Frederick Wiseman on La Danse: Le Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris

June 28, 2012
Frederick Wiseman. Photo courtesy of Zipporah Films.

Inside Thirteen recently spoke with master documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman about La Danse: Le Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris, a captivating look behind the scenes of one of the world’s greatest ballet companies. Here, Wiseman discusses the Paris Opera Ballet’s contributions to ballet, differences between American and European ballet, and subjects that inspire him as a filmmaker.

La Danse: Le Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris airs Sunday, July 1 at 12:30 p.m. on THIRTEEN and 3:30 p.m. on WLIW21 as part of Great Performances. For more information on films by Frederick Wiseman, visit Zipporah Films.

Enter our giveaway for a chance to win tickets to an upcoming performance by the Paris Opera Ballet at Lincoln Center!

Mr. Wiseman answered our questions via email.

Inside Thirteen: Why did you choose to make a film about the Paris Opera Ballet?

Frederick Wiseman: I love the ballet. The Paris Opera Ballet is one of the great dance companies of the world and it was a great pleasure to have the opportunity to work with them.

In this excerpt from “La Danse: Le Ballet de l’Opera de Paris,” witness a meeting between Director of Dance, Brigitte Lefevre, and choreographer Emanuel Gat as they discuss casting for a piece by Mats Ek.

IT: As the oldest national ballet company in the world, what impact has the Paris Opera Ballet had on ballet internationally? Are there any influences or traditions that can be directly tied to the company?

FW: The French all but invented ballet and the POB has always been a source and inspiration for dance worldwide.  The Russian and Danish traditions, for example, were both based on the French school: without the French we would not have La Sylphide, Giselle, Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty.  For a more complete answer to this question please read Jennifer Homan’s history of ballet, Appollo’s Angels.

IT: After your experience with the Paris Opera Ballet and previously with the American Ballet Theatre for Ballet, do any significant differences stand out to you between ballet in America and ballet in Europe, either in the rehearsal/production process, or the technique itself?

FW: The rehearsal process was quite similar. The major difference is that the Paris Opera Ballet has always received a large annual subsidy from the state while the American Ballet Theatre needs to constantly solicit funds. They are never sure of their annual budget, which is a major obstacle to long term planning.

IT: Do you have a favorite ballet of the performances and rehearsals you had the chance to sit in on for La Danse?

FW: Genus, by Wayne McGregor.

Dancers Marie-Agnes Gillot and Benjamin Pech rehearse “Genus” with choreographer Wayne McGregor.

IT: Your films have covered a wide variety of subjects, from the Memphis Juvenile Court to a boxing gym in Texas. What attracts you to topics for your films, and are there any that you find yourself particularly drawn to?

FW: I am trying to do a series of films about contemporary life as it finds expression in the necessary institutions in our society. I am attracted to subjects that are complex and where the complexity can be expressed in a film form.

For more performing arts content and events in New York City, visit NYC-ARTS.