Wouldn’t it be a fantastical dream if you could dive into George Balanchine’s mind, body, and spirit?  Could one ever understand what he was trying to achieve?  Whether as a performer or an audience member, many have tried to grasp this legendary dance genius’s visions and movements.  As founder, teacher, director, choreographer and visionary of the New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet George Balanchine is actualized into existence.  The film, In Balanchine’s Classroom, which opens at Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles on September 24, 2021, takes us on a quest into Mr. George Balanchine’s world and those dancers closest to him.  A passion since 2006, director Connie Hochman, once School of American Ballet student and professional at Pennsylvania Ballet, showcases George Balanchine in his creative classroom.  The film is a puzzle of pieces of his works, teachings and the devotees that now carry out his life’s journey.  The movie leaves the audience to follow his quest and try to figure out what he left the world.  Most of all, in watching the film, you are transported to instants when a masterful mastermind created a method to magical madness.  Madness in moments on the brink of brilliance that unfolded to create a new form of classical ballet technique – neoclassicalism.

George Balanchine teaching at the New York State Theater in Lincoln Center circa 1964 - Photo Martha Swope

George Balanchine teaching at the New York State Theater in Lincoln Center circa 1964 – Photo Martha Swope

The footage in this film and pictures are extraordinary.  Showcased on screen are actual home movie footage of George Balanchine instructing in class and private times not seen before.  This movie is worth seeing for so many reasons which include listening to interviews from celebrated Balanchine ballerina’s and male danseurs.  Each dancer describing their time with Mr. B, as dancers close to him affectionately called him, and their mission to carry on his measure. Mr. B’s measure in timing, drive, vision, performance, and life.  Through the photos, footage and lens the audience come to understand more about what these performers did to get to their positions, what they gave up and their blind devotion to continue his lessons.

George Balanchine teaching 1973 - Screenshot film by Connie Hochman

George Balanchine teaching 1973 – Screenshot film by Connie Hochman

The movie contains video recording of present-day rehearsals of Mr. B’s pieces and how these ballets are still relevant. Many present-day premier dancers from New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Miami City Ballet are showcased in rehearsal such as NYCB’s, Tyler Peck, ABT’s Stella Abrera, ABT’s Sarah Lane, Miami City Ballet’s Carlos Guerra and selected others.  This documentary is unique in that Balanchine himself seems to be the narrator of the film. There is a synchrony of interviews with dance stars and coaches Edward Villella, Merrill Ashley, Jacques d’Amboise, Gloria Govrin and Heather Watts among others. There is mention of Suzanne Farrell, however it would have been nice to have heard from her directly. Many great Balanchine era performers were missing from this film, sad to say, possibly because many have passed.  There is footage of Karin von Aroldingen, Arthur Mitchell and Elyse Borne, which is a pleasant tribute.  This film touches on the physical and technical aspects of Balanchine technique and what steps are supposed to look like.  There is also a real time comparison with classes from renown instructor Stanley Williams.  Both seen instructing in the studio is School of American Ballet’s reputable staple teacher Suki Schorer and the late and charismatic Mr. d’ Amboise is appreciated for educating young students.

A moment in a performance of Balanchine's Serenade, NYC Ballet 1973 - film by Connie Hochman Edward Villella coaching Carlos Guerra, Principal Dancer of Miami City Ballet 2011 Jacques d'Amboise talks to a young student 2015 - scene from Balanchine's Classroom by Connie Hochman
Edward Villella coaching Carlos Guerra, Principal Dancer of Miami City Ballet - In Balanchine's Classroom, film by Connie Hochman

The devil is in the details and complete dedication is key.  George Balanchine continuously climbed the imaginative ladder to success.  Every step he seemed to take was self-scrutinized, even changing his name, since his birth name was Georgly Melitonovich Balanchivadze.  This documentary is a virtuous detailed work. The editing by Anne Fratto and Patrick Gambuti, Jr. were superb in easily transferring in and out of different picture platforms.  The musical score by Chris Hajian was exciting and well thought out. All the sound editing contributions were quite harmonious, which transferred in and out of spoken word to music and somewhere in-between.  The documentary depicts a ray of emotions and depictions from dance addiction, desire, devotion, development, happiness, mentorship, joyous fulfillment, angst, and sadness. The life of a dancer is fleeting, and it was so lovely to see so many historical memories.  All in all, an insightful film with brilliant historic dance footage and interviews that make you wish you had been there.

In Balanchine’s Classroom Opens at Film Forum in NYC on September 17, 2021 and at Laemmle Theaters in LA on September 24, 2021.

Written by Alice Alyse for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: George Balanchine 1950s – Photo by Ernst Hass