Watching Ballet in a Cinema

I don’t go to movies with big explosions for the plot.

One of the nice things here is a cinema that shows live performances of ballet — on the cinema screen. It sounds strange, but the idea isn’t that stupid. Selected performances of the Bolshoi ballet are transmitted live to a couple of cinemas.

The advantages seem convincing:

  • the ballet company gets additional income beyond the capability of the opera house in which they’re performing
  • people far away see the show live (and at a much cheaper price)
  • the cinema has the necessary technology (large screen, comfortable seating) to give an “almost real” impression

And yup, the advantages seemed so good that I watched a performance yesterday: “Lady of the Camellias“.

Advertisement for the show at the cinema.

I’m no expert in ballet, just a fan, but I have watched a couple of ballet performances in Stuttgart. Comparing a performance in an opera house, where you are in the same room as the dancers, to a cinema, where you see an audio and video transmission … well, here are my impressions.

Hmm, first one important remark: The piece itself was very well done. While I still prefer “The Taming of the Shrew” as the ballet performance I like the best, it was a pleasure to see great dancers who really manage to express a story without words — just by facial expression, gestures, and, of course, dance.

What the cinema manages to convey well:

  • the sound
    Not surprising considering the sound system in a good cinema. You really get the impression that you sit in the house itself. Both the advantages (acoustics in general, people clapping “around you”) and the disadvantages (you hear people coughing). I admit, I was tempted to clap as well. Nobody in the cinema did — cognitively for good reason, there was no bi-directional transmission. The dancers wouldn’t have anything from it.

What the cinema does not manage to convey well:

  • the atmosphere outside of the performance
    One of the nice things about a ballet performance at an opera house is seeing the people attending, walking around, drinking a glass of wine or having an overpriced snack. There’s also the usually very beautiful building itself. You don’t have it in a cinema. Even with a bar outside, it just looks cheap. Sorry, but cinemas do cater to a different audience, or rather, a different style. One rather striking example was that people were allowed in during the performance. Something you’d never get in an opera house. If the show has started, you have to wait until intermission. The cinema doesn’t care and it kinds spoils the effect.
  • the atmosphere during the performance
    Chairs with cup-holders make sense in a cinema, but not in an opera house. Sure, as far as I can see nobody was eating popcorn or nachos, but still, I was reminded of it. At least they weren’t showing the usual ads (only for the other ballet performances).

However, there is one aspect where the cinema transmission completely fails: the cuts.

The show was very well cut (or edited). You get everything from close ups to long shots, depending on the situation. For a live performance, kudos. But at the same time: How could they?

Seriously, this kind of cutting (or editing) makes sense in a movie. You have to guide the attention of the viewer, and you can say a lot by how you cut the movie. However, despite being shown in a cinema here, a ballet performance is not a movie! One of the main strengths of ballet is that the dancers tell the story themselves, without words, without any additional help. And cutting completely spoils this effect.

It might be a personal issue, but when they did a long shot and did show the entire stage — that were the moments when I really felt really immersed. When I really got the impression that I was sitting in the same room. I noticed it because I was torn out of this immersion whenever they did the next cut to a medium shot or close up.

And yes, showing a close up or medium shot of the dancers allowed me to see more than I could in an opera house (sans opera glasses), but it also spoiled the effect. Again and again. And after a while I began to drift off. Perhaps it would have been different if I could have controlled where to look, and instead of cuts there were slow zooms. But not controlling the gaze and being confronted with different shots was a show-stopper for me.

I also do get why they do it. To be honest, the long shots did lead to immersion (for me), but the resolution of the screen was also way too low. Compared to sitting in the opera house, you see much less in the cinema. No wonder they make ample usage of medium shots and close ups. It hides the low resolution.

So, personally, I think showing ballet performances in a cinema is a great idea. You could even improve on the performance by making sure only the orchestra and the sounds from the stage itself are transmitted (e.g., the stomping of the feet, these ballet shoes can be loud). No more coughing or noisy children — unless they sit in the cinema with you.

But I think it only works well if

  1. the show is transmitted without any cuts/edits — just from one perspective (center, half-way back)
  2. the screen gets a much higher resolution

Of course, you could go into the dream-tech area and imagine some kind of digital opera glasses which you point in a certain direction and you get a high-resolution image on the digital opera glasses. Or, if the screen has an insane resolution, even use real opera glasses.

And by the way, a bi-directional transmission would be nice. Why not transmit the sound of clapping from around the world back to the opera house. Let the dancers experience the clapping of thousands of people who have just seen them performing. That would be nice. Seriously, the clapping is part of a live performance. It doesn’t make sense in a cinema unless it is transmitted back. Additional advantage: You open the channel only during the appropriate times. Doesn’t disturb the dancers during the performance, but gives them deserved feedback between the performances.

But until that’s solved, I’m going to watch ballet either in an opera house, or not at all. Not sure what I’ll do with the ticket for another performance I’ve already bought. Might give it another try to make sure or — probably better — throw/give it away.

After all, ballet is too beautiful to let it be ruined by people who treat it like a movie.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. Watching Ballet in a Cinema — Second Impression | ORGANIZING CREATIVITY

Comments are closed.