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 will premiere at the 2010 South by Southwest Film Festival, and have it s broadcast premiere March 24 on PBS Great Performances.
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