My friend Mike sent me the info about a showing of the new dance film "Opus Jazz" last night at BAM. I jumped at the chance to see this loving paean to legendary American ballet choreographer Jerome Robbins, which aired on PBS a couple of months ago.
Told in five acts, the film re-creates Robbin's legendary choreography, originally performed in the 1950s, for a new audience. But more than just a stage production on film, the production has these top rank ballerinas dancing in street garb in various gritty settings all around New York City, from the pre-renovation High Line, to the McCarren Pool, Coney Island, Red Hook, and
Carroll Gardens (at the school of my friend Regina!).
A blend of ballet, modern and jazz movement, it's thrilling and unpredictable from beginning to end. I love how the camera work serves to highlight the dancers in off-beat and evocative ways, shooting from above, very low, and sweeping in, but without any of the music video quick-cut techniques that have become standard for dance on film. All filmmakers who want to shoot dance should study this film (I'm looking at you, Jon Chu.)
My favorite piece is the second act, danced by the lovely Georgina Pazcoguin, along with some dynamic male dancers in a raw industrial space. I love the mixture of male power and female allure and teasing in this piece. But really they are all terrific in their own ways, showing a remarkable range of emotion and style, while being truly Robbins-esque to the core.
As a vernacular dancer, I have my own prejudices against "high" dance forms like ballet as sterile, stodgy and boring. "Opus Jazz" just tooks those preconceptions and bitchslapped them against the fence. Jerome Robbins lives on.