Must-See: Frederick Wiseman’s “La Danse”

Sadly, the video clips Amanda selected to accompany this post are no longer available for viewing on YouTube. But you can view the gorgeous trailer for La Danse below.


While a 158 minute-long documentary film about dance may not sound riveting, believe me, Frederick Wiseman’s La Danse had me from start to finish. The 2009 film paints a behind-the-scenes portrait of the Paris Opera Ballet as it prepares for seven ballets and gives viewers a glimpse of everything that happens backstage: from the grueling, exacting rehearsals to what’s on the menu in the ballet’s dining hall.

Although there are tutus and pink slippers a-plenty in this film, my absolute favorite part was watching the rehearsals for choreographer Wayne McGregor’s Genus, an avant-garde ballet that was inspired by Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species. The film allows us to see the production in rehearsal and then we see get to the final product. Although I have only seen several minutes of this ballet, I’m absolutely obsessed: the costuming reminds me of moth wings or the textiles from Alexander McQueen’s spring/summer 2010 collection Plato’s Atlantis (McQueen’s collection was also inspired by On the Origins of Species), the music by Joby Talbot and Deru is eerie but beautiful, and the dance moves are downright biomorphic, bringing to mind insects, the snaky reptilian swoop of swan’s necks, and even wiggly protozoa in a petri dish.

La Danse is screening in the museum auditorium on Saturday, December 17, at 2 pm, included in exhibition admission. Don’t miss it!

Amanda Jiron-Murphy, In-Gallery Interpretation and Public Programs Coordinator

Degas’s Dancers in Detail

The exhibition catalogue for Degas's Dancers at the Barre: Point and Counterpoint published by The Phillips Collection

In the Degas’s Dancers at the Barre: Point and Counterpoint exhibition catalogue, Phillips Chief Curator Eliza Rathbone details Degas’s intricate process behind his late masterpiece:

“Having begun by observing the dancer from the outside, he ends his life’s work internalizing his chosen vehicle of expression to such a point that it becomes the bearer of his own physical and psychological being. In Dancers at the Barre, Degas, the old master and old man, distorts and exaggerates his subject, attenuating their limbs and twisting their bodies into an extreme expression of rigor and dedication of the discipline that made their art a perfect metaphor for his own.”

The catalogue also presents Head of Conservation Elizabeth Steele’s fascinating discoveries from the painting’s recent conservation. National Gallery of Art object conservators Shelley Sturman and Daphne Barbour discuss Degas’s sculptures, and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon reflects on Degas in the context of ballet today.

Full-color reproductions of all 30 works in the exhibition are accompanied by images of related works, notes from the technical analysis of additional works by Degas in the Phillips Collection, and a detailed chronology of the artist’s life. Read all about the impressionist master’s complex exploration of the figure and devotion to dance.

For the ballet lover on your list, a special “Degas Holiday Package” including a pair of tickets to the exhibition and one copy of the catalogue (hardcover, 148 pages) to take home is now available for a special rate of $60 ($54 for Phillips members) online and at the Phillips admissions desk.