NY Export: Opus Jazz DVD Review (Factory 25) ~ BrooklynRocks: NYC Music Blog

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

NY Export: Opus Jazz DVD Review (Factory 25)

NY Export: Opus Jazz DVD Review (Factory 25)NY Export: Opus Jazz originally premiered in June of 1958 at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy and Robbins' Ballets: USA company performed on the Ed Sullivan Show a year later. This "ballet in sneakers" was an abstraction of Robbins' West Side Story (which debuted the previous year) and the dances depicted youth gangs moving within and against the rhythms of the City. The score blended ballet, jazz and ballroom dancing with Latin, African and American rhythms to create a powerfully expressive, sexy and contemporary style.

NY Export: Opus Jazz made its NYC Ballet debut in 2005 at Lincoln Center after which soloists Ellen Bar and Sean Suozzi conceived of this new film adoption. Bar said “[w]e 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.” The five movements of the ballet were shot in different locations around NYC - High Line, McCarren Pool, Coney Island, Red Hook and Carroll Gardens - with each location adding a different mood and texture to the energy of that particular movement.

The film contains no narrative so it is the dances intertwined with the cinematography and between-movement vignettes that draw the viewer into the characters' lives. The most moving is "Passage for Two" which was filmed at the pre-renovation Highline where Rachel Rutherford and Craig Hall break away from their group of friends to play out their love story on the abandoned railroad tracks at sunset.

I've too often found DVD "extras" to be fairly pointless but the two fifteen minute documentaries that are the "extras" on this disc add volumes to the overall story. Even prior to watching the main feature, the viewer may wish to start with Jerome Robbins' Ballets: USA featurette, which is a well-preserved B&W film that documents Robbins' original production of Opus Jazz and the company's performance on the Ed Sullivan Show. The second featurette, A Ballet in Sneakers: Jerome Robbins and Opus Jazz, is a straight-forward "behind the scenes" documentary containing interviews with Ellen Bar and Sean Suozzi who discuss their inspiration for the film, Sondra Lee (who was part of the original Opus cast), and other friends and devotees of Robbins.

The film premiered at the 2010 South by Southwest Film Festival, where it won the Emerging Visions Audience Award and was broadcast as part of PBS' Great Performances series.

Opus Jazz