“Even though the ballet was made in the ’50s, it is all about the unforgettable experience of being young in New York City,” says co-producer Ellen Bar of the new film Opus Jazz. New York City Ballet soloists Bar and Sean Suozzi dreamed up this contemporary re-imagining of Jerome Robbins’ 1958 “ballet in sneakers”, premiering today at SXSW. “Putting it on location, with a cast of dancers wearing regular clothes, really highlights how universal and timeless that experience really is,” she says. “Seeing the dancers in real clothes, real locations and real situations emphasizes that they’re real people, experiencing real emotions, so even people who don’t know anything about dance can relate to it.”
Shown here, “Passage for Two” features dancers Rachel Rutherford and Craig Hall as they beautifully capture the push-and-pull of many a modern-day courtship. The High Line (not yet gussied up and opened to the public at filming, in 2007) serves as a dramatic, wild backdrop for their duet. Filming at such familiar locations as the McCarren Pool and Coney Island was an exciting and at times maddening experience, but the city came through when the producers least expected it:
On “the last day of principal photography, we were rushing to shoot a scene at dusk in Red Hook, but we had gotten late while shooting a scene on the other side of Brooklyn in Greenpoint,” recalls Bar. “Because that scene involved two of the dancers riding a bike on the street, it required a police escort. They must have heard us discussing our dilemma—How would we ever make it to Red Hook before the sun went down?—because all of a sudden, they turned on their lights and waved for us to follow. They ran lights and did everything they could to get us there as fast as possible, and we ended up making it just in time… It was a surreal and unexpected moment, the kind of thing that makes you love New York.”
Catch the national broadcast premiere of Opus Jazz on PBS Wednesday, March 24.