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Though "enjoyment" is probably not the first word that comes to mind to describe the viewing experience of this film, since the subject matter of the dance/theater piece at the heart of the movie is sad and tragic, and much of the interplay between the artists who work together to create the dance/theater piece is rife with conflict, I found this documentary greatly enjoyable (in a powerful, moving and engrossing sense...) on several levels, some of them unexpected, which then added to my overall enjoyment. The film is at once all of these things - an exploration of the creative process, with elements of visual art, dance, theater and storytelling, a film version of a powerful modern dance piece, and one of the most suspenseful "will they make it/won't they/let's put on a show!" step by step accounts of the project, as the various artists involved in the project at times clash in their personalities and creative visions, and at other times cooperate together in magical ways toward success. If you do have any interest in the creative process as it relates to art, but happen to feel that you're not a fan of modern dance, and that latter feeling leads you to consider passing on the film, to do so probably would be a big mistake, for the film can be appreciated on so many other levels beyond one's interest or lack thereof in modern dance. If you are interested in modern dance, especially Pilobolus in particular, the film is a don't miss, as it is for those who are fans of Maurice, as well as anyone interested in the history and/or artistic explorations of the Holocaust.
Last Dance tells the story of how an artistic work was created by two
distinctly different artists. One was Pilobolus, the dance troupe who
has thrilled us for decades with their imaginative, athletic and
acrobatic pieces. The other was Maurice Sendak, author and artist best
known for his children's books.
The film is actually an exploration of creativity (which both parties have in spades) and collaboration. Since Pilobolus is a group, its members don't always agree. The "problem" was to find a process that allowed the multi-faceted Pilobolus and Maurice, the storyteller, to find harmony in their divergent creative processes.
Maurice provided the backstory for the dance--the true tales of the Holocaust and the horrible stories of death and inhumanity that, as a Jew, meant so much to him. Beyond that, everything was up for grabs. Pilobolus was used to first creating movements, then finding a story. Maurice was used to starting with a story, then finding ways of expressing it. At times, it looked as if the collaboration would fail, mostly because Maurice was seeking agreement, but Pilobolus saw conflict as part of the process.
And so the film's story is about collaboration. When two parties come together with different points of view, different styles, or different agendas, synthesis can be difficult.
At some point, Maurice contributes his graphic representations of costumes and the set. This helps to shape the characters of the dance. He also introduces the group to the music of Hans Krasa, himself a victim of the Holocaust. We follow the development of the dance from its first steps to its New York debut at The Joyce Theater.
I found it interesting that archival footage of the Holocaust gave the film (not the dance) more impact, as if we could better see the mental images that haunted Maurice.
In the end, neither of the two parties got exactly what they wanted. But the resulting piece definitely a synthesis of their talents and viewpoints--a passionate portrayal of individuals' emotions and the inhumanities of men.
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