As the year in film draws to a close, Henry Stewart is scrambling to catch up with some of the movies he missed, so he can tell you whether to bump them up in your queue or feel guilt-free for deleting them. Today, he discusses Henry Joost and Jody Lee Lipes’ NY Export: Opus Jazz. Or is it Jerome Robbins’?
West Side Story looms large over NY Export: Opus Jazz, a Jerome Robbins ballet choreographed the year after Story opened on Broadway. It’s set to a cool jazz score (by Robert Prince), and features young New Yorkers snapping their fingers and fluttering their palms above their heads. They even dance in a gym. But this 45-minute film adaptation is like that iconic film purified: stripped of stars, soundstages and singing, and returned to awesome basics—the city and the dance.
NY Export: Opus Jazz recaptures the raw, exhilarating energy Robert Wise got out of Story’s opening scene and extends it into a self-contained story of its own. It juxtaposes the fantastical and the real: ballet, on the streets of New York. (Not unlike U-Carmen’s opera in a South African shantytown.) Wise used as his backdrop West Side slums that would soon be razed to build Lincoln Center. Directors Joost (from, ew, Catfish) and Lipes find similarly ruinous contemporary settings, bound if not to disappear than to transform radically: Coney Island, the pre-revival High Line, McCarren Park Pool (over which tower the husks of stalled development). NY Export documents the city, its last surviving tumbledown spaces, but also imagines something better: it improves upon it, infusing New York with impossible terpsichorean beauty.