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City.Ballet with Sarah Jessica Parker on YouTube

cityballet

City.Ballet, a 12-part web series on YouTube, takes you into the graceful but competitive world of ballet revealing what it takes to dance in the New York City Ballet.  AOL rolled out 15 web series last year including projects headlined by Gwyneth Paltrow and Hank Azaria, however City.Ballet, with almost 90 minutes of video and six extras, is by far the best ranking with some of the most exceptional web content available on YouTube.  Sarah Jessica Parker’s Pretty Matches Production and Aol On Originals brings you this documentary series talks with over 30 dancers in all ranks in the company, cofounded in 1948 by George Balachine and Lincoln Kirstein.

The web series opens with a comment from ballet in chief Peter Martins: “Ballet by its very nature is a very competitive art form.  There are a lot of factors that play into a successful dancer’s career and some of those things are beyond their control.”  In this world of ballet, 16 year olds are professionals and 30 year olds are retirees.  The New York City Ballet is one of the foremost dance companies in the world and nearly every one of these virtuosos has trained together since childhood to take on the challenge of an empty stage, night after night, to jump higher, dance faster and be more beautiful than before.  The series is tagged as a docudrama because as Sarah Jessica Parker explains: “With these dancers, there is innate drama in their lives. There’s an enormous amount of stress. It’s very similar to being a Yankee. Like Derek Jeter, their goal is to not get injured and advance their careers.”

This docudrama is more a labor of love for producer Sarah Jessica Parker who, known for her role in Footloose and Sex in the City, has had a lifelong affair with music and dance.  Growing up she contributed to her family’s support through dancing and singing gigs.  As a child, she performed on Broadway in The Innocents, The Sound of Music and Annie.  From age 11-13, she was schooled at the New York Professional Children’s School and the American Ballet Theater, the very school that trains young dancers for the company featured in this docudrama.

In the web series, we hear from all members of the company including three corps de ballet members, four apprentices, four soloists, sixteen principal dancers, as well as ballet master in chief Peter Martins.  Not only do the segments cover the ranks of the company, but they also focus on some of the difficulties behind-the-scenes with injuries and relationships.  Overwhelmingly, the dancers speak to the joy as well as the pressure of dancing and sculpting the musicality and art of their bodies on stage.

 

The ability to have relationships outside of the company or the choice to have children can have drastic consequences on a dancer’s career and the equilibrium of the company; three couples of the dancers interviewed are married.  Jenifer Ringer Fayette has two children and danced three months into her first pregnancy knowing that it could be the last time she danced professionally.  In the same segment, you see Georgina Pazcoguin, who spent 10 years in the corps before making soloist, walking her dog discussing her choice not to pursue relationships, marriage or children hoping to dance into her 40s.  However, she also discusses how challenging it was to dance for 10 years without promotion asking “What is the next goal, in dancing and in life?”

 

The male dancers offer a unique perspective on the company from what it’s like dancing as a young boy to partnering and carrying their partners through incredible feats.  Male dancers’ careers are actually shorter because their dancing is more punishing for the body.  They’re either jumping or they’re holding a woman up over their heads.  And, the ballet isn’t about them; it’s about making the woman look beautiful.  Amar Ramasar, the son of a marine, recounts he’s mother putting him on public transportation to the school from the Bronx as a twelve year old.  He was then taking classes with six year olds trying to catch up.  Without these dancers drive to dance, the ballet would fall flat.

 

The extras give even more insight into the world of ballet.  Depending on the choreography, a dancer can go through a pair of pointe shoes in six hours and five pairs of pointe shoes in rehearsals for one show.  As an apprentice, dancers wear stock shoes but as a company member they can customize their shoes by cut down and in-soles.  This customization prevents injuries.  The other extras show us how Sarah Mearn gets her perfect ballet hair right and Ashley Bouder gets fitted for costumes.  What do dancers eat?  Some favorite foods: fried chicken, mac n’ cheese, curry, spicy pork sausage, guacamole, cookies, banana splits, and vanilla ice cream with peanut butter.

 

AOL has since renewed the show and a second season is in the works. Originally, Sarah Jessica Parker had thought about working with PBS but chose to broaden their audience and reach a new demographic with AOL on Originals.  Ms. Parker was hesitant to market via social media at first, but with 13 million views we can safely say it was a success.  In Season 2, we will see more examination of the dancers’ personal lives and more dancing!

 

Apparently, the union laws and the complexity of the budget, only allowed for six recorded minutes of dancing.  Yet, as Parker says “the great thing about the Web is that [despite] certain limitations in budget in so many ways it moves faster.”  Perhaps in Season 2 we will learn more about Balachine’s legacy and see some other dances besides Swan Lake.  Maybe in the extras Sarah Jessica Parker will speak to her own experience in the School of American Ballet.  Will they interview younger dancers in the school or continue to focus on the company?  Catch up and start watching City.Ballet Season One now.

 

Read more from Preview: a Showcase of the Performing Arts and the New York Times.

Catch NYCB on stage at Lincoln Center. Go www.tonycballet.com for tickets.

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Author: Melanie Carbine

Melanie Carbine has lived in various parts of the world including Micronesia and the United States.  She currently writes for several education blogs, vlogs about her travels, and teaches middle school in the DC Metro Area.