Center Stage

USA/Germany 2000

Reviewed by David Jays


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

New York, the present. Jody auditions for the exclusive American Ballet Academy, which is attached to a leading dance company, and is offered a place. She shares a room with students Eva and Maureen. In class, Jody struggles to hone her technique, while Eva resists the teachers' discipline. Maureen's vigilant weight-watching is turning into a serious eating disorder, as the medical student she dates realises.

Warned by Jonathan, the academy's artistic director, that she may not last the course, Jody explores less inhibited forms of dance, at a salsa club and a class in jazz dance, where she meets Cooper Nielsen, the star of the adult company. Cooper and Jody have a fling. Although he includes Jody in a piece he is choreographing for the end-of-year show, Cooper ends the relationship.

As the show approaches, Eva practises with greater determination, and Jody is encouraged by her fellow student Charlie. At the last moment, Maureen pulls out of her classical show-piece, allowing Eva to take her place, and Jody scores a triumph in Cooper's work. Jonathan offers her a place in the adult company, but she decides to join Cooper's new company instead.


As in a classic school story, the ballet students in Center Stage are released from parental control from the start. After the opening audition, they join the alternative family of an exacting dance academy. Jody's parents are frumpy fuss-budgets who really don't get the lure of dance - they want her to study in Indiana, after all - and only Maureen's scheming mother, who works at the school, remains, a cold-blooded blood relative. Wolfish Peter Gallagher leads a faculty of near-parody adults, the men seductive cads, the women steely ("Eyes off the mirror, please") and glamorous - the prima ballerina swans around in a huge brimmed hat like a Gatsbyesque vision.

Nicholas Hytner's previous films, like his stage work, are polished but disengaged, as if they can't bear too much reality. The adolescent passions of Center Stage, nurtured in the academy's hothouse, suit him perfectly. Everyone is self-obsessed, intense and silly: dance and teen television both value a pubescent sheen, and this is Dawson's Creek in toe shoes. Fluffy bunny Jody bumbles through classes, flinching when the teachers demand, "Jody - flutter!" She is all soft pliancy, white swan to Maureen's brutally svelte black, and the film traces the loss of her emotional puppy fat.

Hytner has an eye for the process of theatre - the most moving scene in his debut film The Madness of King George shows the monarch fumbling for his wits while reading King Lear. The relentless grind that shapes the students' lives is not shirked - there are fascinating sequences of tenderising pointe shoes and bandaging vulnerable toes. Close up, the pointes are seen to be scuffed, the tendons raw. The spectre of eating disorders also haunts the film - this is a world where incautious snacking can push you out of the competition: a glistening spread of pizzas and fries tempts Maureen to go to the bad much as a case of jewels might have lured her Victorian counterpart.

Like Stage Door (1937), Center Stage presents a dream of New York, the school's vast windows giving on to gleaming skyscrapers, a backdrop of sunny aspiration. Attractively open, the studios also invite ceaseless scrutiny. Their wide vistas alternate with the gossipy clusters of dorm and bathroom, novices crammed in windowless cells. The school seems a panopticon of surveillance and mortification.

Ballet's rigours are counterpointed with the salsa club, rippling with Latino glitz, and the chat and tumble of the public class in jazz dance, where people munch muffins and hug. Hytner and screenwriter Carol Heikkinen register resistance to ballet's conventions and containment. Rebellious student Eva chews gum and talks sass, but dance is in her every movement - she even grinds out a cigarette with a perfectly pointed toe. Cooper, the adult company's arrogant star, also has his iconoclasm painfully signalled - open shirt, Harley storming through the sunset, choreographing appalling modern dance and urging everyone to keep it "real". His routine for the end-of-year show is the film's only big embarrassment: featuring leather trousers, a motorbike and scanty black underwear, it feels like a pelvis-pushing Pirelli calendar.

Non-naturalistic changes of costume and weaving camera nonetheless pay homage to Gene Kelly's choreographic fantasy sequences, and Center Stage also provides a cheerfully hackneyed compilation of iconic moments from backstage movies: wishful neophytes sneak on to the empty stage for a premonition of stardom; two girls who start out as nobodies end up as stars. Eva gets to swan in tulle against a starlit backdrop, and to vow, magnificently, "I'm not doing it for them - I'm doing it for me!" while Jody gets to bump and grind, a child no more.


