BALLET COMPANIES ON A DIGITAL STAGE: Going beyond ordinary streaming of pre-Corona repertoire
Aktualisiert: 10. März 2021
The amounts of streaming programs offered for free yet lacking touchpoints with the unprecedented time we live in, have become overwhelming and somewhat boring since the beginning of the pandemic. Many ballet companies are still searching and exploring different ways to tackle various challenges resulting from the ban of live performances and to continue nurturing the connection with their audiences on distance. Using the digital space seems to be the only possible solution at the moment, but it is not only about good camera team and an impeccable streaming equipment which delivers a high-quality broadcast without interruptions. It takes creativity, open-mindness and innovation power, in order to deliver something unique to the audience on the so-called digital stage. It is practically impossible to have a full overview of best practices, but here is my personal selection of three companies which caught my attention in the past few weeks.
Wiener Staatsballett – DANCE THROUGH AND WITH A CAMERA
Considering the transition to dance-on-film that most companies are struggling with today, Martin Schläpfer chooses to examine the beginnings of this genre in his very first Premiere as the new director of Wiener Staatsballett – He allies in a double bill his inaugural creation for the company « 4 » to Mahler’s symphony of the same number with a piece by his dear friend Hans van Manen called « Live », which was created in 1979 at Het Nationale Ballet and had never been danced by another company since. Back in the day, but also nowadays, film as a medium is mostly used to record dance performances which then remain plain records of choreography and of an event, but do not stand as creations in and of themselves. In « Live », Hans van Manen created a balletic film noir which was perfectly transposed into 2020 by Wiener Staatsballett by using the camera not just as a tool and the cameraman not just as a technician, but almost a third artist following the dancers on and off the stage, exploring the void of spaces inside and outside the auditorium and even the street.
I watched the video on ARTE Concert without knowing any background information and was sure that this piece was created during the first lockdown and not four decades years ago. There are maybe just a few previously created ballets which are that much in the zeitgeist of today. The choice of Martin Schläpfer of « Live » as counterpoint to his rather cheerful and less contemplative new creation « 4 », uniting almost the entire Company on stage, reveals his great sensibility and ability to reach the audiences through relevancy and by hitting the right nerve in the right moment.
Bayerisches Staatballett – DANCE CHAT
After having dedicated almost 2 years of my life to Bayerisches Staatsballett as EA to its director Igor Zelensky, it is quite obvious that I am still attached to this Company and have been following its development since I moved to Zurich. The Bayerische Staatsoper was one of pioneers in streaming its productions online even before Corona, so I was excited to see how it reacts to the pandemic and which concepts will be applied to keep the international audience on its toes.
Same as Wiener Staatsballett the Bayerisches Staatsballett was also forced to present its latest Premiere program on the digital stage after several postponements. The new triple bill PARADIGMA premiered on January 4, 2021 in the frame of MONTAGSSTÜCKE Series initiated for both opera and ballet productions by the Bayerische Staatsoper during the first lockdown. The recordings of existing productions broadcasted for free during 13 Mondays in the period March until June 2020 were screened by round about 250K viewers. The live broadcast camera direction has seemingly gained importance since the beginning of the pandemic, to the point that Emmy-nominated director and producer Christoph Engel was hired for the ballet Christmas Special: the SWAN LAKE, which I missed, but can watch as Video-On-Demand until January 26. I am not sure who directed the filming of PARADIGMA, but it is definitely in the state of the art, with a very sensitive switching between long shots and close-ups. The chat host of the so-called Watch Party was right: You cannot get closer to the dancers than that as a spectator !
«Watch Party» is a new feature I discovered, which I have never seen in other live streamings of ballet before. The BSO obviously got inspired by live broadcasts features of YouTube or Facebook. During the live stream of PARADIGMA the digital theatre was full with almost 3000 viewers practically the entire time – this number exceeds the capacity of Bayerische Staatsoper by 1000 people! On the one hand, it was amusing to read the interactions of the audience with the very well informed chat host: Some viewers were curious about who is who on stage and wanted to know names and origins of the dancers, others just expressed gratitude and happiness that they can enjoy the performance, especially those from other counties and cities. On the other hand, it was distracting – by adding on the interactive side, the performance stream was somehow lacking the immersive side of the artform. Therefore, it was good to have the option to join or to switch off the «Watch party» and just enjoy the different pieces of this new triple bill, which includes an «oldie but goodie» from Ivan Liska’s repertoire by Russel Maliphant BROKEN FALL alongside more recent reprise of Sharon Eyal’s vibrant BEDROOM FOLK and culminated in the European premiere of the evening – WITH A CHANCE OF RAIN by Liam Scarlett. Setting a new paradigm is exactly what the performing arts need right now and the Bayerisches Staatsballett is doing a great job in exploring new ways to reach their audiences despite all the odds and attract a younger generation with interactive streaming.
LES BALLETS DE MONTE-CARLO – DANCE 360°
All good things come in threes and therefore last, but not least: The most intriguing concept in my eyes, which seems to disrupt the state of the art of ballet streaming, is the brand new platform of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo launched just a few days ago, on January 5. To access the content of the platform, you need to subscribe by choosing monthly or yearly subscription. The first multi-camera ballet stream, which is included in the subscription (without extra pay-per-view) is the double bill by Company’s director and chief choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot : the intimate « Dov’e la Luna » to lyrical sound of Scriabin’s music paired with the joyfull « Core Meu » to the tarantella sounds played live by Antonio Castrignanò and his Orchestre des Pouilles from the Italien Salento region. The presence on of the musicians on stage alongside the dancers adds on the intensity of their emotional exchange and the viewer can use his several pairs of eyes through different cameras to explore different angles and be in the middle of this infinite crescendo, reminiscent of Ravel’s Bolero and Béjart’s masterpiece of the same name.
What made me feel particularly immersed into the magic of theatre life, was the possiblity to take a sneak peak behind the curtain as the performance was about to begin. It reminded me of the good old days where I was sneaking backstage as well, helping with the last minute preparations and coordination as the EA of ballet director or as a tour manager in my present role at AMC. This immersive experience and the new approach to ballet streaming is definitely a must-see for ballet fans and particularly for those who are interested in the latest developments and digital media. Besides the uniqueness of the technical multi-camera approach, « Core Meu » is yet another example of the creative mission of Jean-Christophe Maillot: reworking an academic register to bring it in line with the times and contemporary preoccupations and emotions. It offers a fresh take on the traditional dance and infuses classical dance with new perspectives in the ever-changing context of the present day. Interestingly, the term of tarantella music originates from the ritual of tarantism, which is about the healing through music, catharsis of the mind and body through interpersonal contact and exchange, in order to overcome dark times and return to light and collective regeneration. And this is what we all need right now.