Ballet 422, for a slightly melancholic evening of reflecting on the nature of art. Plus gusset-flashing.

I watched Ballet 422 the other day,
You know, the one where the camera follows Justin Peck around while he creates the 422nd new work for the New York City Ballet.
Mr. Adult Beginner was in the room, but mostly not paying attention to the movie, so I kept shouting things out to him,
Like, “Oh my god, these wishy-washy theater types are driving me insane,” and he’d be like, “Good that the movie is giving an acurate portrayal though, I mean, you know that’s exactly how theater is.”
He’s right too, I do know, that is totally how it is, theater gets made through a series of “I think….?” and “maaaaaaaaybe….?” and a bunch of feelings and metaphors and vague gestures, but the really interesting thing about theater and apparently dance too is that there’s a certain, like, tipping point where ideas go from Vague to Definite. Metaphors become decisions and decisions become instructions, and it’s not just a tipping point, it’s a tipping person, and that person is the the one right in the middle of the chain of command, between the creators and the people who actually build the show.
Basically its the person who takes in soft ideas and gives out hard instructions.
It was really interesting to me, watching this movie and thinking about how important this Tipping Person is in the process of producing live art. I mean, an inspiration is not a specific thing with measurements and dimensions, but reality is, so to get your art to travel from inspiration to reality, you need that middle person who speaks both metaphor and measurement.
Look out for that, Gentle Reader, when you see the movie, look out for that point in the process where things tip from being ideas to being lines on paper and scoops of dye in a dye-bath and cues and steps.
I thought it was interesting to see how often the dancers were asking for specifics, not feelings. I mean, actually, I can’t remember any time a dancer ask for a nuance, only for specifics in timing and steps and where is my weight, while the lighting dude was all, “maybe a little softer…..?” and someone a little further along his chain of command was translating his soft words into “knock it down ten percent.”
Oh theater.
Anyway.
It’s an interesting movie. It made me feel a little sad, which is maybe just my own state of mind a little: it’s been a not-super-dancey spring for me: between everyone catching colds and me gathering bizarre ailments (ankle impingement? What do you mean I have to stop sitting on my heels with the fronts of my feet crushed into the cold hard floor? I thought I was invincible! This sucks!) I’ve missed a lot of class and been kinda shocked at how out of practice I am when I actually do get to class.
Where did all that muscle memory go? And all that strength? I thought I was invincible! This sucks!
One of the sad parts was seeing how rarely Justin Peck smiled throughout the film. I shouted that observation out to my husband and he called back, “I think his face is just like that.”
The new work is not shown to us in the movie, which I found to be a super anti-climax but not super surprising. Seems to be how they do things at NYCB. What did surprise me was the further anticlimax of Justin Peck having to basically run through the dressing rooms to congratulate his dancers, then run up to his own room, dress, and head back down to stage to dance another piece.
I mean, maybe that is exhilarating for dancers, to get to be both choreographer and dancer in the same night. It is what they love and want to be doing, right? I don’t know. I think I would want to, like, revel in seeing my work performed a little more, like luxuriate in it a little. Roll around in it, enjoy it, process it.
Also noted: the scene where Peck goes to visit with the orchestra is super awkward.
The conductor sets it up for maximum awkwardness, and Peck delivers, poor guy.
The little outfit of striped shortie-shorts and tiny retro-bathing suit top is adorbs.
I liked all the costumes for the dance piece a lot. Would’ve loved to have seen more of them.
Tyler Peck is adorbs. Nice to see someone smile.
Is there no smiling in the ballet? Or was I just watching with my Sad Eyes?
Tyler Peck danced with her sash like it wasn’t there, like didn’t fuss around with it or let it get in her way or insist that they shorten it. Costumer High-Five to you, Ms. Peck.
FLAGRANT gusset flashing though. Lolz.
Felt for that one girl who kept opening her arms out in the wrong direction in that one rehearsal scene. Been there girl. I mean, on a way lower level of course, but been there when everyone’s looking and you can’t seem to do it right.
I liked seeing how Justin Peck corrected her, just kept saying “No, this,” like, didn’t get angry or impatient. He seems like a good guy.
Did you see Ballet 422 Gentle Reader? Whadjya think?
We watched The Untouchables the night after Ballet 422. Both good. Not very similar.

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About adultbeginner

Had my first ballet class Ever at the advanced age of thirty-two. Yikes.
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25 Responses to Ballet 422, for a slightly melancholic evening of reflecting on the nature of art. Plus gusset-flashing.

