to dance. It's fascinating, and beautiful, and dancers really do have the best legwear, don't they?
But then the film hits the hour-and-a-half mark, and then two, and that's right around the time a non-narrative dance film should wrap up, yeah? No. La Danse finally clocks in at just under three hours, with a culmination of sorts in a blood-splattered Medea slaughtering her children.
With footage as intimate and revealing and beautiful as this, it's understandable that director Frederick Wiseman had a hard time letting go of his material. But ultimately, there's just too much of it.