Starring: Amanda Schull, Zoe Saldana
Director: Nicholas Hytner
SONG and dance films were the mainstays of the Hollywood studios for decades.
In recent years, the mimed song is the only contemporary reference to this musical legacy while the dance film is rarely attempted. Fame and A Chorus Line were the last successful modern dance films. The Turning Point in 1977 was the most recent classical ballet box office success.
Centre Stage follows the fortunes of four students at the American Ballet School in New York. Jody (Amanda Schull) is a borderline entry who seems destined for failure until she falls in love with Cooper (Ethan Stiefel). Cooper is the star of the school, but has fallen in love with the wife of the school’s director, Jonathon (Peter Gallagher). Eva (Zoe Saldana) has flawless technique and an abrasive attitude. Charlie (Sascha Radetsky) is a fine dancer and a good guy in love with Jody. Jim (Eion Bailey) looks destined for big things until he, literarily, breaks a leg.
Unlike The Turning Point where Ann Bancroft and Shirley McLaine brought a fine script to life with superb performances, the plot and the acting are not selling points for Centre Stage. For while the film has some good lessons about discipline, self-esteem, body image, bulimia and the power of an image over all the words in the world, its dramatic plot is utterly predictable.
Nicholas Hytner has a strong background directing music, theatre and drama. His first major film was The Madness of King George III. What a pity he did not have more interesting material with which to work in this film. That said, Centre Stage is worth seeing for other reasons.
Australian cinematographer, Geoffrey Simpson, captures the mood of the piece very well and gives us some wonderful pictures. Distinguished editor Tariq Anwar’s work is first rate.
Like The Turning Point, the ballet sequences are mesmerising. Mikhail Baryshnikov became a household name after his performance in that film and the young principal dancers in this one deserve similar notoriety. All of the energy of the film is in the dancing and unlike a live performance, every lift, leap and pirouette is filmed until it is perfect.
It is just as well then that director Nicholas Hytner gives us more than 20 minutes of ballet, for it saves the film.
Fr Richard Leonard SJ is director of the Australian Catholic Film Office and writes each week for The Catholic Leader.