Author Jan Sanraedam according to Cornelos van Harlaam
Royal Ballet Swan Lake 12 June 2018 Live streaming to cinemas worldwide from Covent Garden
I was lucky enough to see the Royal Ballet's Swan Lake from the stalls of the Royal Opera House on 22 May 2018 and reviewed the performance in Scarlett's Swan Lake 23 May 2018. I saw it again last Tuesday at the Leeds Showcase against my better judgment and really wish I hadn't.
In Flowers for Dreda 9 June 2018 I wrote that ballet should never be a passive experience and that is the difference between watching ballet in the cinema and watching it live. You can marvel at Legnani's 32 fouettés from your local flicks just as much as you can in the theatre. Arguably you can even get a better view. Certainly more than you would in rows L to Q of the amphitheatre. But however loudly you clap or cheer Nuñez or Nikulina can't hear you. They are 200 or in the case of the Bolshoi 1,500 miles away and their dialogue is with the living, breathing, thinking audience a few feet away. Not the hot dog munchers or cola quaffers of Birstall, Bergen or Brescia.
There are some advantages to ballet in the cinema.
You can see details that you might want to see such as the dancer's facial expressions, Rothbart's picking up the crown at the end of act III or Odette's mime in act IV when she breaks the news that they have to spend the rest of their lives floating around a slimy pond because Siegfried has blown it. On the other hand you also see some details that you don't like the brush strokes or bricks on the backdrop or loose threads on the costumes.
The other big advantage of cinema is that audiences can gain insight into the production or performance that they would never get in the theatre by interviewing the choreographers, composers or designers who created the work or the conductors and dancers who are about to perform it. Generally, that is something that Pathé Live and the Bolshoi do so much better than Covent Garden. One of the reasons the Bolshoi get it right is that they employ a multilingual journalist with good dress sense and an excellent knowledge of the ballet.
One feature of the Royal Ballet's transmissions that I wish they would drop are the gushing tweets. Most seem to state the obvious - namely that ballet is a remarkable spectacle (it wouldn't be worth watching otherwise) plus their locations. Social media could have a role. For example, it could be used to put questions to the creatives. I would love to have quizzed Liam Scarlett on why and how he developed von Rothbart's role. Covent Garden just seem to use it as a marketing tool or perhaps just simple vanity.
In watching the cinema transmission I was reminded of the story of Plato's cave.
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I first heard of it from my father long before I started to learn Greek. Live transmissions of ballet are rather like the shadows of reality from the fire in the cave. They may be better than nothing and they have their place but don't let anyone tell you that they are ballet because they are not.
The analogy works quite well with live transmissions because some things that look good in the theatre just so not show up well on screen. John Macfarlane's designs are a case in point. The screen images did not do justice to them. Gita, who saw the transmission with me, actually thought the set designs were austere and dowdy.
I expressed these views on a ballet goers' website some years ago and got roasted. I was accused of elitism by a lady who makes her living from translating foreign language patent specifications and was excoriated a man of the cloth. I was reminded of the fate of the man who broke free of the cave and tried to warn the remaining troglodytes and gave that website a miss for many years. I am now very careful about what I post to that website confining myself to reviews of performances that most subscribers would not have seen lest I be offered a pint of hemlock.