- Ballet 422
- Directed by
- Jody Lee Lipes
About three-quarters of the way through the documentary Ballet 422, Justin Peck gives the New York City Ballet orchestra a prerehearsal pep-talk. Leaning over the pit, he stumbles through an awkward but not uncharming speech, thanking the musicians for their work and stressing how much choreographic inspiration he derives from the music (a piece by 1930s composer Bohuslav Martinu). He ends off like a nervous suitor – "So I'm really looking forward to this premiere and everything" – and is already stepping away as he wishes the orchestra, merde.
The speech is the most insight we get into the goals and ideas that inspired Paz de la Jolla, the 422nd work commissioned by the New York City Ballet. If that sounds like criticism, it isn't. What makes Jody Lee Lipes documentary so interesting – even transfixing at times – is the fact that nothing is editorialized or explained. There are no interviews or voice-overs.
Instead, the story of how Peck, a 25-year-old corps-de-ballet dancer, choreographed a critically lauded ballet in two months is told by letting the camera roll through rehearsals and production meetings, pausing frequently on Peck's angular, poetic face. Peck approaches dance-making with a calm and thoughtful solicitousness, eager to fix glitches the dancers find in the choreography and listen to suggestions from his production team. With pink tights pulled up to their ribcages, the company's big stars go about the focused, quotidian work of figuring out a new ballet.
Peck has been celebrated for creating ballet that feels commensurate with the 21st century – his choreography is high-energy, inventive and unaffected. So there's something fitting about Lipes' unadorned approach to his subject. Ballet 422 is narrative without the heavy structural imposition of much plot, and the small, captivating tensions that are framed by the film seem to parallel current innovations in contemporary ballet.