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Ballet 422: Justin Peck NYCB Ballet Documentary

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This just received from Ellen Bar, about Ballet 422:

Cinematographer and documentarian Jody Lee Lipes crafts an intimate, fly-on-the-wall documentary offering a rare peek into the highly-guarded world of professional ballet. The film shadows Justin Peck, the 25-year old choreographer of the New York City Ballet, as he undertakes the Herculean task of creating the companys 422nd original piece while simultaneously fulfilling his role as a Corps de Ballet member. Lipes chronicles Pecks creative process from its embryonic stages to its highly anticipated premiere, quietly observing as he balances a roster of musicians, designers, and dancers from this famed institution. Ballet 422 is a powerful celebration of the skill and endurance of Peck and his fellow NYCB dancersas well as those who remain hidden in the wings.

BALLET 422 premieres at 2014 Tribeca Film Festival

We are very excited to announce that BALLET 422 will have its world premiere in Documentary Competition at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 19th! Thank you to all of our donors and Hatchfund supporters - this couldn't have happened without you!

Sneak Peek at the Soho Apple Store - Saturday April 5th, 3:00pm

Director Jody Lee Lipes joins a panel with four other TFF directors at the Tribeca Film Festival Sneak Peak, an annual event featuring never-before-seen clips and conversation with directors of the most highly anticipated premieres.

Screening Schedule and Tickets

Click HERE to access the Tribeca Film Guide and see the full BALLET 422 screening schedule:


Tickets go on sale for American Express card holders on April 8th at 11:00am

Tickets go on sale for downtown residents on April 13th at 11:00am

Tickets go on sale to the general public on April 14th at 11:00am

Click HERE for more information on where and how to buy tickets to see BALLET 422: http://tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets?utm_source=Opus+Jazz+and+Ballet+422+mailing+list&utm_campaign=f85cd3515a-B422_at_TFF_first_email4_2_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_d5474de98a-f85cd3515a-75267917

Thanks for your support and hope to see you at one of our screenings!

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I'm very late in posting my thoughts on the documentary Ballet 422. I thought it was a well intentioned film and Justin Peck was shown to be a serious and supremely focused young man. The rehearsal sessions looked to be later in the process where mostly fine-tuning of the principals was being done. He was working with Tiler Peck, Amar Ramasar and Sterling Hyltin. His corrections were in "ballet shorthand" that was instantly understood by the dancers. They were as focused as he with a few bits of levity. Always by his side was Albert Evans. No one was identified by the film makers and there were no talking heads. This was later explained by them in the Q&A following the film. They said they admired the work of Frederick Wiseman and were emulating his verite methods. But this was much shorter than Wiseman's films and I feel the audience could have benefited by some identification and explanation. In the Q&A one audience member asked if Albert Evans (without knowing his name) was also a choreographer and why he was always present. It was never explained why Justin was chosen at his young age to choreograph this 422nd ballet for the company since the audience was not informed about his discovery during the Choreographic Institute (I think this is the name) and the fact that he had made other ballets for the company. Sterling Hyltin was present at the Q&A, looking lovely and in answer to a question about how it was to accept corrections from a dancer that in the hierarchy of the company is your underling, said that they all feel part of a family and they are all thrilled at his success. She also charmingly pointed out that she did "push back" at one time, very gently, over one of his suggestions. I must mention one bit in the film that was quite uncomfortable to witness. The pianist accompanying the rehearsals (again, not identified so I don't know who he is. He seemed to be an orchestra member as well) took Justin aside and suggested he ask the conductor if he could address the orchestra before the performance. According to him the orchestra was not initially happy with the music chosen for the piece and were thus not fully engaged and perhaps not understanding how important that the performance be a success for him. Justin takes him up on his suggestion and when he approaches the conductor about addressing the orchestra he is met with a very cold reception and only reluctantly allowed to do so. When questioned the film makers said they left this piece in the film because it was illustrative of Justin's youth and that one often makes these kind of faux pas early in your career as had the film maker himself. The film ends with the performance very well received then follows Justin immediately to his dressing room where he changes from his tux to his costume for the next ballet, which he will perform in. Despite the reservations I mentioned I did enjoy the film. I hope when the premiere was over Justin was able to relax a bit and take a break from the intense concentration (he rarely broke a smile, that was shown at least). PS - Peter Martins was nowhere to be seen or at least filmed. I would have thought he would have been on hand to congratulate Justin after the premiere. Again, perhaps he was but it was not caught on film.

