SXSW 2010 Review: NY EXPORT: OPUS JAZZ
Directors: Henry Joost, Jody Lee Lipes
Choreography: Jerome Robbins
Writer: Jody Lee Lipes
Cast: Dancers of the New York City Ballet Company
I can't be the only one who's had this feeling before: you're walking down the street, a spring in your step and you're tempted to just dance your way around town. Okay, well maybe it is just me, but I've always flirted with the idea of dancing across campus on my way to class, when the air was fresh and I was in a great mood. NY EXPORT: OPUS JAZZ, a film based off the ballet of the same name, does exactly that. It dances in the street and gives a beautiful tribute to the work of the late Jerome Robbins.
Referred to as "a ballet in sneakers," NY EXPORT uses the original choreography of Jerome Robbins (whom some of you may recognize as the Academy Award winning director and choreographer for WEST SIDE STORY) to celebrate the beauty of youth and also the beauty of New York City itself.
The film opens with stark, beautifully panned shots of the city as our unnamed dancers get ready for the day. They're young, attractive kids about to spend time with their friends and it's nothing unusual than what the rest of us experience every day. Yet NY EXPORT is anything but ordinary, it is a gorgeous and sensual look at the electricity of youth expressed through dance.
Although the film is considered a ballet, it is not frigid and uptight like most people perceive ballets to be. The dancers are wearing normal street clothes (hence the title "ballet in sneakers") and the majority of OPUS' dances take place outside in barren areas that only enhance their sensuality. Also, these dances are performed as if they're normal occurrences: meet up with friends, go to a club, go out to eat, but when paired with the sublime cinematography of co-director Jody Lee Lipes, they become delicate and artful highlights of youthful excitements and relationships.
Because of OPUS' choreography and cinematography, I couldn't help but find myself completely enraptured in the film; and these arousing dances are accentuated by the deep saxophone overtones of Robert Prince's score. As the dancers express their frustration, lust, and juvenility, Prince's score perfectly accentuates their movements, making the film that much more intoxicating.
But what truly came as a surprise to me is the documentary that follows OPUS. As I got ready to dance my way out of the theater, a brief ten minute history of the ballet and choreographer Jerome Robbins is featured. Through this mini-documentary, the audience is given a look at the background of the ballet and also Robbins, and the delicate care that directors Henry Joost and Jody Lee Lipes went through to create this opus is evident. It is clear that they wanted to maintain as many of the qualities about the ballet as Robbins' first run through (they even go so far as to model the modern day sets to the original stage sets) and by tributing a documentary to Robbins, it is obvious that they want to respectfully convey his beautiful work.
Even if you find ballet tedious and uninteresting, I can't recommend checking out NY EXPORT: OPUS JAZZ enough. It is arousingly spirited and youthful; and any lover of dance will appreciate the amount of work that went into it.
And for those of you who did not get a chance to check it out at this year's SXSW Film Festival, PBS will be premiering it tonight (March 24th) for Great Performances at 8 PM (EST). Click here to check out your local PBS listings.