"Center Stage" has many of the usual clichés recycled over and over again in movies about dancing: there's the dancer who is good but is told by her parents that she's not likely to go far as a dancer; there's the dancer who doesn't really want to dance but has been pushed into it by her mother, who herself wanted to be a great dancer but could not become one; there's the dancer who's so worried about her body's shape that she has taken to vomiting up virtually everything she eats; there's another dancer who eats too much and has become "overweight" (at least, by the standards of the ballet school); there's the sarcastic dancer who resents authority; and, of course, there are the male dancers you'd expect to see in a movie about ballet - a Russian dancer, and a gay and a straight dancer.
The movie takes place at the American Ballet Academy in New York, a fictional ballet school to which only the best of the best (to borrow a phrase from another film) get accepted. As the movie opens, we meet Jody (Amanda Schull), who is accepted into the Academy but, even so, is told by her parents that she should not go off to New York, because she's likely to be disappointed. Nonetheless, she accepts the invitation to study at the Academy and heads to New York to try to realize her dream of becoming a professional ballerina. But getting into the Academy is only the first step. Now comes the hard part: making it through a year of extremely difficult classes. At the end of the year, three students will be picked to continue onward with their ballet careers; those who are not picked may nonetheless go on to dance professionally, but their chances of MAJOR success will be slim.
Jody's competition is fierce. She has a roommate named Maureen (Susan Mary Pratt), who has been at the Academy for some time already and is considered by many to be the best (female) student dancer there. Despite her fine abilities as a dancer, Maureen lacks modesty and, hence, has few friends. Jody's other roommate is Eva Rodriguez (Zoe Saldana), a chain-smoking dancer who is so sarcastic that I wondered just how she got into the Academy. True, she is an amazing dancer, but I thought the heads of the Academy would also look to a potential student's attitude before issuing an acceptance. Evidently, I was wrong.
Toward the end of the year, two instructors write their own ballets and select students to dance in them. It is mainly from these ballets that the three students will be picked. One instructor is Cooper Neilson, who, we learn, is considered to be the greatest dancer in the world. Cooper is played by Ethan Stiefel, who arguably IS the world's greatest (male) dancer. Cooper's philosophy is to bring ballet to the people. Hence, his ballet is set to modern rock music (including Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel"). Even the look is modern: actual speaking, regular street clothes, sex, and even a motorcycle on stage! (I wondered just how they were able to ride a motorcycle on the stage of an indoor theater without exposing the audience and cast members to intoxicating carbon minoxide, but I digress.)
The other ballet is by Jonathan Reeves (Peter Gallagher), who is not only an instructor but also the head of the Academy. Jonathan is much more traditional than Cooper. Hence, Jonathan's ballet is set to classical music, and the dancers wear more traditional outfits. His ballet focuses on a man who is surrounded by many lovely women but is interested in only one -- the choreography creates the effect of him ignoring all the other women and focusing exclusively on his one true love.
Despite some of the predictability of the storyline, I very much recommend this movie for the incredible dancing seen throughout the film, not just ballet but also salsa and modern jazz. This movie gives one an appreciation for all the hard work, not to mention talent, that is necessary to make a good dancer. It also functions as a "behind the scenes" look at the world of the ballerina; the movie goer leaves the theater with a profound respect for ballet and for those whose hard work and dedication keep it alive.