Salute to Center Stage

4 Jul

I like to celebrate the glorious 4th of Jew-lai by watching a certain little movie called…CENTER STAGE!  Some people do barbecues, fireworks, pie…I do the dance movie du jour for us easily pleased ballet freaks and geeks (although I do like pie).  It just so happens that there’s a brief clip where Ethan Stiefel and Julie Kent perform the Fifth Campaign/Coda from Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes.  Even though it’s less than 3 minutes of the movie, making the patriotic connection a loosey goosey one, I consider it festive enough for me.  I’d post a clip of the coda, but the Balanchine Trust is really touchy about his material being on youtube, so too bad.  What I can say about the coda is that it’s typical Balanchine, using a Hershy Kay arrangement of John Phillip Sousa’s Manhattan Beach March, complete with pizzazz and those horribly awkward entrechat huit with flexed feet.  It’s an addicting little diddy too…even though as a former piccolo player, I have post-traumatic Sousa disorder, leaving me prone to the vapors whenever I hear his signature work.

As for Center Stage in its entirety, what a deliciously good and awful-in-a-good-way movie.  One of the best things about Center Stage is that it has mostly real dancers and a lot of quality dancing.  You have a few ABT dancers in Stiefel, Kent and also Sascha Radetsky (aka Charlie from Seattle).  Also Amanda Schull in the lead role of Jodie Sawyer, who danced with San Francisco Ballet.  Not to mention many well accomplished dancers in the background (I’m sure there are aficionados who would recognize many of them, and I don’t know enough about the upper echelon of ballet to know who’s who, although I do recognize the face of one guy who was in NYCB’s video dance revival of Jerome Robbins “Opus Jazz,” which I had researched a little for a project).  It’s a real treat to see them perform as well as in various stages of technique class.  Although not a completely accurate portrayal of the ballet world, it’s fun to indulge in the exaggerated ridiculousness.  It’s like a ballet soap opera…the movie.

How can anyone not like badass Eva Rodriguez, who in the real world would have been kicked out for her thorny attitude and mouthing off to the teachers, only to totally venga the smack.down. when prima bitcherina Maureen gave her the role that Eva somehow managed to do without rehearsals, not to mention changing into her costume and going backstage without anyone noticing (and technically Eva was in the corps for Jonathan’s ballet, so who replaced her?).  Oh the blatant logistical errors (of which there are many, many, more)…but that’s Hollywood for you.  They actually did a fairly decent job with the stunt doubles though, including Eva’s, the lovely Aesha Ash.  Zoe Saldana had some background in dance too, so it was fairly seamless.

And then there’s Charlie from Seattle…everyone loves Charlie from Seattle.  The girls love him, and the boys either want to be him, or like Eric O. Jones, love him too.  Incidentally, the scene where they’re all washing the studio mirrors as punishment for getting drunk the night before, Charlie from Seattle is wearing a shirt I recognize only because I used to own it myself.  Navy blue, long sleeves with 2 stripes down them and a little thingie across the middle near the elbow.  That garment hails from Old Navy, but does not make you dance like Charlie from Seattle.  And didn’t we all love the machismo face off he had with Cooper Nielson during the choreography phase of Cooper’s ballet?  Although, if you’ll notice during the actual pas de trois at the end, instead of matching Cooper’s double tour-double pirouette-double tour-double tour-double tour in passé, Charlie from Seattle only did a double tour-single pirouette-double tour-double tour in passé.  But Cooper acts surprised anyway and we’re not supposed to know the difference.  Remember, I have a freakish eye for detail.

And of course, how can we forget little Bambi herself, Jodie Sawyer. The bottom line is, aren’t we all, a Jodie Sawyer?  That’s probably what makes the movie so enjoyable for dancers, as it’s easy to relate to not being perfect and just trying to find your niche in the world instead of pursuing a dream with unrealistic expectations.  She wasn’t all that bad of an actress either…in fact, I found her quite believable.  Incidentally, she will be appearing in a new ballet-related movie called “Mao’s Last Dancer,” a film adaptation of Li Cunxin’s autobiography.  She plays his first wife, who was a dancer so it should be interesting to see how she looks and dances now (albeit a few years removed from retiring from SFB) compared to 9 years ago.

