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NY Export: Opus Jazz -- Film Review

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AUSTIN -- A piece of the past is beautifully revived in "NY Export: Opus Jazz," a note-perfect adaptation of Jerome Robbins' 1958 "ballet in sneakers" that updates the street-cool vibe of a piece reminiscent of his "West Side Story."

Slated to air this year on PBS's "Great Performances," the work also has strong home-video appeal for performing arts devotees; producers would be smart to license it for inclusion in a package with "West Side Story" when that film makes its way to Blu-ray.

With no overt narrative, the film uses mostly wordless, tone-poem-like scraps of city life as transitions between dance scenes. Dancers from the New York City Ballet play characters in those transitions, wandering through NYC locations that have rarely if ever been seen onscreen -- Brooklyn's abandoned McCarren Park Pool, for instance -- until Robert Prince's cool-cat score kicks in and a dance coalesces.

 

With its unpeopled locations and occasional nods to the Fifties (when was the last time you saw a gaggle of youths in a malt shop?), the staging is adrift in time, making these young dancers strangely immortal -- standing in for every kid who has ever found herself with a surplus of energy and creativity, living unattached in the big city.

Jody Lee Lipes' widescreen cinematography more than does justice to the city, showing sides unknown to tourists, and to the dance itself, which unfolds as naturally across this rough terrain as on a polished stage. If the dancers are uncomfortable wearing sneakers and dodging weeds, splinters and crumbling concrete, it doesn't show.

Venue: South by Southwest Festival

Production company: Bar/Suozzi Productions, LLC
Cast: Dancers of the New York City Ballet, Jerome Robbins
Directors: Jody Lee Lipes, Henry Joost
Screenwriter: Jody Lee Lipes
Executive producers: Ellen Bar, Sean Suozzi
Producers: Melody Roscher, Kyle Martin
Director of photography: Jody Lee Lipes
Production designer: Ariel Schulman
Music: Robert Prince
Costume designer: Janicza Bravo
Editor: Zac Stuart-Pontier
No MPAA rating, 44 minutes