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A Review of "Center Stage"

by Robert Abrams
November 26, 2000
New York, NY




A Review of "Center Stage"


Robert Abrams


11/26/2000





"Center Stage" presents a glimpse of ballet dancers in training. The film is built around the same premise as "Collusion", an autobiography by Evan Zimroth. The premise holds that only a select few of those in training for ballet can ever succeed in ballet. It is not simply that there are fewer jobs than there are students. Any ABD trying to finish her dissertation while surveying the university job market can understand that. The problem is that the premise also holds that most of the ballet students will fail at that which they study.

In regards to ballet I am an outsider, so I am willing to be proved wrong.

NASA's space shuttles consist of a small craft which is launched into orbit by large tanks of hydrogen and other fuel. The hydrogen is expended in the effort to get a select few into space. It can be argued that ballet training is much like a space launch: many students are expended in the effort to find and train those few who will make ballet their career.

The problem is not that only a few can be the very best. Rather, the problem is one of educational ethics. An educator, no matter his discipline, has an affirmative obligation to each student. Leading a student on just because she is willing to pay tuition year after year does not fulfill this obligation. At the very least, such an educator should redirect less promising students to other endeavors well before the long arrived brink.

However, while such a course would be honest, it is also disrespectful of the discipline itself. Disciplines are, fundamentally, modes of inquiry. Inquiry is the root of learning. Learning gives humanity power, both as individuals and as people.

Thus, instead of implying, as the character of the ABA Director in "Center Stage" does at the beginning of the film, that most of the students will fail as dancers, he might consider suggesting that by being the best dancer each student can be, she will gain a discipline of mind and body that will serve her well whether dance becomes her profession or not.

Just so you don't get the wrong idea, "Center Stage" is also an enjoyable romantic flick with interesting characters, unexpected plot twists, and well paced editing. It has plenty of dancing which I thought was well done and a pleasure to watch. As a final note, while all of the dancing was stage dance (except for a salsa club scene, which scores the film bonus points), the choreography owes a nod to Gene Kelly. The choreography looked like it was designed for the screen, rather than just being a recording of a stage performance. This was evidenced by set and costume changes that fit with the movement of the dance, but which could never have been pulled off in real time. Gene Kelly pioneered this tradition of choreographing to take advantage of the unique opportunities presented by film. "Center Stage" carried on this tradition with ample credit.

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