In 1958, after the success of West Side Story, Broadway and ballet legend Jerome Robbins choreographed New York Export: Opus Jazz. In 2009, a bevy of stunning young dancers from the New York City Ballet resolved to recreate the piece as a film, and shoot it outdoors in multiple locations in New York City. Jacob's Pillow is thrilled to be sharing this unique project with its Members on Sunday, June 13 at our annual Members-only event.

PillowPages talks with Sean Suozzi who, along with fellow City Ballet dancer Ellen Bar, spearheaded the first film ever to be conceived, created, produced, and danced by dancers from the New York City Ballet.

Pillow Pages: How did the idea come about to remake this work in a film version?

Sean Suozzi: The idea came to me after we performed the piece for New York City Ballet. Once we were on stage, the entire cast felt a little goofy in the costumes compared to the way we felt when we were rehearsing the dance in our own clothes. I thought that the ballet would look great (and feel great) in contemporary street clothes, which made me automatically think of West Side Story. Then everything clicked and I thought... We should film this all over present-day NY, update the costumes, and add interludes between the movements! Ellen [Bar] and I developed the specific concept together and once we had a proposal finished, which Ellen wrote, we presented the idea to the Robbins Trust.

PP: Do you think the choreography for Opus Jazz is as relevant today as it was in 1958?

SS: I definitely think it's relevant. It's about youth and adolescence and all that goes along with that time in someone's life. I don't know why Robbins's choreography holds up so well. It's classic. The entire cast of Opus Jazz loved the ballet when we learned it and always felt that it was contemporary... which I think says it all.

PP: What locations did you choose in New York City?

SS: We wanted to choose "secret," almost hidden New York locations--places that were definitely "New York" but not places that people necessarily know about. Places where kids would go to be alone and hang out with each other, away from the older people. We shot in Brooklyn a lot: McCarren Pool, an abandoned warehouse in Red Hook, a gym in Carroll Garden, and of course the High Line in Manhattan.

PP: Your schedules at NYCB must be quite demanding. How did you find time to fit in making a film?

SS: It was very hard. Ellen had a serious neck injury for a year while we were fundraising, which gave her time to do a lot more work than me, but it's always a balancing act and it's very overwhelming at times--but definitely worth it.

PP: The film has aired on PBS, and will now be shown at the Pillow. What plans do you have for the film after that?

SS: We're doing the festival circuit, and hope to release it on DVD, as well as show it on television in Europe, and other countries around the world. We want as many people to see it as possible.

Pillow Members can reserve their two free tickets to New York Export: Opus Jazz on Sunday, June 13, 2010 by calling the Box Office at 413.243.0745.

Read the next article: Member Spotlight on John Gay

PillowPages April 2010:
Opus Jazz Q&A

web site by AvenueVERVE