Tribeca: Inside the Party for Dance Doc 'Ballet 422'
Artistry was explored in a variety of forms -- in cinema, dance and high-end watchmaking -- on Saturday evening when Vacheron Constantin hosted the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of the documentary Ballet 422.
Directed by Jody Lee Lipes -- helmer of two episodes of HBO's Girls and the cinematographer on 2011's Martha Marcy May Marlene -- Ballet 422 explores the process of 25-year-old New York City Ballet choreographer Justin Peck as he creates the company's 422nd work. "I don't think I've ever quite seen the process this way," said Lipes during the premiere's pre-party at the Gramercy Park Hotel. "Even with Frederick Weisman [director of 1995's Ballet, which explored the world of American Ballet Theatre], which is a similar style but more focused on the institution. I think this is more focused on the individual ballet, and each step along the way and all the collaborators and individual contributors to the process. It's the first time I've seen a film where you see really what it takes to put a new ballet together." Lipes also co-directed the 2010 ballet documentary NY Export: Opus Jazz, with Henry Joost.
Lipes' wife, Ellen Bar, is one of the producers on Ballet 422; as a former soloist of New York City Ballet, she brought an insider's perspective to the work while also helping to pave the way for unfettered access. "We had a lot of trust with the dancers, and everyone was really gracious about letting us in," she says. "Jody understands creative people so well; it was a team effort of me explaining what was happening in the process, while he brought the ideas of how to visualize it and shape it and tell that story. And everyone started to forget we were there, and that was ideal."
Peck agreed with that latter thought. "When Jody came to me at the end of shooting and said he had enough for a feature-length film, I thought, 'When did that happen?'" he says. "His team was very unobtrusive, and I think that lends itself to the final product, which is a really honest take on the creation of a ballet." Indeed, the 73-minute Ballet 422 consistently made critics' lists of Tribeca's most-anticipated films, largely because of its attention to detail, from the exactitude of an arm movement to the fit of a costume on a dancer. Peck pointed to moments that highlight "the somewhat tedious nature of it all," but make no mistake, there is much beauty to be found within the tedium. No matter whether you're a fan of dance or simply the creative process overall, Ballet 422 provides a true insider's look at the journey, from the seed of an idea to the finished product, and the minutiae, the exhaustion and ultimately the exhilaration and satisfaction the principals experience throughout.
Following the pre-party and the film's premiere, Vacheron Constantin execs brought the crew and cast, including many of the dancers who appear in the film, back to the Gramercy Park Hotel's rooftop terrace for an afterparty. The sponsorship of the film is a natural one, says Michele Crowe, director of marketing and communications for Vacheron Constantin North America, which signed on in 2013 as the New York City Ballet's lead Gala sponsor through 2015. "It’s no surprise that in our long history we have a commitment to supporting the arts and celebrating the arts, honoring the great parallels between the arts and the craftsmanship of high watchmaking," Crowe says. "In both, it involves the collaboration of many skilled people; many moving parts are brought together in perfect alignment to produce one beautiful cohesive piece of art. There's an inherent rhythm to the beating of a watch and the tempo of a ballet."
This is Lipes' first appearance at Tribeca as a director, and as cast and crew celebrated around him well past midnight, he said one of the most enjoyable aspects was knowing the dancers likewise could enjoy the film’s debut in New York: "With this film, this subject, these circumstances, I couldn’t think of a more perfect place for its premiere."