A review of “Ballet 422,” which follows dancer/choreographer Justin Peck as he creates the 422nd ballet commissioned in the history of New York City Ballet. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
Much of the documentary “Ballet 422” is watching Justin Peck watching. The film, directed by Jody Lee Lipes (who made another lovely ballet film, “NY Export: Opus Jazz”), follows the creation of Peck’s new work, “Paz de la Jolla,” for New York City Ballet’s 2013 winter season. It’s the 422nd ballet commissioned by NYCB.
Peck, a lithe 25-year-old corps dancer in the company, works on steps alone in a studio (the movement captured by his iPhone), rehearses with the cast and ballet master, meets with costume and lighting designers, chats (a little awkwardly) with the orchestra — but most of all he watches, often in a trance-like manner, as his ballet takes shape. You sense he’s seeing his work in two places — the version in his head, and the one being danced before him — and finding a balance between them.
Shot in a cinéma vérité style (observational; no one is identified; no one addresses the camera), “Ballet 422” occasionally frustrates; you wish we were told more about who we’re seeing, and that Lipes had taken more time to give us a sense of “Paz de la Jolla” as a whole. (The movie is quite brief at 75 minutes, and we see only snippets of the ballet.) But it’s filled with delicious moments, particularly for dance fans: Tiler Peck’s joyous scissor-legged solo work; a ballerina neatly folding up her toes in a paper towel, like tidy leftovers; a designer earnestly inquiring how a dancer feels about a dangling sash (she’s OK with it); the endless repetition of a movement in rehearsal until suddenly, magically, it clicks. And there’s something poignant about the sight of Justin Peck, on opening night, dressed up in a suit and taking a bow — and then making his way to a shared dressing room and donning makeup and costume to perform in the evening’s final ballet. A dancer’s work — and a young choreographer’s — is never done.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Ballet 422,’ a documentary directed by Jody Lee Lipes. 75 minutes. Rated PG for brief language. Sundance Cinemas (21+).