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"In Balanchine's Classroom" - new documentary


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A new documentary, "In Balanchine's Classroom," has crossed the finish line. Looking forward to this.

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In 2007, Connie [Hochman] began a series of interviews with former Balanchine dancers - ninety in all – to explore the phenomenon of Balanchine’s classroom. Why did he teach and not just choreograph? What did he teach? How did he teach? How did his daily class relate to his choreography? Their remembrances of his unorthodox methods and transformative teaching form the basis of IN BALANCHINE'S CLASSROOM.
 

 

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Yes, I posted that piece in the Links. It may just go straight to PBS and video. The film is associated with "Women Make Movies," which is currently being featured on Turner Classic Movies, so who knows, we may see it there.

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On 2/6/2021 at 12:16 PM, dirac said:

Yes, I posted that piece in the Links. It may just go straight to PBS and video. The film is associated with "Women Make Movies," which is currently being featured on Turner Classic Movies, so who knows, we may see it there.

Turner generally doesn't repeat a presentation for a while, but PBS might offer multiple viewings. It would be better for the audience for this documentary to go to a streaming service (as was the case with "On Pointe") that allows repeated viewings.

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I had the privilege of being granted access to a prescreening of In Balanchine's Classroom. I think that any ballet aficionado will appreciate it whether it's for the intimate and some never been seen before footage, the interviews with some of his dancers, or the insight into Balanchine's ways. Here's a link to my thoughts supplemented by Hochman's answers to some of my questions.

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Thank you for the link, Cherilyn, Interesting reading. I'm a trifle disappointed by the movie's roster of leading interviewees but I'm sure they'll be worth hearing from. I suppose in Villella's case it will be "(Why I Wasn't) In Balanchine's Classroom."

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13 minutes ago, dirac said:

Thank you for the link, Cherilyn, Interesting reading. I'm a trifle disappointed by the movie's roster of leading interviewees but I'm sure they'll be worth hearing from. I suppose in Villella's case it will be "(Why I Wasn't) In Balanchine's Classroom."

Hahaha, yes, you will definitely hear Villella's story! I was surprised that some dancers aren't even mentioned by name (although Suzanne Farrell is not an interviewee shown, she is discussed) nor given verbal screen time - Kay Mazzo's perspective was one I was really missing. Who were you hoping to see?

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5 hours ago, The Traveling Ballerina said:

Hahaha, yes, you will definitely hear Villella's story! I was surprised that some dancers aren't even mentioned by name (although Suzanne Farrell is not an interviewee shown, she is discussed) nor given verbal screen time - Kay Mazzo's perspective was one I was really missing. Who were you hoping to see?

Thanks for the review. I just purchased tickets for a NYC Film Forum showing. Some shows seemed to be sold out, and others have plenty of seats. I suggest that NYC folks get tickets now.

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7 hours ago, The Traveling Ballerina said:

Hahaha, yes, you will definitely hear Villella's story! I was surprised that some dancers aren't even mentioned by name (although Suzanne Farrell is not an interviewee shown, she is discussed) nor given verbal screen time - Kay Mazzo's perspective was one I was really missing. Who were you hoping to see?

Mazzo was absolutely on my wish list. I’d have like to have heard more from people who’ve been/had been interviewed less frequently, or haven’t/hadn’t written their own books.  For example, I remember Richard Tanner had interesting things to say in “I Remember Balanchine.” Helgi Tomasson. Robert Weiss.  And, yes, I’ll say it, Peter Martins, who had great things to say in the PBS documentary on Jerome Robbins with regard to the difference between working with Robbins and Balanchine. Kyra Nichols instead of Watts. Maybe even soloists who were in the company a long time without making it to principal, since this is about class, not the making of ballets.  But I’ll reserve judgment till I see the movie, which I’m definitely looking forward to doing. 

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10 hours ago, vipa said:

 I just purchased tickets for a NYC Film Forum showing. Some shows seemed to be sold out, and others have plenty of seats. I suggest that NYC folks get tickets now.

Has anybody here been to the NYC Film Forum? I was going to buy a seat for an upcoming NYC visit, but can't get a good sense of seating with Google images. Is there a good slope in the theater seating? Are the front few rows actually too close to the screen to see without having to strain to look upwards?  Daytime seats seem to be plentiful (at least for now).

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14 hours ago, dirac said:

Mazzo was absolutely on my wish list. I’d have like to have heard more from people who’ve been/had been interviewed less frequently, or haven’t/hadn’t written their own books.  For example, I remember Richard Tanner had interesting things to say in “I Remember Balanchine.” Helgi Tomasson. Robert Weiss.  And, yes, I’ll say it, Peter Martins, who had great things to say in the PBS documentary on Jerome Robbins with regard to the difference between working with Robbins and Balanchine. Kyra Nichols instead of Watts. Maybe even soloists who were in the company a long time without making it to principal, since this is about class, not the making of ballets.  But I’ll reserve judgment till I see the movie, which I’m definitely looking forward to doing. 

