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In Hulu's New Documentary Ballet Now, Dance Is Exhausting—and Not Much Else

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New York City Ballet dancer Tiler Peck has done that thing ballerinas are famous for and taken on a stressful, overachieving gig: directing, curating and starring in an evening of six totally different pieces incorporating not only ballet but tap, hip hop, and clowning.

I love dance. And if you also love dance, Hulu’s new documentary Ballet Now is an interesting, modestly scaled, behind-the-scenes look at what goes into creating a performance. (Spoiler alert: stress, long hours, physical therapy for pulled muscles, and not a lot of eating or sleeping). It is linear. It is competent. If you’ve never thought for one minute about how much detail and repetition and preparation go into mounting a performance, it is revealing. But seriously, only if you have never thought about it. Because if you’ve thought about it, or ever experienced it, you already know all about it.

Ballet Now isn’t a bad documentary, it just isn’t mind blowing. The film tracks Peck, who, while an extremely gifted dancer, is not an overwhelmingly fascinating subject as a person, or a director. She isn’t especially insightful (she can say more with a leg movement than she can with words), she isn’t a commanding presence, and she goes through the film flustered and queasy at all the stuff she has to do. It’s understandable—it just isn’t very intriguing. And the film isn’t edited artfully enough to supply what isn’t already right there, save for one extremely well-edited sequence that succeeded in making me feel the escalating tension as the clock ticked down to curtain time. I wish there had been more. Other dancers depicted in the film are fun to watch (some of them are really, really fun to watch), but Peck’s the only person who spends significant time talking to the camera, with an occasional reminiscence by a family member about how abnormally talented she was a small child. We definitely get a sense of how exhausting it is to prepare for a show. But again, it doesn’t take a ton of imagination to figure that out.

Ballet Now is a totally decent look at the mechanics and plumbing and ductwork involved in mounting a dance show. If that’s something that interests you, you’ll be taken on a competent and comprehensible tour of the process. Occasionally, it’ll probably make you wonder why anyone would bother going through it: It’s exhausting!

But there are no particular revelations here. Just sweat, and pointe shoes, and to-do lists, and then applause.

Ballet Now premieres Friday, July 20 on Hulu.



Amy Glynn is a poet, essayist and fiction writer who really likes that you can multi-task by reviewing television and glasses of Cabernet simultaneously. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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