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I saw this at the Seattle film festival recently and enjoyed it thoroughly. It's very much a film about Peck, and not about the ballet -- while we see chunks of material, we really don't get an extended view of the choreography. (during the actual premiere, we see part of the work reflected in Peck's glasses as he watches, and in another sequence, the camera, sitting behind Peck in the audience, is focused on him, so that the dancers on stage are quite blurry).

Thanks to Barbara for her report from the premiere -- I can really see the Wiseman influence here. The environment is as much a character here as any of the people involved. It's a film of interiors, from the maze of hallways at the State/Koch Theater to the narrow hallway in Peck's apartment.

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Donors to this film via the Hatchfund at $150 and up were supposed to get a free DVD of the film. It appears the film was released several months ago, but I have not yet received the DVD. Has anybody else?

I just got an answer from Ellen Bar. Looks like we won't be getting the DVD until 2015:

Film festivals are typically the first step in a film's life, so we are very thrilled that BALLET 422 has played in two film festivals so far, with more to come. Film festivals are the place where independent films have a chance to show their film to distributors, and after our premiere at Tribeca we were lucky enough to have found a distributor, Magnolia Pictures, for BALLET 422 in North America. Magnolia will now bring BALLET 422 to theaters, television, and digital/DVD. Once Magnolia creates the DVD, we will send them out to all our supporters who donated at the level to receive that reward. DVD/digital distribution typically comes after theatrical and television broadcast (in order to prevent piracy and ensure that the film reaches as many people as possible) so the DVD will probably not be ready for release until some time in the new year.
As a Hatchfund donor, you should be on our BALLET 422 mailing list already, so you will receive news about film festival screenings and theatrical/television release, and hopefully you'll be able to see the film even before your DVD arrives. But if not, you will receive it as soon as we have one to release.
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I just saw this film at Filmlinc (Feb 6, 2015). Let's just say that Jody Lee Lipes is no Frederick Wiseman. The film just not have the length of a Wiseman film (Ballet 422 is 72 minutes; Wiseman films run 3-4 hours). Wiseman usually spends at least 3 months with his subjects. Lipes explained he really knows nothing about ballet (though he is married to Ellen Barr, a former NYCB soloist and current head of their media operations). I think it really helps if you are (and have been) a NYCB frequent viewer. I was able to identify most of the dancers (even the corps). Albert Evans (who helps Peck) is a former NYCB principal and current ballet master. He is obviously in charge of Peck's work (in that he could set it on new dancers or another company). The person who talked to Justin about talking to the orchestra is Cameron Grant, a company pianist who both plays for rehearsals and class but also performances (Pictures At An Exhibition).

When I see a a Wiseman film I feel I really understand the institution he is portraying. Here, I didn't really feel I had any better understanding of the choreographic process. How did Justin pick this music? How did he pick the dancers? What were the money constraints? What was Peter's role (you know he had one)?

There were also a few things I really didn't like. One was Lipes showing Justin complaining to Albert about Amar Ramasar, one of his leads. Amar seems like a relaxed, good guy, but no one wants to be called out like that on camera. The other was Lipes final shot, which was of Concerto DSCH (which Justin is preparing to dance) with Bizet's Symphony in C (NOT its music) playing over the visuals. We only get about 2 minutes of what Paz de la Jolla looked like on stage. That was really a letdown and something a Wiseman film would never do. I mean, the whole film is about the creation of Paz and then show only 2 minutes? And end with Ratmansky's masterpiece? What a letdown. And if Lipes knew more about ballet, maybe he'd have realized a bit more what it means to end with another choreographer's work.

Anyway, I enjoy everything ballet and really like film, too. This is not a great film but if you like NYCB (and new work) this is a must see. If not, may be a pass.

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There were also a few things I really didn't like ... The other was Lipes final shot, which was of Concerto DSCH (which Justin is preparing to dance) with Bizet's Symphony in C (NOT its music) playing over the visuals.

This may simply have been the result of a rights issue. The music for DSCH (Shostakovich's Concerto No. 2 in F Major, Op. 102) is almost certainly not in the public domain given its date of composition (1957). I would have thought that using a few minutes of the music in a film would have been allowed under the fair use doctrine, but perhaps not. Lipes might not have had enough money in his budget to license the rights to use the music (or a recording of it) in his film.

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Oooh, hadn't thought about the rights thing -- you may have put your finger on the point.

As far as the Wiseman connection -- at a run time under two hours, this film isn't going to be the same leisurely opportunity to explore an institution that Wiseman gives us, but I do think that it shares the same uninflected style. We come to the work in the same way that a scientist or anthropologist comes to whatever subject they're studying. The director doesn't really interpret much for us, or put labels on things for easy identification -- they open some of the doors of the institution, and show us what they see.

