Company, The

Director: Robert Altman

U.S.A.-Germany| 2003. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 112 mins.

Director Robert Altman takes such an understated approach here that his film feels like a fly-on-the-wall documentary that’s providing a fresh and fascinating glimpse into the life of a ballet company. At the film’s centre is Ry (Neve Campbell), a dancer on the verge of stardom at the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. She earns enough to live in a trendy studio flat apart from the crowded flophouse where the more lowly dancers bunk. She also quietly goes about her craft, avoiding the political posturing around the smarmy artistic director (Malcolm McDowell), and after learning her lesson seeks love from a guy (James Franco) who has nothing to do with dance at all! The film traces Ry’s highs and lows through two major performances.
Without seeming to try at all, Altman captures the intricate interrelationships between the staff and dancers. This feels like improvisation, and yet it’s too finely tuned to be accidental— beautifully shot and edited, with scenes that are telling and vital without ever being pushy. There are only a handful of actors amid the actual company, and Campbell (who also produced the film and came up with the idea) fits in seamlessly, drawing on her dancing experience and making Ry a focussed loner who still has the ability to enjoy life on her own terms.
The behind-the-scenes stuff touches on the creative rehearsal process, casting, injuries, politics and romantic entanglements, but in a way that never gets cinematically manipulative. This is punctuated by performances that inventively blend stage and screen imagery. An early sequence in which Campbell and a partner perform a tender pas de deux in the park while a storm brews around them is very effective, as is the hilariously over-the-top final performance.

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