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Navajo ballet star showcased by PBS

'Water Flowing Together' film tells Jock Soto's inspiring story

NEW YORK - ''Water Flowing Together,'' Gwendolen Cates' film about the illustrious ballet career of Jock Soto, Navajo/Puerto Rican, will have its broadcast premiere on the PBS series ''Independent Lens'' April 8.

Soto retired from the New York City Ballet in 2005 at age 40 after 24 years of acclaim as a virtuoso dancer and inspired partner of the dance company's top ballerinas.

Critics called him ''magical,'' ''charismatic,'' ''sensitive'' and ''a pillar of strength,'' among other accolades. When he was dancing, it was almost impossible to watch any other performers sharing the stage with him. During the curtain call for his farewell appearance, one writer reported, ''the thunderous applause seemed to roll on forever.''

He and Cates met several years earlier, when she photographed him for her award-winning book, ''Indian Country'' (Grove Press, 2001). ''Gwendolen invited me to the book party, and we hit it off,'' Soto said. ''I had an idea of doing a documentary about my life in dance as a gift for my parents. So she and I started working together.''

To create the movie, which is named after Soto's Navajo clan, Cates shot some 120 hours of film, following Soto as he rehearsed for his last appearance and traveled to the Navajo reservation and Puerto Rico to reconnect with relatives he hadn't seen in many years. She captured his determination, ambivalence and occasional despair as he prepared to let go of his identity as star of one of the world's most prominent ballet companies.

Cates also included images from Soto's childhood growing up near Chinle, Ariz., traveling with his family to pow wows, Hoop dancing and, after seeing ballet on ''The Ed Sullivan Show,'' studying at a Phoenix studio. Segments on his earliest years in New York showed him with the New York City Ballet's celebrated founder and choreographer, George Balanchine, who invited Soto to join the company at just 16 years of age.

''Water Flowing Together'' has been seen at 20-some festivals since it was completed last year. The screenings garnered standing ovations and honors, including the prize for best documentary from the imagineNATIVE Film Festival in Toronto, as well as awards from Outfest in Los Angeles, the Dance on Camera Festival in New York City and, in February, the Sedona International Film Festival in Sedona, Ariz. The National Museum of the American Indian, in Washington, D.C., and the Heard Museum, in Phoenix, also presented the work.

''So many people have greeted the film with such warmth and enthusiasm,'' Cates said. ''I was hoping Jock's story would be accessible in that way. That's why I was so pleased about the public television showing, which brought it to an even broader audience.''

Soto has been touched by Native people's reactions to the film.

''At a Navajo Nation showing, a kid stood up and thanked me for bringing my story to their attention. He said, 'We didn't know about you, and we're so proud.' A little girl - she must have been 8 or 9 - came up to me and told me she took ballet classes.'' During the question-and-answer period after the Santa Fe showing, a Native woman in the front row began crying, Soto reported. ''I gave her a hug,'' he said.

Soto has been as busy in retirement as he was when he was dancing. He is teaching six days a week at the School of American Ballet, which prepares young dancers for the New York City Ballet; staging dances for groups like London's Royal Ballet; and working with his partner, chef and sommelier Luis Fuentes, starting a catering company, Lucky Bassett Events. He has also taken up boxing, his new workout.

For Cates' part, she's off to Europe, where she'll show the film in London. Next, she and Soto want to bring ''Water Flowing Together'' to educational environments on Indian reservations. ''We're trying to find funding to make this happen,'' she said.