Documentary about dancer, photographer Steven Caras to premiere at the Kravis
By Jan Sjostrom
Daily News Arts Editor, Palm Beach Daily News
Updated: 9:07 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011
Once branded a sissy for aspiring to be a ballet dancer, Steven Caras left ridicule back home in New Jersey when, at 18, he was invited by George Balanchine to join the New York City Ballet. “It was the greatest day of my life,” he said.
For the next 14 years, Caras experienced the peak of the legendary choreographer’s creativity and the height of the company’s fame.
He didn’t just dance. He also shot photographs of his famous colleagues with Balanchine’s blessing and unprecedented access to the company. Later, he moved on to a successful career as a dance photographer.
His grit, his proximity to greatness and his photographs appealed to filmmaker Deborah Novak, whose documentary Steven Caras: See Them Dance will premiere at a sold-out screening at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Persson Hall in the Kravis Center’s Cohen Pavilion.
On March 9, the documentary, which focuses on Caras’ years with New York City Ballet, will begin what the filmmakers hope will be a string of public television broadcasts when it airs in Arizona.
Novak is a three-time Emmy Award-winning filmmaker who trained as a dancer. At 55, she performs with the Charleston Ballet in West Virginia.
“I’ve always been disappointed when I see movies about ballet,” she said. “I didn’t think they told what it was like to be performing on stage day after day. Steve was a hard-working member of the corps. He would do eight shows a week and sometimes be in three or four ballets a night.”
Of course, Caras wasn’t performing with just anyone. His colleagues included dance greats such as Patricia McBride, Gelsey Kirkland, Allegra Kent, Kay Mazzo, Jacques d’Amboise and Peter Martins, several of whom appear in the film.
“I envy Steve’s having been around then,” said Terry Teachout, drama critic for The Wall Street Journal and author of All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine. “It must have been something like being an actor at the Globe Theatre in Shakespeare’s Day.”
Caras, who lives in West Palm Beach, is known locally for his work as a lecturer, dance teacher, fundraiser for Miami City Ballet and Palm Beach Dramaworks, and artistic liaison for the now-defunct Ballet Florida.
Always a self-starter, he’s had to adjust to the idea of letting Novak be in the driver’s seat. He’s seen only snippets of the film. “I’ve had to respect that this is her creation,” he said.
Caras helped Novak set up interviews with his former associates and accompanied her to shoots to rekindle the memories she wanted to capture on film. But when the cameras began to roll, he wasn’t allowed to stay.
Novak also consulted him about the many photographs from his archive used in the 58-minute film. “They’re incredible,” she said.
As a dancer, Caras understood choreography and dancers. He also “had a wonderful eye for movement,” Mazzo said. “He knew when to catch dancers at the right moment.”
Caras was 26 when Balanchine signaled his days as a dancer were numbered by not casting him in a role he regularly danced. “I was devastated,” Caras said.
But the incident motivated him to pursue photography, a choice Balanchine encouraged.
“Other people have shot beautiful dance photographs,” photography appraiser Sarah Morthland said. “But Steve was there. He was in the rehearsal hall and behind the scenes. That is Steve’s special niche, to be in a position nobody else had.”
After Balanchine’s death in 1983, Caras left the company and struck out on his own as a photographer, shooting not only New York City Ballet, but American Ballet Theatre, The Joffrey Ballet, Twyla Tharp Dance Company, Pilobolus, Streb, The White Oak Dance Project and other troupes.
His love for dance is as strong as ever. He hopes the movie will spread that feeling to others so the art form returns to the stature it enjoyed when Balanchine gave him a front-row seat as dance history was being made.
See http://www.stevencaras.com for more of Steven’s versatility.