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Hitting the Mark:

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NY Export: Jazz Opus
Directed by: Jody Lee Lipes
Saturday, November 13th, 10:30 a.m.
Thalian Hall Main Stage

When speaking to Jody Lee Lipes about “NY Export: Opus Jazz,” it’s important not to call it a “documentary.” He gets downright frustrated.

“It can be difficult for me to hear and read that,” he says. “It’s got some similar elements to a doc, I guess, but it’s so much more than that.”

Lipes is quickly becoming a top director in the business, having spent the year working on the critical darling “Tiny Furniture” and directing a music video for club favorites 3Oh!3 and Ke$Ha. The main focus of “NY Export: Opus Jazz” is dance—more specifically, a 1950s ballet choreographed by Gerome Robbins as a companion piece to “West Side Story.” For the film, they adapted the ballet with modern-day New York City dancers as the cast. The film has already been critically praised after airing on PBS and winning an audience award at SxSW 2010.

Though it wasn’t Lipes’ first film working with dance, he found the experience both challenging and rewarding. “Usually, when you shoot a film, the dialogue is a guide, especially in the editing process,” he says. “You can refer to the script to know what comes after which part and what reaction shots to include. With dance, you are memorizing an entire sequence, making sure to include every little movement. When it’s shot from different angles, like we did to make it more interesting, it can be hard to follow in the editing room.”

However, the rewards came with working with the dancers themselves. Lipes points out that regular actors can sometimes have trouble hitting a mark or remembering precise details. “With dancers, that is all they do,” he says. “Hitting marks is their whole process. They really know how to make things look good.”

The ballet itself is a five movement masterpiece that has been incorporated into the New York City landscape. Lipes wrote the script himself, working dialogue and story lines into the classic dance piece.
“When you watch the original ballet, there are already suggested relationships and stories between characters that I picked up on,” he says. “What I did was develop those interpretations into a script with interludes between the dances.”

More than anything, Lipes hopes that viewers see the film as an ode to ballet and to the streets of New York. “The city was a cast member in itself,” he says. “It wasn’t hard to find inspiration in the setting or in Robbins’ amazing choreography. I think we did it justice.”

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