Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Film feature: Documentary chronicles life in dance, photography

Steven Caras sets up a shot.

By Hap Erstein

The old saying,‭ ‬attributed to F.‭ ‬Scott Fitzgerald,‭ ‬declares that there are no second acts in American life.‭

But West Palm Beach’s Steve Caras has had a second,‭ ‬third and fourth life,‭ ‬re-inventing himself at regular intervals or at least tackling and mastering new careers.

He began as a classical dancer in the New York City Ballet,‭ ‬mentored by the great George Balanchine as what Caras calls‭ “‬his youngest male,‭ ‬least-trained dancer.‭” ‬Then Balanchine had a hunch about Caras’s talent with a camera,‭ ‬so he encouraged him to become the company’s photographer.‭

When he moved to South Florida,‭ ‬he taught classes and became the ballet master for the Miami City Ballet.‭ ‬Eventually,‭ ‬he specialized in fund-raising for Edward Villella’s troupe,‭ ‬a skill he later employed for Palm Beach Dramaworks.

But he has had to put that job on hold for yet another one,‭ ‬assisting filmmakers Deborah Novak and John Wittig in the creation of a documentary about himself,‭ ‬Steven Caras:‭ ‬See Them Dance.‭ ‬It receives its first public viewing Thursday at the Kravis Center’s Persson Hall,‭ ‬before airing at various public television stations around the country.‭ ‬Caras estimates he will be busy appearing with the film on pledge breaks for the next three years.

This cinematic journey began nearly two and a half years ago,‭ ‬when Caras got a phone call from Novak asking to meet with him.‭ ‬He assumed they wanted to use some of his photos for a project,‭ ‬a frequent request.

‭“‬Deborah did most of the talking and she started to tell me in detail about my life,‭ ‬since my starting dancing at‭ ‬15,‭ ‬the bullying that accompanied it,‭ ‬the issues with my father about it,‭ ‬then my getting into the New York City Ballet just three years later,‭” ‬Caras recalls.‭ “‬And she went on and on.‭ ‬It was puzzling that she knew so many personal things about me.

‭ “‬She had been fascinated quietly with my career and has watched me reinvent myself over and over again,‭ ‬in order to remain in reach of my beloved ballet world,‭” ‬he says.‭ “‬I was kind of stunned when they said they would like to profile my life,‭ ‬saying it’s an interesting story,‭ ‬very Billy Elliot-esque in my beginnings.‭ ‬Against all odds at a time and at a place when ballet was not what boys dove into without consequences.‭”

Caras’s reaction to the idea‭? “‬At first I thought it was my friend Sean fooling around.‭ ‬And then I recognized it was for real and I was stunned.‭ ‬But thrilled.‭”

He liked the filmmaking husband-and-wife team from the start,‭ ‬and simply went with his initial positive impression.‭ ‬He is glad he did,‭ ‬saying,‭ “‬Very much so,‭ ‬which is not to say that there haven’t been tense moments.‭ ‬Because unlike a major motion picture,‭ ‬there is a very lean team and the budget coincides with the leanness of the team.‭”

Caras estimates he was interviewed and filmed in action‭ ‬--‭ ‬on a photo shoot and conducting a dance class‭ ‬--‭ ‬for about‭ ‬12‭ ‬hours,‭ ‬most of which wound up on the cutting room floor.‭ ‬In addition,‭ ‬the film features dancers and choreographers Peter Martins,‭ ‬Jacques D’Amboise,‭ ‬Virginia Johnson,‭ ‬Kay Mazzo,‭ ‬Allegra Kent and Sean Lavery,‭ ‬as well as fine art and photography expert appraiser Sarah Morthland,‭ ‬the executive director of the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center,‭ ‬Jacqueline Z.‭ ‬Davis and Mia Michaels from TV’s‭ ‬So You Think You Can Dance,‭ ‬all talking about Caras.‭

Steven Caras today.

The Kravis premiere screening came about because of a special request by Caras.‭ “‬I had asked early on if it was possible,‭ ‬before it airs on television,‭ ‬to do a screening in my hometown,‭ ‬because I have really embraced South Florida as my home,‭” ‬he explains.‭ “‬And they said yes and the Kravis Center said they would love to put it on their calendar.‭”

Following the screening,‭ ‬Caras and Novak will be interviewed live by‭ ‬Wall Street Journal drama critic Terry Teachout.

And Caras made one more request that was granted‭ ‬--‭ ‬each couple in attendance will receive a DVD of‭ ‬See Them Dance,‭ ‬unavailable in stores,‭ ‬but destined to be a coveted public television pledge thank-you gift.

‭“‬On the DVD is a bonus feature called,‭ ‘‬All About Steve.‭’ ‬It’s me speaking at an informal lecture about my life,‭’ ‬he says.‭ “‬Can you believe it‭?”

STEVEN CARAS:‭ ‬SEE THEM DANCE,‭Kravis Center,‭ ‬Persson Hall,‭ ‬701‭ ‬Okeechobee‭ ‬Blvd.,‭ ‬West Palm Beach.‭ ‬Thursday,‭ ‬Feb.‭ ‬24,‭ ‬7:30‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$20.‭ ‬Call:‭ (‬561‭) ‬832-7469.

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