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Thread: IN BALANCHINE'S CLASSROOM (Connie Hochman 2021)

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    Jul 2002
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    IN BALANCHINE'S CLASSROOM (Connie Hochman 2021)



    Balanchine's art as seen through his teaching, students and disciples

    George Balanchine was the great Russian-born choreographer who ran the New York City Ballet (cofounded with Lincoln Kirstein). Known for his rigor as a teacher and the cool neoclassicism of his style, featuring minimal costumes and decor, he was the most important ballet teacher as well as choreographer of the twentieth century in America. The filmmaker was a dancer who studied with him, and has made this film on the basis of over 90 interviews with former dancers and students.

    Hochman's focus is on the nature and influence of Balanchine as a teacher. This is the beauty but also the shortcoming of this film. It describes him not primarily through his work as a choreographer but through his classroom manner and students, his dancers, and his disciples. The portrait of this immense, vigorous personality is importantly aided by a considerable volume of period footage that shows the man at many stages and ages teaching and directing dancers. His constant movement, dancing at whatever age, his adventurous ideas (he was like a "mad scientist," one says), his vivid talk are in every moment of that period footage to show the power, energy, and omnipresence of Balanchine's gestures, voice, and ideas.

    He was a Georgian whose original name was Georgy Melitonovich Balanchivadze, who emigrated to New York at 25 after a brief but rich period in Europe starting in 1920 notably with Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet Russes; it was Diaghilev who pared down his name to the svelte French-sounding version. There, he had worked with the crème de la crème of European artists and knew Stravinsky, who was to be a longtime collaborator, and with whom, along with Picasso, he has subsequently been ranked as a significant artist of the century, the preeminent one in dance. Even in Russia he had created ballets with European contemporary sources like Darius Milhaud's Le Boeuf sur le Toit. (But this information is not from the documentary, which plunges right in with its interviews and its historical footage.)

    Most interesting is to hear from some significant former Balanchine students and dancers and to see them teaching - including three important male ones, Jacques d'Amboise, Edward Villella and Arthur Mitchell, the second head of the highly reputed Miami Ballet - and dancers and legacy-bearing teachers Suki Schorer, Heather Watts, Gloria Govrin, and Merrill Ashley, whose personal and artistic commentary is extensive.

    It's clear from both archival clips and talking head reports that Balanchine, who thought American dancers came poorly prepared, made special demands on his students and dancers in terms of speed, energy, and the performance of unusually high repetitions in practice. A wealth of specific observations come out showing how while starting as taskmaster, he also frequently went on to become father and guru to many his dancers. All attest to the inventiveness, precision, speed, and musicality he demanded. They also point out misinterpretations of his ideas that have spread, and bewail the fading of the flame of his creative inspiration as the years go by, even as they feel continually inspired and compelled to pass on what they learned from him.

    Connie Hochman has carried out an extraordinary gathering of information, with results that can appeal to anyone. The film will particularly inspire and stimulate students of dance and professional dancers who want to capture the essence of this important force in ballet. Since this is a specialized study it leaves plenty of room for other films about Balanchine and ballet. And even perhaps for more about Balanchine the man. We learn nothing about his private life here. Though he advised his female pupils not to marry, he had four wives, all ballerinas. They might have some stories to tell.

    JACQUES D'AMBOISE (AND OTHERS) DANCING "APOLLO" (period video from YouTube)
    The ballet (originally titled Apollon musagète) choreographed in 1928, here performed in 1960, was one of Balanchine's most important works; he said "it changed my life." D'Amboise danced it for decades.

    In Balanchine’s Classroom, 89 mins., cinematography by Don Lenzer, Tom Hurwitz, & Martin Morales. Produced by Connie Hochman. Edited by Anne Fratto & Patrick Gambuti Jr. Composer: Chris Hajian. Music Supervisor: Suzana Peric. USA. In English. A Zeitgeist Films Release In Association With Kino Lorber. Irt will open in theaters starting at Film Forum in New York Sept. 17, 2021
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-16-2021 at 02:26 PM.


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