I agree, it was frustrating not to get a better look at the ballet as a whole (I found myself watching the stage reflected in Peck's glasses during the performance!) but perhaps that is not what this film is about.

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Thanks for the above report. What a shame about not being able to see any substantial part of Peck's ballet in the documentary, so different from the wonderful early-1980s film about Choo-San Goh's creation for ABT (CONFIGURATIONS to Barber's piano concerto). That film finished with a full performance of Goh's ballet for Baryshnikov et. al.

I'll likely still see Ballet 422 for the NYCB dancers but it sounds as if a big part of the story will be missing.

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Thanks for the above report. What a shame about not being able to see any substantial part of Peck's ballet in the documentary, so different from the wonderful early-1980s film about Choo-San Goh's creation for ABT (CONFIGURATIONS to Barber's piano concerto). That film finished with a full performance of Goh's ballet for Baryshnikov et. al.

I'll likely still see Ballet 422 for the NYCB dancers but it sounds as if a big part of the story will be missing.

Again, not showing substantial selections from the finished work may well be as much a rights issue as a directorial choice. Martinu's Sinfonietta la Jolla is definitely not in the public domain, so Lipes would likely have had to obtain a license from the publisher (Boosey & Hawkes) to use it in his film. "Obtain a license" usually means "pay a fee." NYCB has the rights to perform Sinfonietta la Jolla in a theater before a live audience, obviously, but it may well not have the right to record its performance of the work. (Recording rights are't necessarily conveyed by the mere purchase or rental of a score; in some cases -- with a "study score" e.g. -- neither are performance rights.) And, even if NYCB does have the rights to record the work, the terms of its contract with the orchestra's musicians might require it to pay them additional compensation if their performance is included in a film or broadcast.

Then there's the question of the rights to perform and record Paz de La Jolla, the ballet. It could be that NYCB, not Peck, holds those rights and that it decided not to license them to Lipes for use in Ballet 422. There are plenty of good reasons for not doing so, not the least of which is a reluctance to cede control over the quality and distribution of your core artistic product to someone else. NYCB may have great regard for Lipes' talents as a documentary filmmaker, but may have less faith in his ability to film and edit a dance performance or to keep Paz de la Jolla off of YouTube. And who knows -- maybe Peck holds the rights and decided for reasons of his own not to license them to Lipes.

So, Lipes might not have had enough money to license the rights he needed or the rights holders might have been unwilling to grant them at any price, or at a price Lipes could afford to pay.

And of course, it could be that Lipes was simply interested in capturing the process rather than the product, and the film is as it is because he wanted it that way.

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It sounds like the whole production has managed to actually dumb down Justin's creative work; that is a shame!

I wouldn't say that at all -- I saw this last spring, enjoyed it thoroughly, and felt that I had a bit more of an insight on his aesthetic and process. Some documentaries explain things for you while you are watching examples of the ideas being explained -- some documentaries show you what they see, and you are in charge of what you learn from them. That, I think, is where the comparison to Wiseman comes in here.

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I understand the rights issue. Regardless of reason, the fact that substantial parts of the ballet - the raison d'être for the film- are not shown is a huge negative. I figured that something was afoot when the film's trailer shows excerpts of known ballets with the 'wrong' music in the background. Maybe 98% of the average public won't realize that this is happening but NYCB aficionados will notice that, say, music for a well-known Robbins oeuvre is superimposed over a Balanchine ballet.

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... in the way of some camera shots he would have liked to have made.

It is difficult to make cuts in film and music at the same time – the eye needs little buffers and gaps make sense of the leap to the next shot. In newsfilms in the old days the image and soundtrack were locked in 15 frames apart so when you made a direct cut, the new talking head would be finishing up speaking the former talking head's lines. However, using one soundtrack for a bunch of clips – SFB uses Serenade music with images of Don Quixote and Four Ts in this year's preview – seems to have become a convention.

I would think that there are recordings of Shostakovich's Concerto No. 2 in the public domain especially from before 1989 when copyrights were not strictly enforced between Russia and the US. It sounds like an esthetic choice – though I haven't seen the film yet, only the trailer in which the choreography looks like a distillation of New York City style – Eau de NYCB? ... Shouldn't Rode,O be Rode/O in the deconstructivist style?

Also strange is the Wisemen is the winner of the Cinema Verite crown when there were so many other (more) interesting inventors and practitioners of the form. One of the hallmarks of early Cinema Verite was the use of natural sounds that acted as harsh counterpoint to the images – like the windshield wiper sounds do in Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne ("The sound of a windshield-wiper against a page of Diderot is all it took ..." :Bazin.) ... Originally with Cinema Verite (now called Verite on a kind of first name basis) you made a new truth from raw materials. Now truth seems to come as a luxury model.

