×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Center Stage

Based on the assumption that every generation needs to have its own folkloric dance film, "Center Stage" revisits the turf of such quintessentially '70s works as "The Turning Point" (classic ballet), "A Chorus Line" (Broadway dancing) and "Saturday Night Fever" (disco), and blends together several of their themes, characters and moral dilemmas.

With:
Jody - Amanda Schull
Eva - Zoe Saldana
Maureen - Susan May Pratt
Jonathan - Peter Gallagher
Juliette - Donna Murphy
Nancy - Debra Monk
Cooper - Ethan Stiefel
Charlie - Sascha Radetsky
Kathleen - Julie Kent
Sergei - Ilia Kulik
Jim - Eion Bailey
Erik - Shakiem Evans
Joan Miller - Elizabeth Hubbard
Thomas - Victor Anthony

Based on the assumption that every generation needs to have its own folkloric dance film, “Center Stage” revisits the turf of such quintessentially ’70s works as “The Turning Point” (classic ballet), “A Chorus Line” (Broadway dancing) and “Saturday Night Fever” (disco), and blends together several of their themes, characters and moral dilemmas. End result is an uneven, mildly entertaining divertissement that relies on audience tolerance for a tale that recycles rather than reinvents familiar ideas, with only a few interesting variations. Best marketing hook for Columbia’s early summer release is its fresh and appealing ensemble that’s most likely to connect with young urban viewers, but pic may have harder time pulling in older audiences in middle America.

Nicholas Hytner’s fourth feature takes the conflict between Shirley MacLaine’s frustrated housewife and Anne Bancroft’s aging and lonely ballerina from “The Turning Point” and transplants it into male animosity between Jonathan (Peter Gallagher), the company’s former dancer and now artistic director, and Cooper (Ethan Stiefel, an American Ballelt Theater soloist), its ambitious star-dancer who’s beginning to choreograph and would like to have his own company.

For its dramatic framework, Carol Heikkinen’s shrewdly calculated script borrows from “A Chorus Line.” Here, the focus is on a group of enthusiastic newcomers enrolled in the American Ballet Academy out of which six dancers (three male, three female) will be asked to join the company following a big gala performance in front of a live audience.

What’s noticeable about the introduction of the dancers in the first reel is not just their in-tune-with-the-times cultural diversity (there are blacks, Latinos, Asians), but the fact that it reduces the number of gay dancers to one black man, Erik (Shakiem Evans), who’s placed at the periphery.

A great many of the characters seem taken from classic American musicals and backstage films. Contrasted with Jonathan and Cooper, both depicted as headstrong macho egotists (very much in the manner of Zack in “A Chorus Line”), are two charming and sensitive dancers who are vying for the womens’ attention: Charlie (Sascha Radetsky), an honest, down-to-earth fellow from Seattle, and Jim (Eion Bailey), who’s also attending Columbia’s pre-med school.

There’s a tribute to “Gypsy” and other aggressive stage mothers in the character of Maureen’s mom, Nancy (Debra Monk). Working as the company’s publicist, she’s a frustrated dancer who never made it, because she “had the heart but not the feet.” She’s contrasted with her daughter (Susan May Pratt), a brilliant but uptight dancer labeled as a bitch by her peers. Then there is a Russian immigrant dancer, Sergei, who recalls Baryshnikov’s character in “The Turning Point.”

Story is told from the point of view of Jody (played awkwardly yet charmingly by Amanda Schull, an apprentice at San Francisco Ballet Co.), an attractive youth who’s repeatedly told that she lacks technique and has the wrong body type for a ballerina. Her character recalls numerous ingenues in backstage films (“Stage Door”), a sincere, vulnerable girl, motivated by determination to get into the company against all odds.

The final reel draws rather shamelessly on “All About Eve,” when, to the shock of all concerned, the bulimic Maureen is replaced at the very last moment by her roommate and rival, Eva (Zoe Saldana), a rebellious Latina who defies the rules.Unlike other dance films that emphasize devotion and self-sacrifice, “Center Stage” goes out of its way to demonstrate that dance is — and should be — joyful and sexy. But ultimately, the film suffers from its casual, supposedly more realistic approach to dance. The movie demystifies the dance world as a sanctuary, but, in the tradition of numerous teenage flicks, it romanticizes its youths, positioning them against a ruthless adult world, represented by domineering mothers, insensitive directors and cold-hearted dance teachers. In this story, the most important thing is to be true to one’s innermost feelings.

Both “The Turning Point” and “Saturday Night Fever” contained mesmerizingly beautiful dances, which are very much missed here. Unfortunately, “Center Stage” is directed and shot (by Geoffrey Simpson) in a way that doesn’t let the audience feel the exhilarating pull of the dance world.

There are snippets of classic pieces (Kenneth MacMillan’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Balanchine’s “Stars and Stripes”), but Susan Stroman’s choreography is weak, and the grand finale (by Christopher Wheeldon) is tedious in its melange of classic and modern motifs: Riding his Harley Davidson clad in black leather, Cooper bursts onto a stage populated by white swans.