Nicholas Hytner
Laurence Mark
Carol Heikkinen
Director of Photography
Geoffrey Simpson
Tariq Anwar
Production Designer
David Gropman
Music/Music Conductor
George Fenton
©Global Entertainment Productions GmbH & Co. Movie KG
Production Company
Columbia Pictures presents a Laurence Mark production
Caroline Baron
Production Co-ordinator
Lori Johnson
Unit Production Manager
Kathleen McGill
Location Manager
Lyn Pinezich
Post-production Supervisor
Michael Saxton
Assistant Directors
Sam Hoffman
Amy Lauritsen
Jennifer Truelove
Script Supervisor
Sheila Paige
Daniel Swee
Lisa Beach
Heather Baird
Karen Meisels
Brendan Donnison
Camera Operators
Andrew Casey
Bruce MacCallum
Digital Effects
Film Factory at VTR
Art Director
Peter Rogness
Set Decorator
Susan Bode
Costume Designer
Ruth Myers
Key Wardrobe
David Davenport
Susan J. Wright
Patricia Eiben
Joni Huth
Key Artist:
Naomi Donne
Luann Claps
Key Stylist:
Lyndel Quiyou
Stephane Lempire
Title Design/Opticals
Peter Govey Film Opticals
Additional Orchestrations
Frank Bennett
On-camera Music Supervisor
Robin Urdang
Music Supervision
Ken Ross
Music Editors
Graham Sutton
Stephanie Lowry
Scoring Engineer
John Richards
"Adagio for a Ballet Class" - Dmitry Polischuk; "Cosmic Girl" - Jamiroquai; "First Kiss" - International Five; "Granada, Opus 47, No. 1" ; "La Bayadère"; "Le Corsaire"; "Swan Lake, Opus 20", "Don Quixote"; "Romeo and Juliet, Opus 64"; "Moonglow", "Mas que una caricia" - Elvis Crespo; "Get Used to This" - Cyrena; "A Girl Can Dream" - P.Y.T; "Come Baby Come" - Elvis Crespo and Gizelle D'Cole; "Candy", "I Wanna Be with You" - Mandy Moore; "Coppélia - Mazurka"; "Friends Forever" - Thunderbugs; "Stars and Stripes"; "Symphony No. 4 in A (Italian), Opus 90; "Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Opus 18"; "The Nutcracker, Opus 71"; "The Way You Make Me Feel" - Michael Jackson; "Sleeping Beauty, Opus 66"; "If I Was the One" - Ruff Endz; "Canned Heat" - Jamiroquai; "We're Dancing" - P.Y.T; "Don't Get Lost in the Crowd (from 'Center Stage')" - Ashley Ballard; "Higher Ground" - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Susan Stroman
Jonathan's Ballet:
Christopher Wheeldon
'Swan Lake':
Lev Ivanov
'Romeo and Juliet':
Kenneth MacMillan
'Stars and Stripes':
George Balanchine
Sound Mixer
Michael Barosky
Re-recording Mixers
Craig Irving
Mark Lafbery
Supervising Sound Editor
Tim Hands
Dialogue Editor
Howard Halsall
Pauline Griffiths
Jenny Lee-Wright
Derek Trigg
Ballet Consultant
Kevin McKenzie
Amanda Schull
Zoë Saldana
Susan May Pratt
Peter Gallagher
Jonathan Reeves
Donna Murphy
Debra Monk
Ethan Stiefel
Cooper Nielsen
Sascha Radetsky
Julie Kent
Ilia Kulik
Eion Bailey
Shakiem Evans
Elizabeth Hubbard
Joan Miller
Victor Anthony
Christine Dunham
audition teacher
Stephen Stout
Mr Sawyer
Maryann Plunkett
Mrs Sawyer
Laura Hicks
nervous mother
Barbara Caruso
Jeffrey Hayenga
ABA scouts
Karen Shallo
mother at audition
Carlo Alban
Giselle Daly
Eva's friends
Lisa Leguillo
ABA girls' class teacher
Robert Montano
ABA pas de deux class teacher
Megan Pepin
Victoria Born
Kirk Peterson
ABA boys' class teacher
Sandra Brown
Elizabeth Gaither
Oksana Konobeyeva
Ekaterina Shelkanova
Swan Lake soloists
Nancy McDoniel
Sandy Hamilton
gala patrons
Olga Merediz
ABA receptionist
Elvis Crespo
Giselle Tcherniak
salsa singers
Jamie Bonelli
Micki Paley
girl at salsa clubs
Randy Pearlstein
Jim's friend
Nancy Hess
Sergei's salsa partner
Lovette George
jazz class receptionist
Priscilla Lopez
jazz class teacher
Brenda Thomas Denmark
Jonathan's secretary
Warren Carlyle
Cooper's assistant
Marcia Jean Kurtz
Emily's mother
Kari Thompson
stage manager
Aesha Ash
Sean Stewart
Jonathan's ballet soloists
Ashley Anderson
Ryan Kelly
Jared Angle
Renecca Krohn
Aesha Ash
Jessica Kusak
Erin Baiano
Ryan Lawrence
Jennifer Balcerzak
Riolama Lorenzo
Ellen Bar
Stephanie Lyons
Tamara Barden
Deanna Mcbrearty
Sant'Gria Bello
Eleena Melamed
Dustin Brauneck
Justin Morris
Melissa Cabrera
Gillian Murphy
Martine Ciccone
Laura Paulus
Elena Diner
Matt Pitcher
Nicole Epstein
Jonathan Porretta
Alina Faye
Carrie Lee Riggins
Elizabeth Ford
Emilie Schlegel
Jason Fowler
David Schneider
Kurt Froman
Chrissy Schultz
Kyle Froman
Aaron Severini
Davena Gross
Kristin Sloan
Natalia Haigler
Jonathan Stafford
Craig Hall
Ryan Stewart
Stephen Hanna
Janie Taylor
Adam Hendrickson
Pascale Van Kipnis
Patrick Howell
Jamie Wolf
ABA students
Julio Augustin
Stephanie Michels
Jim Borstelmann
Lisa Nafegar
Liam Burke
Michael O'Donnell
Chris Davis
Angela Piccinni
Nina Goldman
Mimi Quillin
Shannon Hammonds
John Michael Schert
Jack Hayes
Lisa Shriver
Sean Martin Hingston
Scott Taylor
Joann Hunter
Endalyn Taylor-Shellman
Violetta Klimczewska
Rocker Verastique
Keri Lee
Robert Wersinger
jazz class dancers
Columbia Tristar Films (UK)
10,407 feet
115 minutes 39 seconds
Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS
Colour by
2.35:1 [Panavision]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011