IN BALANCHINE’S CLASSROOM, which we’ll open September 24 at the Playhouse, Royal, and Town Center, takes us back to the glory years of Balanchine’s New York City Ballet through the remembrances of his former dancers and their quest to fulfill the vision of a genius. Opening the door to his studio, Balanchine’s private laboratory, they reveal new facets of the groundbreaking choreographer: taskmaster, mad scientist, and spiritual teacher. Today, as his former dancers teach a new generation, questions arise: what was the secret of his teaching? Can it be replicated?
Filled with never before seen archival footage of Balanchine at work during rehearsals, classes, and in preparation for his most seminal works, along with interviews with many of his adored and adoring dancers and those who try to carry on his legacy today, this is Balanchine as you have never seen him, and a film for anyone who loves ballet and the creative process.
DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT by Connie Hochman:
IN BALANCHINE’S CLASSROOM grew out of my lifelong interest in the work of the groundbreaking choreographer George Balanchine. As a child in the 1960s, I trained at his School of American Ballet and danced alongside the New York City Ballet, with Balanchine at the helm. During these years, I witnessed a profound bond between Balanchine and his dancer-disciples, which continued to inspire and fascinate me.
In the 1970s, as a dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet, I experienced the thrill and exhilaration of dancing many of Balanchine’s greatest ballets. Still, I wanted to know more about Balanchine, the teacher. I remembered that friends of mine who joined New York City Ballet had the opportunity each morning to take company class with him. But whenever I asked about it, they froze. No one would discuss Balanchine’s classroom.
Something told me that what transpired in that room – off limits to anyone outside New York City Ballet – was important. My curiosity only grew. Why did Balanchine teach and not just choreograph? How did his class relate to his ballets? What was it that he sought from his already proficient dancers? Why wouldn’t they talk about it?
Decades later, my childhood memories of Balanchine, fueled by my desire to solve the mystery of his classroom, impelled me to seek answers. I proposed a series of interviews with former Balanchine dancers. To my delight, many said yes – 90 in all. One by one, they opened up about the phenomenon of Balanchine’s teaching. His unorthodox methods. The extremes. The charged atmosphere. His unrelenting presence.
As each dancer travels back in time to the creative whirlwind of the Balanchine era, they relive the lessons he teaches about dance and beyond: those “a-ha” moments when resistance gives way to surrender and a super-intelligence takes over. Balanchine’s class is more than just a metaphor for life. It is Life itself – short, fleeting, intense, with rewards in proportion to one’s engagement and dedication. The dancers’ words, at last, began to quench my thirst for understanding and IN BALANCHINE’S CLASSROOM was conceived.
In addition to the dancer testimonials, which form the basis for the film, I launched an extensive search for visuals to bring the story to life. In the process, I discovered a trove of never-before-seen archival footage of Balanchine in America. With special permission from The George Balanchine Trust, I traveled across the country and to Europe to film Balanchine’s former dancers staging his ballets, teaching classes, and faithfully passing on their unique knowledge to the next generation. As I witnessed this painstaking process of transference, new questions arose which ultimately drive the final film: What happens when a master is gone? What was the secret of his teaching? Can it be replicated?
My fervent wish is to share with others the story of this extraordinary teacher and his extraordinary disciples. It is, in essence, the artist’s journey, a subject rarely tackled in film. The magic of Balanchine’s classroom was like nothing on earth. By opening the door, I invite you in to see for yourself.
DIRECTOR’S BIOGRAPHY: Connie Hochman was a professional ballet dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet where she performed many Balanchine masterworks. In 2007, Connie began a series of interviews with former Balanchine dancers – ninety in all – to explore the phenomenon of Balanchine’s classroom. Why did he teach and not just choreograph? What did he teach? How did he teach? How did his daily class relate to his ballets? Their remembrances of his unorthodox methods and transformative teaching form the basis of IN BALANCHINE’S CLASSROOM.
In addition to the oral histories, Connie launched an extensive and painstaking search for visuals that would bring the story to life. Over years, she discovered a trove of never- before-seen archival footage of Balanchine in America. With approval from The George Balanchine Trust, Connie traveled around the country and to Europe to film Balanchine’s former dancers staging his ballets, teaching class, and passing on their knowledge to today’s generation.
As a first-time filmmaker, Connie consulted with Louis Psihoyos (The Cove, Chasing Extinction), and Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine (Ballets Russes, The Galapagos Affair), each of whom offered guidance and helped her form the creative team behind IN BALANCHINE’S CLASSROOM.