Roberta on the Arts

Contact Roberta
Jazz and Cabaret Corner
On Location with Roberta
In the Galleries: Artists and Photographers
Backstage with the Playwrights and Filmmakers
Classical and Cultural Connections
New CDs
Arts and Education
Onstage with the Dancers
Offstage with the Dancers
Upcoming Events
Special Events
Memorable Misadventures
Our Sponsors

The Company - a review
- Backstage with the Playwrights and Filmmakers

Check out our Sponsors
Check out our Sponsors

Sony Pictures Classics

Currently at the Movie Theaters
See Listings

Director: Robert Altman; Writers: Barbara Turner
and Neve Campbell; Director of Photography: Andrew Dunn;
Editor: Geraldine Peroni; Music: Van Dyke Parks;
Art Director: Gary Baugh;
Producers: Joshua Astrachan, David Levy, Killer Films,
and Capitol Films.

Starring: Neve Campbell as Ry; Malcolm McDowell
as Alberto Antonelli; James Franco as Josh;
and Joffrey Ballet Company Dancers.

By Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 29, 2003
Originally Published on

(See Joffrey Ballet of Chicago History)

Robert Altman brings us backstage and onstage with today's Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, and Gerald Arpino, Joffrey's Artistic Director is the inspiration for Malcolm McDowell's character, Alberto Antonelli, a feisty, self-possessed, rude, ruthless, yet passionate, dedicated, and multi-talented perfectionist, who draws his dancers into contrasting physical and emotional links with the music and choreography. Neve Campbell, as Ry, short for Ryan, lead actress, dancer, and co-creator of this semi-documentary, semi-fictitious story, replete with a series of Ballet and Modern Dance clips from the Joffrey Repertoire, is an exciting dancer (She appeared to dance as well as act) and an engaging stage presence, especially in a romantic, storm-swept ballet, outdoors on a cold, wet night in Chicago, to the melody of Funny Valentine and other evocative standards.

Ry's encounters and budding relationship with Josh, a chivalrous chef (James Franco), are merely a sub-plot to the real text, which is the self-sacrificial and ego-challenged life of a member of a major Ballet Company. That life is: A choreographer's instantaneous replacement of one young male dancer, with the Union threats fast on his heels; a female dancer's snapping of her Achilles tendon in rehearsal, Ry's onstage arm injury, Antonelli's decision to switch a female lead, who rehearsed with a muscle spasm; Ry's pathetic moonlighting as a Disco waitress; Ry's mother's pleading for Ry to request a signature ballet; the Company Christmas party that roasts the Artistic Director and choreographer of the moment; the broken dance partnerships that follow broken romances; the sleeping bag on the friend's floor, for a homeless dancer; and the endless solo practice and group rehearsals that ensure bruised and swollen feet and limbs.

However, the above psychological, emotional, and physical sacrifices that the Principals and Soloists endure seem to be merely momentary obstacles to the ultimate professional rewards and bonded relationships that result in the realization of performances of the Joffrey Repertoire. The film audience is treated to recreated clips from various Joffrey works, such as Trinity, White Widow, and The Blue Snake (which may be a fictitious ballet for this film and which is evocative of Disney's Fantasia), with dragons and fanciful plants and creatures, dancing in and out of the cavernous mouth of an enormous snake and later into the mouth of a smoke-filled monster. Lar Lubovitch and Robert Desrosiers, both renowned choreographers, appear in this film, as well as Emily Patterson, among other Joffrey Principals, and Willy Shives, a Joffrey dancer, who performed at the Joffrey Ballet School's recent 50th Anniversary Gala.

Whether one is a balletomane or a ballet neophyte, The Company has much to offer, as it is structured to eavesdrop on fictitious, Joffrey administration and dancers' conversations, meetings, relationships, and even an occasional naked body, as it undresses backstage or out of the Jacuzzi. Spliced between these eavesdropping sequences are the clips and sometimes complete dances, with splendid colors, electric energy, precise footwork -- en pointe and en air, glowing faces, creative costumes, sensational makeup, and impassioned partnering, that showcase the Joffrey Ballet Company of Chicago's virtuosity and vivaciousness. There is no soap opera here, but, rather, fiery and fantastic dance. Robert Joffrey, who co-founded the Company with Gerald Arpino in the 50's, and who was Arpino's predecessor as Artistic Director, would be proud to see his brainchild so celebrated. The Company makes any balletomane rush to Chicago to catch the Joffrey in season or to follow the Company on tour.

The Company - The Joffrey Ballet
Photo courtesy of Matt Dinerstein

The Company - Malcolm McDowell as Alberto Antonelli, Barbara Robertson as Harriet, Neve Campbell as Ry
Photo courtesy of Matt Dinerstein

The Company - Neve Campbell as Ry, Malcolm McDowell as Alberto Antonelli
Photo courtesy of Matt Dinerstein

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at