SXSW FILM 2010
By Don Simpson | March 10, 2010
Directors: Henry Joost, Jody Lee Lipes
Writer: Jody Lee Lipes
Starring: Rachel Rutherford, Georgina Pazcoguin, Amanda Hankes, Rebecca Krohn, Glenn Keenan, Ashley Laracey, Tiler Peck, Brittany Pollack, Gretchen Smith, Craig Hall, Andrew Veyette, Antonio Carmena, Robbie Fairchild, Adam Hendrickson, Austin Laurent, Amar Ramasar, Troy Schumacher, Giovanni Villalobos
The premiere of Jerry Robbins’ NY Export: Opus Jazz took place on June 8, 1958 at the Festival of Two Worlds (Spoleto) performed by Ballets: USA. The production enjoyed a successful run on Broadway as well as a world tour. Also in 1958, NY Export: Opus Jazz was broadcast on The Ed Sullivan Show. Set to a jazz soundtrack by Robert Prince, Robbin’s production of NY Export: Opus Jazz told the story of the disaffected youth of America.
Cut to the present. The production was rarely revisited until The New York City’s revival of it in 2005. Ballet soloists Ellen Bar and Sean Suozzi (while performing in the 2005 revival) conceived of a modern film adaptation of NY Export: Opus Jazz to be shot on location around New York City (High Line, McCarren Pool, Coney Island, Red Hook, and Carroll Gardens) with dancers dressed in casual clothes (taking Robbins’ “ballet in sneakers” one step beyond); to do so, they enlisted filmmakers Henry Joost (Catfish) and Jody Lee Lipes (Afterschool).
At 43-minutes long, NY Export: Opus Jazz ends before it ever has the chance to become tedious or boring. For that I am thankful! With no dialogue, the narrative – as abstract as it might be – is communicated via the combination of dance, Robert Prince’s score, colors, locations and camerawork. Admittedly, I am not really a fan of ballet or Robert Prince’s brand of jazz, but NY Export: Opus Jazz held me under a hypnotic spell for its entire duration.
The locations seem to communicate their historical significance and the degradation associated with their history – yet the colors of the locations juxtapose the decay with excitement and cheer. It is as if the dancers are rejuvenating the space as they re-purpose it as their dance floor.
The on-location camerawork never stops moving with grandiose sweeps and tracking shots that seem to go on for infinity. At times the constant camera movement is distracting, other times it can be frustrating (at least on a small screen, sometimes the camera finds itself in too far away to clearly capture the dancers’ movements); but for a majority of the film, the epic camerawork is just another means of communicating a message – as if the camera is its own character in this film, performing its own dance.
The whole time I was watching NY Export: Opus Jazz, I could not stop thinking about the films of Frank Tashlin and, of course, West Side Story (which Robbins co-directed with Robert Wise). The stunning (dare I say brilliant?) use of color in conjunction with decrepit locations reminded me of the films of Julie Taymor.
Personally, I’m anxious to see how NY Export: Opus Jazz will translate to the children and teens of the 21st century. This might just be the perfect stepping stone to get the youth of today interested in ballet.