The Bolshoi, Prague?
The middle-aged lady checks her fur coat and steps towards the performance hall. Two little girls — twins — dash excitedly around their mother as they make their way through the marble lobby. Meanwhile, backstage, a makeup artist applies a thick streak of blue to the dancer’s heavily masked face. Suddenly, out on the street, a large dump truck carts away ice-cream mounds of snow.
The Czech audience, in pillowy movie-theatre seats, quietly observes it all.
Except the audience is in Prague. The show is live from Moscow.
These are the final moments before a broadcast of The Nutcracker, live via satellite, direct from the Bolshoi Ballet. While the Russian audience is in the elaborate Bolshoi Theatre, the Czechs are snuggled comfortably in the sleek Světozor movie theatre’s large auditorium, waiting for the high-definition performance to begin on the large movie screen.
Aerofilms began live broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera, New York five seasons ago. Last year a couple of trial broadcasts were tried for ballet, says Lucie Rozmánková of Aerofilms.
This year’s remaining schedule features six more broadcasts — three each from the Bolshoi and the Paris Opera Ballet — through July.
“Since the project is still in its first season, it’s still on the rise,” Ms Rozmánková explains to Opus Osm, “and we strongly feel the growing demand.” She says the previous broadcast, Swan Lake from the Paris Opera, was sold out to the last seat.
Although the audience for the Bolshoi’s Nutcracker was of quite mixed ages, “our [Prague] audience is mainly middle-aged adults,” she says. “However, I can see a number of young faces in the cinema, too.” That reflects the situation in Prague’s ballet theatres as well.
Everything but the Popcorn
But why, when there are several professional ballet companies in the Czech Republic, is it a good idea to provide broadcasts of foreign performances? The Aerofilms representative explains, “The Bolshoi Ballet and Paris Opera Ballet are huge, very expensive companies which rarely travel. For such a small country as the Czech Republic, it is practically impossible to host them on our stages.” In fact, she adds, the last visit by a large, internationally-known company was the Royal Ballet from London, 1968.
“To see ballet in the cinema is a unique opportunity to open ourselves up to the world,” she comments.
Klára Nettlová, sipping a cup of coffee and enjoying a roll from the refreshment stand at intermission, agrees. “We miss seeing other cities’ [ballets], and for the dancers, this can help with the quality,” she says.
Ms Nettlová works in the box office of Ponec, a contemporary dance theatre, and so she enjoys many performances in that genre, as well as traditional ballet in Prague. “This is the first time I’ve seen classic ballet in the cinema,” she says. “This is really nice.”
She appreciates the atmosphere here but admits she misses the warmth of the live audience’s applause — at the Bolshoi performance only the applause of the Russian audience could be heard.
“How else can we see a live performance of the Bolshoi Ballet?” asks Zuska, standing with Jírka at the intermission. (They declined to give their last names.) “This is a great chance to see a first-class performance.” They have also attended several transmissions of the Metropolitan Opera, whose tickets are usually sold out quickly.
“We bought our tickets for this Bolshoi performance the first week they went on sale,” Zuska explains. “We can definitely recommend it, but the best seats are beyond the first six rows,” they advise.
An additional bonus: No Russian needed. The introductory remarks from the Bolshoi were offered in French, English, and German.
More than Meets the Eye
Aerofilms’ Rozmánková says the company has many plans for the future, including expansion of their current projects, which also includes live broadcasts of theatre plays in English from the National Theatre, London.
“I would like to mention first of all that we plan educational activities as part of the ballet project,” Ms Rozmánková says. An audience question-and-answer session with local dance experts immediately followed the broadcast of The Nutcracker, for example.
Answers and explanations were offered by Prof Vladimír Vašut, dance scholar and writer; Jiří Horák, former principal dancer from the National Theatre Ballet, Prague; and Dr Lucie Dercsenylová, dance scholar and journalist.
But don’t suppose that the questions were posed by an audience of experts. They ranged from “How does the choreography of the National Theatre [Prague] Nutcracker compare to the Bolshoi?” to a discussion on the “Russian style” of ballet, to “How difficult is it to be a ballet dancer?”
“Our greatest goal is crowded cinemas, with an excited, passionate audience,” Ms Rozmánková says. “We hope to stir debate about dance and ballet in the Czech Republic.” oo
Photo Credits: Top: Melanin for The Bolshoi Ballet, Aerofilms; all others, Miroslav Setnička