So it’s Valentine’s Day, which is my favorite holiday for many reasons (getting to wear pink and red together, spreading love through tiny cards, decorating my dorm with sparkly things without my roommate bitching about it*, etc) but most importantly, like my birthday, it gives me an excuse to do silly things in the name of celebration. Tonight, that meant hanging out with my girlfriends (can people my age still say that?) eating extravagant amounts of chocolate, filling in MadLibs V-Day cards, and watching on of the best bad dance movies of all time: Center Stage.
For those who haven’t seen CS, 1) Shame on you! and 2) you should read this post from Hello Giggles so you can understand exactly what is so unbelievable about this movie. But to sum it, it’s a movie about a group of young, wannabe ballet dancers who deal with all the highs and lows of growing up and finding themselves while attended a high-pressure dance academy.
(Life Doesn’t Hold Tryouts)
So that’s all well and good, but I’m sure you’re wondering about this Cooper Nielson fellow (played by the incredible Ethan Steifel). Cooper is American Ballet Company’s star dancer and resident playboy. He was attached to Kathleen Donahue (prima ballerina, looks like a gerbil) but she left him for the director of the company, Peter Gallagher. Because that’s not hard to believe at all.
(does this man look like he’s danced at ANY point in his life at all???)
So Cooper basically goes on a year-long bender in London, comes back and is all pissy with Peter Gallagher because he will only let him choreograph for the student workshop and not the company (“You’re threatened by me,” states Cooper. Peter Gallagher gives him a cold stare, “I’m threatened by no one. I got the girl.” Low blow, Peter Gallagher, low blow). Then Cooper goes off and seduces young vulnerable dance student Jody, who thinks he like-likes her when really he only half-regular-likes her and then CASTS HER IN HIS BALLET. This is a bad idea, because Jody is one of the aforementioned students trying to find herself and she is in no state to dance for the man who she spent that one awkward night with and then ignores her.
(“After tonight, I will never look at you as anything other than a prop to move across the stage to Micheal Jackson songs.”)
It is for all these reasons that one could brand Cooper Neilson as an arrogant, creepy, prick. However, I think it’s time I use my mad dance-critiquing skillz and one semester of psychology to defend old Coop. Plus it’s Valentine’s Day, so no one can argue with me because they’re all love -drunk. First, let’s look at the ballet:
Ignoring all impossibilities about this piece (seriously, no one can just shake out a bun) as well as the triteness of the physical narrative, it’s actually an entertaining and introspective piece. Let’s get the big story points out to the way: So Jody is the star ballerina of some New York company where Charlie (that’s the other guy) is the director, she’s dating Cooper, but then Charlie makes a move on her. Sound familiar? This is where most people start to get all “Ugh. Cooper is SO self-absorbed!” but let’s dig a little deeper shall we?
First scene: The Class. This could be interpreted as just an intro, or Cooper dancing about how fun he is, but look at the moment where he removes Jody’s tutu (1:00). It’s a liberation from the conventions of ballet, an escape. This applies to Jody’s life in the movie, but also probably Kathleen’s (Cooper’s “real-life” love affair). With all the pressures of the dance world, who wouldn’t need a little vacation? This scene is not only exposition, but explanation. Why would Cooper start anything with Kathleen (or Jody for that matter?) was it just to bang a couple of hot chicks in tights? Or was it the need for some human companionship and a mental holiday from the stress of being in a ballet company? Especially one as apparently stifling as American Ballet Company (I blame Peter Gallagher.)
Second Scene: The Bedroom. Ok, so I know most people watch this part and get all “gross!” about it, but I actually think it’s very beautiful. There is a tenderness in this relationship. It’s grown from being fun to having more depth. There are really feelings here. COOPER NEILSON HAS FEELINGS TOO! Also, there are some great Gifs:
Third Scene: The Next Morning. …I got nothing insightful about this one, but it is moving the plot along nicely. Plus, I like all the supernumerary dancers’ poses at 4:27.
Fourth Scene: The Conflict. I wish I had pictures of this scene because it is, without a doubt my favorite. It’s just such a breathtaking pas de tois. Watch it agian (starts at about 4:30). Look at Cooper’s rock ‘n’ roll jumps. They are so self-aware; as if to say “I know I’m a bit of an attention whore.” Now look at the tenderness of Charlie. The way he takes care of Jody while Cooper’s off doing his own thing. Remember this is all choreographed by Cooper. It’s basically saying “I understand why you would choose Peter Gallagher over me.”
Fifth Scene: The Resolution. This may be the most interesting, introspective, and beautifully apologetic part of the piece. It shows Jody as an empowered woman. Charlie and Cooper can try all they want, but all she needs is dance and herself to make her happy. This is a refreshing turn from the misogynistic (though very pretty!) “you must choose one of us” ending of the last scene. It’s now been two years of soul-searching for Cooper and he realizes now that Kathleen wasn’t his, or even Peter Gallagher’s. She is her own woman, who makes her own decisions and Cooper can not blame her for that. In fact, he celebrates it. It’s actually kind of feminist when you think about it. I also like to think there’s a bit of an apology to Jody in there too. Sort of “sorry for objectifying you, but you don’t need me, you have dance.”
So, I’m sorry. I don’t think Cooper Neilson is a total asshole here. Sure, he’s made a lot of mistakes, but at least he is attempting to recognize them and apologize before he starts fresh. Hell, he even found love in real life! Therefore, after justifying all of this (and because it is my favorite holiday) I am declaring that fictional Cooper Neilson is my Valentine this year.
Next year I might even be up for Peter Gallagher. (NOT! Eva was right, he’s totally a prick.)
*Not really, my decorations are still limited.