If you're into dance, or even if you're not, you might be interested in a documentary film that opens today at the Magic Lantern. I reviewed that film, "Ballet 422," for Spokane Public Radio. Following is a transcription of my review:
Everyone appreciates art in one form or another. This is true whether we’re talking about the intricate stroke-work of an Andrew Wyeth painting, the clever wordplay of a Bob Dylan ballad, the electric feel of Maria Callas singing “Tosca” or the grace of Robinson Cano swinging at a fastball.
What most of us don’t appreciate, though, is the work that goes into the creation of such art – the hours spent both in thought and effort preparing for the actual execution of the work in question.
Take dance as an example. In his prime, Mikhail Baryshnikov seemed to defy gravity as he propelled himself off the stage and appeared to literally hang in the air. And yet for every moment in performance, Baryshnikov spent hours, weeks, years practicing his jumps.
“Ballet 422,” a documentary film that opens today at the Magic Lantern, offers us the opportunity to witness such process. Filmed over a two-month period in 2013, the film documents the creation of a Justin Peck ballet for the New York City Ballet.
Dubbed a “wonder boy” by some critics, Peck – a member of the City Ballet’s chorus of dancers – had shown early promise as a ballet innovator. So much so, in fact, he had been invited to attend the group’s Choreographic Institute. That invite led to a two-year residency and, in the summer of 2014, Peck’s being named, at the tender age of 26, the company’s resident choreographer.
Directed by Jody Lee Lipes, “Ballet 422” picks up as Peck prepares only his third ballet for the company. And Lipes employs an almost cinema-verité, fly-on-the-wall style to capture all – or at least much – of what transpires. We see Peck trying out moves in the studio, capturing the images on a smartphone. We see him working with the individual performers, taking them through the movements he sees in his mind’s eye and adjusting his expectations based on each dancer’s physical abilities.
And we see everything else involved in a big-time production, from the ongoing run-throughs to the costume fittings, the staging and lighting to the melding of the dance with music played by the company’s orchestra – all occurring as the hours count down inexorably to opening night.
We’ve seen such insider documentaries before. Two things, though, set “Ballet 422” apart. One is how it refuses to pander to the now-familiar conceits of reality television: Lipes gives us no talking-head reflections on what we are seeing; he focuses only on what his camera captures, whether that be of a sweaty dancer skipping rope or of Peck, sitting in the audience, allowing himself a quick smile as his work is met with applause.
The other is a curious kind of G-rated feel where – even in the cut-throat world of big-city arts – no one seems to have an ego. Where everyone – Peck in particular – seems like the nicest person imaginable, united in a desire only to create fine art.
“Ballet 422,” then, may or may not be a completely honest depiction. But this much is clear: It certainly is a refreshing one.