In choosing whether to watch Robert Altman's "The Company," it is imperative that viewers consider one thing: Do you love ballet?Those who answer "no" must avoid the film at all costs, for the bulk of its scenes consist of ballet performances and rehearsals. Those who answer "yes" should rush to see it, though even they should be prepared for the boredom that will settle in when the actors stop dancing and start talking.
Set in the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, and featuring some of that company's real dancers, the film is an ensemble drama following the company for a season. We meet the artistic director, Alberto Antonelli (Malcolm McDowell), who rules the Joffrey like a scarf-wearing beneficent monarch, loved, respected and feared by all who work under him. There is also Loretta Ryan (Neve Campbell), known as "Ry," who becomes involved with a restaurant chef (James Franco). There's a weird guest choreographer (Robert Desrosiers) whose concept involves having no music during rehearsals and a finished product involving a giant blue snake.
These characters, along with the rest of company, endure injuries, insults and setbacks over the course of the year, though the screenplay by Barbara Turner ("Pollock"), which she wrote from Neve Campbell's story idea, gives us only the slightest information about any of them. A new male dancer arrives without any friends or a place to stay, and he crashes on the floor of an apartment shared by several other dancers in the company. What is his name? I have no idea. Where does his story go? Nowhere. Is he the only character in the film to remain anonymous and static? Hardly.
Yet even if the film itself is aimless, the performance sequences are fantastic, featuring some truly amazing dancing that is captured beautifully by the floating camerawork of Altman and cinematographer Andrew Dunn. I generally prefer drama over dance, but this film showed me the mesmerizing power of dance, contrasted with the potential of drama to be extraordinarily dull.Even the rehearsals have a certain fascination to them, as it is intriguing to see how something like this comes together, the nuts and bolts of it all. Where the film goes wrong is in showing the characters away from the stages and the rehearsal halls without giving them anything to do.