‘Ballet 422’: Bohuslav Martinů and Justin Peck

Lovers of ballet, future choreographers and lovers of dance will appreciate director Jody Lee Lipes’ documentary “Ballet 422” which opens at the Playhouse 7 and the Laemmle Town Center 5 on 20 February 2015. The documentary which follows choreographer Justin Peck as he creates the 422nd original ballet for the New York City Ballet opens at the Claremont 5 a week later, 28 February 2015. It opens this week at the Nuart Theatre and the Regency South Coast Village 3.

Lipes became intrigued with Justin Peck when he heard a presentation by him discussing his first major work for NYCB that was performed at Lincoln Center, “Year of the Rabbit.” Lipes had previously worked with the New York City Ballet on his “NY Export: Opus Jazz.”

“NY Export: Opus Jazz” was Jerome Robbin’s ballet in sneakers and performed on the “Ed Sullivan Show” in 1958. Lipes’ movie “NY Export: Opus Jazz” premiered in 2010. and attempts to make the dance more accessible.

During this documentary, “Ballet 422,” Justin Peck is still a member of the lowest tier of the New York City ballet: corps de ballet. Yet we know he is a man on the rise. The documentary is named for the number the dance represented to the company itself. This is the 422nd original piece the company will be dancing. Called “Paz de La Jolla,” it is his third piece of choreography for his company and he only has two months to create the dance for the 2013 Winter Season program, work with three of the principal dancers (Tiler Peck, Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar) on the choreography, with Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung on costume design and with Mark Stanley on lighting.

The New York City Ballet was founded in 1948 by the legendary George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein. Balanchine was the Ballet Master. Jerome Robbins joined in 1949. When Balanchine died in 1983, Robbins and Peter Martins took his place as Masters in Chief. Martins has served in that capacity since 1990.

Peck was born in Washington, D.C., but grew up in Encinitas, California where he studied at the California Ballet. He began training at the official school of the NYCB, School of American Ballet, in 2003. He joined the corps de ballet in 2007. In 2013, he was promoted to soloist.

For those unfamiliar with San Diego County, Encinitas is in the north. It is about 18 miles north of La Jolla, also a city in North San Diego County. There’s some dispute about the origin of the name, whether it refers to the “holes” or the caves of a city (from the Native American Kumeyaay phrase “mat kulaaxuuy” for land of holes ) that is surrounded on three sides by the sea or whether is refers to it being a “jewel” of a city (Spanish la joya). La Jolla is nicknamed the Jewel City and is an affluent neighborhood.

In 1950 composer Bohuslav Martinů was commissioned to create 19-minute symphony for orchestra in three movements.  The first performance of this peace was in Los Angeles in 1951 but the composition, “Sinfonietta la Jolla,” is dedicated to the Musical Arts Society of La Jolla.

The Musical Art Society of La Jolla was founded in 1941 by Nikolai Sokoloff, former conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra. The organization commissioned 20 new works between 1949-1968. The group was incorporated in 1968.  No longer called the Musical Art Society of La Jolla, the group continues as the La Jolla Music Society.

Bohuslav Martinů was born in the village of Policka in Czechoslovakia, studied in Prague and as an adult moved to Paris. With the Nazi expansion, he fled Paris for America. He taught at Princeton University, and it was during his time there that he received the commission for the symphony.

The documentary uses just a bit of text to explain what is happening but it doesn’t provide a lot of background or explanation. No one talks to us in the documentary. There are no interviews. We are more concerned with the passage of time as the titles on the screen count down the weeks and days to the opening performance.  This is a cinema verité. In 75 minutes, we track the backstage work of the making of “Ballet 422.” We see Peck working outing out the choreography, discussing the dance with the principals, and deciding on the look of the piece. “Paz de La Jolla” is very much a collaboration but Lipes wants us to focus on the process. We will not see the final dance from the audience’s point of view yet we see enough of it to understand what has happened and why Peck would become the resident choreographer and is a rising star in the world of ballet.


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