  1. wedoballet says:

    “We watched The Untouchables the night after Ballet 422. Both good. Not very similar.” You are my absolute fav!
    Haven’t seen it. Want to, but my movie selection is pretty much limited to what can be gotten via Netflix or the local public library dvd section (which is actually huge and current). So I wait, with sad, Justin Peck eyes.

  2. Fran M. says:

    I just saw it too, via Netflix. 100% agree with you – on all points!

  3. Nadine says:

    I’m going to a Fancy Ballet Event next month to see it on the big screen. This is New Zealand, yo – that movie is way too niche for general release in our teeny population.

    • That sounds fun! I hope there will be cocktails and hanging-out fancily afterward.
      It was a really limited release here too though, I think it was in the Laemmle, which is the arty theater chain around these parts, for like a weekend.

  4. I haven’t seen it yet but it sounds insightful. Having recently gone through the experience of creating a brand new ballet with a group of talented dancers I can tell you the process was extremely collaborative. They did what a choreographer wants every dancer to do: take ownership of the roles and think/move in them. They questioned me about every gesture, every motivation, every look. As challenging as it was for me, the payoff was worth it.

  5. Louise says:

    I would love to see Ballet 422 – can’t seem to find a version of it available online in my country so far :( I have enjoyed watching the New York City Ballet series though, it was really interesting. I would also recommend (if you haven’t already seen it!) a 3 part documentary on the English National Ballet called Agony and Ecstasy (you can find it on youtube). The 3rd episode really does highlight some of the points you made about ‘the tipping point’ regarding creativity. I really felt for the dancers!

  6. Naomi says:

    I saw it last week. All that you say applies for me as well. It was interesting, but a bit disappointing. Without seeing the end product, it was all just beautifully framed vignettes of process without conclusion. I am glad I didn’t spend money to see it in a theater.

  7. Carla Escoda says:

    Posted on Ballet to the People’s Facebook page: “Just watched this documentary Ballet 422 with a promising dramatic arc and disappointingly little insight into the mysterious craft of dance making. Ballet lovers are left hanging; ballet virgins were likely scratching their heads throughout. The best footage is of rehearsal – Amar Ramassar, Tiler Peck and Sterling Hyltin are thrilling to watch doing just about anything, and the New York City Ballet corps are no slouches either. But youthful choreographer Justin Peck is presented largely as a cipher: we see him walking, dressing, getting PT, watching dancers, being coached by the pianist to give a pep talk to the orchestra, and staring into space. We’d rather see him work out a phrase, build the intricate and unconventional group patterns that he is becoming famous for, or salvage an awkward partnering move. The nature of Peck’s amazing gift is barely illuminated in this film. What is illuminated are the narrow hallways and stairwells of the theatre-formerly-known-as-the-New-York-State-Theater. The poignant ending, in which Peck joins his colleagues in the ranks of the ensemble for Alexei Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH, would have been even more striking had the filmmaker shown a few minutes from the actual ballet. But performance clips from Concerto DSCH and Paz de la Jolla are barely seconds long, so we do not get a feel for the end-product of the tantalizing act of choreography.”

  8. I saw Ballet 422 in February or March this year, the night after I saw NYCB do RoDEo (or however they “mixed it up”), which is Peck’s most recent thing. LOVED IT! But the movie was a letdown because, as you point out, there was no opportunity to see the actual ballet, and from what I had seen the previous evening, I was hungry as hell for more. I just watched a series from British television (it was on YouTube) called Big Ballet, about this former RB dancer who puts together an amateur company of plus-size people and they do their own version of Swan Lake — it has its shortcomings as television, but the great thing is that if you want to watch the whole ballet that they performed, you can — there’s a link to it.

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  11. Kristi says:

    Just watched it on Netflix last night. I got excited when I saw it in the list, since i read this review a while ago. I totally agree that the end was a bit of a let down. I wanted to see more of the ballet, or have him at least explain what the theme/story of his ballet was. I also wanted to see reviews of the ballet, if it was well received or not. If you went from his reaction you would think it didn’t go well and he was going to cry at any minute.

  12. Sara Watson says:

    I love your comments on 422 and especially your wording about the theater process of creating a new piece. How things go from that amorphous “maaaaaaybe” to something more solid. And I think it applies to any creative process, whether you’re painting and pick up the brush to sketch things out, then re-work, then suddenly begin something take shape. Or writing–where maybe a list of ideas becomes a few sentences, then a rough draft, and finally a complete idea. Thanks for pointing that out about 422. I also watched and was surprised at how universal that process is, but your words made the idea gel for me. :)

    Hope you are doing well in your life. This blog has been a wonderful read. I’m 41 and just began ballet a couple months ago. I love it. It’s so difficult, but that makes me appreciate it and my body even more. Cheers!

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