Although it offers hardly any story to speak of, Robert Altman's The Company still presents a gorgeous, birds-eye view of day-to-day life in Chicago's Joffrey Ballet.
The Company is all about the dance. What little plot there is centers on Ry (Neve Campbell), a young dancer on the verge of becoming a principal with Chicago's Joffrey Ballet who becomes romantically involved with an up and coming chef (James Franco). While she works her ass off proving to the company's eccentric leader, Alberto Antonelli (Malcolm McDowell), that she has the stuff, we see through her eyes all the hard work and disappointments that go on behind the scenes. We also get to meet a variety of colorful characters in the lively ballet company, including the older diva who refuses to learn anything new, the eager fledglings who room together to make ends meet, the over-the-top choreographers and the company's no-nonsense administrators. Played mostly by real-life Joffrey dancers and company members, these small glimpses sometimes leave you wanting more, but for the most part, the lack of narrative doesn't diminish the impact of watching the incredible dancers at work.
If you didn't know Neve Campbell could dance, you'll soon find out she can. TV's Party of Five star initially studied to be a ballet dancer and, based on her own experiences as young performer with Canada's National School of Ballet, came up with the idea for The Company with screenwriter Barbara Turner, and agreed to serve as producer in addition to starring in the film. To prepare for the role after being off pointe for nearly ten years, Campbell had to train extensively for two straight years with Joffrey--and her obvious hard work pays off. Her big number--a sexy, romantic pas de deux with Joffrey dancer Domingo Rubio to a haunting rendition of ''My Funny Valentine--is truly spectacular, especially since they dance it on an outdoor stage during a thunderstorm. McDowell also chews it up as Antonelli--who is loosely based on the real-life Joffrey director Gerald Arpino--calling everyone ''my little babies'' and expounding on the thrill of doing allegros.
Ballet really isn't just about tutus and Swan Lake anymore. Altman says he wanted to do The Company because he wanted to take the world of dancing--which he believes most people think of as ethereal, beautiful, vulnerable, expressive and seemingly impossible--and show the contradictions. These dancers work hard at what they do, with bloodied feet and bruised, torn bodies, for apparently very little money: Ry has a second job as a cocktail waitress, for example. Altman accomplishes his mission--and throws in his own distinctive touches as well--yet he keeps the spectacle of the dance performances always in view. He opens with a modern dance number using crisscrossing ribbons for props, and as the film progresses, each dance sequence is more and more unique until Altman's camera seems a bit dizzying, whirling around almost too much. The Company culminates in a large, colorful The Lion King-like production, which we see being rehearsed throughout the film (the scene where the unconventional choreographer explain his ''vision'' for the ballet is particularly hysterical). It all comes to together beautifully, leaving the audiences, especially those who love ballet, yelling ''Bravo!''
Its narrative may be less than compelling, but The Company is nonetheless a brilliant and vivid study of the world of ballet.