In Ballet, the new Frederick Wiseman film that documents a season with American Ballet Theatre, the most memorable character is the moon. Coming out of the ABT studios after a long day of leg warmers and pliés and visits to the company chiropractor, the camera lifts past the Manhattan twilight and settles on that big round monosyllable in the sky. Later, when the company goes on tour to Europe, Wiseman’s camera wanders habitually upward, more solemn sighing on those oh-so-silent moons. It’s a theme, a motif, but so static that the viewer is likewise stunned into slow wit: what does it mean? Perhaps Wiseman wants to punctuate the seasonal rhythms of the company, or to suggest the nocturnal performance life of dance. In the end, Ballet just looks bovine—the mooooo-n.

And that’s pretty much how ABT comes off, too. We never see the entire artistic...

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