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Dance on Film

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George Balanchine's Serenade.  Photo © Paul KolnikGeorge Balanchine's Serenade. Photo © Paul KolnikFor nearly 30 years I have had a constant and devoted relationship with the New York City Ballet. With the exception of a single dalliance with American Ballet Theatre in my early 20s (free tickets) and an occasional fling with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, I have remained steadfast and true to this singular dance company.

I began attending performances at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center as a child and then continued at the New York State Theater once I had moved to New York City as an adult. I have witnessed the professional arc of an entire generation of dancers, from Wendy Whelan’s first pairing with Jock Soto in Agon to the retirement of Albert Evans (whom I will always think of as “poor Albert” due to one performance in the mid-‘80s of Western Symphony during which he slipped and fell).

The reason for my spectatorial relationship with this company specifically and dance in general is that, more often than not, the performances allow an understanding of human existence on a sensory rather than intellectual level.  There is a moment when dance is the perfect translation of music into movement, when the music of the spheres is in alignment with the music in the orchestra pit and that moment is transcendental.  Two dancers crossing a stage, slowly, the ballerina’s hands wrapped across the danseur’s eyes, is the incarnation of the Elegy movement of Tschaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C, Op. 48 and the experience is sorrowful and everlasting and somehow, from this performance, you are brought into a consciousness of mortality.

To democratize, explicate, and arrest both the “moment” and the movement, dance has an historical tradition of being recorded on motion picture film (according to Europa Film Treasures, the online access site for a network of European archives, nearly a third of all films produced during the primitive film era were various interpretations of the Butterfly Dance).

There are, of course, those films that record a professional presentation but great dance performances do not just happen on the stages of concert halls and opera houses.

 Ernie PaniccioliRoxy Breakdancers Photo: Ernie PaniccioliIt is a basic human right to express one’s experience in and of the world through physical movement and so, in this city especially, one finds dance everywhere: on the streets, in the parks, on the subways, in schools.  For every venue and impulse, there is a film that documents the dance and the dancer, from the classically inclined (L'Adolescence, Dance on a May Day, Four Women) to the street savvy (Electric Boogie; Rosie Radiator; No Applause, Just Throw Money).

If you would like to screen these or other films in the collection or to make a request for a consultation appointment with a film staff member, please call the Reserve Film and Video Collection at the Library for the Performing Arts at (212) 870-1741. All films must be requested at least one week in advance.

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