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Straight To Hell Returns

Post-Repo Man cult favorite returns with improved special effects —John Adams (review...)

Alex Cox returns... Straight to Hell

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The Company presents a year with Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet. Although the movie is a work of fiction, most of the actors in the movie are actual Joffrey dancers. There is no plot, only the passage of time. Like many of director Robert Altman’s films, The Company has a large ensemble cast, but there is no character development. The movie simply concentrates on the dancers off and on the stage.

Leading Lady

Altman's plotless ballet movie shows the life of a dancer
Altman’s plotless ballet movie shows the life of a dancer

Neve Campbell (who came up with the story idea, executive-produced the movie and does all her own dancing) plays Ry, the central character. When a more experienced dancer is injured, Ry gets a chance at a larger role. Her most dramatic moment is in a pas de deux performed outdoors during a thunderstorm.

We never learn much about her. An early scene hints at a breakup with another dancer. A new romance with a young chef (James Franco) blooms. Despite dancing for one of the top ballet companies in the country, Ry still has to work as a cocktail waitress to make ends meet.

Corps de Ballet

But Ry’s story is just one small part of the movie. The Company gives us many bits and pieces of backstage life at the Joffrey. There’s the senior ballerina, who insists on doing things her way. There’s the company’s director, Mr. A (Malcolm McDowell), whose life consists of rushing between meetings and rehearsals. There’s the simple landing from a jump that turns into a severe injury.

Many themes come up that could have been turned into a plot in a more traditional movie — the behind-the-scenes politics, the constant struggles over finances, the affect of AIDS on the dance world. Instead, the movie focuses on the dance.

The Dance Is the Thing

Like most dances, The Company follows a pattern with variations woven in. There are snatches of the dancers’ offstage lives, rehearsals and planning, followed by lengthy sequences of the Joffrey’s seasonal stage performances. A traditional dance movie would simply end on the big finale, but in the world of the Joffrey, once the big show is over and the party has been thrown, it’s time for the company to start all over again.

Some viewers may be frustrated or bored by the lack of a plot. The threads of the characters’ stories never get wrapped up. The neatness of the movie lies in its structure. The contemporary ballet of the Joffrey is beautiful to watch, but unlike the tightly-choreographed dances, the characters’ lives remain messy and unfinished. In the end, they can only hope to be able to go on dancing.