On Film: Swan Lake in 3D

June 11, 2013


There was quite a lot of buzz over James Cameron’s latest project, the first live 3D dance film. Maybe he didn’t like Pina, Wim Vandekeybus’ brilliant Oscar-nominated film about Pina Bausch.

After all, Cameron made Titanic and Avatar and is considered a pioneer in 3D filmmaking. But instead of breaking new ground — a new ballet created for the camera — he and his company, CameronlPace, went for another piece of history — a new film of Swan Lake by the company where it originated over a hundred years ago. Yes, the Mariinsky Ballet, still famously known as the Kirov.

Along the way it appeared the project was plagued by problems. Theaters, days and times in Pittsburgh kept changing. And in the end, the much vaunted “real” 3D was presented in less than a third of the theaters, surprisingly with none in New York City. Luckily Pittsburgh has the Robinson Cinemark, which also presents the Metropolitan Opera productions — thank you!!

The film began with a travelogue of picturesque St. Petersburg, a plus, and we caught a glimpse of the new contemporary theater, finished just over a month ago. Although the interviews before and during intermissions were stilted, the original Mariinsky itself never looked better, showing off the gilt and architecture.

It began late and had 25-minute intermissions, bringing the total run time to over three hours. Maybe they should have served champagne and hors d’oeuvres at Cinemark (kidding, but a thought).

On to the ballet itself.

Evidently they had two trial runs in Paris. But I found the Mariinsky cutaways too MTV-like. Great Performances/Dance in America always presented things with such clarity, even when dealing with the fleet feet of Balanchine.

Here there were some blurry shots; sometimes it was hard to know where to focus. On the other hand, there were moments of brilliance, like the Swan Queen walking through an arbor of cygnets as the camera moved backwards.

It also captured the panorama of great ballet. The sets were fabulous and included a projection of the lake with swans moving across it, a sign of the future. And the cast was selected from a cinematic perspective. In other words, those who looked best on camera.

The Mariinsky itself made up for some lost ground. The Bolshoi had been part of Evolving Pictures’ Ballet in Cinema for the past several years. So this was an important project…and it showed.

Ballerina Yekaterina Kondaurova, who cuts a magnificent figure with her long, curving lines, , was noticeably stiff (perhaps two-dimensional) in the second act. But she showed her prowess as the Black Swan, with a dominating technique and flexibility.

Partner Timur Askerov was less so, a dancer with a clean technique, but with a personality that was slightly pursed. Andrei Yermakov took full advantage of the unusually dancy role of von Rothbart with powerful jumps.But the audience at the Cinemark responded best to the Joker (jester), Vasily Tkachenko — such efficient clean lines and buoyancy, so reminiscent of Mikhail Baryshnikov.

He was only a member of the corps, as was British dancer Xander (a story in itself), who  performed as a friend of Prince Siegfried in Act I. So handsome, with beautifully arched feet. It is obvious that artistic director is nourishing his career — he will make his debut as Albrecht later this month.

But the final word has to rest with the corps, an ensemble of women who seem to move with one breath, one heartbeat. Of course they have been weaned on this particular ballet, an icon in Russia that has produced the most popular ballet world-wide. This was a superb chance to see the poetry of it all in high definition. Even up close and personal, they were a marvel.

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