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Documentary on ABT by Ric Burns


California

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As I leave the screening, my initial thought is "bravo!" Such beauty and history in the (currently) 120-minute film. Luckily, film maker Ric Burns and ABT AD Kevin McKenzie informed us that this is just the initial screening but that the final product, to air May 15 on PBS, will be "somewhat shorter." Several audience members agree with me that a roughly-30-minute "history of ballet from the time of Louis 14th," by Jennifer Homans, full of touchy/feely pontificating, must get the ax. About 40 minutes into the film, we finally hear the word "Mordkin" and arrive at the late 1930s and the beginnings of Ballet Theatre. THAT'S when the film takes off, gloriously, and doesn't let up.

Among the many wonderful historic clips, my faves include an extended excerpt of FANCY FREE filmed during ABT's recent tour to Havana, with Carreno, then Alonso bowing with the cast, at the end. Also so good to see Sallie Wilson in PILLAR OF FIRE during the Tudor segment. Also, a clip of the first cast in the original costumes of Robbins' INTERPLAY. And, of course, Alonso and Youskevich in the original cast of THEME & VARIATIONS. Bravi!!!

I also love the interviews with Alonso, Koesun, Serrano, Saddler...and also a few dancers and critics no longer with us, like Franklin and Barnes...all weave their magic into this tapestry of beauty in movement! I hope that the final version of the films keeps their recollections and extraordinary performance clips, including bits of all three works performed in BT's debut night. And "WOW!" to the ultra slo-mo clips of many of today's stars, especially Danil Simkin's awesome rivoltade that ends the film on the highest note possible.

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Thanks so much for the prompt report. I hope that whatever is cut from the final product gets put in the archive at Lincoln Center -- at some point in the future, those holdings will get digitized, and we'll all spend even more time in front of our computers!

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Thanks, Sandik. I agree. By the way there is absolutely no "relating forward" or any direct connection to ABT in the approximately-30-mins of Homans' History of World Ballet. So that big portion should, IMO, be tucked into a 'general ballet history' section of the public library. On the other hand...unless I blinked at the wrong second...there was no mention or even a non-mention dance clip of the following folks:

Cynthia Gregory - THE huge omission...still alive and capable of speaking to a camera

Fernando Bujones

Toni Lander

Erik Bruhn

Irina Baronova

Eleanor D'Antuono & Ted Kivitt...often talked about on this forum as the beloved "work horses of the 60s/70s

Martine Van Hamel

Eliot Feld (an astute audience member asked about his omission during the very brief Q&A...that was the only q!)

Mariana Tcherkassky or Amanda McKerrow

Gelsey Kirkland...not even in the 1970s segment

Paloma Herrera...but we got her two fellow-retirees Kent (LOTS of interview comments & practicing SB PDD with Stiefel) and Reyes (practicing Rodeo)

Angel Corella

Alessandra Ferri

Julio Bocca

Also....no mention of the importance of the 1970s film TURNING POINT in ABT's history -- the entire Ballet Boom barely mentioned but Makarova and Baryshnikov well represented. No mention of some key issues of the late 70s/80s, such as AIDS' toll on the company (eg, Peter Fonseca et al) or drugs (think Patrick Bissell, Kirkland et al).

Also, very odd that the huge importance of outside guest stars in the Met seasons is not mentioned.

But we got, say, a combined 3-4 minutes of Hee Seo in HD/super-slo-mo practicing Odette's solo in SWAN LAKE or Marcello Gomes in OTHELLO....and, it seems, about 5 mins of Isabella Boylston, who seems to be a special muse of the director, she is shown so much! Not that these aren't gorgeous dancers.

[Current dancers shown in the super-slo-mo segments include: Isabella Boylston (more white swan, Kitri's huge stag leap in slo-mo!, T&V, and LOTS of practice demos not related to any ballet), Misty Copeland (Ratmansky Firebird, Bluebird pdd), Herman Cornejo (extraordinary Spectre de la Rose!), Gomes (OTHELLO and some other modern piece I don't recognize), Joseph Gorak (T&V, I think), Gillian Murphy (Black Swan), Hee Seo (white swan solo, R&j pdd with Cory Stearns) and Simkin in two extraordinary dances (incl Corsaire solo with those awesome rivoltades...and an amazing modern solo in black that I don't recognize).]

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How do you tell the tale of the 70s at ABT without mentioning and/or interviewing Bujones, D'Antuono, Gregory, Kirkland, Kivitt, Tcherkassky and Van Hamel? Does Ivan Nagy get a mention?? Bad history to reduce ABT in the 70s to Baryshnikov and Makharova.

It might be really interesting to hear, say, Ted Kivitt's perspective on all the guest stars in the 70s given what's been going on at ABT since the turn of the decade. But then that would point out some uncomfortable home truths to the present day management.

