The Company Review

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Aspiring ballerina Ry's (Campbell) progress with the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago and her relationship with chef Josh (Franco) are threaded through a tapestry of life in a dance company, which contrasts ethereal performances on stage with the hardships, sweat, rivalries and everyday complications dancers experience off-stage.


Yes, it's the backstage musical in ballet shoes, complete with hopeful ingenue who goes out a youngster and comes back a star.

The first thing to be said about The Company - particularly to those of us who ordinarily don't stampede into twinkling toe situations - is that the venerable Altman's distinctive eye remains undimmed. The sensationally shot dance sequences are exhilarating. The Joffrey's Chicago company perform a repertoire of inventive, emotive and colourful modern ballets (one of them, The Blue Snake, gobsmackingly daft); Altman fills the screen with stunning movement and striking configurations, weaving through the Terpsichorean troupe with the pizzazz of Tarantino staging a massacre.

The second thing to be said is that this is a celebration of dance and dancers in search of a plot. There really isn't one. Neve Campbell, who produced and is credited with the story - what there is of it - evidently propelled this project to realise her early dream of being a ballerina. Clearly sheÝs worked long and hard to meet the balletic requirements and approximate the very specific look of a Joffrey dancer. But her character - your basic poor little rich girl who lives to dance - just isn't interesting.

Around her, characters with anticipated subplot potential merely slip in and out, from McDowell's delicious artistic director to a weird, homeless kid who creeps around the dressing room (we're never sure if he is a member of the company or not). You expect him to pop back up doing something climactically horrible or astonishing, but he never does.

Dramatic disappointment aside, there is a feel for the unglamorous, demanding lives of the real dancers, and incredible tension is created during a performance in the park as absorbed dancers, musicians and audience soldier on through a downpour and high winds. The music also deserves a mention, particularly the witty and affecting use of Rodgers and Hart's My Funny Valentine in richly diverse renditions by the likes of Elvis Costello, Chet Baker and the Kronos Quartet.

Not everyone's cup of tea, this is closer to the Altman of Pret-A-Porter than the Altman of Gosford Park, and more a series of sketches than a conventional narrative. The dancing and the dancers' reality are what engage, leaving you wishing Altman had been able to bypass the actress/producer who wants-to-be-a-ballerina and just make a documentary.