Martin Harvey and Albert Cob have a lot in common. They're both former Royal Ballet dancers who moved to New York City to pursue acting. They both have a child with New York City Ballet principal Maria Kowroski, though Harvey is married to her and Cob is divorced. And they're both making low-budget film projects: Cob's is a documentary about himself, and Harvey's is a hilarious mockumentary series he stars in—as Albert Cob, of course—called "Dying Swan."
The series—which currently exists as short vignettes on Instagram as Harvey pitches the show to production and distribution companies—follows Cob as he tries to make a ballet comeback after not having danced for 10 years. And it features a starry cast of NYCB and American Ballet Theatre dancers, including Kowroski, Stella Abrera, Daniil Simkin, Cassandra Trenary, Skylar Brandt, Unity Phelan and more.
The project originated around four years ago, when Harvey pitched the idea during an improv comedy class he was taking. The class told him that he'd be stupid if he didn't pursue it.
Indeed, Harvey's comedy influences are easy to see: He cites the UK version of "The Office," Monty Python and "Spinal Tap" as sources of inspiration, and says that Cob "looks like Borat and sounds like Ricky Gervais" (which is highly accurate).
And though Harvey has acquired a long acting resume since retiring from ballet, he had to learn things like animation, editing and color correction on the fly as he was creating "Dying Swan." But luckily, since the series is supposed to look like a low-budget documentary, Harvey's DIY approach is working.
"When it looks badly made, I think it looks better," he says. "We recorded everything how it would have been in a documentary, so all of that stuff is very real."
That includes an epic ballet class scene, featuring many of New York's starriest ballet dancers. "I wrote to 21 people, and 20 of them turned up," Harvey says. "Probably because they respect my wife so much, or they just felt really sorry for me."
They shot the scene in just two hours. "We just did a ballet class and my guys filmed it," Harvey says. (Even Simkin's consecutive sextuple pirouettes were shot in one take.)
Misty Copeland also makes a guest appearance—on Cob's vision board, which he uses for inspiration during his workouts. (Copeland gave Harvey her blessing, and said she thought the concept was hilarious.) As does choreographer Francis Patrelle, who plays a version of himself and who Harvey says is "just excellent on camera. He's so engaging—it's that magic source."
Though Cob's behavior is ridiculous, Harvey wants "Dying Swan" to have pathos. "Dancers understand that there's a first death, the death of your career," he says. "We would normally never see this story through the lens of a struggling middle-aged guy. It's gonna be funny, but also really sad."
Harvey already has interest in the project, and offers to buy the idea. But he's not interested in having someone else create "Dying Swan."
"There's a way of making this where it can become homogenized," he says. "A lot of people have written about the dance world, but it's rare that you get someone to write it from the inside of the bubble. I think dancers will see that to begin with, but people in general tend to smell out the truth."