Some A+ music choices too…like Lucien’s variation from Paquita (which incidentally, a friend of mine once told me is the worst ballet ever…haha) and the mazurka from Coppelia in the technique classes, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no.2 for Jonathan’s ballet, and a medley of awesomeness including MJ’s The Way You Make Me Feel (aww, MJ) and Jamiro Quai’s “Just Dance.”  And saving the best for last, The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ cover of “Higher Ground” from the jazzzzzzzz classssss!  Definitely my favorite scene, for a number of reasons…like that crazy flexible guy who has this ridiculous look on his face when they’re doing battements on the floor, or Cooper Nielson’s slow mo temps ciseux (cause that’s how it happens in real life, yeah?), and it’s just a fun dance to a great song (I even taught most of it to myself just from watching the video).

I have to say though, that the absolute best part of the dance is Ethan Stiefel’s “angry face” that he makes all throughout.  It makes me think of that Mr. Potato Head scene from Toy Story where he says “Prepare to meet Mr. ANGRY EYES!”

Ethan Stiefel's Angry Eyes

Ethan Stiefel’s Angry Eyes

Watch the video:

“Look, just forget about the steps…just dance the shit out of iiiiiit.”

Best. Line. Ever.

Is Center Stage intelligent?  No.  But it’s probably the best dance movie for pure entertainment (any mention of the Step Up sand I’ll scream).  And whatever you do, do NOT, watch the sequel.  It’s a vastly inferior.  I’m still kind of mad at myself for watching it, and that was a few months ago.  And I didn’t pay to watch it either.

Stick with the original, have a seat and watch…and quote half the movie because I know you can.

PS. I’ve figured out the widgets thingie on WordPress, so hopefully my blog is a little more reader-friendly.  Happy 4th everyone!

8 Responses to “Salute to Center Stage”

  1. Hilary July 4, 2009 at 11:38 pm #

    So, am I the last one to find out that there is an upcoming ‘Fame’ remake, and that Debbie Allen has a role?

    • youdancefunny July 5, 2009 at 5:17 pm #

      Perhaps? I found out about it because I read Megan Mullally is in it, and she used to be a ballerina so I thought she might do something dancey, but she’s the singing teacher instead.

      Even if you are the last to hear the news, I actually haven’t even seen the original…I blame my parents because they were supposed to show me these things that were made before I was born, but their lack of awareness for just about anything that’s going on in life has left me a deprived child.

  2. Alejandra July 13, 2009 at 12:00 pm #

    I actually thingk Center Stage it’s the best ballet movie, ever… It may not have the best cast, but the music its really cool and its the only dance movie I can watch with all my not-dancing friends, they enjoy it even if they dont get all the dance parts

    • youdancefunny July 13, 2009 at 5:28 pm #

      I’m inclined to agree! It’s certainly easy to digest for the non-dance types, and has a story that’s very relatable. It’s virtually the only good ballet movie for pure entertainment, and a good chunk of the time, ballet is for entertainment. I also like they don’t try to mesh ballet with hip hop…I feel like every movie that tried to do that failed.

      Besides, you know it’s a good movie too when you can watch it about 700 times and never get tired of it.

  3. Steve July 24, 2009 at 1:35 pm #

    You’re right it’s a surprisingly compelling movie, with some good dancing and a lot of bad acting (no worse than most teen movies). I have never caught the very beginning, I have only in progress while channel surfing.

    My favorite dance movie is “You Got Served.” It is even more far-fetched, but the b-boy dancing is very enjoyable. It even garnered a parody movie starring the Academy Award winning actor Jamie Kennedy.

    • youdancefunny July 25, 2009 at 12:43 pm #

      Oh but the beginning has some of the best Eva lines! Like the part where she’s unsure of whether she even wants to accept her invitation to the academy, and thinks about getting a boob job and working at Hooter’s instead. Or the part where she meets Maureen for the first time and is smoking in the dorm to which Maureen asks “what are you doing?” and Eva replies with “knitting a sweater.”

      Coincidentally, You Got Served is one of those movies that I have never caught the beginning of, but have watched while channel surfing and the breakdancing is sublime. Breakdancing is one of those skills that a part of me wishes I could have, but the select few who have seen me do a little hip-hop know what a catastrophe that is.


  1. Support dance mentoring and down with the tyranny of the Balanchine Trust! « You Dance Funny, So Does Me - August 21, 2009

    […] especially because a lot of us may never get to see the Mariinsky live.  I mentioned in my Salute to Center Stage that the Balanchine Trust is notoriously stingy about having Balanchine works on the tube, and it […]

  2. The Craft of Choreography « You Dance Funny, So Does Me - January 6, 2010

    […] (and loved her first!), because she will always be our “Eva Rodriguez…after no one” from Center Stage (please, as if you weren’t thinking that exact same quote?).  The girl who considered […]

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