The Kaatsbaan International Dance Center in Tivoli is renowned within the dance world as a place where companies and choreographers can create new works and rehearse them in a bucolic setting with space to breathe (figuratively and literally). Adequately sized rehearsal space in big cities is hard to come by and expensive to rent, so Kaatsbaan’s three large studios and 153-acre site fulfill a real need, providing both physical space and the supportive setting that dance professionals need to develop their work while in residency there.
Now the rest of the world will have a chance to get a glimpse of what makes Kaatsbaan so special. American Masters: American Ballet Theatre at 75, a new documentary by Ric Burns premiering on PBS Friday, May 15 at 9 p.m., features slow-motion footage filmed during a one-week production residency there in November 2014.
The film chronicles the rise of the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) from its early financial struggles to its current status as one of the most revered dance companies in the world. Burns began production in 2006, shooting hundreds of hours of film documenting live performances in Paris and Havana and rehearsals at the company’s studio in New York City and at Kaatsbaan.
The footage produced in Tivoli features nine ABT dancers – Misty Copeland, Gillian Murphy, Hee Seo, Marcelo Gomes, Isabella Boylston, Herman Cornejo, Daniil Simkin, Joseph Gorak and Cory Stearns – chosen for their diversity and breadth of talent to illustrate the qualities for which ABT dancers are known: nuanced emotion and formidable technical and artistic skills. Filmed using cameras that capture up to 2,500 frames per second, the documentary showcases the extraordinary efforts made by premier dancers in their pursuit of perfection.
Filmmaker Ric Burns is best-known for his 1999 New York: A Documentary, an eight-part, PBS-premiered 17-hour history of the City’s rise from Dutch trading post to world capital. Other notable projects (in addition to his collaboration with brother Ken on the 1990 Civil War documentary) have included films about the Donner Party, the whaling industry, Coney Island and Ansel Adams.