This week on Required Viewing, we eat carbs whilst watching ballet dancers in 2000’s Center Stage eat hardly anything. For those of you who might have missed it, Center Stage features a young Zoe Saldana and some new (at the time) tunes by Mandy Moore. Also: ballet dancing. Lots of dancing.
A: This is a super girly movie. I make no apologies about my love for this film, but I also want Brooke to guess just why I like it. I’m not a dancer, so I’ll remove that from the discussion right off the bat. This is also the first film that I’ve made Brooke watch. Laguna Beach seemed a good start from my side, as it’s the best worst thing ever in MTV reality, plus we own the DVDs. Center Stage hits on the same nostalgia factor that pushed Heathers and Donnie Darko to the top of the list, but what say you, Brooke? What did you like or dislike about this dancing folly and why do you think I’m a particular fan?
B: AM may be a veteran of Center Stage, but I was so oblivious to the existence of this film that when it was first suggested as a topic for Required Viewing I assumed that it was some kind of reality series about aspiring monologuists. As it turns out, it’s a dance flick with a hint of coming-of-age. Now, for me, this movie doesn’t ascend to the level of say, Dirty Dancing, but I feel like it hangs solidly in there with the likes of Save the Last Dance. I enjoyed that the plot subverted some of my expectations, but also that I was right about enough beats to still feel smart.
Now, as for why AM likes this movie, I think it has to do with getting a glimpse into this bizarre little pocket of society — especially the really snooty elitist corner of this world. And I know for certain that she loves eating carbs while watching these people sniff at the idea of eating a slice of pizza or a donut.
A: You’re not far off, Brooke. I’ve never taken a single dance class, and I’m the least graceful person possibly on the planet, but the idea of being an elegant and poised dancer has always been appealing. It’s the alternate universe of my life.
The lead characters in the film are mostly played by real dancers, so you get what you get in the acting department, and I’ll admit the story is as old as time (Girl Moves to Big City — Girl Falls for Bad Boy Even Though Good Boy Semi-Secretly Loves Her — Girl Dances Her Emotions and Gets Dream Job — Girl and Good Boy Go On First Date… THE END!). But I like the characters, their motivations are real enough for me to sympathize and I do love every dance sequence. Watching any athlete in top condition is amazing, whether it’s the NFL or the Olympics or professional ballet. They make it look so completely effortless, and that’s incredibly difficult to do. #Respect
My favorite scene is one between Zoe Saldana’s character and her long-suffering but extraordinarily poised teacher Juliette Simone, played to perfection by Donna Murphy. Zoe, for no particular reason, is pretty salty that she has a full-ride scholarship to one of the most prestigious ballet schools in the world, and she has Attitude from day one. So when she realizes it’s ok to accept help from her teachers that only want to make her the best she can be, it’s a poignant and sweet moment. There’s a reason Zoe’s a star, and you see it here.
Brooke, who would you want as your pas de deux partner? And can we please talk about Proto-Tituss?
B: Zoe Saldana is hands-down my favorite character in this movie. Can we thwart the rules of dancing and have her be my pas de deux partner? No? Okay then, the choice is clear. I want Erik O. Jones. This guy has all the moves, a really sweet backstory for his name, and, in the post-Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt era, he is impossibly reminiscent of one Tituss Andromedon, and I need more of that in my life. I really like to imagine the two of them as BFFs staging a not-at-all illegal indie production of The Lion King — until Disney shuts them down. And as an aside, The Lion King *is* Hamlet, so shouldn’t it just be free game?
But I digress. AM mentioned already that a lot of the character motivations are relatable in this movie. I agree, I also feel like their relationships are pretty accurate. When you move into the dorms in college you kind of latch onto the first people you see, but the dynamic shifts wildly over time. We see that here. The relationships were even more resonant. I loved that all of our female leads were kind of friends, but kind of not, there was drama, but it was low key. Sure, Maureen was super intense and a bit prickly, but she still got to kick it with the others when they were feeling forgiving. Actually, I’m going to make a bold statement here. Of all the characters we see, Maureen experiences the most growth from start to finish.
Are you buying this, AM?
A: Maureen is indeed one of the most interesting characters. She’s the perfect ballerina who has been training for this moment her entire life, and she and her mom share delicious bitchy cackling in their first scene together. But, as we come to realize along with Maureen, she’s got the perfect feet but lacks the heart. Her mom’s dream of ballet was crushed by not-so-perfect form, and Maureen chooses to forego a life as a ballet star that she’d always regret for a pre-med boyfriend and college for herself. It’s the great unknown and pretty astute reasoning for a 20-year-old woman.
Erik O. Jones (“My stage name is Erik O. Jones after Oprah. She is my idol.”) is indeed the most fabulous and I would pay good money to watch him and Eva in pretty much anything as their friendship is one of the best in the film. But I gotta agree with Maureen’s mom, who suggests that her daughter poach Charlie (from Seattle, and one of the few straight dudes in ballet) from lead character Jody as a pas de deux partner. I’d poach him too. Have you seen those blue eyes? And he’s the best dancer in the school.
My ’90s upbringing also insists that I point out that Sergei is played by Ilia Kulik, who is not only a legit dancer but an Olympic Gold Medalist in ice skating who is now married to fellow Russian ’90s star skater Ekaterina Gordeeva. Look her up if you don’t remember her, it’s a trip down memory lane.
Brooke, any last thoughts? What do you think about your feet? You know, Margot Fonteyn didn’t have great feet. But I hear that when she was on stage, you couldn’t take your eyes off her.
B: Did you have to look up these Ilia Kulik facts? Or do you just know these things? Either way, impressed. Here’s a fun fact. I did a lot of dance classes when I was young. I must have been decent or just cute, because they wanted to put me in the performance group. My mom decided 3-5 days a week was too many for a 6-year-old and declined. I remember being annoyed at the time, but ultimately, I feel like that was the right call. However, I do think it denied me a chance to develop some natural grace, of which I have none. I don’t have the feet. Sometimes I don’t even have the balance to stay upright when walking. The struggle is real.
What do you think, AM? Would people be able to take their eyes off of me? Oh, and in closing? Would you rather dance the stuffy old dance? Or the hip, love triangle dance?
A: Our combined grace is probably as graceful as the least graceful dancer on a bad day, so I’m gonna go with no, sorry, people would rather watch Maureen or Margot or literally anyone else. The struggle of the klutz is real! But I did know that information about Ilia Kulik. My sister and I were huge Gordeeva and Grinkov fans in the 1988 and 1994 games and so I kept up idly with what Gordeeva did after Grinkov died tragically young.
I’d far rather dance the hip dance done to Michael Jackson and Jamiroquai songs – even if Cooper is the world’s worst boyfriend, he’s a great choreographer and amazing dancer. His new company looks SUPER hip and awesome.
B: You made the right choice.
Rumor has it we may not be done with the world of Center Stage just yet, more to come on that later. But first, we watch a very different kind of ballet movie. Darren Aronofsky’s haunting psychological thriller Black Swan is up next on Required Viewing.