‘City.Ballet.’ Is Gracefully Done

/ Dec 3, 2013


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City.Ballet.,” to state the obvious, is as much a cautionary tale about ballet as it is a love letter to it. Each episode navigates the scuffed walls of the New York City Ballet with equal parts reverence and apprehension, as it dives into the brutally competitive world of professional dancing. In an early episode of the AOL Originals web series, NYCB headmaster Peter Martins explains: “It’s a one-shot deal. If you’ve been an apprentice for a year, and you aren’t getting a contract, chances are that that was your one chance.” It’s this sentiment that drives much of the action in “City.Ballet.” It’s not only the apprentices who fear each failed grand fouetté, it is each and every dancer gliding across the gym. They’re dreams are so close, yet the punishment for, as Martins calls it, “complacency” is utterly permanent and life-altering.

The first five episodes of “City.Ballet.” are dedicated to examining the four roles of any professional dance theater: Apprentices, Corps De Ballet, Soloists, and the coveted Principals. Through each stage, we are shown that the level of pressure for each and every dancer only amplifies. The Apprentices dream of being in the Corps De Ballet, yet the Corps pine for a spot as a Soloist. The cycle does not break, and each dancer seems to feel this grinding force in every movement and production.

While Martins, being the headmaster, could in all fairness be painted as the cruel antagonist that all pieces of film need, “City.Ballet.” does an excellent job of avoiding this easy trapping and instead shifts our attention to a more pressing villain: Ballet itself. We are reminded through each episode just how young each dancer is and how early they began their careers in dancing. Most heartbreaking of all is the episode titled “Injuries” in which many dancers detail the crushing ramifications of a serious injury. Much like competitive professional sports, a prolonged benching could easily destroy a career which was a decade in the making. All of the dancers at the NYCB have been training for this since they were children, they know nothing else, which makes the pressure to stay healthy and ahead of the curve all the more intense.

Executive produced and narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker, “City.Ballet.” is expertly made. The web series presents a new face for what can be done within online video. Supported by extensive funds and a subject matter that oozes natural tension, “City.Ballet.” is elegantly graceful.

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