Girish Bhargava, Film Editor Who Captured Dance, Dies at 76
Girish Bhargava is responsible for editing some of the most important and brilliant dance programs of our time, according to one producer.
Girish Bhargava, who was a master of the underappreciated art of editing dance films and put that skill to use on the hit movie “Dirty Dancing” and numerous episodes of the PBS series “Dance in America,” died Nov. 11 in Santa Monica, California. He was 76.
The cause was a heart attack, his wife, Rosaleen Bhargava, said.
Translating three-dimensional dance into a two-dimensional medium has always been problematic. Plant a camera with an audience-eye view of the full stage and you reduce the dancers to insect size, but rely too much on close-ups and you miss the choreographer’s big picture. Bhargava mixed the various shots and techniques available to a film editor in a way that both made for engaging viewing and earned the confidence of the great choreographers whose work he was depicting.
“Mr. B. came to trust me so much that once he asked for my help in finding a good ending for his ballet ‘Davidsbündlertänze,’” Bhargava said in a 2002 interview with The New York Times.
“Mr. B.” was George Balanchine.
Bhargava edited films that captured the work of Balanchine, Peter Martins, Bob Fosse, Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham and many other prominent choreographers, in the process creating an archival record of a genre that had historically been difficult to preserve. And through “Dance in America” and other television work, he spread the art form to people who might not have been able to get to a theater.
“Girish is responsible for editing some of the most important and brilliant dance programs of our time,” Jodee Nimerichter, who worked under him as an associate producer and is now executive director of the American Dance Festival, said by email. “He brought dance into the homes of hundreds of thousands of people, including many young dancers who were inspired to grow up and pursue a career as a choreographer, dancer or administrator.”
Girish Kumar Bhargava was born on Aug. 17, 1941, in Delhi, India. His father, Jagat, was a lawyer and judge, and his mother, Shanti, was a homemaker.
After graduating from the Birla Institute of Technology with a degree in engineering, he took a job at All India Radio, and then, at age 24, was offered an internship at the German television broadcaster ZDF. Two years later he came to the United States for a job at CBS.
“The very day I arrived, CBS went on strike,” he recalled in an essay in the 2003 book “Envisioning Dance on Film and Video.” But he was eventually given work editing a golf show.
In 1971 he moved to the New York public television station WNET to work as an editor on “The Great American Dream Machine,” a satirical variety show that featured performers like Chevy Chase and Albert Brooks.
Then came his first dance assignment, a documentary with choreographer Antony Tudor and American Ballet Theatre, and in 1976 he was delegated to work with the directors and producers Merrill Brockway and Emile Ardolino on “Dance in America,” a new show being produced by WNET.
Bhargava knew little about dance at the time, but he was a quick study, cramming for his new assignment by becoming a regular at dance performances. His lifelong love of poetry helped.
“I’m sure I have such a strong affinity for dance because, like poetry, it is filled with nuances you only recognize over time,” he said.
“What he brought was a musicality,” said Virginia Kassel, a longtime friend who worked with Bhargava on another WNET series from the 1970s, “The Adams Chronicles,” which she created. “His sense of movement and feeling was unbelievable. Martha Graham wouldn’t work with anybody else. And she was not the most flexible person in the world.”
“Dance in America” became part of the “Great Performances” series on PBS, and Bhargava’s work was seen nationally. His dance work came to be so well regarded that Ardolino brought him in to help edit some crucial scenes in a low-budget movie he was directing. The film, released in 1987, was “Dirty Dancing,” a story of love in the Catskills starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. It became one of the great sleeper hits in movie history.
Eleanor Bergstein, the writer and co-producer of that movie, said it is Bhargava’s work that viewers see in the “Time of My Life” finale. But, she said in an email, he was also responsible for a memorable scene earlier in the film, built around the song “Hungry Eyes” and some uncontrolled laughter by Grey.
“It was Girish’s idea to create the ‘tickling sequence,’” she said, “by combining a shot of Patrick running his hand down Jennifer’s side, Jennifer giggling, Patrick scowling, into an erotic sequence of shots ending with Patrick spinning Jennifer out.”
In addition to his wife, the former Rosaleen Brannigan, whom he married in 1970, Bhargava is survived by two daughters, Nina and Anthea; four brothers, Naresh, Dinesh, Deepak and Kamlesh; and a grandson. He lived in Santa Monica.
“All this special editing that he did, it just came natural to him,” Rosaleen Bhargava told The Huffington Post for an article on him last year. “And I still don’t understand why, because he’s one of the worst dancers you’ve ever danced with.”
Kassel said in a phone interview that part of Bhargava’s skill was his ability to be courteous and accommodating toward the great artists he worked with but exacting and demanding in the editing room, especially when he thought someone wasn’t paying full attention.
“One time I took some knitting in,” she said. “He was furious. I said, ‘But Girish, I’m knitting this for your baby.’ Then it was all right.”
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