Review: Mariinsky Ballet, Swan Lake live 3D cinema screening

Performance: 6 June 2013
Reviewed by Laura Dodge - Monday 10 June 2013

Mariinsky Ballet's 'Swan Lake', featuring  Ekaterina Kondaurova & TimurAskerov

When I told a friend I was going to see Swan Lake live in 3D, she said “me too”. But just as I began to exclaim in delight, she pointed out that her ‘Swan Lake 3D’ was in fact the English National Ballet version being performed live at the Royal Albert Hall from Wednesday, and not the Mariinsky cinema screening to which I was referring – the first live 3D ballet screening, with technology provided by Cameron Pace Group ( Avatar, Titanic) and film direction by former Head of Dance at the BBC, Ross MacGibbon [ interviewed here ].

Of course, there is nothing more 3D, or indeed better, than live performance, but one cannot deny the merits of scoffing sweets and popcorn in a comfy cinema chair while impressively-toned athletes waltz and pirouette. It is also a much more convenient way to enjoy a Mariinsky performance than the flight to St Petersburg entailed in seeing it live onstage.

Though Swan Lake is not my favourite ballet, it is always one that carries me away with its beautiful music and choreography and this was no exception. But before it was possible to appreciate the performance, audiences worldwide were forced to endure some rather under-rehearsed and badly sound/picture synchronised interviews with company members, including former Royal Ballet dancer (and the first Brit to join the Mariinsky), Xander Parish. As he flirted awkwardly with presenter Natalia Vodianova and responded to her explanation of the ballet’s first act with the words “how lovely”, I feared that the whole evening might be similarly unpolished.

Fortunately, I had nothing to worry about and the show itself was a delight. Parish gave a charming performance in the Act 1 pas de trois alongside the sprightly and effervescent Nadezhda Batoeva and Ekaterina Ivannikova. The principals were also superb. Timur Askerov made a regal and dramatic Siegfried, while Ekaterina Kondaurova displayed excellent contrast between her serenely elegant Odette and her exuberant, quintessentially Russian Black Swan. Andrei Yermakov as Von Rothbart and Vasily Tkachenko as the Joker also excelled with superbly executed leaps and spins.

But it was the whole production that made this Swan Lake such a success. The corps de ballet were delightful with immaculate lines of swans, lively Act 1 party scenes and well-executed folk dances. Costumes were excellent, particularly those for the corps which had just the right amount of detail for close-ups, and Rothbart’s black and silver feathered combination. Tchaikovsky’s score was also played to absolute perfection (in fact, the best I’ve ever heard it) under the baton of Valery Gergiev.

Cinema screenings in London are expensive; with tickets typically costing more than £20, they are around double the price of the cheapest seats at the Royal Opera House and Sadler’s Wells. But you do get a front row view of the ballet, seeing the dancers up close and being able to appreciate the minute details of staging, choreography and expression which can be lost onstage.

I thought that with 3D, these cinematic effects would be enhanced. (In fact, I had secretly hoped that I would feel like I was about to be kicked each time Odile fouettéd.) But in reality, the dancers popping out of the screen felt too close, so that it was hard to appreciate and perceive what was happening onstage. It was the wider shots that I enjoyed, where I could see the dancers’ faces and the sparkle of their tiaras, but also appreciate the whole body lines without squinting. Cinema screenings are clearly invaluable in bringing performances to a wider audience but I think they work better in 2D.

Nevertheless, the allure of the Mariinsky’s dancers and the irresistible music and staging of the ballet made this a stunning performance and I’m glad I was able to experience it – without flying to St Petersburg.

Laura Dodge writes for a number of publications including Dancing Times, londonist.com and English National Ballet’s Dance is the Word blog.

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