During his first season as conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, Sir Simon Rattle collaborated with choreographer Royston Maldoom in an ambitious educational undertaking: a performance of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” with some 250 Berlin schoolchildren of disparate ages, ethnicities and backgrounds and virtually no experience with classical music or modern dance. Jubilant docu traces the multi-stranded preparations, highlighting the vibrant personalities of Rattle, Maldoom and a handful of the students as chaos is transformed into order under the driving rhythm of Stravinsky’s primordial score. Handsomely lensed and dynamically edited, pic may aid project’s crossover mandate and find wider audience than highbrow TV.
Helmers Grube and Lansch, both experienced documentarians (Grube occasionally, Lansch almost exclusively, covering the field of music), team up for the first time. They prove remarkably adept at the tricky task of visually interpreting dance and also skilled at tracing the dawning awareness of hitherto clueless teens. In the case of most of the youngsters, merely quieting them down and teaching them to overcome their nervousness and insecurity so they can truly focus constitutes a victory in itself.
Other kids are led to more startling discoveries. One older teen, Martin, a loner who fears being touched, works through his phobia and finds empowerment by gaining control over his own physicality through dance. A younger girl, Marie, speaks candidly of her lack of attention and laziness in school. Her unexpected dedication to the project leads her to reconsider other possible learning options.
Intercut with dance sessions — where the inchoate running around of untutored children slowly starts to morph into recognizable movement — are rehearsals of the Berlin Philharmonic, kinetically edited to enhance both the internal dramatic impact of the music and the discipline and control of the musicians, the extraordinary 6.1 Surround sound allowing the audience to appreciate the various tweaks and adjustments suggested by Rattle and executed by the orchestra along the way. Rene Dame and Marcus Winterbauer’s lensing contrasts the rough scattershot energy of handheld DV imagery in dilapidated school gyms with elegant, firmly positioned, warmly lit HD footage in wood-paneled concert halls.
Seemingly daunting film project is greatly abetted by the star quality of maestro Rattle, who combines looks and charisma with a sexy passion for making classical music accessible to everyone. “Music is not a luxury, but a need, like the air we breathe and the water we drink!” At the other end of the English class system, gnome-like choreographer Maldoom exerts a gypsyish charm of his own, driving around in a battered red van as he recounts his accidental, late-blooming discovery of a vocation.
Pic’s climax delivers on the promise of its buildup. Dirk Grau and Martin Hoffman’s edit of the final performance is precisely yet adventurously synched to the score, successfully capturing the shape and thrust of the choreography. At the same time, it showcases the newborn professionalism and discipline of the juve dancers underneath the wild exuberance of their movements.
Tech credits are ace.