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POB used Serenade for the season "tickler" that's linked on another thread here. Seems to be an all-purpose theme that people associate with ballet - but not as clichéd as Swan Lake or Nutcracker, which I regularly hear in commercials.

Even for musical scores that are in the public domain, there are separate copyrights on sound recordings now, which limits their use. The U.S. copyright law prohibits copyright of any work by a Federal government employee (in their capacity as an employee). I've sometimes thought that all those military bands and orchestras (with a budget larger than the entire NEA) would do a real public service by recording classical music, free of any copyright on the sound recording, that the public could use royalty-free.

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For those of you who contributed support to the making of the film and were wondering where your promised DVD is, this message just arrived. Sounds like it will be awhile!

You may be aware that Ballet 422 was picked up for distribution by Magnolia Pictures and released nation-wide in select theaters beginning Friday, February 6th, 2015. Due to this new and exciting route the film has taken, your Ballet 422 DVD will not be available for shipping until a later date. Following the film’s theatrical and broadcast release, the distributor will create a DVD. As soon as the DVDs are made, we will send your copy to you.

We encourage you and your friends to watch and enjoy the film in the coming weeks. The below link provides information about where Ballet 422 is playing in theaters. As a donor to this project via Hatchfund, your name will appear in the credits at the end of the film.


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I would think that there are recordings of Shostakovich's Concerto No. 2 in the public domain especially from before 1989 when copyrights were not strictly enforced between Russia and the US.

There may well be a Soviet-era recording out there that no one is bothering to defend against infringement, but what matters in this case is the copyright on the orchestral score. Per the International Music Score Library Project website (an awesome source for downloadable public domain scores), all of Shostakovich's works are still under copyright in the EU, Canada and Japan. Given its date of composition (1957) it is highly likely that the score is still under copyright in the U.S. as well, unless the publisher in possession of the U.S. rights totally fell down on the job when it came time to renew the original copyright at the end of its initial term.

It's a bit off topic, but here's a summary of the 1909 US copyright law as amended in 1976 and 1998 (the latter the infamous Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, derisively nicknamed "The Mickey Mouse Protection Act" for reasons you can guess …)

  • Works published before 1923: In the public domain
  • Works published between 1923 and 1963: Initial term 28 years. But, if the copyright was renewed in the 28th year, the work enters the public domain 95 years after publication. (For example, a work originally published in 1923 that had its copyright renewed in 1951 wouldn’t enter the public domain until 2018)
  • Works published between 1964 and 1977: Copyright term is 95 years.
  • Works created after 12/31/1977:

1) One author: Life + 70 years

2) Joint authors: life of the last surviving author + 70 years

3) Works for hire: The shorter of 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation

4) Anonymous / Pseudonymous authors: The shorter of 95 years from publication or 120 from creation, but, if the author is discovered, life + 70 years

Anyway, I just saw Ballet 422 and here's my guess as to why Lipes used the second movement from Bizet's Symphony in C instead of the Shostakovich Piano Concerto: we get only a brief glimpse of the opening moments of Concerto DSCH -- just enough to establish that Peck performed in it on the same very night that his own work premiered. (Paz De La Jolla opened the program; Concerto DSCH closed it.) At that point, the film ends and we get the closing credits over an exterior shot that pulls back from the Lincoln Center fountain to an overhead view of the whole plaza (or most of it). I think it would have been jarring to hear a few bars of the Shostakovich and then transition to something else for the closing credits. The Bizet strikes me as being better closing credit music than the Shostakovich. For those in the know, it's closely associated with NYCB; for those not in the know, it's a striking theme that is very evocative of ballet in general -- it sounds Swan Lakey without actually being Swan Lake. If we saw five whole minutes of DSCH, I might have felt differently, but in this case I think that the mismatch between the ballet we saw and the score we heard was OK.

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Thanks for that clarification, Kathleen. I think Disney was able roll the dates both ways on the rights to Pinocchio and of course Ub Iwerks who pretty much created Mickey Mouse is lost somewhere in all that. Before 1989 when everyone began respecting internation copyrights you may have been able to get away with a little clip of Shostakovitch.

But the music to Symphony in C arouses so many specific expections when you hear even just a few bars – of dancers doing sewing machine-like steps and men blowing onto stage as if shot out of a canon... What about Fountains of Rome (!) or some other less saturated piece.

My other minor quibble was with the title (which I at first associated with the classic 442 Oldsmobile muscle car) ... Didn't Balanchine do about 400 of those? Why not start another set – your own – of opus numbers?

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