Jazz Opus, The Film

Dance On Film ~ Jerome Robbins' NY Export: Jazz Opus, The Film

Monday, September 30, 2013 - 6:30pm to 7:30pm
  • Library Hall

Jerome Robbins’ “ballet in sneakers" re-imagined on film with the NYC Ballet on the streets of New York.

New York Magazine says, "This film is just about the purest, sexiest thing going in ballet."

Wall Street Journal calls it “the most infectious tribute to the Big Apple since Jay-Z's 'Empire State of Mind'”

The New York Times says it "may prove classic."

About the film
In 1958, Jerome Robbins’ “ballet in sneakers,” NY Export: Opus Jazz, became a smash hit when it was broadcast on The Ed Sullivan Show and toured around the world.  Set to an evocative jazz score by Robert Prince and abstract urban backdrops by Ben Shahn, the dance told the story of disaffected urban youth through movement that blended ballet, jazz and ballroom dancing with Latin, African and American rhythms to create a powerfully expressive, sexy and contemporary style.  Now, the work comes full circle in a vibrant new scripted film adaptation, conceived by New York City Ballet soloists Ellen Bar and Sean Suozzi, and shot on location around New York City. This feature length film premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival, where it won the Emerging Visions Audience Award.

Despite all the success and visibility of its debut, the intervening decades have found Opus Jazz infrequently performed.  The concept of taking this little-seen ballet and adapting it for the screen in a modern, real-world context was the brainchild of two New York City Ballet soloists, who, while dancing the ballet, found that it had urban themes and a contemporary relevance that spoke to them.  “Sean and I danced Opus Jazz at the New York City Ballet revival in 2005,” explains Bar. “We thought the ballet seemed a bit dated in its 1950’s trappings, but the themes that came out in the dancing — the energy and raw emotion of urban youth — were just as relevant today as they were then.” Mr. Suozzi adds that because the ballet is danced in sneakers, instead of toe shoes, it seemed especially fitting to be filmed on location. “We decided to put our dancers in regular clothes, instead of costumes,” says Suozzi. “It makes the dance even more accessible. Ballet doesn’t have to be a mysterious art form — it’s our most natural, visceral expression.”

Enlisting directors Henry Joost (Catfish, Sundance ’10) and Jody Lee Lipes (Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be The Same, SXSW ’09), Bar and Suozzi set out to make the most ambitious dance film in recent memory — the first to return Jerome Robbins’ choreography to the streets of New York since the movie version of West Side Story.  Shot on anamorphic 35mm film, this on-location adaptation utilizes New York City locations like the pre-renovation High Line, McCarren Pool, Coney Island, Red Hook, and Carroll Gardens as backdrops for the five very different movements of the ballet.

Run time: 60 min.

The Dance on Film series is presented by the Bud Werner Memorial Library, Perry-Mansfield and Steamboat Dance Theatre. The free screening includes an introduction by dance history professor and Perry-Mansfield Executive Director Joan Lazarus.

Joan Lazarus

About the film's commentator
Joan Lazarus served as Executive Director of Oakland Ballet, General Manger of Cowell Theater at Fort Mason Center, and Executive Director of WestWave Dance, an annual festival of new choreography presented in San Francisco. Joan has performed with or in the works of Alonzo King, Cliff Keuter, Ellen Bromberg, Victoria Morgan, Krissy Keefer, Frank Shawl, Bill DeYoung, Toni Pimble, Richard Colton and Alan Ptashek. She taught at the University of Oregon, Mills College, San Francisco Ballet, Dance Circle of Boston, The Princeton Ballet, RoCo Dance & Fitness, and Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, and co-authored the Dance Curriculum Guide adopted by the San Francisco Unified School District. She received Bay Area National Dance Week’s Contribution to the Field of Dance Award in 2006, and in 2012 she received an Isadora Duncan Dance Award for Sustained Achievement. Lazarus was named 2011 Dance MVP by the San Francisco Chronicle. Joan joined the staff at Perry-Mansfield in June 2012.

About Dance On Film

This 2013 Dance On Film series is presented by Bud Werner Memorial Library, Perry-Mansfield and Steamboat Dance Theatre. Perry-Mansfield celebrates its 100th anniversary as the oldest continuously operating arts camp in the United States this year. Steamboat Dance Theatre is a community dance organization presenting its 42nd annual concert March 20-22, 2014, in addition to year-round dance scholarships and education programs in Yampa Valley schools and throughout the community. This collaborative and educational dance film series features free screenings of the hottest new dance documentaries along with the finest classic dance films from a variety of genres filmed throughout the ages.