Excerpts from Elliot Caplan's film, "15 Days of Dance"
Brian Reeder and American Ballet Theatre II
Large Auditorium, East Building, National Gallery of Art
January 3 & 31, 2010
by George Jackson
copyright 2010 by George Jackson
Oblivion after a season or two is still the fate of most choreography, even of some masterpieces. In view of this, Elliot Caplan's act of filming all the rehearsals of a new ballet being made for a junior company can be called many things - from heroic and wise to incredible and extravagant and on to awful epithets. The facts, though, are these: Caplan captured more than 18 hours of American Ballet Theatre's apprentice company learning Brian Reeder's "Ghost Light". The new ballet uses Aaron Copland's 1925 score "Music for the Theatre" and evokes the vaudeville hoofers of the early 20th Century. Filming took place while the company was in residence in Buffalo, NY. About 4 hours of the total result were shown at two different National Gallery sessions, each followed by a discussion which critic Ann Murphy led. Seeing more of the footage and hearing additional conversation should be worthwhile for there was something new to learn throughout each of these two 2.5 hour events.
Caplan often used two cameras simultaneously, showing the results on a split screen. One camera focused on what the ballet's cast was doing and the other on the choreographer watching, commenting and demonstrating. When Reeder worked directly with the dancers, there was usually just a single camera in operation. Seeing the interaction between choreographer and the cast at all times explains much about the process of making dance "on" dancers.
Reeder's mood varied, yet he was splendidly professional in teaching dancers - and these were mostly very young dancers. He talked almost constantly, which he might not have done with more experienced performers and if the rehearsals weren't being filmed for an audience. The how, where and why, the crucial detail and the grand idea of the choreography were spelled out by his words, gestures and expression. Of course there was repetition, with the dancers going over the same passages several times. One saw them, however, assimilating movement and making it their own. They didn't all learn alike. Also shown at the second session was a technique class (taught by Kirk Peterson) which the dancers took prior to rehearsing.
What is the goal of all this filming, all these hours of information? "15 Days of Dance" could be of help one day in reviving the ballet "Ghost Light". More likely, though, it will show those in the future who are inquisitive a bit of early 21st Century art and life. Dancers will move and behave differently in coming decades and the way a choreographer engages young dancers will also have changed. In response to Murphy's questions during the first discussion, Reeder spoke about the limitations of the rehearsal process and how few resources he had to teach his dancers not the steps but the spirit of the vaudeville tradition he wanted to evoke. At the second discussion, some of the dancers - now performing with the big ABT - spoke about what those 15 days in Buffalo had meant to them. Performing mattered and, on their own time, they had tried to learn from movies of the past what old time vaudeville looked like.