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Miliosr, Ivan Nagy was one of 5 or 6 people mentioned at the very end of the credits ("In Memoriam")...the others cited were shown in the film, so I'm guessing that Nagy was interviewed by Burns but I don't recall seeing him speaking or dancing.

Among the 70s stars you list, Bujones has sadly passed away but he could have been shown in a little clip. :)

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Thanks, imspear. Not just McKerrow but some wonderful footage of Ferri and Bocca in R&J during the Athens tour.

In all fairness to Ric Burns and ABT, we were told, before the screening last night, that this was "a work in progress" and that the final product to be aired on PBS on May 15 would be different. That gives them time to edit-in some of the glaring omissions and to cut the long non-ABT history. (We can see Fonteyn's MAGIC OF DANCE series for that!) Burns was even honest enough to reveal that last night's event/airing almost did not happen, as editing was occurring even on Sunday..."if you would have told me 24 hours ago that we would be screening this film tonight, I wouldn't have believed you..." So you see, it seems to be far from finished. Plenty of time to add Cynthia Gregory! :)

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If that was a "Q," what was the "A?"

Something to the effect: "unfortunately, no plans [for Feld]...but we hope to rectify this in the future." Then someone else sitting in the ABT Alums section got up to ask another Q but had no chance. "Have a good night everyone! Thanks for coming!" I guess that they ran out of Q&A time quickly, since it was a fairly long documentary. I didn't get to ask my Q on Cynthia Gregory. Hopefully someone at ABT might read Ballet Alert. :)

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Ms Chase was well treated, Lisa. A number of interview clips were shown, including several from what appears to be a late 60s/early 70s TV interview in color (blazing red hair, freckles and sky-blue eyes!). Hers was the only clip that I recall that alluded to the so-called "ballet boom" of that era. She came across as both intelligent and passionate. Truly loved to dance and wanted to earn roles as fiercely as the other dancers in the company, regardless of her part in funding or running the troupe!

There were some dancing clips of her that I had not seen before...GREAT AMERICAN GOOF, for ex., and I think I spotted her in SYLPHIDES as one of the three female solos on opening night 1940!

There is much great footage out there to make for a wonderful docum just on ABT. That's why I scratch my head about the 30 minutes of non-ABT fluff about Louis 14th, the invention of pointe shoes, etc.

Speaking of pointe shoes...how could I have forgotten the single most ridiculous, unintendedly-hilarious moment of the night: the ultra-high-definition, super-slow-motion Pointe Shoe Missile! The film opens with it, the first of several slo-mo segments, most of which are quite lovely. Not so this one. We see an empty floor and jet-black background. Suddenly a light-pink projectile comes in from above....and slowly SLAMS onto the floor, forming a dust storm! I wasn't the only one in the audience trying to keep from laughing!

In a wicked way, I'm hoping that Pointe Shoe Missile doesn't end up on the cutting room floor.

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Thanks, Natalia, for the information about Ivan Nagy. He played a big, big part at ABT during the 1970s and should be included in more than the 'In Memoriam' credits. Bujones, too, was one of the biggest male stars ABT ever had and deserves to be included.

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I'm curious how they treated Baryshnikov? He remade ABT much more so than McKenzie

An in-depth discussion -- pro and con -- of Baryshnikov's tenure as artistic director would be interesting to be sure. I don't know how many people would want to go on camera criticizing Baryshnikov, though. (Bujones would for sure if he was still alive.) In my opinion, Baryshnikov tried -- and failed -- to remake ABT in terms of roster and repertory, and the McKenzie era has been a return to the norm, which is the 70s.

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Baryshnikov was well treated, although all of his interview clips come from prior films; he wasn't interviewed by Burns, it seems. I don't remember exactly WHO (Clive Barnes?) is shown declaring that Baryshnikov took the corps de ballet to the highest level..."before Baryshnikov they had a spirited corps, since Baryshnikov and into the present they have a technically impeccable corps and it hasn't let up..." (Paraphrase)

Funny that Barnes is no longer with us but he appears as often as any interviewee in this film, coming across as the greatest cheerleader of McKenzie's ABT. Barnes also provided a great first-hand account of ABT's first London Coventry Garden visit after the war...how that visit affected him greatly.

The other critic appearing in the film is Kisselgoff, who comes across as more tempered than Barnes.

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Very interesting. I was getting pretty tired of the slow-motion effects, but at the very end it was fascinating to see that big sissone from Don Q, starting from a slightly off-kilter place and building to the final image, which is usually all we register.

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Those slow motion effect are really driving me crazy. I hope that doesn't last for the whole documentary.

Well, it lasts a whole long time, throughout the two-hr version of the docum shown at the Kennedy Center last month. Just think of all the fascinating real-time clips of Gregory, Bujones, Kivitt, Lander, Bruhn, Van Hamel and other ABT greats could have been shown in place of 50% of the time devoted to these slo-mo clips?

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