A lovely new ballet is followed from creation to rehearsals to opening night in "Ballet 422," a documentary that celebrates the rising star that is choreographer/dancer Justin Peck.
It's an intimate movie, with the camera so close it's as if it's having a whispered conversation with one and all. Everybody speaks in the calm, quiet voices of a well-behaved golf tournament gallery. No one loses his or her temper, no one weeps at criticism or some last-minute injury. No one has to give that lump-in-the-throat speech that "The show must go on." There's no drama, no conflict, and apparently no one told director Jody Lee Lipes that even documentaries require some of that to be rendered watchable.
What she delivered instead was an narrow-focused look at professional dancers and a professional company putting on its 422nd new ballet.
Peck, the only member of the corps de ballet (bottom of the ballet company food chain) to leap straight into choreography, created a lovely classical ballet, "Paz de la Jolla," set to the music of Bohuslav Martinu's "Sinfonietta La Jolla." Lipes tells us this much in an opening title, and then lets her camera do the rest.
We look in on rehearsals, overhear conversations between "the girls" and "the boys," see them practice and discuss movements, see costumes proposed and then produced and watch the lighting designer figure out the desired effect.
None of these talented artists are identified by name. Mostly, the camera just gawks as lithe, muscular young people do run-throughs, over and over, mastering a physically demanding art form and a reasonably difficult new work.
Peck is so caught up in it that he has to be reminded to give his prima ballerina a rest break, is gently urged
to compliment and urge on the orchestra (a bit clumsy at that) and deals with physical therapy for what dance does to his ankle. Lipes' film reminds us that yes, he's a big-shot choreographer now, but he's still in the corps. He's needed as a dancer (one of 91 employed there) in other performance pieces.
Maybe everyone was on their best behavior because the camera was around. And no one is suggesting that the shrill over-dramatics of reality TV or stereotypical "ballet movie" melodrama should intrude here. But something more needs to happen to justify our investment in time (the whole ballet is not shown in performance) or a studio's decision to release "Ballet 422."