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Laramie Movie Scope:
Center Stage

A dance movie with sports clichés

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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May 30, 2000 -- "Center Stage" is a drama about ballet students, but the plot uses every sports cliché in the book, but instead of ending up with the big game, it is the big dance. Movies like "Strictly Ballroom," "Shall We Dance," and "Dirty Dancing," used a similar formula, but all of those were better movies than "Center Stage."

There are some fine young dancers in this movie. Most of the cast are either professional dancers, or ice skaters. One of them, Sergei (Ilia Kulik) won an Olympic gold medal in skating. Cooper, played by Ethan Stiefel, is a real ballet star. The dance scenes are very good, but the music is weak, even "Flashdance" had better music than this nameless drum-heavy stuff. The salsa music in one night club scene was pretty good, however.

The story centers around Jody (played by Amanda Schull), who comes off as a bit of a bimbo. She's picked for tryouts for a national ballet company even though she has "bad feet." She's got charisma, instead -- right. One of her roommates is Maureen (Susan May Pratt) who is beautiful and a virtually perfect dancer. Eva (Zoe Saldana) a black dancer with attitude, is another roommate. They and numerous other girls are vying for just a few openings in the company. Their fates, their entire future is decided, you guessed it, at The Big Dance.

Eva seems to be the only person in the film who understands what is going on at this ballet school. It is a sado-masochistic, male-dominated throwback to the dark ages, where form is more important than performance, physical beauty more important than grace and body type is more important than ability. It does not matter how good you are, if you have an average body weight, you are out of there. They like the starved, concentration-camp look. Maureen, the perfect dancer, is, in fact, bulemic. She comes to realize she is risking her health, perhaps her very life for the sake of some idiot's idea of a perfect body type. Remember Karen Carpenter? Think this isn't dangerous?

The story does take on this issue, but it does not follow through. Eva tells her sadistic, egocentric instructors exactly what she thinks of this whole situation early in the film, firing off one devastating shot after another at her tormenters, one of which is Jonathan (Peter Gallagher of "American Beauty"), a former ballet star, who is now a choreographer. He rules like a tyrant in a realm where all decisions are subjective. Eventually, however, Eva gives in to the system and becomes the willing slave of Jonathan's dance company. So much for independence. So much for street smarts. So much for the real world.

Jody, on the other hand, gets her big role in the big dance the old fashioned way, by sleeping with the choreographer. She finds out, however, that she is just another link in a chain of bimbos. She musters her considerable dancing skills, bad feet and all, and makes the most of her opportunity, and even rises to her own act of rebellion. It is supposed to be dramatic, but it just did not seem so. Instead, the drama seemed rather tepid.

The big dance numbers at the end of the film were pretty flashy, one was based on classical music, the other a kind of "West Side Story"-like bit with a motorcycle, strip-tease, and some heavy petting. The idea was to show old, versus new styles of dance. It wasn't the greatest stuff in the world, but it sure beat the story that led up to it. Then, we hold our breath to see who makes the dance company. Then we exhale. Who cares? We never really got to know any of the characters in the story anyway. We don't know how much they sacrificed to get to this point. The movie never bothered to show us. This film rates a C.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2000 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)