When UofM faculty members David Goodman and Steven Ross first started work on “A Ballet Season” in 2018, the duo had no idea they would be telling the story of the last “normal” ballet season for the foreseeable future.
“A Ballet Season,” a feature-length documentary film which covers Ballet Memphis’ most recent full season before the COVID-19 pandemic, will premier with a prime-time broadcast on WKNO at 8 PM on Friday, March 26, with a repeat broadcast at 4 PM, Sunday, March 28.
“This is a University of Memphis production, through and through,” Ross said. “Although Ballet Memphis is the subject of our documentary, all choices as to the final form of the film were ours.”
The film was created by Ross, Professor Emeritus with the Department of Communication and Film, and Goodman, Assistant Professor in the same department, alongside graduate student Nathan Chin and undergrad Kevin Wukasch.
“It’s been in post-production for quite some time,” Ross said. “Even though David and I had hoped for a live premiere screening either on campus or at a film festival, at this stage of the pandemic we are just happy to get the film out there for people to see.”
After securing permission from Ballet Memphis to create a totally independent film, the filmmakers showed up repeatedly over the course of more than a year to shoot upwards of 80 hours of footage.
“Even though we planned on covering the 2018-2019 season, we started filming earlier in 2018 to lay the groundwork for the documentary over the summer,” Goodman said.
Ross credits these steady visits for building the trust of the dancers and staff as he and Goodman became eventual mainstays at the ballet company’s Overton Square headquarters and rehearsal spaces.
“Thanks to our continued presence, we were able to earn the faith of both the staff and the dancers, which really helped secure this project,” Ross said.
The film covers the production process of traditional ballets like “The Nutcracker” and more modern shows dealing with timely themes and subjects. It also chronicles the unexpected, including injuries, and the retirements of the company’s unofficial prima ballerina, Crystal Brothers, and Ballet Memphis CEO and Founding Artistic Director Dorothy Gunther Pugh.
“There was all this drama throughout the filming that you couldn’t quite anticipate,” Ross said. “But I’ve always believed that when you follow something for an extended period of time, something surprising is bound to happen. It’s called life.”
In the lead-up to the film’s debut, Ross and Goodman will appear as guests on WKNO-FM’s Checking on the Arts with Kacky Walton on the afternoon of Monday, March 22, to discuss more details behind “A Ballet Season.”