Wednesday, Oct 19, 2011:Clapping at a Screen

Drama, romance, and precision dance are show-stoppers at the Bolshoi Ballet

Clapping at a Screen

Ballet in the cinema? Why watch ballet dancers on the big screen, when live performances abound on stages across the city? It’ll feel like I’m just watching a movie. There’s no contact with live dancers – you can’t even show your appreciation with a clap.

A visit to a broadcast performance might change your mind.

Last Sunday, Aero Cinema’s 2011-2012 season of “ballet in the cinema,” live screenings of major ballet performances, opened in Bio Oko with Esmeralda by the Bolshoi Theatre. As you probably know, Russian ballet embodies the pinnacle of the dance. The Bolshoi dancers in particular are famous for the perfection of their movements, which some call “athletic.”

Thanks to these broadcasts, you have an opportunity to sample the top ballet ensembles. In addition to the Bolshoi, this season’s series will run performances by the St Petersburg, English Royal, Birmingham, and Paris ballets. All these would be virtually impossible for the average theatre-goer to see in person.

Esmeralda has occupied a long-standing place in the repertoire of Russian ballets, but has rarely been performed outside of Russia and was only recently remade by the Moscow ensemble. Throughout the performance, you couldn’t help wondering what the French would do with this classic, based on one their own great texts.

Medieval Paris is the setting for Esmeralda, based on a Victor Hugo classic novel

Another big advantage to seeing ballet on the big screen: no binoculars necessary. It was fascinating to watch the elaborate stage sets and somewhat circus-like costumes of the Paris underworld drawn in rich detail on the cinema screen. As the journalist Lucie Dercsényiová tells Opus Osm, “There aren’t many seats in an overcrowded theatre that will give you the kind of detail and clearness as the resolution on the cinema screen.” “I feel like I am sitting in the first row,” another member of the audience tells me, as indeed we all did.

What speaks well for the cinema is the chance to see and compare different productions and interpretations. For instance, Esmeralda, a 19th century ballet loosely based on Victor Hugo’s French classic The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, tells the story of a beautiful Gypsy woman who enchants men with her dance and tambourine in Medieval Paris.

But this performance, accompanied by the music of Cesare Pugni, featured choreography by Jurij Burlaka and Vasilij Medvedev, adapted from the original of French ballet master Marius Petipa. The Bolshoi’s production lived up to expectations of Russian precision and perfection, with Marie Alexandrova playing Esmeralda in the title role.

Perhaps one of the most surprising effects of seeing ballet in the cinema is seeing the Moscow audience’s reactions. Ballet dancers are held in such high regard in Russia that the performance is momentarily put on hold so the artists can receive their bravos and bow repeatedly to the audience.

Oh, by the way, clapping is allowed in the cinema.

And some of us did.

The next ballet in the Aero cinema series is Giselle, presented in 3D Oct 21-23 at the Atlas Cinema. – oo

– Zuzana Sklenková

Photo Credits: c Damir Yusupov, Bolshoi Theatre

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