JUST IN TIME FOR THE NEW YORK CITY BALLET'S SPRING SEASON AT LINCOLN CENTER, A VETERAN STAR SOLOIST BRINGS US A CLOSER LOOK AT THE JOURNEY TO OPENING FROM BACKSTAGE. L.A. COLLINS SPEAKS WITH BALLET 422'S PRODUCER ELLEN BAR AFTER THE DOCUMENTARY'S SCREENING AT THE TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL
When the New York City Ballet (NYCB) plays a co-starring role to a deliciously driven 25-year-old Justin Peck—a choreographer/soloist on the rise, commissioned to create a new ballet which will debut at the theater’s Winter 2013 season—it’s clear that neither star will outshine the other. In fact, they’ll both make each other shine brighter, even if they nearly ravage themselves in the process. With unparalleled access and vivid vérité, Ballet 422, directed and photographed by the talented Jody Lee Lipes, spends several months following the dynamic wunderkind Peck as he collaborates, under pressure, with meticulous musicians, stage technicians, lighting designers, costume designers and his fellow (kickass) dancers to craft Paz de la Jolla, the company’s 422nd ballet. Spending behind-the-scenes time with Peck and one of the world’s greatest ballet companies, one enters an elite, delicate, arduous world where a single wrong move can shatter everything. Enter Ellen Bar, who produced Ballet 422 with Anna Rose Holmer. Formally trained from the age of 8, Bar was invited to join the George Balanchine-established New York City Ballet as a member in 1998. She rose to a soloist and next to the position of Director of Media Projects of NYCB, and now, with Ballet 422 in Tribeca Film Festival’s competition line-up, she has put her first feature producing credit under her belt. With a film as rigorous as its glowing stars, Bar and her filmmaking team know that discipline and first-rate collaboration aren’t just assets, they’re requirements in making grand-scale art come to life.
Trusted with such an exceptional responsibility, how did Justin Peck’s age sit with his array of collaborators, including those running the institution?
ELLEN BAR: Ballet is an art form that depends on youth, and dancers often get into the company when they're 15 or 16 years old, so 25 isn't as young at NYCB as it is everywhere else! Though, of course, it's still rare for a choreographer of that age to be getting such a big opportunity. I think you can see in the film that all the older collaborators, from the lighting designer to the director of costumes, are trying to guide Justin without interfering with his creative control. At New York City Ballet, the choreographer is given a blank canvas to do whatever he wants, and everyone respects that. So at the end of the day, his age doesn't matter.
The film showed those diligent people in the wings, whose contribution typically gets overlooked by the spotlight. Are there any particular folk whose work amazed you?
EB: I love the scene where you see the fabric dyer at work, trying to match the fabric she's dying to a swatch that she's been given. I've always known that we have our own dye shop, but it didn't occur to me what that really means until I watched her work. It requires so much time and skill and it's just one of many parts of the process. I think that's a great example of the type of person who might never see the spotlight, but whose work is so important.
LC: Having the opportunity to show such a quintessential New York film at TriBeCa '14, what has the reception been like?
EB: The festival has been amazing. The programmers have such a great respect and love for film, but at the same time this isn't just an industry festival, it really embraces the public, and that's why the audiences are so good. I think New Yorkers, as an audience, especially respond to films about creative work because so many people have come here with the idea of following their passion and accomplishing their goals, whatever those may be. It's really the perfect place to premiere this film, and we're so lucky to have had the opportunity.