Modern-Day Gypsy

Sony Pictures Classics

Carmen (2022)

Robert De Niro once answered a question about his career by saying “The talent is the choices.” Whether or not Paul Mescal knows that quote, it’s advice he has taken to heart. After the television show “Normal People” captured everyone’s imaginations in early lockdown, both he and his costar Daisy Edgar-Jones were given the freedom to choose what they wanted to do next, an incredible position for any actor in their early 20s to be in. While Ms. Edgar-Jones has gone for unusual rom-coms and more standard courtroom dramas, Mr. Mescal has proved himself willing to experiment, and push beyond the comfort zone a lot of actors on the rise have.

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Try This at Home


Twyla Moves (2021)

What did you do in 2020? While under lockdown, did you attempt to choreograph a new ballet, to be performed over Zoom, with dancers split between New York, Los Angeles, Copenhagen, Denmark, and St. Petersburg, Russia? Did that mean some directors were able to take this as a hook to put together your career retrospective, interweaving 60 years of your life and work as one of America’s leading choreographers? Well, if you did, Twyla Tharp’s lawyers will probably be in touch, because she did it first.

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Cultural Movement

Jack Mitchell/Sundance Institute

Ailey (2021)

This documentary about the life of choreographer Alvin Ailey, who created world-standard dance pieces while still in his 20s, combines archive footage, modern talking-head interviews and rehearsal room footage of the present Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancers at work to make clear the legacy he left behind. Masters of modern American dance, including Carmen De Lavallade and Bill T. Jones, explain the nature of his work, the impact it had on international audiences, including an overwhelming reception in Australia and a night of 30 curtain calls in Moscow. But Jamila Wignot’s film has two serious problems, one with the life and one with the work, that hamstring the film.

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Strictly Come Dancing

Parisa Taghizadeh/The BFI London Film Festival; right, The BFI London Film Festival

Lovers Rock/If It Were Love (2020)

The power of the body to express emotion is something we normally take a little for granted. In these upsetting lockdown days, it’s becoming ever more valuable. Groups of people dancing together? It’s so unthinkable at the moment as to be pornographic. “Lovers Rock,” one of Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” ensemble, is the fictional story of a house party in 1980s West London. “If It Were Love” is a documentary by Patric Chiha about a Swiss modern dance ensemble creating a piece, under the choreography of Gisele Vienne, about a 1990s rave. The two are not quite halves of the same coin, but they are interested more in music and movement than stereotypical plot, and as a film festival double bill they work extremely well together.

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Part Company

Emmanuel Guionet/2016 Tribeca Film Festival

Reset (2017)

The documentary “Reset” recounts Benjamin Millepied’s brief tenure as the director of dance at the Paris Opera Ballet. Mr. Millepied rose to fame as a principal at the New York City Ballet, and went on to found the L.A. Dance Project and choreograph Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan.” But he remained an outsider to the Paris Opera Ballet for not having risen within its ranks.

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It Takes Two Choreographers to Tango for Life

Carmen and Geoffrey (2009)

First Run Features

No couple has shaped modern dance as wholly as Carmen de Lavallade and Geoffrey Holder. Over the course of their five decades of marriage, they have ascended to the upper reaches of their shared profession as both dancers and choreographers. Ms. de Lavallade, who worked closely with Alvin Ailey and served as her husband’s principal muse, and Mr. Holder, Tony winner for “The Wiz,” are indelible cultural icons and worthy subjects for the documentary “Carmen and Geoffrey” by Linda Atkinson and Nick Doob.

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Swimming in Swan Lake

Ballerina (2006)

First Run Features

“Ballerina” serviceably documents the challenges of life as a member of the ballet company of St. Petersburg’s Mariinski Theatre, perhaps the world’s foremost such institution. Director Bertrand Normand includes a sufficient volume of rehearsal scenes, talking heads testifying to the difficulties of life at the top of the field and clips from performances of many of the greatest works of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev and others. In other words, he does everything he should to fulfill his film’s central mission: giving outsiders a rare glimpse into an exclusive, elite world.

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