Review of the dance movie “Center Stage”

Have you seen the newest McDonald’s Shamrock Shake commercial on TV? Check it out below!

Doesn’t that actress look familiar? If you’re a dancer, you might recognize her as Amanda Schull, the actress who played Jody Sawyer in the 2000 dance movie Center Stage. Schull has made plenty of TV appearances in recent years with roles on shows such as Pretty Little Liars, Suits, Psych, Grimm, and Two and a Half Men. The St. Patrick’s Day-themed McDonald’s commercial made me want to watch Center Stage again since it’s been a while.

Here is my review of the movie that’s a timeless classic for ballerinas everywhere.

Plot Summary

Center Stage movie poster

Photo from imdb.com

Center Stage follows young ballet dancer Jody Sawyer and a group of her friends through a year at the esteemed American Ballet School in New York City, from auditions to the year-ending showcase that serves as an audition for the country’s most prestigious ballet companies. Jody faces many challenges throughout the year — her less-than-perfect turnout and feet are continuous detriments to her technique, and other dancers are always better than her. Jody dedicates her mind, body, and soul toward making herself the best ballerina she can be, and she is cast as the lead in Cooper Nielson’s (a famous ballet dancer and choreographer) ballet in the showcase. Jody deals with love and loss throughout the process of preparing for the performance, but she ultimately performs flawlessly in the showcase. She lands herself a principal dancer position in Cooper’s new ballet company, and she finds inner strength and confidence that give her a new and improved outlook on life and dance. Jody’s friends also face challenges like attitude problems, finding their own dreams, and injuries that make them stronger people and dancers who are finding their place in the world.

Themes

This movie deals with the harsh difficulties of the competitive world of ballet. From the very beginning, we see that competition in a place like American Ballet School is cutthroat. Nearly every dancer who made the cut to be in the school in the first place was the best dancer in the studio they came from. So already, there is a room full of incredibly talented dancers all dreaming of the few spots available in professional ballet companies. These dancers have to come to terms with their own limitations as well. Ballet is the strive for perfection, and since no one is perfect, each dancer has to realize his or her weaknesses and choose to either work past them or let them be limitations. In addition, Center Stage tackles the issues of body image and eating disorders through Maureen, a character who forces herself to throw up as punishment for eating a slice of pizza. The movie also shows the drama that can go on behind the scenes in a professional company. Love and lust among dancers, directors, and students add plenty of drama and emotion to the mix that audiences would never know about from watching only what happens onstage.

Acting

Amanda Schull plays the role of a sweet, naïve young ballet dancer well. She convincingly portrays Jody and the struggles she faces and overcomes during her year as an American Ballet School student. Her fairly quiet and demure personality is contrasted by some of the stronger personalities that surround her. Eva, played by Zoe Saldana, has a sassy and strong-willed attitude. Although this often gets her into trouble, she plays the rebel well and adds interest to the plot. Also, Maureen, played by Susan May Pratt, thinks she is superior to all the other dancers. The actress plays the part well as Maureen goes through a transformation throughout the movie. By the end, she is no longer the stuck-up ballerina she was before; she finds herself and realizes that her dream is not to be a ballet dancer, and she makes the decision to give up that life in search of her true passion. All of the actors and actresses work well together to show the many layers of dancers in the world of professional ballet.

Best Dance Numbers

This movie features several full-length dance numbers that let the actors show off their real-life dancing skills and impeccable ballet technique. Here are reviews of the top three dance numbers.

  • The classical ballet piece at toward the end of the movie is a beautiful piece featuring Eva and male lead Sergei (played by actor Ilia Kulik) and choreographed by choreographer Jonathan Reeves. The dance is breathtaking in its fluent and graceful movements. The corps dancers complement the featured dancers well, and their long, flowing costumes add to the beauty of the piece. This dance is an excellent example of classic ballet and its ability to move an audience by its beauty. See the video below to watch this dance:
  • The movie-ending dance numbers included in Cooper Nielson’s ballet are contemporary ballet pieces with jazz-inspired flair. The dances are memorable because they are different from typical classical ballet, such as the previous number (Jonathon’s piece). The number begins with a ballet class rehearsing in a studio. The class is interrupted by a visitor on a motorcycle, bringing about a fun and exciting dance number to Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” that is a mix of ballet and jazz. Check out this clip of the number below:
  • The rest of Cooper’s ballet includes modern themes in a story of a love triangle between Jody’s character and two men. The ballet ends with a fast-paced and fun number by Jody’s character, where she ultimately rejects both men and dances for herself. Her performance in bright red and her technique are excellent, and the fouette turn section — a repeating sequence of three fouette turns and two pirouettes — that concludes the show keeps the audience’s eyes glued to her. Her red pointe shoes are a great touch, too! Here’s a video clip of the performance:

Best Quotes

“Margot Fonteyn didn’t have great feet.” – Jody
Well when Margot Fonteyn was on stage, you couldn’t tear your eyes away from her… It can’t be taught.” – Jonathan

I screwed up any chance I had back in September. But I started dancing long before this stupid workshop, and I’m gonna keep on dancing long after it. So tomorrow is one more day I get to dance. I’m not dancing for them anymore, I’m dancing for me.” – Eva

“Did you see how on I was tonight?” – Anna (dancer)

“Wouldn’t you rather I found something I really love instead of something I just happen to do well? You didn’t have the feet, Mom, and I don’t have the heart.” – Maureen

“For 10 years, all I’ve wanted is to be one of American Ballet Company’s perfect ballerinas…but I’m just me — bad feet and all. But now, I think I’m starting to like that even better.” – Jody

Overall, this is a great movie for all types of dancers. It shows both sides of dancing: the sacrifices dancers have to make in order to follow their dreams, as well as the rich rewards that come with a performance. I highly recommend this movie for any dancer and anyone looking to find out more about what goes into the dances you see onstage.

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One thought on “Review of the dance movie “Center Stage”

  1. The Ballet Barre March 19, 2013 at 9:57 pm Reply

    […] Ballet School. To read a more in-depth review of the movie, check out my previous post: “Review of the dance movie ‘Center Stage.’” The best dance number in this movie is without doubt the contemporary ballet piece […]

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