"Ballet 422" is a vérité documentary about the grueling process of choreographing a new work for the New York City Ballet, one of the world's elite companies.
It's a classic behind-the-scenes enterprise that's elevated from DVD extras status thanks to the skillful eye of documentarian Jody Lee Lipes, who orients the film in two directions that set it apart.
First, he structures it as a character study of the choreographer, then 25-year-old Justin Peck. A dancer in the company commissioned with crafting its 422nd production,
Peck is a compelling figure, one of those silent types blessed with the sort of relentless focus required to achieve something in this realm.
He's just a third-time choreographer here but utterly unflappable and calm amid immense pressure.
Lipes understands that the real story of "Ballet 422" has less to do with the specific ballet, "Paz de la Jolla," than the experience of putting it together down to the most minute details.
It's found in the consultations with wardrobe, the repetitions of pliés and jetés, debates over the minutiae of tossing and spinning, orchestral rehearsals and Peck's lonely, late-night study sessions in his apartment.
At just 75 minutes, the movie also represents a marvel of editing, distilling this entire process to an efficient length that skirts the very real risk of descending into navel gazing.
The vérité approach gives the picture a fly-on-the-wall immediacy that helps orient it as a study of humans under duress rather than a work of artistic analysis.
But this is hardly a case of a filmmaker simply pointing and shooting: Lipes conveys the magnitude of Peck's efforts with low angles and tight close-ups, giving a full picture of the challenges in a dance spectacle coming together.
Documentary directed by Jody Lee Lipes
Playing at Sunshine, Lincoln Center