“Ballet 422,” or the Hard Work of Art

The work of writers is notoriously hard to see from the outside. Leaving aside the eternal (but rather adolescent) question of where ideas come from, creative work in show business is easier to depict. A new documentary film called Ballet 422 follows the process for a work that Justin Peck choreographed for New York City Ballet, which was unveiled early last year. Judging from review excerpts, film critics have praised it, but that may leave one wondering how ballet-savvy viewers see it. Here’s how dance writer Marina Harss assessed Ballet 422 after a festival screening. (The film is now playing in New York City. For more on its release schedule, see the distributor’s page.)

Dancing Around

BALLET422_PRESS_01Having just returned from a screening of Ballet 422 at the Tribeca Film Festival I can say that it is one of the finest dance films I’ve seen, far surpassing the director Jody Lee Lipes’ previous foray into the genre, New York Export: Opus Jazz. Heretical as it may sound, I found it better than Frederick Wiseman’s documentary La Danse, the film it most closely resembles, partly because much of the choreography in that documentary was so dire. (At almost three hours, it was also excessively long.) Like Wiseman, Lipes doesn’t identify the characters, my one complaint. But he does well to focus his film on a single subject, the creation of a ballet, from start to finish. It’s a nailbiter.

The ballet is Justin Peck’s Paz de la Jolla, made for New York City Ballet last winter. (It was the company’s 422nd work, hence the…

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