Effort by Heikkinen, who wrote “The Thing Called Love” and “Empire Record,” both about youngsters on the fringes of pop music, and Hytner, the director of “Miss Saigon” and the outstanding “Carousel” revival, to make a movie that will be true to the ballet world and yet have a broad appeal, is not always successful. Here and there, movie comes to life in its depiction of the lives of young dance students . There’s a nice scene in which a frustrated Jody takes a jazz dance class downtown, against company’s regulations, that suddenly gives the movie a shot of eroticized energy that recalls “Dirty Dancing.” The conflict between the strict ballet world and the freer disco-jazz idioms is developed throughout, but ultimately “Center Stage” lacks a unified dance conception and opportunities for dance numbers that are integral to the yarn.

In the name of a more down-to-earth approach, the filmmakers have taken the exotic personality and unique subculture out of the ballet world. Indeed, in sharp deviation from other similar films, “Center Stage” gives the impression that most of its protagonists would be just as fulfilled in other milieus — it’s a nearly fatal error for a dance movie that aims to be electrifying.

Center Stage

Production: A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Columbia Pictures presentation of a Laurence Mark production. Produced by Mark. Co-producer, Caroline Baron. Directed by Nicholas Hytner. Screenplay, Carol Heikkinen.[###]

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color, Panavision widescreen), Geoffrey Simpson; editor, Tariq Anwar; music, George Fenton; music supervisor, Ken Ross; production designer, David Gropman; art director, Peter Rogness; set decorator, Susan Bode; costume designer, Ruth Myers; sound (Dolby/SDDS/DTS), Michael Barosky; supervising sound editor, Tim Hands; choreography, Susan Stroman; additional choreography, Christopher Wheeldon; assistant director, Sam Hoffman; casting, Daniel Swee. Reviewed at Sony Studios, Culver City, May 1, 2000. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 114 MIN.

With: Jody - Amanda Schull
Eva - Zoe Saldana
Maureen - Susan May Pratt
Jonathan - Peter Gallagher
Juliette - Donna Murphy
Nancy - Debra Monk
Cooper - Ethan Stiefel
Charlie - Sascha Radetsky
Kathleen - Julie Kent
Sergei - Ilia Kulik
Jim - Eion Bailey
Erik - Shakiem Evans
Joan Miller - Elizabeth Hubbard
Thomas - Victor Anthony

More Film

  • Actress Shirley MacLaine poses at the

    Shirley MacLaine Selected for AARP Career Achievement Award

    Shirley MacLaine has been selected as the recipient of the AARP’s 2018 Movies for Grownups Career Achievement Award. MacLaine will be honored at the 18th annual Movies for Grownups Awards ceremony on Feb. 4 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. More Reviews Film Review: 'The Wedding' Film Review: 'Malila: The Farewell Flower' [...]

  • 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette' Trailer: Cate

    Cate Blanchett Disappears in 'Where’d You Go, Bernadette' First Trailer

    Cate Blanchett goes missing in the first trailer for Richard Linklater’s latest film, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.” Based on Maria Semple’s 2012 novel, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” follows agoraphobic architect Bernadette Fox (Blanchett), who disappears just before a family trip to Antarctica. More Reviews Film Review: 'The Wedding' Film Review: 'Malila: The Farewell Flower' “Something unexpected [...]

  • Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman in

    'The Favourite' Leads London Critics' Circle Nominations

    Yorgos Lanthimos’ dark historical comedy “The Favourite” lived up to its title with the London Film Critics’ Circle on Tuesday, nabbing 10 awards nominations from the group – twice as many as its nearest rivals. Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma,” Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really Here,” Rupert Everett’s “The Happy Prince” and Pawel Pawlikowski’s European Film [...]

  • Picture Tree Intl. Rolls Out Pre-Sales

    Berlin: Picture Tree Intl. Rolls Out Pre-Sales on B.O. Hit ‘100 Things’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    MADRID — In the long run-up to February’s Berlin Festival, Picture Tree Intl. has rolled out multiple pre-sales on “100 Things,” which Warner Bros. Pictures bowed in Germany on Dec. 6 to a robust first eight-day €2.7 million ($3.07 million). “100 Things” will receive a market screening at the Berlinale’s European Film Market. More Reviews [...]

  • Mid 90s

    Jonah Hill's 'mid90s,' Pauline Kael Documentary to Screen in Berlin's Panorama Section

    Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, “mid90s,” about a 13-year-old skateboarder’s coming of age, and a documentary on influential film critic Pauline Kael are among the works that will screen in the Panorama section of the upcoming Berlin Film Festival. Films starring Tilda Swinton and Jamie Bell and titles from countries including Israel, Brazil and Japan were [...]

  • 'Your Name' Director Makoto Shinkai Readies

    ‘Your Name' Director Makoto Shinkai Readies 'Weathering'

    Three years after the animation “Your Name” began its long triumphant reign over the Japanese and international box office, its director Makoto Shinkai has announced his next animated feature. Titled “Weathering With You,” the film will arrive in theaters in Japan on July 19 of next year, with Toho distributing. Set in a world where [...]

  • Berlin: The Match Factory Boards New

    Berlin: The Match Factory Boards Competition Titles From Fatih Akin, Emin Alper (EXCLUSIVE)

    German indie powerhouse The Match Factory will handle world sales on two Berlin Film Festival competition titles: German director Fatih Akin’s serial-killer chiller “The Golden Glove” and Turkish director Emin Alper’s family drama “A Tale of Three Sisters.”  Akin, a Hamburg native whose “Head-On” won the Golden Bear in 2004, is returning to the Berlinale [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content