In a sun-soaked studio in Manhattan, members of the Martha Graham Dance Company (all women) lie on the floor with their feet and heads hovering off the ground. Choreographer Bobbi Jene Smith encourages the dancers to be unapologetic about being looked at as their bodies begin to tremble with exhaustion and they move into a new formation.
Dance phenomenon Travis Wall and his mom Denise are no strangers to the spotlight. Travis' success on "So You Think You Can Dance," followed by his own reality show, have propelled him to reality dance stardom. Though he's working behind the scenes as a choreographer these days, you can still catch him performing occasionally with his dance company, Shaping Sound. And Denise is a recognized dance expert in her own right, having taught dance for 38 years, founded her own studio, and produced over 50 dancers who have gone on to pursue dance professionally. Now these two are shining a light on the world of competitive dance with their new documentary "I Dream of Dance."
"This is what I like to call my 'PG but LIT' playlist," says Showstopper Dance Convention teacher Taylor Quinn. "That means all of these songs are great for kids 8 and under, and I get to enjoy them, too. I use this playlist for our stretch and warm-up, going across the floor and sometimes even class combos. Enjoy!"
Who says you need fancy equipment to make a festival-worthy dance film? Right now, two New York City–based dance film festivals are calling for aspiring filmmakers to show their stuff—and you don't need anything more cumbersome than a smartphone to get in on the action.
Here's everything you need to know about how to submit:
As a founding member of the 1960s New York City–based dance collective Judson Dance Theater, Yvonne Rainer was one of the 20th century's most innovative choreographers. But did you know that she had an equally remarkable career as a filmmaker from 1972 to 1996?
Today through Thursday, the Film Society of Lincoln Center is featuring Talking Pictures: The Cinema of Yvonne Rainer. See Rainer's films at the Francesca Beale Theater alongside those of her contemporaries and a couple of her personal favorites. Check out the lineup.
Science has proven that dancing has a profound impact on a dancer's brain. In dancer/choreographer Jody Oberfelder's latest work, The Brain Piece, she explores how the brain affects the audience.
Documentary Ballet 422 Reveals parts of the dancemaking process even dancers didn’t know existed.
Justin Peck records himself experimenting with choreography for Paz de la Jolla
During a Q&A session after last night’s Tribeca Film Festival screening of Ballet 422, director Jody Lee Lipes said he’s more interested, as a filmmaker, “in having people do what they do than tell [him] about it.” The comment was in response to an audience member who asked whether he was blocked from interviewing New York City Ballet dancers and administrators. He wasn’t. The familiar “talking heads” interviews were intentionally absent, lending the film a true fly-on-the-wall quality that often felt more like drama than documentary.
The movie follows the creation and premiere of a new ballet—NYCB’s 422nd original work, Paz de la Jolla, by rising-star choreographer and protagonist Justin Peck. Lipes said he intended to cater to a nondance audience, but Ballet 422 offers plenty for dancers to appreciate and lots to learn, as well. As Peck himself commented after the screening, not many dancers know everything that goes into making a ballet.
Costume designer Reid Bartelme (right) created summery styles for New York City Ballet's 422nd original work.
The Ballet 422 cast is an ensemble. Scenes rotate between Peck and his rehearsal crew, the dancers, the costumers, the musicians and the lighting designers. All have their own story arcs, challenges and their own fascinating ways of making it all come together.
Watching a woman whisk a saucepan of boiling liquid, I expected the camera to zoom out on a restaurant scene. But we were in the company costume shop, and the artist was blending a dye to match designers’ swatches for what would become Tiler Peck’s sashed leotard ensemble.
Ballet 422 does not overtly announce dancers' names or ranks, so balletomanes can impress their non-dance friends by identifying the NYCB celebs (like principals Amar Ramasar and Sterling Hyltin). Chase Finlay is an extra in a few scenes.
Later, costume designer Reid Bartelme carefully fits Tiler. “I wasn’t sure if I stepped into it wrong,” she says, careful not to blame the material when it doesn’t hang perfectly. This manner of respectful and collaborative conversation pervades the film. I incorrectly assumed such established figures in their fields would be more stubborn about getting their ways. Not so. The costumers were concerned about dancers’ comfort; Justin—at the suggestion of his rehearsal pianist—introduced himself to the orchestra and thanked them for their enthusiasm; and the lighting designer went moment-by-moment through the piece with Justin, both parties offering suggestions and adjustments but never demands.
The artist closest to a diva turns out to be the always stunning Sterling Hyltin. She complains that boys don’t understand what pointe shoes are like and fusses at a hair stylist to not make her bun too low. She is balanced by her easygoing partner, the affable Amar Ramasar.
Justin Peck wears a look of almost zombie-like zen concentration while watching his dancers. Here, he works with principal Tiler Peck.
In the end, Justin, dressed in suit and tie, watches the premiere of his Paz de la Jolla from the balcony at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater. Then he congratulates the cast backstage before returning to his dressing room to get into costume to perform in a Ratmansky ballet, the final piece that evening. It’s interesting to watch the shift in status. And talk about a jam-packed schedule.
When he addressed last night’s Tribeca Film Festival audience, Justin joked about telling his mother to make sure she saw the film because it reveals so much about what he does at work. “I told her, ‘This is what I’m doing,'” the 26-year-old said, “'when I’m not calling you.'”
Sections of Fall to Rise were filmed at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City.
The impending retirement of New York City Ballet’s 46-year-old star Wendy Whelan (who this morning announced her final performance date), has, over the past few months, sparked many discussions about the inevitable impact of age on a dance career. Fall to Rise takes a dark look at similar themes.
In the film directed by Jayce Bartok, Martha Graham Dance Company’s Katherine Crockett (currently thrilling critics in Queen of the Night) plays the established star and new mother who feels forced out of the spotlight and into domesticity when her artistic director, played by Desmond Richardson, forces her to take time off due to her increasingly troublesome injuries. Throw in an emotionally unsound former company member with a vendetta—Daphne Rubin-Vega, who played Mimi in the original Broadway cast of RENT—and you’ve got the makings of a creepy dance thriller that would make Darren Aronofsky proud.
Fall to Rise premieres this weekend in New York City as part of the First Time Fest. Nine other films will compete, including ballet documentary Getting to The Nutcracker. For more information and tickets, visit firsttimefest.com.