Interview: Ross MacGibbon - on the first ballet 3D live screening

Friday 31 May 2013 by Carmel Smith

The Mariinsky Ballet's Evengy Ivanchenko & katerina Kondaurova trying out 3D glasses

Filming ballet in 3D is “even more spectacular than anything that we did before” says Mariinsky Theatre Director and Conductor Valery Gergiev – and next Thursday (6 June) his company will be the first to film -and beam live to cinemas around the world – their production of Swan Lake. Directing this cinematic first will be the UK’s Ross MacGibbon, one time Head of Dance at the BBC and currently Director of the Royal Opera House’s Screen programme. When we spoke to him earlier this year he said he thought “3D and dance are made for each other”, so we went back to find out how he’s feeling about this latest development…

You’ve filmed dance in 3D before (Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake for Sky last year) but will this be the first time that your film will be beamed live to cinemas – and is it an exciting/challenging prospect?
It is! I’ve had lots of ballets beamed live to cinemas but this will be the first in 3D and I hope that the world-wide audiences love ballet in 3D as much as I do. I hear negative things about 3D but I believe it’s a medium made for dance. I’ll never forget Matthew Bourne’s and my excitement at seeing the way his Swan Lake looked in 3D and although this is of course a very different production, the massed corps de ballet of swans will look spectacular I’m sure.

You are the most experienced dance film director – and you’ll be working with Cameron Pace (the company who filmed Avatar & Life of Pi in 3D). It sounds like a potentially very creative partnership. Has their expertise given you any new ideas/techniques to use in filming dance?
Their expertise is obviously in a completely different area – feature films and rock concerts – and they have never been involved with a ballet, so it’s going to be a new experience for them! We have had several creative discussions, all of them discussing how we can showcase this Swan Lake in the best way. We are filming the ballet in front of a live audience at the Mariinsky Theatre, so there isn’t so much ‘innovation’ that can be utilised. I have a crane and a couple of cameras on short tracks so there will be more movement than one often sees in similar productions but essentially we are shooting a classical ballet in a theatre with a live audience who have paid for their tickets, which is always a limiting factor in how creative one can be. The experience of Cameron Pace will be in delivering exceptional quality images and equipment to enable me to film Swan Lake beautifully.

Is filming in 3D a more complicated process?
Filming in 3D doesn’t require more cameras but it does require a different way of shooting and editing. In fact you can probably use fewer cameras because you can hold the shots longer as there is more information for an audience to take on board. However, It’s a hugely more technical process requiring many more technicians to deliver perfect 3D images – especially live!

Will you have cameras on the stage/in the wings, or will they all be in the auditorium?
I won’t have a camera on stage simply because it was thought it would be too intrusive for the paying audience. I don’t think cameras in the wings work in a live ballet. Ballet isn’t meant to be seen from the side – ever – and all you would see is the lights on the other side of the stage. It would certainly look ‘arty’ but it’s not something that would work well in Swan Lake!

Are there any scenes [and/or dancers] you are particularly looking forward to filming –and that you’ll be doing differently because it’s in 3D?
I’m very much looking forward to seeing Ekaterina Kondaurova in the lead role and of course, the corps de ballet are a joy to behold. I can’t wait too to hear Gergiev and his fabulous orchestra too. It will be the sixth production of Swan Lake that I will have directed and I love filming it each and every time…!

Who will you be working with at the Mariinsky?
At the Mariinsky I will be working principally with Valery Gergiev, conductor and director – and the ballet director. They know that I know how to shoot ballet so they don’t concern themselves with worries about seeing steps from ‘wrong angles’ but instead we liaise about positioning on stage and whether a dancer, or group of dancers, could be slightly more upstage or down stage because it would help the shot. It’s mostly about placement so that the shapes work best – especially in 3D. We also discuss how the dancers look on film – costumes, wigs, lights etc – and how much we have to alter things for camera. Lots of time is spent on lighting, as it is a very different lighting set-up for cameras than it is for the usual stage performance.

How are your Russian language skills?!
Virtually non-existent but I don’t need it as we have an English crew…! I’m trying to learn Italian at the moment so I can’t cope with Russian too. My younger son got an A* for his Russian A level, so he’s very good…!

The Royal Ballet present short behind the scenes documentaries about the productions in the intervals of their live screenings – what is planned for this performance?
We have a few documentaries about the Russian Ballet and Tchaikovsky, both shot in 3D, which will be shown in the intervals.

You mentioned when we talked before that you were making a 3D documentary about the Ukranian ballet star Sergei Polunin. When is that likely to be released? It isn’t going to be in 3D now – too cumbersome for a documentary I felt. But it is happening and will be shot over this year so won’t be released until well into next year.

The live relay from the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, starts at 6.30pm, UK time and can be seen at many cinemas across London and the UK – including the Mayfair, Wimbledon & Chelsea Curzons and Vue Piccadilly. Click here to find locations – or on the green button on the video clip below:

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