Granger on Film: 'In Balanchine's Classroom' offers behind the scenes look at the ballet world

Balanchine in the studio, as seen in "In Balanchine's Classroom."

Balanchine in the studio, as seen in "In Balanchine's Classroom."

Zeitgeist Films / Contributed photo

Susan Granger’s review of “In Balanchine’s Classroom”

When Connie Hochman was a youngster, she took classes at the School of American Ballet, where George Balanchine reigned supreme. She danced with the New York City Ballet and the Pennsylvania Ballet before becoming a ballet teacher.

As time went on, Ms. Hockman became increasingly intrigued with charismatic Balanchine. Thinking to write a book about him, she began to talk with his dancers in 2007 and soon realized that telling his story required a more visual medium. Many of her interviews, along with never-before-seen archival footage, are incorporated into this intriguing documentary.

Born in Russia, George Balanchine studied at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg and worked with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes in Paris. In 1933, he moved from Europe to New York, where he helped found the School of American Ballet and the City Ballet. With his unique interpretation of classical dance, he revolutionized ballet in the United States.

Focusing on the extremely arduous morning class that Balanchine conducted every day, Hochman chronicles the growth and creative development of Heather Watts, Suki Schorer, Gloria Govrin, Merrill Ashley, along with Edward Villela and Jacques d’Amboise, who later founded their own companies..

Although Balanchine was relaxed and focused when he choreographed, he would not let outsiders watch his class. “He really pushed the dancers,” Hochman explains. “They were trying things. He wanted them to feel unselfconscious, uninhibited. If they fell or looked awkward, he wanted that privacy for them. This was their private place to learn and not be observed or judged.”

However, perfectionist Balanchine did permit choreographer Jerome Robbins and dancer Christine Redpath to film, often acknowledging them by waving to the camera.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about Balanchine,” Hochman goes on. “I would love for people to get a sense of what a positive, groundbreaking force he was…It took a special kind of person to take that class…and this kind of artistic collaboration, this symbiosis was unique.”

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “In Balanchine’s Classroom” is an exquisite, energetic 8, aimed specifically at balletomanes.

Susan Granger has been an on-air television and radio commentator and entertainment critic for more than 25 years. Raised in Hollywood, Granger appeared as a child actress in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, and Lassie. She currently resides in Westport.