New York City Ballet: Bringing Balanchine Back
City Lights Home Entertainment. DVD. 80 minutes, $19.95. www.nycballet.com.
For anyone who is curious about New York City Ballet or Balanchine’s choreography, this documentary about the company’s historic trip to St. Petersburg in 2003 would make a wonderful gift.
First, it shows the reality of touring: the nervousness, difficult floors (“I hate raked stages,” says Albert Evans), and sightseeing. Second, it marks a full circle of bringing the Balanchine aesthetic back to his early training ground. Third, there is exquisite dancing, from Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto in Agon, from Janie Taylor and Sebastien Marcovici in Peter Martins’ Hallelujah Junction, from Alexandra Ansanelli in a coaching session with Sara Leland, from Darci Kistler in that gorgeous ending of Serenade, and many more.
The interviews with dancers reveal how much is at stake on this visit. Russia is a ballet-loving society and has a discriminating public. Benjamin Millepied vows to jump higher; ballet mistress Rosemary Dunleavy-Maslow worries about audience reaction. A young Kirov dancer claims that the Americans have better legwork but the Russians have better arms.
The most dramatic episode unfolds from a subplot about Ansanelli, whose debut in Serenade is imminent after an injury. At the onstage rehearsal, she asks Peter Martins if she can take it easy. Under pressure himself, Martins scolds her, throwing her into a tailspin of mistakes.
Tensions are high all around. Ever the relaxed one, Albert Evans says invitingly to the camera (to us), “Let’s go for a drink. Come on.”
The funniest moment comes during the opening-night reception, when Kirov director and conductor Valery Gergiev, in a toast, says he is honored to work with City Ballet and would like to continue the relationship. This, after he has taken his orchestra upstairs to rehearse during the intermission, stretching the break to 45 minutes. To which Martins replies: “Yes, but our intermissions are only 20 minutes.”
A nifty cinematic effect occurs when the camera blurs after the curtain comes down on Symphony in C and before it goes back up for a bow. In that moment the camera work is so blurry and dizzying that you feel like one of the dancers trying to catch your breath.
Archival footage shows Mr. B visiting Russia in 1962, sitting next to his favorite of the moment—Allegra Kent. And we hear Kevin Kline narrate a bit about Balanchine’s past. But the biggest clue to Balanchine’s artistic vision is offered by Ansanelli: “He felt that you didn’t have to be watching a story to feel something.”
A special pleasure is the glimpses of the faces watching from backstage: Millepied stretching his neck, conductor Andrea Quinn whispering praise for the Kirov orchestra, Jenifer Ringer’s calm profile. This DVD brings us closer to a beloved company—and also shows us their value as cultural ambassadors. —Wendy Perron
Ailey Ascending: A Portrait in Motion
Photographs by Andrew Eccles; preface by Judith Jamison.
San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2008. $50. www.aileyboutique.com.
In this sleek, vibrant collection, Andrew Eccles has created a new kind of “revelations” through the eye of the camera’s lens. Shot in the summer of 2007, his portraits reveal the beauty, agility, muscle, and drive of the Ailey community, dancers young and old. From right up close, behind the scenes, and at unexpected angles, Eccles captures on the page—just as the company does onstage—what it means to be deeply human and exquisitely heroic at the same time. Opening remarks by Jamison, Anna Deavere Smith, Khephra Burns, and Susan L. Taylor lend a sense of living history. —Siobhan Burke
Latin Fusion with Luis Salgado
Instructional DVD. $24.99. www.luissalgado.com.
Dancing in the Broadway hit In the Heights, Luis Salgado sways his way into the audience’s hearts with his suave moves and upbeat personality. This charismatic persona shines on the small screen in his new instructional DVD, when Salgado teaches his unique blend of Latin style and hip hop. His in-depth knowledge of Latin movement and integrated style of choreography lay the groundwork for combinations in “Latin jazz” and “Latin lyrical.” Afterward, watch the lessons transform into performances while Salgado and his team of dancers showcase his choreography in “music videos”—an added treat. But beginners beware: The pacing is swift and basic steps are glossed over quickly. However, the heartbeat and balmy groove of Latin dance remain the focus. You might not master the exact footwork—or hip work—but you will get a dose of true Latin passion. —Lauren Kay
For Dancers: The Alexander Technique, with teacher Jane Kosminsky
The Balance of Well-Being. DVD. Two discs. $69.95. www.balanceofwellbeing.com.
Higher extension; a juicier plié; freer, more confident movement—getting there, explains Juilliard teacher Jane Kosminsky, is a matter of mind over body. On the first of these two instructive DVDs, Kosminsky offers a dance-specific introduction to the Alexander Technique, the tension-relieving, spine-lengthening, injury-preventing method of mind-body awareness. With her Juilliard students demonstrating, she shows how technical facility—from basic alignment to complex jumping—can blossom through the use of Alexander principles. On disc two, Kosminsky gives in-depth answers to students’ questions: How can I breathe through a contraction? Where should I place my ribs in arabesque? Graham, Fosse, and Forsythe dancers share how Alexander Technique has shaped their own thinking, moving, and well-being. No DVD can stand in for a real Alexander class (the hands-on approach relies on the teacher’s touch), but for patient, curious dancers seeking a balance of energy and ease, these programs provide a compelling gateway to further study. —S.B.