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R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 05/18/2000,

Center Stage

Center Stage is a ballet fairy tale. Not the kind you see on the stage but the kind people imagine takes place backstage. The college-age aspirants get through puberty, adolescence, disillusion, and self-awareness during one winter at a prestigious ballet school. The black girl with attitude learns humility and discipline and makes a hit as a stand-in at the school recital. The girl with bulimia trades in her pushy mom for a cute boyfriend and leaves ballet forever. The one with below-par turnout decides to turn down the stodgy ballet director's job offer so she can dance with the womanizing dancer/choreographer who's starting a troupe of his own. Oh, and only one of the boy dancers is gay.

The movie was handsomely shot around New York's Lincoln Center and the depths of SoHo, where the rebels go to take (sshhh!) a jazz class. Director Nicholas Hytner gets surprisingly convincing performances out of the dancers (Amanda Schull, Zoë Saldana, Sascha Radetsky, and Ethan Stiefel are the featured ones). But whenever there's any dancing, on a stage or in a studio or a salsa club, the film reverts to prehistoric techniques: incessant cuts to new camera angles, breakaway shots onto the rapt faces of onlookers, music that doesn't accompany what you see. So the choreography of Susan Stroman, Christopher Wheeldon, George Balanchine, Kenneth MacMillan, and Kirk Peterson stumbles by in disconnected passages of virtuosity and sublimated sex.

-- Marcia B. Siegel