Center Stage

2000, Movie, PG-13, 113 mins

Review

CENTER STAGE
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The roster of major Hollywood films about classical ballet expands to three with this young-skewing soap opera. Eighteen-year-old Jody (Amanda Schull) auditions for the school of the American Ballet Company (clearly based largely on the world-famous New York City Ballet), and after being accepted gets a crash course in the cutthroat realities of professional ballet. Her fellow students are the best of the best, and only a handful will be accepted into ABC after the all-important, end-of-term workshop performance. Jody's dormmates are Maureen (Susan May Pratt), the sort of humorless dance student derisively called a bunhead, and Eva (Zoë Saldana), a hugely talented dancer with potentially ruinous authority problems. They quickly befriend the three guys downstairs, Charlie (Sascha Radetsky), Erik (Shakiem Evans) and Russian-born Sergei (Olympic figure skater Ilia Kulik). All their futures hinge on impressing strict teachers and ABC director Jonathan Reeves (Peter Gallagher), but they idolize rebel ballet star Cooper (Ethan Stiefel), who recently returned to ABC after a blowout with Jonathan, who stole Cooper's prima ballerina girlfriend (Julie Kent). Casting dance-oriented movies (the classics being THE RED SHOES and THE TURNING POINT) always comes down to actors who can dance a little or dancers who can act a little. This movie mostly opts for acting dancers, notably American Ballet Theatre's Kent, Stiefel and Radetsky, and San Francisco Ballet's Schull, all of whom emote sufficiently well to keep their heads above the suds. Director Nicholas Hytner captures the sheer physicality of dance and gets many of the details of dance life surprisingly right. The story is shallow stuff, but pretty entertaining until it becomes utterly preposterous, which is right around the time the curtain rises on Cooper's ballet, an extravaganza that includes an entrance on a motorcycle and a tutu that's peeled off the gamely grinning Jody like a string off a top! leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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