A Face in the Crowd: Jody Lee Lipes, Ellen Bar and Anna Holmer Take You Inside the NYC Ballet in “Ballet 422”

A rare peek inside a New York City Ballet production needs your support....Read More
New York City Ballet Stage in a scene from Jody Lee Lipes' "Ballet 422"

After flooding the city streets with dozens of New York City Ballet dancers to perform Jerome Robbins numbers in the exuberant “NY Export: Opus Jazz,” what do you possibly do for an encore?

You go inside the city’s premier dance company to show something the public never sees, if you’re filmmakers Jody Lee Lipes, Ellen Bar, and Anna Rose Holmer. The trio are currently raising funds on Hatchfund before a November 15th deadline for “Ballet 422,” a rare peek behind the curtain at the New York City Ballet to let audiences see the process of mounting a new production from start to finish.

“The idea of following the creation of a new ballet in all its creative elements had been in the back of my mind,” said Bar, a former dancer who now works as director of media projects for the New York City Ballet. “But it seemed like it would be impossible to find a choreographer who would be willing to have cameras around that much, and it was something I didn’t even really entertain as being possible.”

Yet when Bar and Holmer produced a promo for “Year of the Rabbit,” Justin Peck’s debut for Lincoln Center, they realized they might have found someone open to such an idea in the groundbreaking choreographer who scored his latest with Sufjan Stevens’s 2002 electronica album “Enjoy Your Rabbit.” Knowing they wanted to reteam with Lipes on another ballet-related project and that the feeling was mutual, the two invited the cinematographer/director out to see “Year of the Rabbit” and shortly after in November 2012 when Bar caught wind that the Ballet Master-in-Chief Peter Martins had commissioned a new ballet from Peck, they saw their opportunity.

“We realized that because of Justin’s openness and because of the timing, this could be the opportunity to document the process of a new ballet from beginning to end, in all its creative elements,” says Bar. “We talked to Justin and all his creative collaborators  —costume designers, lighting designer, conductor, musicians, dancers — and everyone was willing to let the cameras into their process.”

That includes Martins, whose unflagging dedication towards creating pioneering work onstage and off extended to granting Lipes and company unprecedented access to Peck’s production of “Paz de la Jolla.” Since then, as with everything else associated with Peck’s work, “Ballet 422” has since taken on a life of its own. Initially conceived as a vérité short, the film has since bloomed into a feature, hence the crowdsourcing campaign to complete the post-production process. While film fans should line up to experience the latest from “Martha Marcy May Marlene” lenser Lipes, “Ballet 422” has already found great support amongst the ballet community from the Jerome Robbins Foundation, which has supplied a matching grant to what’s raised on Hatchfund, to the New York City Ballet, which has opened their doors to something truly unique. As Bar notes, making a contribution towards “Ballet 422” is far greater than simply a financial one.

“New York City Ballet invests a lot in new work, because we don’t want to be a dusty museum of classics, we want to advance and expand the art form,” says Bar. “But many people don’t understand how much goes into making a new ballet. This film, because it’s entirely vérité, doesn’t tell you how it works, it shows you. And that creates an understanding that goes beyond words. Some people don’t even realize that the choreographers are creating the dance in real time, with the dancers in the studio with them.”

Even when Bar was in pointe shoes, she never got to see everything that audiences will get to see in “Ballet 422” next year, should the Hatchfund campaign be successful.

“This film feels, to me, like a very pure representation of the creative process and of what it’s like to work in the New York City Ballet world,” says Bar. “It’s fascinating without being melodramatic or exploitative. As a viewer, you feel like you’re walking around backstage watching, like an invisible presence, observing all these great artists at work in a closed world. Who doesn’t dream of doing that now and then?”

Stephen Saito is an L.A.-based writer whose work has been published in The L.A. Times, Premiere, and IFC.com.
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