Posted by Rebecca King on 11.17.2011
In January 2012, New York City will welcome a new full-length ballet film: a documentary on Joffrey Ballet that recounts the story of this historic American dance institution. Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance features archive footage, along side interviews with Joffrey stars past and present. The film is narrated by Tony and Emmy award winner Mandy Patinkin and directed by Bob Hercules.
The concept of this film has peeked my interest since I discovered it. In anticipation of this project’s New York premier, I thought I would find out a bit more about what went in to this project. I was recently put in contact with the film’s director, Mr. Hercules, who took the time to answer a few questions I had for him.
Bob Hercules is an award winning producer and director who works on documentaries, broadcast, and corporate videos. He is also the founder and co-owner of Media Process Group, a television production company. Mr. Hercules’ work can be found on many networks including PBS, The Discovery Channel, and The Learning Channel. A few weeks ago, Hercules’ documentary, “Bill T. Jones: A Good Man,” aired on PBS to critical acclaim. For more on Mr. Hercules, visit Media Process Group‘s website.
RK: Can you tell us a little more about this film? What should audience members know before viewing?
BH: This is the first film to tell the full story of the Joffrey Ballet, from their founding in 1956 to the present. What is surprising is how much drama their story contains: the many falls and resurrections of the company and also how they helped transform American dance.
RK: How did the idea for a documentary on Joffrey Ballet develop into a reality? How long has this project been in the works?
BH: The idea for film originated when I was approached by Jay Alix, Una Jackman and Harold & Erica Ramis to do a series of interviews with Joffrey co-founder Gerald Arpino in 2008. At that point Jerry’s health was failing and they wanted to get his story on tape before he passed. After doing several interviews with Jerry I proposed a full feature documentary about the Joffrey company (surprisingly none had been done before). We filmed for about 2 years and edited the film for about a year so it was 3 years in the making.
RK: How was the “rare archival” film uncovered and assembled for the film? Where was most of this footage discovered?
BH: The archival footage came from a variety of sources, including the WNET series “Dance in America” and “Great Performances.” Some of the rare material came from the Joffrey archives. There were about 10 16mm films I found in their archives that hadn’t been transferred to tape (and probably hadn’t been seen in 30 years). This included some rare rehearsal footage of the”The Green Table” and the original film projection footage used in “Astarte.”
RK: How is directing a documentary different from directing other genres of film?
BH: Directing a documentary is a completely different discipline than directing a narrative film since, in documentaries, your are dealing with real events and stories versus fictional stories in features. You have to learn to trust the story (or stories) as they evolve from the interviews. Many times stories emerge that you hadn’t known about and so you need to sometimes throw out your pre-conceptions and follow that story line. It’s not a good discipline for control freaks.
RK: Big names in the world of ballet were featured in this film including Kevin McKenzie, Helgi Tomasson, Ashley Wheater, and many more. How were these interviews conducted and about how long were these interviews?
BH: Many prominent artistic directors got their start in the Joffrey Ballet so it’s not surprising that we feature a number of ‘stars’ in the field, including Kevin McKenzie, Helgi Tomasson, Adam Sklute, Ashley Wheater and Gary Chryst, among others. We went on location to each person’s respective homes or company offices to film the interviews. Each interview lasted between 45 min. to one hour. We filmed Gary Chryst and Trinette Singleton in the old Joffrey studio in New York.
RK: What surprised you most about this project?
BH: I was struck by how articulate and fascinating each of the former Joffrey dancers are. They are great story tellers and often very funny people. It was clear to me that Joffrey and Arpino recruited very intelligent and well-rounded people for their company. I loved the stories they told me.
RK: What do you hope the audience will take away from this full-length feature film?
BH: I’m hoping the audience will have a new appreciation for the depth of the Joffrey story and also understand how critical they were in the trajectory of American dance. They really were (and are still) mavericks. They were one of the first companies to meld modern dance with ballet and they willingly tackled important social issues from an artistic perspective. People will be surprised at how rich their story is.
After the NYC premier, the film will take a theatrical tour around the country through Hybrid Cinema and will be released on DVD in the early part of 2012. I know we are hoping it will make a stop in Miami! The announcement of tour dates should be coming soon.
To stay up to date with the news from this film’s tour and DVD release dates, sign up for their mailing list. For more information on the film visit www.joffreymovie.com.