Ballet 422 (2014) follows Justin Peck as he pours an incredible amount of himself into every aspect of creating his original composition, Paz de la Jolla, the 422nd original ballet of the New York City Ballet company. He works on the material and rehearses with his dancers seemingly every second of his life, at the studio and at home, obsessing over every detail to ensure it’s perfect. The purpose of the documentary is to show just how much it takes to make this type of thing come to life and the incredible dedication involved.
When opening night finally rolls around for Justin, he’s dressed up in a suit and shaking hands with fancy-looking people in the seats. He watches the ballet he spent two months constantly nurturing come to life on a stage in front of a packed house. He’s mesmerized and smiling, knowing the thousands of hours he spent fanatically devoted to the ballet was worth all the effort, and we as the viewer feel proud of him.
And then, within seconds of his ballet finishing, he leaves the theatre. He goes backstage, navigating the stairs and corridors of NYCB’s facility, to arrive at a dressing room. The fancy clothes come off. He sits down in a chair, and starts applying makeup. The intercom chimes:
“15 minutes until the third ballet of the evening, Alexei Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH. Dancers to stage.”
He has to get to work.
It’s sort of a “holy shit” moment for the viewer. The film spends 75 minutes focused on Justin’s laborious task of choreographing and designing a ballet. It appears to consume every waking moment of his life. Then, in the film’s final minute, it decides to remind us that Justin is still a dancer of the NYCB. He’s still a member of the corps de ballet, the company’s lowest tier of dancer. And that means he’s still involved in productions.
Everything we’ve seen in the film happened between rehearsals for the things Justin is still responsible for dancing. This brilliant, one-of-a-kind choreographer takes the stage in Ratmansky’s piece as a member of the corps, dancing side-by-side his company members, as just another guy in the corps. It’s a humbling ending that encapsulates the nature of being in a professional ballet company.