The DVD release of the documentary BRINGING BALANCHINE BACK is set for November 11, 2008. I had the good fortune to receive an advance copy and watched it the other day for the first time. It's something I will watch often, for several reasons.
The historical significance of the New York City Ballet's visit to St Petersburg in 2003 and the thrill of watching our dancers performing for a new and discerning public on Balanchine's home-stage makes this DVD a must-have in any event. But there's a whole other dimension to it and that is the opportunity to watch the dancers up close as they move from class to rehearsal to performance and everything in between. I was hooked on BRINGING BALANCHINE BACK even before the opening credits had finished rolling.
First off are the glimpses of dancers who have since left the Company - people like Carrie Lee Riggins, Genevieve LaBean, Melissa Barak, Eva Natanya, Dana Hanson, Pascale van Kipnis, Jessica Flynn, Jerome Johnson, Seth Orza, Sarah Ricard (Orza) and Amanda Edge. It's incredible that just a brief shot of any of these individuals can immediately bring to mind so many clear memories of their performances.
Seeing people like Megan Fairchild, Ashley Bouder, Andrew Veyette and Jon Stafford among the corps (or maybe just transitioning to soloist level) makes this quote from the film so meaningful: "Even if you are in the back row of the corps you must perform like the principal dancers who are up front." Those dancers did, and now they are in the spotlight.
In class, the Company are joined by two girls from the Vaganova Academy. Asked afterwards for their impressions, the out-of-breath ballerinas say: "So fast. It's so fast!"
Out front, Andrea Quinn - who I miss, even though I love Faycal - works with the musicians of the Kirov Orchestra. They are not comfortable with Stravinsky. Ms. Quinn speaks of the difficulty of developing musical perfection in view of the fact that orchestral personnel changes from day-to-day, so she never knows who'll be looking up at her from their stands. "Gergiev gets the best!" she whispers. Valery Gergiev, the Kirov's music director, is conducting as a guest. He causes one major headache for the NYCB personnel and dancers when he takes the orchestra away for an additional rehearsal of Stravinsky's SYMPHONY IN THREE MOVEMENTS during the intermission. As the curtain is held for 20 extra minutes, we see our gorgeous Tess Reichlen and Ellen Ostrom waiting onstage to start; Ellen bides her time practicing her high kick.
The filmed sequences from the various ballets make me want to ask (demand?) that NYCB release a DVD of the actual complete performances. Because it starts off with a stellar SERENADE in which Darci Kistler, Philip Neal and Maria Kowroski perform signature roles which we need to have preserved so we can watch them for years to come. Yvonne Borree, in swirls of tulle, breezes thru pirouettes and the camera follows her right into the wing. And there is an all-too-brief look at James Fayette whose performance in this ballet has set - at least for me - an all-time standard. The film cuts beautifully to Jenifer Ringer, watching her husband from the wings.
Maria K and Charles Askegard are seen in a maddeningly short but splendid bit of the SYMPHONY IN C adagio as those beloved beauties Pauline Golbin and Amanda Edge stand in their demi-posts behind. Janie Taylor and Benjamin Millepied sail onto the stage to commence the third movement of the Bizet. Ben's literally flying. He says later that he gave his jumps some extra juice in honor of the occasion, and then they are shown again in slow motion. Janie is brilliant. The camera work onstage during the curtain calls alternates to slow motion as the dancers rush forward to bow, creating an amazing effect.
Alina Dronova, NYCB's real-Russian ballerina, speaks of having been inspired by reading about Pavlova and of her feelings at being onstage at the Mariinsky where Pavlova won her first bouquets. All of the dancers talk of what it means to be dancing on the stage where so many legends performed and where Mr. B made his start.
Have I gone on too long? There is Darci, speaking so lovingly about working with Balanchine when she was 16. There are Daniel Ulbricht and Craig Hall expressing the excitement of simply being there. There is remarkable footage from HALLELUJAH JUNCTION with Janie, Sebastien and Ben which whets the appetite for the upcoming revival. And there is a simply mesmerizing excerpt from GLASS PIECES with Wendy Whelan and Robert Tewsley...I'd almost say that's the highpoint of the DVD. But then, there are so many. It's like one big high. There's Jock and Wendy in AGON, and there's Peter Boal, Damian, Nikolaj, Jennie Somogyi and Miranda Weese. There's Abi. And Tom Gold. And there's the one-and-only Albert Evans!
Somewhat unsettling is the story which is woven thru the film of Alexandra Ansanelli's preparations to perform the "Borree" role in SERENADE for the first time. Alexandra works on it with Sara Leland and all seems auspicious but when Peter (Martins) asks to see a run-thru on the morning of the debut, it doesn't go so well. Alexandra is taken out of the ballet and she instead makes her Mariinsky debut in WESTERN SYMPHONY at a later performance. I know these things happen in ballet companies and I suppose it is interesting to actually watch how such things are done, but it is also a little cruel and be-laboured. Alexandra seems so vulnerable; she reminds me of my friend Lisette in a way, so I feel doubly bad for her. Of course, Alexandra has since gone on to become a star at the Royal Ballet and this episode is just a weird vignette from the past. Seeing her reminds me of all her lovely performances here in New York City. Can we get the Royal here for a visit?
For me, beyond all the wonderful segments of the ballets and the opportunities to see the dancers in both a performing and a personal light, the most moving thing about BRINGING BALANCHINE BACK is hearing ballet mistress Rosemary Dunleavy speak of Mr. B and of what it means to her to have worked with him and to continue to work for him. Her emotional remarks come straight from the heart and remind us of the depth of commitment and devotion that Balanchine inspired.