Set to begin shooting in early 2018, Millepied's Carmen will be a modern-day retelling, setting the protagonist on a journey from Mexico to Los Angeles in pursuit of freedom. The film, described as a contemporary musical drama, will also feature an original score by Nicholas Britell, the Oscar-nominated composer of Moonlight. “The incorporation of music and drama in film is a cornerstone of my creativity and having such an experienced and talented team by my side gives me confidence that we will beautifully capture the story told in Carmen," Milliepied told Variety.
Carmen has had a long trajectory. Bizet's 1875 opera—which tells the doomed love story of a passionate Romani woman named Carmen and the naïve soldier Don José (whom she seduces and then leaves for a glamorous toreador)—is based off of Prosper Mérimée's 1845 novella. Upwards of 20 films have been made based on the story, as well as several ballets, most notably those by choreographers Roland Petit and Alberto Alonso. Only time will tell how Millepied will add his own contemporary take to this classic story.
With digital platforms, cinema screenings and Hollywood-worthy trailers, ballet is rapidly expanding beyond the grainy YouTube clips of yesteryear. These two gorgeous new films by Ezra Hurwitz, a former Miami City Ballet dancer turned director, show two facets of the Ballet Across America program, currently onstage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
One is a moody dance film, featuring American Ballet Theatre stars whirling through the empty halls of the Kennedy Center, bringing the building to life. The other is a touching mini-documentary, highlighting the work, uncertainty and sacrifice that goes into a ballet career. Check them out below!
Have you seen New York City Ballet's 2016/2017 promotional images? They were shot by famed photographer Peter Lindbergh and feature members of the company in various unstudied poses, set around a rural New York estate. The accompanying video, directed by Stephen Kidd and available on Nowness, is equally dreamy. Lindbergh's style is both gritty and romantic—the dancers never look directly at the camera. Instead, they gaze at each other, or off into the distance. The resulting film creates a feeling of comfortable intimacy. Check it out below:
There's something compelling about the pristine classicism of ballet contrasted against a gritty setting. The viral success of videos like Sergei Polunin and David LaChapelle's "Take Me to Church" doesn't lie.
Here's another video to add to the list of edgy and beautiful dance films out there: Ezra Hurwitz's latest endeavor with San Francisco Ballet. The film is a trailer for the upcoming Justin Peck premiere at SFB, In the Countenance of Kings. It showcases some of the company dancers in choreography pulled directly from the ballet. The twist? They're dancing in a stunning, abandoned train station instead of onstage at the War Memorial Opera House. The music, composed by frequent Peck collaborator Sufjan Stevens, is propulsive. The dancing is energetic and free. And, in an adorable twist, the performers are all wearing white sneakers.
We love Hurwitz's video collaborations because they give a dreamy, romantic twist to standard behind-the-scenes mini-documentaries. And, since he's a retired member of Miami City Ballet, the films are full of little details that dancers know other dancers want to see. This trailer is no different.
In his new film Why We Dance, director Ezra Hurwitz helps us understand what it looks and feels like for members of Miami City Ballet as they prepare for a performance. The film's detailed shots of hands and feet, and its intimate behind-the-scenes footage, feels like an invisibility cloak that allows you to slip backstage. The propulsive score gives a sense of energy and excitement that builds throughout the day and culminates as the curtain rises, revealing the dancers onstage in Justin Peck's Heatscape and George Balanchine's Bourrée Fantasque
Created for the company's 30th anniversary season, Why We Dance also includes voiceovers of company members as they reflect on their art. As one dancer says, "We care so much about what we do here and being the best that we can be—collectively and individually." If a ballet company could be summed up in a sentence, I think that's getting pretty darn close.
As with his previous films, Hurwitz draws from his experience as a former member of MCB and uses his dancer's sensibility to create something beautiful. We've loved all his films so far, and can't wait to see what's next!
Elizabeth Kendall’s book Balanchine and the Lost Muse: Revolution and the Making of a Choreographer
has inspired a George Balanchine biopic, to be produced by Gulfstream Pictures.
The book focuses on Balanchine's early life, and his friendship with Liidia (Lidochka) Ivanova, who died days before the two were scheduled to leave Russia together. The book covers the years immediately before the Russian Revolution in 1917 and ends in 1924, when Balanchine left the country.
Zippora Karz, a former New York City Ballet dancer, will serve as executive producer. With her expertise and the foundation of Kendall's research, this film has the potential to be very interesting.
Imagine a world where talent is seen as a threat to society. The beautiful wear masks, the intelligent have earpieces that muddle their thoughts—and ballerinas are grounded by heavy weights. This is the premise of 2081, a 28-minute film based on a short story by Kurt Vonnegut that will be available on DVD this month.
The most dramatic scene of the film unfolds during a ballet performance, which director Chandler Tuttle filmed at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles. In the middle of the show, a dissident hijacks the theater, illegally sheds his handicaps and convinces one of the dancers to shed hers. Free of her restraints, the ballerina, played by former American Ballet Theatre dancer Alina Faye, finally achieves the unbridled weightlessness of a dancer in motion.
While ballet dancers in sneakers performing a steamy duet in the middle of two abandoned train tracks may sound like something out of a game of truth or dare, it’s actually a scene in a new film being produced by New York City Ballet soloists Sean Suozzi and Ellen Bar. Based on Jerome Robbins’s NY Export: Opus Jazz and entitled Opus Jazz: The Film, this movie will be the first to feature Robbins’s choreography since the iconic West Side Story, as well as the first film to be conceived, produced and danced by members of NYCB.
