REVIEW: Ballet 422

8 03 2015

Ballet 422The documentary “Ballet 422” follows the process of the only person concurrently serving as dancer and choreographer in the New York City ballet, Justin Kelly, as he mounts a new production.  But unlike the average non-fiction film, director Jody Lee Lipes features no talking heads – at least not ones commenting on the events from the privileged position of hindsight.

His editing style shows how the minutiae and tiny little components of the rehearsal process amass and eventually cohere into a ballet.  Lipes devotes several minutes to showing how a staff member works to get the right shade of blue for the costumes.  This is the kind of scene that would normally be left on the cutting room floor, yet in “Ballet 422,” it feels compelling and necessary.

At times, the documentary flirts with the self-indulgence of a “making of” film that would be a DVD extra for a recording of the ballet itself.  Yet, for the most part, Lipes resists succumbing to some easy trappings of such nonfictional pieces. By showing rather than telling, he indicates a level of trust in the viewers’ power to adequately process what they observe.

Perhaps most refreshingly, there is no tacked-on biography of Kelly as a person.  “Ballet 422” defines him simply by his work in the studio and nothing more.  It is definitely heartening to see a documentary so fully committed to a single focal point, although the almost inevitable downside of such an approach is the alienation of those outside such a tiny niche.  Still, I found the film mostly fascinating – and with a 70 minute runtime, the film certainly does not overstay its welcome. B2halfstars

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