The Company

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The Company

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The Company

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There are no explosions in one of the most suspenseful scenes of the year, unless lightning counts. Instead, the scene consists of two people dancing on an amphitheater stage in Chicago's Grant Park. The injury of a lead performer has placed Neve Campbell and her ballet partner in the spotlight, and together, they perform a sensual, heartbreaking dance to a free interpretation of "My Funny Valentine." Around them, a storm stirs, rain falls, and their audience frets, partly concerned for the dancers' safety on the moist stage, partly because it would be unthinkable to cut the performance short. The scene could easily have been staged cheaply, with frantic cuts between close-ups of worried faces and pounding feet. Fortunately, director Robert Altman has never gone in for cheap moves, and he seems unlikely to start now. Campbell, a dancer since childhood, produced The Company and co-created its story with screenwriter Barbara Turner, but the film contains no suggestion of star-tripping. Campbell's character, a dancer skilled enough to attract the admiration of director Malcolm McDowell, but not so established that she can escape her cocktail-waitress job, serves as the fulcrum of the drama. But the focus remains on the company itself, the famed Joffrey Ballet, as it prepares and performs several pieces over the course of a season. In typical Altman fashion, The Company contains all the elements expected of a backstage drama, but they all occur off-center. Campbell endures an explosive breakup with a fellow dancer, but it takes place before the film begins. An injury places her in the spotlight, but all involved treat it as a matter of everyday business. There's a sweet romance with a chef played by James Franco, but it plays out on the sidelines. A near-wordless courtship between two people used to expressing themselves non-verbally, it has less to do with the expected conflict between personal and professional lives than the way jobs and personalities get tangled up. McDowell, on the other hand, has little trouble with words. As an arch, benevolent dictator (with a character name not far removed from the real-world Joffrey's Gerald Arpino), he confidently barks out orders and opinions on matters like salads and coffee, has the good sense to distance himself from conflicts that don't require his authority, and serves as the company's loudest cheerleader when it succeeds. In the end, the film has more in common with a wartime platoon movie than the story of one star's ascent: The Joffrey succeeds through a combination of hard work, squelched egos, cooperation, instinct, and vision. Campbell's story builds toward a climactic performance–filmed, like the other dance sequences, simply and powerfully–of an elaborately staged, fable-like work involving a beast that consumes dancers. It should be a personal triumph or a personal tragedy, but it's neither: just another moment between curtain-rise and curtain-fall in the glorious business of creating beauty.

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