AOL's latest high-profile Web series, City.Ballet, takes viewers into the world of ballet dancers at the New York City Ballet. What's great about this show is that in a way, it isn't about the famed New York ballet company, or ballet as an art form, but about the artists that practice it and the combination of talent and perseverance it takes to be a part of this demanding art form.
This is what ultimately makes this short docu-Web project (backed and narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker) universally accessible—the passion displayed by the dancers so beautifully captured in this series.
Indeed, it was a wise choice on the part of the filmmakers to focus on the dancers and the process they go through from being apprentices to becoming principals. Their journeys, their trials and tribulations, their failures and victories and their openness about them toward us is what humanizes ballet and viewers' experiences of it. "80 percent of this is mental strength, and only the other 20 percent is physical strength," says one of the dancers in the show.
City.Ballet is so effective in helping the audience feel the price these artists have had to pay to build that strength; it comes through in every small inflection of their voice as they recall the times they got injured, pushed themselves too hard, or hit an emotional brick wall. The stories told by these dancers are incredibly effective and powerful, helping viewers truly understand their extraordinary dedication and expereinces.
That being said, the show makes little effort to actually visually illustrate these stories in a compelling way. The B-roll of dancers performing in slow motion is generic at best. City.Ballet makes a genuine attempt to capture the elegance and beauty of the human body in motion (and sometimes succeeds), but for the most part leaving viewers wanting to see more actual dancing, seeking more visual confirmation of the powerful stories being told.
But all in all, City.Ballet is worth watching. It's short but engaging and gives us a humanizing glimpse into the intensity of the world of ballet.