Originally choreographed in 1958, Opus Jazz is steeped in themes that speak to every generation—the energy of youth, a hunger for life and throwing caution to the wind. Suozzi and Bar, both 27, are not only colleagues but best friends who fell in love with the ballet when it was revived for NYCB’s 2005 spring season at the State Theater—the first time the rarely seen ballet, created for the first Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, had been performed by NYCB.
Neither Suozzi nor Bar had worked directly with the choreographer. “Robbins died right after I got in the company, so I only sat in a few rehearsals with him as a corps understudy,” says Bar. “It was thrilling to watch him work. I always felt a connection with his ballets and that I understood him through his ballets.”
Opus Jazz, which is choreographed in five sections, immediately struck Suozzi and Bar as the perfect piece to introduce newcomers to ballet. “When we were rehearsing in our own clothes, the dancing felt very contemporary and of-the-moment,” says Suozzi. “The fact that it is a piece from the 1950s doesn’t make it any less modern.” The choreography, which includes knee slides and sharp, angular arms may be reminiscent of jazz, but the movement is essentially classical. The casual-looking costumes (tights, sneakers and tunics) add to the effect. In the movie, the dancers wear contemporary street wear.
“I remember standing in the wings and thinking, ‘If the audience likes this piece so much onstage, I wonder what they’d think if we could show them the choreography in context, to put it in the city that inspired its creation in the first place,” says Suozzi.
The two dancers put together a proposal and met with each of the nine members of The Robbins Rights Trust. “We didn’t have any formal help with the proposal,” says Bar. “I wrote it, and Sean designed it; we just knew it had to reflect our vision, and we followed our instincts about the questions people reading it would have.” The project, with a projected budget of $800,000, was unanimously approved, and Suozzi and Bar received the first filming rights given by the trust since Robbins’s death in 1998. And while NYCB has no official tie to the project, Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins endorses it.
While prepared for the possibility of not being taken seriously, the pair say they’ve received a more positive and supportive response than expected—leaving them free to focus on their responsibilities as producers. “We are in charge of leading the team and making sure that the vision is realized,” says Bar.
“This means making final creative decisions, choosing who we work with, choosing locations, making final costume decisions, as well as keeping the project afloat by trying to raise interest and funds.”
Famous New York artist Ben Shahn designed the ballet’s original abstract urban backdrop, but for the film, Suozzi and Bar have found a different city location for each of the ballet’s sections. “Many dances wouldn’t translate to film, because they are meant for the stage, but this one not only translates, with real locations it seems to take on new dimension and meaning,” says Bar.
The goal was not to find the most beautiful shot but the most appropriate one to go with the mood or emotional quality of the dances. “Shooting on location also appeals because it puts dance in a real place, among real people, making it a form of expression that is easier to identify with,” says Bar. “The locations we’ve chosen portray the city as both urban and remote, a place where you can still be an individual among millions of people.”
As the film begins, each of the 16 characters arrives at their hangout, the Tobacco Warehouse, the remains of an 18th-century brick structure with arches and only sky for a roof in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn. “One person might be coming from the subway and another walking down a street,” says Suozzi. Other locations include a stage in an empty theater, a school gymnasium and a city rooftop at night, where three boys and one girl, after feeling restless at a party, have gone exploring only to find their ways to each other under the stars.
The fourth movement, a duet called “Passage for Two,” was the only one completed at press time. It has already won an award in the Netherlands for adapting dance from stage to screen. The section was filmed atop The High Line, an elevated train track on the far west side of Manhattan. “Passage for Two” was shot over two days last August, hours before construction was to begin on the multi-year renovation of the area into a public park.
The rundown and overgrown space had to be cleared of hundreds of beer bottles, a toaster oven, kitchenware and a live cat before shooting. The performers, NYCB soloists Rachel Rutherford and Craig Hall, danced the ultra sexy pas de deux 25 times under the blazing sun during two sweltering days. Footage of the day’s last run through, caught in the midst of a magnificent sunset under a sky pregnant with rain, made the final cut.
Shot in one continuous take, using only available light and 35-mm film, the end product has a slightly retro look that suits the section’s subtext. The duet is about two people who can’t be together. At the time it was choreographed, the piece caused a stir when performed by an interracial couple.
“Many artists want to challenge audiences, and being controversial is of course one way of doing that,” says Suozzi. “But we also think that Jerry would never make an artistic choice purely to be controversial. It could be as simple as the aesthetic beauty of the way the two skin tones look next to each other; you can really read it however you want, and that’s the beauty of it.” The sensual movements, mixed with passion and a sense of urgency that imply a forbidden love, are punctuated by having the lovers meet on a deserted, off-limits train track high above the street.
The creative team—Suozzi, Bar, co-directors Henry Joost and Jody Lee Lipes and art director Ariel Schulman—works collaboratively, a process that has allowed them to learn from each other while maintaining a sense of responsibility to make something that Robbins himself, a notorious taskmaster and perfectionist, would have approved of.
Suozzi and Bar have a lot of work ahead of them. Despite having the majority of the budget still left to raise, the two would like to have the money in hand by August in order to finish shooting when NYCB is on break. “Our hopes for the film are for it to make people excited about and interested in dance, so that they seek out live dance and make it a part of their lives,” explains Bar. “The characters are restless urban teens, wearing street clothing and dealing with contemporary issues, which makes them much easier to identify with than people in tights or tiaras and tutus.”
Sara Jarrett is a freelance writer in New York City.