I have to say - I agree with all of your wishlist interviewees. Maybe we can convince Hochman to make a part 2? 😂

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I saw the movie today at the Film Forum in NYC. I loved the footage of Balanchine teaching and rehearsing, and the audio of him speaking. There were also many stunning photos. Overall I think it will be enjoyable for any ballet fan, especially NYCB fans. That said, I don't think it was very well structured or focused as a documentary. It jumped around from Balanchine teaching, to various people coaching, to bits of NYCB history, to interviews, back to teaching and coaching, etc. It ended with wondering about the future of Balanchine works, but getting there was not a steady progression. It's hard for me to imagine what a casual ballet watcher would make of it. I agree that the choice of people interviewed was probably not the best. Lisa de Ribere seemed a particularly strange choice to me. Never-the-less, I did enjoy it.

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I think documentary film-makers are sometimes stuck in ways they don't/can't talk about when it comes to who appears in their films. That may account for some of the oddity of choices -- at least when it comes to interviews...

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I saw the film last night. I recommend it wholeheartedly. I'm still vibrating from the experience.

After the screening, there was a live interview with Connie Hochman, the director, and Merrill Ashley. The interviewer asked how Hochman made her choices about which interviews to include. Hochman had some very interesting things to say. She was trying to make a film about the artist's journey, so it seems to me that many of the interviews were chosen because those dancers talked specifically about how Balanchine's class, and also his coaching helped make them into better dancers, how it improved their dancing, how they were transformed by the experience with him, as a teacher.  Overall, I found that aspect incredibly inspiring. If doing 64 tendus front, 64 side, and 64 to the back most days (among other things), and "The 64th should be better than the first, dear," Ashley quoted him as saying, of course it would be transformative. It just made me want to work harder, more specifically and more intensely at all the things I care about because, "What are you saving it for, dear?"

I didn't feel the film jumped around, though it's not chronological. She's making a point and showing this generation of dancers passing on his teachings, or trying to. So along with footage of Balanchine teaching in the 1970's you see Merrill Ashley coaching ABT dancers, Villella teaching and coaching at Miami City Ballet, Gloria Govrin teaching in Connecticut, and Heather Watts working with dancers in NYC. I was glad Ms. Hochman mentioned the artists' journey, because it's so clear in retrospect. This kind of work and commitment is what it takes to be... not just good, not just proficient, but an artist. Transcendent, transformative, inspiring. There is always more work to be done. 

Heather Watts spoke about an attitude towards performing and life that Balanchine wanted to pass along to her. I thought Lisa de Ribere was a great choice, so that it wasn't all stars and former principals. She has an anecdote about the speed of the class, though maybe that was Darla Hoover. Barbara Bocher (?)  is another dancer with whom I wasn't so familiar. Since it took Hochman 10 years to put the documentary together she might not have known what the connecting theme would be at the beginning so certain people probably just didn't emphasize that aspect. Hochman said, in the live interview, that she'd studied at SAB, wanted to get into NYCB but ended up dancing Balanchine rep at Pennsylvania Ballet instead. She found there was something different, more detailed and deeper about all the coaches she had at Pennsylvania Ballet who had worked with Balanchine and she wanted to shed some light on what that was. I think she succeeds brilliantly.

It's not a terribly long film, around 90 minutes, IIRC. Hochman also said they were creating an archive of all the interviews in their entirety. Go to InBalanchinesClassroom.com for more info on when the IBC archive will be up and running. Whoever you were hoping to see, if they were among the 100 Hochman interviewed (and Kay Mazzo certainly was, along with Patricia Wilde, Arthur Mitchell and many who have since passed) then they will be included.

Edited by BalanchineFan
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I'm a ballet fan and especially a fan of NYCB, so much so that I drive my daughter out of state every day to train with one of the teachers in this documentary.  The students learning from them do not realize how fortunate they are.  To them it's just what they're used to...but to hear "Balanchine told me/us..." on a regular basis; that's invaluable.  

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On 9/13/2021 at 7:59 AM, California said:

Has anybody here been to the NYC Film Forum? I was going to buy a seat for an upcoming NYC visit, but can't get a good sense of seating with Google images. Is there a good slope in the theater seating? Are the front few rows actually too close to the screen to see without having to strain to look upwards?  Daytime seats seem to be plentiful (at least for now).

It's a fairly small theater but there is a slope to it and the seats all seem pretty good, as long as you don't have a really long torso-ed person in front of you. There's space in the front for the interviews they have periodically, so the first rows aren't as neck bending as in other movie theaters. I sat in row L and would have liked to be closer. I moved up to the third or fourth row for the interview.

I got there during the previews and someone was actually sitting in the seat I'd bought, so I don't know that they are real sticklers for the seating assigments.

 

<<<Balletwannabe I'm a ballet fan and especially a fan of NYCB, so much so that I drive my daughter out of state every day to train with one of the teachers in this documentary.  The students learning from them do not realize how fortunate they are.  To them it's just what they're used to...but to hear "Balanchine told me/us..." on a regular basis; that's invaluable.  >>>

 

@Balletwannabe Bless you. My mother did more or less the same thing (driving me around to countless dance classes and workshops) and I wasn't nearly appreciative enough.

Edited by BalanchineFan
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