Dramatic Steps to Tell ‘An American Ballet Story’ No One Knows (Movie Review)

Mike Szymanski
5 min readNov 22, 2022

An American Ballet Story

Rating: 7/10

Director and Writer: Leslie Streit

Style: Documentary

Time: 94 minutes

Trailer: vimeo.com/672952777

Review by Mike Szymanski

Even if you are a dance aficionado you may not have heard of Harkness Ballet. Even if you are — or were — a professional dancer (and I know more than just a few) you probably never heard of Rebekah Harkness, who founded that ballet company.

But you have heard of the people she worked with, the people she employed, and the dancers she coached.

That’s the point of this in-depth documentary “An American Ballet Story.” Although the overall point of the film is a bit out of focus like many of the archival dance clips, and although the piece seems to allow some of the interviewees to ramble on into seeming infinity, this is a documentary about a woman who loved the arts, did some groundbreaking things in the arts, and was ultimately dashed and hampered by her own ego and feeling of importance to the arts. Told in an uncompromising, stark and fair style, the story of the Harkness Ballet is both a tribute to a visionary and a tragedy of what might have been.

Rebekah Harkness is credited with saving young choreographer Robert Joffrey from the brink of bankruptcy in 1964. It was a time of women’s rights and gay rights in New York City, and she had the money to create American art.

After insisting that her own music be used in Joffrey’s dances, and that the name of the company be named after her, they split and she formed the Harkness Ballet. As one of the dozens of experts explain: it is impossible today for one person to support or start a ballet company alone anymore.

Yet, Harkness did it — with family money mostly from oil investments — and she created a mark in the arts world, even though few remember her name.

--

--

Mike Szymanski

Journalist, writer, activist and bisexual, living with Multiple Sclerosis and Dachshunds in Hollywood.