American Masters – American Ballet Theatre: A History

Posted on:

< < Back to

THIRTEEN’s American Masters series has teamed up with Emmy-and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Ric Burns to co-produce a new documentary about American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in honor of its 75th anniversary.

American Masters – American Ballet Theatre: A History premieres nationwide Friday, May 15, 2015 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). Delving into the rich history of one of the world’s preeminent ballet companies, Burns combines intimate rehearsal footage, virtuoso performances and interviews with American Ballet Theatre’s key figures: artists pivotal to the company’s formation, including Alicia Alonso and the late Donald Saddler and Frederic Franklin; contemporary luminaries, including dancers Susan Jaffe and Julie Kent, choreographer Alexei Ratmansky and artistic director Kevin McKenzie; past and present stars Misty Copeland, Gillian Murphy, Marcelo Gomes and Hee Seo; dance historian and author Jennifer Homans; and prominent dance critics Anna Kisselgoff and the late Clive Barnes. The film will be available on DVD July 14 from PBS Distribution.

“The story of American Ballet Theatre, and the breathtaking rise of dance in the U.S. over the last three-quarters of a century, is one of the most inspiring stories in the cultural world,” says Burns. “Ballet is the most poignantly ephemeral and expressive of all the arts, both earthbound and transcendent. And ABT, indisputably one of the greatest dance companies in the world, has torn down an incredible number of barriers, welcoming choreographers of every kind and dancers from around the world.”

“As we approach our 75th year, it is a tremendous honor to have Ric Burns and American Masters illuminate ABT’s history in such a rich and meaningful way,” said Rachel Moore, CEO of American Ballet Theatre. “I am certain the expertise and care Ric and his team have devoted to this film will offer a fresh perspective on our art form and serve as a fitting testament to this cultural institution.”

American Masters – American Ballet Theatre: A History chronicles the rise of the company from its earliest days as a small, financially struggling collective, to its pinnacle as one of the most respected and revered dance companies in the world.

Beginning film production in 2006, Burns was given unprecedented access to the company and shot hundreds of hours of original footage, including dramatic live performances in Paris and Havana, grueling rehearsals at ABT’s flagship studio in New York City and slow-motion captures at Kaatsbaan International Dance Center in Tivoli, N.Y.

The footage from Kaatsbaan features iconic dances by nine ABT dancers, including Copeland, Murphy, Seo, Gomes, Isabella Boylston, Herman Cornejo, Daniil Simkin, Joseph Gorak and Cory Stearns, chosen by McKenzie for their diversity and breadth of talent to illustrate the ABT dancers’ formidable technicality, intricate artistry and nuanced emotion.

Shot by Emmy-winning cinematographer Buddy Squires and a 30-person crew using Phantom Flex cameras — which capture up to 2,500 frames per second and brings to life even the smallest of movements — the footage brings a new dimension to the understanding of the extraordinary efforts made in the perfection of form: from the delicate placement of a fingertip to the perfectly executed jeté.

Combined with hundreds of carefully curated stills from archives across the country and rare footage of ballet icons Alonso, Jerome Robbins, Agnes de Mille, Antony Tudor, Nora Kaye and Mikhail Baryshnikov, American Masters – American Ballet Theatre: A History provides a comprehensive inside look at American Ballet Theatre and the world of professional ballet.

“Ric has created an entertaining film that will touch and transform both seasoned aficionados and those who never have seen a ballet,” says Michael Kantor, executive producer of American Masters.

American Masters – American Ballet Theatre: A History is a production of Steeplechase Films, Inc. and THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC’s American Masters for WNET. For Steeplechase Films: Ric Burns is director.

Bonnie Lafave and Katie O’Rourke are producers. Mikaela Shwer and Emily Williams are editors. Chih Hsuan Liang is assistant editor. For American Masters: Susan Lacy and Michael Kantor are executive producers.

Funding for American Masters – American Ballet Theatre: A History is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, Rosalind P. Walter, Lewis Ranieri, Madeline Eckett Oden, Ruth and Harold Newman, Jody and John Arnhold, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Kitty Hawks and Larry Lederman, and The Lewis “Sonny” Turner Fund for Dance.

American Masters is made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Rosalind P. Walter, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Rhoda Herrick, Vital Projects Fund, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation, Rolf and Elizabeth Rosenthal, Jack Rudin, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Judith and Burton Resnick, and public television viewers.