Visionary filmmaker Robert Altman loves to take vibrant subjects and splash them on a transparent canvas -- allowing viewers to see both the beauty and flaws in the work. His vision of The Company is perhaps one of his most intimate and rewarding unveilings.
Altman goes the extra mile here to make the audience understand that dancers such as those in the Joffrey Ballet, who soar so effortlessly across a stage while blending harmoniously with the music and contorting in jumps and turns as easily as newborns, are still humans who love, hate, get jealous and, as true artisans, will do anything for their craft.
"Dancers do the impossible," said Altman. "And yet we all want to be them. They are that beautiful, that vulnerable and that expressive … the essence of what we mean by ethereal."
Neve Campbell is absolutely wonderful as Ry, a dancer in the Chicago Joffrey Ballet who is about to get her big chance to become a principal performer. But Ry has hurdles to overcome. She's just broken up with her boyfriend and dance partner in the ballet, and life with the Joffrey Ballet does not pay the bills. She faces long hours working as a barmaid before going home to soak her bloody toes in a hot bath.
When Ry and new boyfriend, Josh (James Franco), become an item, they present an interesting paradox. She can't cook; he's a chef in a fine restaurant. Yet he lends a sweet calmness to her disordered life. When he creates a grand meal at her apartment, only to have her arrive hours late, she finds him asleep on the sofa and happily joins him there.
The romance, however, serves only as a backdrop to the story of the ballet, a career Neve Campbell herself once pursued. She studied at Canada's National Ballet School before becoming an actress. Campbell got together with screenwriter Barbara Turner to write the script and became a producer on the film.
The Joffrey Ballet dancers in the film are from the real company, and Campbell, the only professional actress in the film dancing with this prestigious group, does an amazing job.
"In everyway, Neve Campbell epitomized the Joffrey dancer. She was very focused on her work and immersed herself in the daily life of a Joffrey dancer," said Charthel Arthur, Joffrey's Ballet Mistress.
Adam Sklute, Joffrey's Ballet Master, added, "As a dancer in the film, Neve Campbell's main objective was to do everything exactly as a Joffrey dancer, and she succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. She worked harder than anyone I know to strengthen her technique and to acquire the Joffrey style of movement. Neve asked for no special treatment and, in a word, was a joy to work with."
The multi-talented Malcolm McDowell plays the school's artistic director Alberto Antonelli, based on Gerald Arpino, Joffrey's legendary director and choreographer. Alberto is the beat to the dancers' drum, the path to their flight. And, as shown in the scene where one dancer's Achilles tendon snaps, he's also an unsympathetic realist. While the poor woman, who will probably never dance again, is carried off stage, Alberto quickly summons the next girl in line for the part. After all, the show must go on.
The Company's production work and dance scenes are seductive. Altman manages to communicate an absorbing authenticity about the dancers' lives while layering the film with the richness of dance itself. At his direction, the camera catches the fluid, sexy movements of the dancers, reminding the audience that all the production work in the world cannot exceed the beauty of the human body in movement.
The Company is the kind of movie that invites you to sit back and truly enjoy the beauty of the journey.
(Released by Sony Classic Pictures and rated "PG-13" for brief strong language, some nudity and sexual content.)