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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Ballet 422 (Blu-ray)
Ballet 422 (Blu-ray)
Magnolia Home Entertainment // PG // May 26, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matt Hinrichs | posted June 11, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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Note: images are from promotional sources and do not reflect the quality of the Blu Ray under review.

The Movie:

The charmingly low-key, observational Ballet 422 accomplishes what a lot of good-quality documentaries do, letting the viewer eavesdrop on a process normally closed-off to the general public. In this case, we follow an original dance production by the New York City Ballet from conception to premiere (its 422nd since their 1948 founding, hence the title). Built-in ballet fans will obviously get a lot more from Jody Lee Lipes' 2014 film, but Magnolia's nicely packaged Blu Ray gives this absorbing movie some added context. Pivot, step, step, go!

Adding a bit to Ballet 422's slow-burning tension is the fact that it follows a member of the ballet corps (the lowest-rung of dancer in the 92-member company) as he attempts to set up a full, original piece within a span of two months. The film opens in Winter 2012, with 25 year-old Justin Peck facing the task of preparing a ballet for fifteen of his fellow NYC Ballet dancers to be premiered the following January. Within that brief amount of time, Peck not only needs to deliver a fully choreographed dance piece, he must also oversee elements such as costuming, lighting, staging, and orchestrations. For someone like your reviewer who just has a casual interest in ballet, the amount of thought and effort that goes into even a relatively simple production like Peck's might seem like an incredible feat. As the doc shows, it's all in a day's work, which makes the process all the more astonishing.

Director Jody Lee Lipes presents Ballet 422 in subtle, cinema verite fashion, preferring to let his cameras roll unobtrusively while Peck and his dancers do their work. Unlike in other docs, there are no talking-head experts, no flashy motion graphics, not even much in the way of background information (that part is conveyed via a few demure pages of onscreen text). It might sound boring, but on the contrary Lipes' intimacy with the people involved allows them to be themselves throughout the process, making it more fresh and fascinating than what would've been expected. Despite Peck's inexperience, he knows what he's doing, comfortably coaching and accepting feedback from fellow dancers such as the lead female in the production, Tiler Peck (no relation to Justin), and the other two principal dancers, Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar (a strong, athletic presence, Ramasar also stands out for being one of the corps' few non-White dancers). Focused and task-oriented yet open to others' suggestions, Peck turned out to be the right choice to do this, the only newly-choreographed piece of the season from the place that shepherded greats like George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins (since the filming, Peck has choreographed other pieces for the NYC Ballet).

Ballet 422 will likely disappoint those used to the made-up drama of reality TV - the laid-back personalities of Peck and his NYC Ballet colleagues are precisely the opposite of the flash-in-the-pan fame-seekers of that sphere. What it does show is the value of collaboration, offering an inside perspective in a subtle, beautifully photographed way. It ain't Kim Kardashian and Caitlyn Jenner, but people wanting to know how a stage production gets made will leave this enthralling doc happy.

The Blu Ray:


Video

Visually, Ballet 422 follows a standard documentary format, photographed using digital equipment and whatever light sources were available. On Magnolia's Blu Ray edition, the visuals look surprisingly fantastic in a clean, sharp 1080p, 1.78:1 widescreen presentation. The disc's mastering brings out the cinematography's fine detail and subtle lifelike color. I was particularly impressed with how nice the darker areas of the image looked, having a satisfying richness without appearing murky.

Audio

The English 5.1 Master Audio soundtrack is similarly well-mixed, with the orchestral passages having a particularly full-bodied sound. The track doesn't especially wow, but it gives a good sense of atmophere for a project that mostly relies on ambient sounds with no talking or music. No other audio options are provided, although the disc also provides subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish.

Extras

An Audio Commentary has director Jody Lee Lipes and choreographer Justin Peck, recorded together, offering a lot more background info on topics that the doc either ignored or glossed-over. The track is a bit dry at times, but informatively done throughout. Additional features: the making-of documentary Creating Ballet 422; Deleted Scenes; Galleries showcasing the production's costume design, choreography sketches, music, lighting and stage management; and Trailers for this and other Magnolia home video releases. The disc also allows for bookmarking and BD-Live updates.

Final Thoughts

The engrossing, fly-on-the-wall documentary Ballet 422 captures a high-stakes New York City Ballet production with young tyro choreographer, Justin Peck, from conception to premiere. The movie's precise, observational direction might be too laid-back for some - those with an interest in the behind-the-scenes side of the performing arts will be riveted, however (I was). Recommended.


Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and jack-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. Since 2000, he has been blogging at Scrubbles.net. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's experienced are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.

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