NY Export: Opus Jazz

NY Export: Opus Jazz

NY Export: Opus Jazz (Directors: Jody Lee Lipes and Henry Joost): It has been a very long time since I have been as knocked out by a filmgo­ing exper­i­ence the way NY Export: Opus Jazz knocked me out. Based on the cho­reo­graphy of Jerome Robbins and cre­ated by dan­cers from the New York City Ballet, it’s a dance film, sure. But even if you don’t think you’re inter­ested in dance, you owe it to your­self to immerse your­self in this mes­mer­iz­ing film.

The ori­ginal bal­let piece premiered in 1958, a year after the suc­cess of West Side Story on Broadway. Robbins con­sidered Opus Jazz a com­pan­ion piece but more of an abstrac­tion of West Side Story. This “bal­let in sneak­ers” has no dia­logue and no dis­cern­ible story. And yet, it power­fully con­veys the mood of what it must feel like to be young and beau­ti­ful and liv­ing in New York City. Originally per­formed over­seas in Spoleto and on Broadway in 1958, it wasn’t revived again until the New York City Ballet per­formed it in 2005. Two of the dan­cers who per­formed in that revival, Ellen Bar and Sean Suozzi, saw the poten­tial for a film and began rais­ing funds.

The res­ult is a 46-minute film of the bal­let per­form­ance itself, fol­lowed by a 15-minute doc­u­ment­ary on the film’s mak­ing. Using real New York loc­a­tions and shoot­ing in widescreen 35mm, dir­ect­ors Lipes and Joost always provide visu­ally inter­est­ing spaces for their dan­cers to move in, or even just to pose in. The dan­cers, dressed in street clothes, are all gor­geous and make up a group diverse enough to look like real New Yorkers. Once they start to move, the film comes to life, and the cam­era con­stantly prowls around and above them, dazzling us with remark­able views. The com­bin­a­tion of the camera’s move­ment with that of the dan­cers cre­ates a sexy and hyp­notic effect. Though some of the cho­reo­graphy might have appeared dated, some­how the dan­cers and cam­er­a­work make it seem more retro cool, and instead the film bursts with life and youth. Something about the incred­ible pulsat­ing sense of move­ment, for lack of a bet­ter word, moved me (par­don the pun) and left me prac­tic­ally breath­less with awe. Not to men­tion grasp­ing for just the right words to describe my feel­ings.

The good news is that PBS has picked this up as part of its Great Performances series, and it will be tele­vised begin­ning on March 24 on your local PBS affil­i­ate. The bad news is that because of that deal, the film will have no the­at­rical run in the US, and no film I’ve seen so far this year deserves to be seen on a large screen more.

Official site of the film


This entry was posted in Documentaries, Film Festivals, SXSW and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.