A film by Jody Lee Lipes
Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center
February 8, 2015
sponsored by the The New York City Ballet
Just after Justin Peck goes on stage to acknowledge the applause as the choreographer of Paz de la Jolla, a new ballet, he leaves and goes backstage. He walks to a small dressing room where he takes off his dark suit, puts on makeup and his costume and, responding to the PA summoning dancers to the stage, goes back downstairs to perform in another ballet.
That’s close to the end of the film, Ballet 422, a documentary directed by Jody Lee Lipes, about the creation of Paz de la Jolla, the four hundredth and twenty second dance piece made for the New York City Ballet. Young Peck, collegial and seemingly easy to work with, is a soloist for NYCB where he was recently named residential choreographer. He’s as un-diva as they come as shown in the film that begins with dancers warming up and takes us through the process of making a new ballet. Along the way, Peck confers with musicians, lighting designers, costume makers and the many others whose work contributes to the new piece. He begins to form the piece dancing alone, filming himself and reviewing the steps, making changes and documenting them in handwriting (he’s a lefty.)
No one—soloists, music director, lighting technicians—throws a hissy at changes and there’s a strong feeling that everyone is pulling together as a team to make the ballet as powerful and perfect as possible. Peck is focused and polite; at one point, advised to have a word with the orchestra to give them a final boost, he asks the conductor for permission to address them. There are no interviews, just scenes of everyone hard at work. There is a moment just before the ballet’s premiere performance where Peck mingles with the audience and a ballet grand dame points out that his name is now up there with George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins—modestly he implies it’s an honor and he’s not quite sure he’s reached their heights.
The film, which runs a bit over an hour, is straightforward, intense and completely absorbing. Dancing and the surrounding activities are hard work but this is the life Peck and his colleagues have chosen. They are total pros as is Mr. Lipes whose film brings the enterprise to behind-the-scenes life. It’s a win/win.