The picture of Balanchine painted in In Balanchine’s Classroom is a biased one… naturally. Out of the 100 people interviewed in preparation for this project, only six are granted prominent screen time – Jacques d’Amboise, Merrill Ashley, Gloria Govrin, Suki Schorer, Edward Villella, and Heather Watts. All speak of the genius choreographer with admiration despite what can certainly be perceived as negative remarks.
“He was being perverse,” and “I was thinking that I was gonna throw up,” recall Ashley and Govrin, respectively, regarding the physical limits to which Balanchine pushed his dancers to achieve in class.
And the relentless pressure to reach an unreachable ideal, to appease a man who was never satisfied, to blindly acquiesce in the decisions made by a singular person.
Yet they still adore him. It’s almost as if the extreme behavior is justified and given pardon as the price for his tutelage. Would his demands be perceived in the same light by 21st century dancers?
When I asked Hochman why these handful of perspectives were the ones given the spotlight in her film, she replied:
“Without exaggeration, every interview, that is, each Balanchine dancer’s perspective is a treasure. At the outset, I spent several years trying a different version of the movie which featured 25 – 30 different voices – a true ensemble piece. The chorus of voices brought to life Balanchine’s classroom in interesting, entertaining, informative ways but lacked the dramatic build of good storytelling.
The ‘chorus’ did not lend itself to character development, which takes screen time and is actually what pulls a viewer in with its unfolding emotional arc. I realized I wanted to tell a compelling story and that depended on fleshed out characters. There was a depth to the dancers’ journey with Balanchine which I felt this film deserved. Our specific characters rose to the surface for a combination of reasons:
⦿ In interview, they reveal the dancer’s struggle, both physical and psychological, and the eventual transformation they undergo as artists. Each represents certain aspects of the journey.
⦿ We were able to find archival footage and photographs of these particular dancers to document their experience learning from Balanchine.
⦿ We were allowed to film them teaching and/or staging Balanchine ballets to see firsthand how the experience of his classroom lives on through them.
⦿ They contributed excellent narration required for historical context.
⦿ They each manifest a strong personality and aura not only as dancers but as human beings and teachers, which radiate from the screen with force. As a group, they complement one another but also contrast sharply. Together they symbolize the array of starkly different dancers Balanchine chose for his New York City Ballet company.”