Filming ballet is a tricky business. Ever been frustrated by the extreme close-up while a ballerina is doing 32 fouettés? Irritated by that longshot just as Juliet wakes after Romeo's downed the poison?
With Crystal Ballet there are none of these problems as their new choreographic works have been created to be filmed, knowing that the camera can move around and with the dancers, and that the lighting can be perfectly adjusted for every setup. These ballets are for download only, and there are no plans to perform them on stage, so it's the ballet equivalent of an opera studio recording with distribution on compact disc. It's not a completely new idea – Mat Eks' Wet Woman for Sylvie Guillem comes to mind – but the distribution method is. Downloading a ballet to your smartphone and watching it rattling along in the bus may not be ideal, but on your tablet laying on the sofa is wonderful… I know, I've done it.
While all this sounds exciting on paper, it would be nothing without a top-notch creative team, and this is where Crystal Ballet comes up trumps, bringing together some of today's top ballet talents.
Choreographer Kim Brandstrup, together with former Royal Ballet dancer Ernst Meisner, have created eight miniature gems of dance, sumptuously lit by Nicholas Holdridge, creating an intimate, almost voyeuristic, atmosphere. The result is called Genesis.
The work is divided into four sections: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. Each couple of dancers is assigned a season, with solos as well as pas de deux.
Brandstrup's Spring features Royal Ballet dancers Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae, who really ought to undergo DNA testing to prove that they are twins separated at birth. Their physicality and understanding of each other is so aligned and intense that there is magic even when they are motionless. The piece is introspective and powerful as the two young lovers explore their emotions and bodies.
Vadim Muntagirov, bursting with energy, does every male step in the book in Meisner's Summer, as he turns and jumps in just under two-minutes of unbridled joy. His English National Ballet partner Daria Klimentová matches him with her solo, again very athletic and executed with panache. Meisner then brings the two together for an explosive pas de deux, giving director, Royal Ballet dancer Bennet Gartside, opportunities for exciting tracking shots as the camera follows their jetée-ing across the stage.
Ah yes, ‘stage'. Dancers need dance flooring, lights need to be mounted, and where better than a stage. However, being that these pieces don't need to inhabit a rectangular box in order to be presented to a theatre audience, wouldn't it be nicer to create a freer space, or even give the impression of no boundaries at all – an infinite space. It would certainly dent Crystal Ballet's budget somewhat… maybe later. Two new projects are in the works for 2014.
After the red-hot passionate movements of Summer which, rather like Spring Waters, Rachmaninov's music almost demands, comes a more serene Rachmaninov piano piece, for Autumn. English National Ballet's Erina Takahashi is delightful and playful in her solo, released from the torment of summer's passion. Gartside knows exactly the moment for a close-up, enhancing rather than taking away from Meisner's choreography. She is then joined by ENB's Esteban Berlanga for a pas de deux set to one of Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words – an apt metaphor for ballet itself. In contrast with Muntagirov and Klimentová's pairing with its vigorous lifts, here the atmosphere is lyrical, with parallel movements reflecting the more mature nature of this relationship. Berlanga then has his own solo: precise, clean, and measured.
Brandstrup's Winter, subtitled “the pain of loss and separation”, is danced by Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg with a delicacy and intensity that is surely only possible with dancers who know each other intimately. Here they are captured in extreme close-up as a tormented Cojocaru tries to break away from the tender embraces of Kobborg. The piece is perfectly judged and serves as a melancholic and nostalgic finale to the eight-ballet sequence that makes Genesis.
If you want to join the digital dance revolution you can buy the complete 28 minute long film for £12.50 from crystalballet.com.
Alternatively, the film's eight parts can be purchased one by one every four weeks for £1.29 each and downloaded from the iTunes store. Genesis will also be available soon on Google Play.
Photography by David West
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.