List

Beyond The Nutcracker

By Lukie Marriott

If you enjoy classical ballet, I invite you to also explore these contemporary ballet and modern dance features and documentaries. You'll be entertained and awed by the choreography, and by the athletic and artistic prowess of the dancers. And in some, you'll get to see how the choreographers work, as well. The following titles are by no means a complete list of the library's holdings! Also, there are oodles more titles to stream on Kanopy and Hoopla.

  • Ballet 422

    2015

    Justin Peck, a 25-year-old member of the corps de ballet of New York City Ballet, is chosen to choreograph a piece for the 2013 winter season. This is an absolutely fascinating look at the process from the initial stages of choreographing to opening night. We see Justin brainstorming alone, then working with the dancers and piano accompanist. Later, we see the preparations of NYCB's orchestra, the costume and lighting designers—everyone whose involvement is necessary to the staging of a dance. Of particular interest to me was seeing the costume designers consult with the dancers about the proposed costumes, and the fact that the orchestra didn't particularly like the 1930s music Justin chose (but performed it with excellence nonetheless). If you're interested in the behind-the-scenes, don't miss this one!

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  • Desert Dancer

    2015

    Dance was forbidden in Iran in 2009 when Afshin Ghaffarian formed an underground dance company. This feature follows the story of his dangerous decision as he and fellow dancers risk their lives for dance. The choreography is emotionally powerful, expressing violent repression and the dancers' yearning for freedom.

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  • Pina

    2013

    Choreographer Pina Bausch died right before shooting began for this film. Wenders, a friend and admirer, proceeded, saying that the film was his gift for her. Filmed in 3D in all kinds of locations by dancers old and young, the audience is made to feel that dance is part of our world and we are all dancers. (In fact, a simple processional dance is learned and performed by people all over the world. I took part in one last summer.) This film is really like nothing you've seen before. In the words of reviewer Matt Riviera, "If you doubt the ability of art to change lives, see Pina. If you have no doubt about the ability of art to change lives, then please, see Pina."

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  • The Company

    2004

    Contemporary ballet blends ballet and modern dance movements. This movie about a young dancer beginning her professional career contains choreography that is just stunning. Neve Campbell stars, and does her own dancing. Yes, that's Neve Campbell of the Scream movies!

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  • Dancemaker

    1999

    This documentary about the Paul Taylor Dance Company begins with the exuberant, athletic 'Esplanade,' in which the dancers throw themselves at each other and into the floor, bounding back up again in knee-breaking movements. Much later in the film, in interviews with the dancers, you learn about their injuries and challenges dealing with Taylor, who is both benign and temperamental. It's a revealing look into the world of a modern dance company that is known for exciting, fast-paced choreography.

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  • Mr. Gaga: A True Story of Love and Dance

    2016

    This documentary explores the career of Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, one that began at the unusually late age of 22, in New York City, and on to his return to Israel as director of Batsheva Dance Company. His very popular pedagogy, Gaga, consists of improvised movements based on the senses and imagination. It looks like tons of fun! Naharin is considered to be one of the most innovative and influential choreographers. He says, "Movement, in its purest form, is above gender."

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  • A Good Man

    2011

    "Through two tumultuous years, we witness raw moments of frustration as Jones struggles to communicate his vision to his dancers and collaborators, as well as moments of great exhilaration when movement transcends the limitation of words. Jones and his company come face to face with America's unresolved contradictions about race, equality and the legacy of our 16th President. Initially an indictment of The Great Emancipator, the work evolves into a triumph of hope for our struggling democracy." (Kartemquin Films). I have not had time to see this one. I did see Jones perform in Chicago years ago, though!

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  • Dancing dreams

    2010

    Before 'Pina' (Wim Wenders' documentary about choreographer Pina Bausch), there was 'Dancing Dreams' in which a group of 40 teenagers learn Bausch's deceptively simple choreography. Many emotions are implied in the male-female dynamics and it's fascinating to watch such young dancers take up the challenge.

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  • Polina

    2018

    'Polina' is the opposite of the romanticized version of a dancer's life. Instead, we see the grueling work in the studio with exacting teachers, the exhaustion at the end of the day, the expectations and disappointments. Polina, classically trained but frustrated, finds herself drawn to modern dance and leaves Moscow to explore other possibilities. The long dance sequences are just beautiful!

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  • Five Dances

    2014

    One of my favorite dance films, it is almost entirely shot in a New York City loft studio as five dancers rehearse for an upcoming performance. The primary focus is on a very young, very talented dancer, Chip, who is currently homeless. Glimpses of the dancers' personal stories reveal loneliness and hardship but, as relationships are developed, the tone of the film lifts to one of playfulness and joy. I love this feature for the realism of the working dancer's life of studio rehearsals, the sweet story, the absolutely superb dancing, the cinematography, and the soulful soundtrack. Rated TV-14.

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  • Last Dance

    2002

    Pilobolus Dance Theater hit the dance world by storm in 1971. Utilizing the ideas of contact improvisation, they created flowing masses of intertwined bodies climbing, rolling, falling, and catching each other. In this documentary Pilobolus collaborates with Maurice Sendak and Arthur Yorinks to create 'A Selection,' a Holocaust story set on a train platform. There are moments of artistic tension between the collaborators, but mostly the film is edge-of-your-seat astonishing entertainment, full of affection and humor despite the dark subject matter.

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  • Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

    2016

    In 1958, the Alvin Ailey dancers—at that time all, and mostly today still, African American—had their first performance, changing the face of American modern dance. The library has several Alvin Ailey DVDs. This one is all concert from beginning to end, showing the works of four different choreographers. Mostly high energy, both sinuous and percussive, often with dramatic lighting, the dances resonate with the flavors of Africa, India, American spirituals, and jazz. Prepare to be dazzled!

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  • Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance

    2012

    Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino, together, created a dance company that took ballet off its pedestal, making it more current (even, at times, political), and distinctly American. They combined modern dance and ballet at a time when the two forms did not cross over. Another way in which they broke tradition was in embracing different body types—so different from the rigid physical requirements of, for example, George Balanchine's New York City Ballet. There's so much I didn't know that I found out from this documentary! Now, seeing Chicago's own resident ballet company perform will be an even richer experience.

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  • First Position

    2012

    This suspenseful documentary follows six gifted ballet students from disparate social, regional, economic, and ethnic backgrounds as they prepare for the Youth America Grand Prix, a prestigious competition where the world’s top dance companies and schools prospect for new talent. From only nine years old to 19, the dedication, sacrifices, hard work, pain, and passion of these young dancers is truly humbling. Not to mention watching them execute moves that dance studios full of hard-working students everywhere can only envy.

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  • Only When I Dance

    2010

    Like 'First Position," this documentary is about the competitions for scholarships that can make or break a young dancer's dream of success. Irlan and Isabella, both from poor families, who attend the same ballet school in Rio de Janeiro, have varying success at the competition. They also experience different roads getting there: Irlan wins all expenses paid, whereas Isabella's family desperately scrambles for the cash to send her there, eventually having no choice but to ask for help from their generous ballet school director, Mariza. Success in the world of ballet, the film shows, is incredibly competitive and fraught with hurdles, personal and professional. A moving and satisfying film.

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