What is lost when ballet hits our screens?rdenubila

I’m in two minds about watching ballet at the cinema. On the one hand, it’s a blessing: people all over the world get to access high-class performances. It makes art available to more than just the privileged elite; the cost of a cinema ticket is a fraction of the price of a ticket to the actual performance.

It even allows for behind-the-scenes interviews and close-ups of the dancers, which – unless you’re lucky enough to have a backstage pass or some very powerful binoculars – is simply not possible from the audience seats of a live performance.

On the other hand, something lacks. Surround sound, albeit excellent quality, cannot compare to the live orchestra. The editing of the camera footage, however carefully considered, cannot replicate our individual choice of focus. And while a trip to the ballet is accompanied with a buzz of luxury – we get dressed up and try to spot famous faces in the audience – as I sat down in a pitch-black room, next to a man chomping on popcorn, the magic was tainted.

Perhaps that’s what it’s all about though – making a high-class affair more readily available to all. I’ve sometimes used the last scraps of my student budget to get cheap seats for the real thing, only to be sat so far away from the stage that it wasn’t worth the sacrifice.

Captured on camera, however, every pirouette can be seen in full HD, without craning the neck or straining the eyes. Nothing can beat the live experience – but unless you’re fortunate enough to live close to a world-class theatre and can afford the best seats, it’s not a bad alternative.

This particular ballet was an adaptation of Balzac’s Illusions Perdues. Based on a novel, considerable acting was required, so being able to see facial expressions in detail added another dimension to the dance spectacle. As a new ballet (created in Moscow in 2011 by Alexei Ratmansky) it was also interesting to watch interviews with the composer and dancers.

So I ought to be thankful for the opportunity after all. I watched the ballet from a cinema in Frankfurt, while my parents saw it at our local theatre, and my friends in Cambridge went to the Arts Picturehouse. 

Texting my friends in the interval and skyping my parents afterwards to exchange notes showed me just how far technology has brought us – perhaps when it’s my children’s turn to watch ballet at the cinema, we’ll have worked out a way to transport ourselves to Moscow just for the evening’s entertainment.
Rosie Sargeant