What an opportunity: two of the best dancers in the world – Natalia Osipova and Leonid Sarafanov – in one of Rudolph Nureyev's most successful choreographic works, and with a company at the top of their game. This was Don Quixote at La Scala, and Italian state television, the RAI, were there to record it.
Television allows you to have the best seat in the house. Better. You can even get up on stage with the dancers and see them sweat up close. You can enjoy the production from the point of view of the choreographer instead of missing half the stage because you're sitting in a box near the proscenium, or watching mainly pvc flooring because you're perched up in the gods. So why, o why, did director Patrizia Carmine choose to show some of the worst possible angles, miss some of the crucial parts of the choreography and change cameras continually as if editing a pop video. Dancers are already moving around the stage in ever-changing formations – especially with Nureyev's often frenetic choreography – so they do their own ‘editing'; viewers won't get bored. Strangely, when there were passages of mime, where the dancers are relatively still and the director could have profited from some revealing close-ups (never too close, this is ballet not Sunset Boulevard) the cameras were docile, but as soon as the choreography heated up they were off again with disco-rhythm cutting from one to another. I know the production well, so apart from groaning because of the ill-chosen camera positions, I was able to fill-in-the-gaps; my Belgian friend who had never seen the production was completely baffled.
And why or why, Sig.ra Carmine, did you use an overhead camera? Yes, it might give some useful insights when there is a slow moving group formation such as in the white acts of La Bayadère or Swan Lake, but a shot of Osipova's lightning speed diagonal of pirouettes from above only lets us see a spinning circle of red tulle and completely destroys the effect the dancer is trying to accomplish on stage. And when there are lifts – common in all versions, but presumably the RAI had rehearsed this version in advance – why did we lose the head and arms until the camera quickly panned back? And why was the fixed long shot camera above the Palco Reale, level with the highest tier of boxes, where you see more black flooring than anything else. And why take the camera away from a complex sequence of steps to have an unnecessary close up of Don Q or Gamache? They are making similar expressions throughout, so put the reaction in before or after the moves that ballet fans are on the edge of their seats to see. And why did the middle-range camera continually cut off feet and hands? Just pan out the slightest bit and we can appreciate the complete form.
You cannot let camera operators and directors who know nothing about ballet be responsible for capturing a performance for posterity. It was better than nothing, certainly, but a missed chance to create something special and important. Shame on you RAI television.
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.
The director Patrizia Carmine should have taken lesson from Nureyev himself, watching his perfect cinema film of this present Don Quichotte, he made in 1973 with the Australian Ballet. A real “chef d’oeuvre” for a ballet film. Nureyev understood both how to capture a ballet, and how to make a film for the cinema. The film has been remastered 10 years ago, so that colors are perfect. And of course, the cast (with Nureyev as Basilio and Lucette Aldous as Kitri) is just perfect. Available on DVD all around the world… Even in Italy !)))
Also in Blu Ray!
Molto probabilmente la Sig.ra Patrizia Carmine è un pò digiuna di balletto e credeva, facendo così, di dare una visione moderna della danza. Ma la danza non ha bisogno di questo, solo di essere ammirata nel suo contesto generale, senza dare nuove prospettive che disturbano soltanto. Tant pis
I totally agree, I was thinking the same things while whatching this yesterday evening!
Think I understood Orsola’s comment. Agree entirely. It’s as though the tv director wants to take it over and make it better. It doesn’t only happen in Italy though, how often does all that shifting camera work completely destroy the work of the dancers and choreographer. In pop videos maybe they need it to hide the fact that the dance isn’t up to scratch. It isn’t inventive, it isn’t creative because it destroys the original creation… it’s just annoying.
This is a very common problem. Even at the Royal Ballet, where the cinematographers have many years of experience between them, want to be clever, or innovative. Too often the miss the point of a dance sequence and go for the tricky or spectacular step or lift. If you saw any of World Ballet Day on You Tube, where there were evidently many dance novices shooting the show, there were some dreadful gaffes. So ballet companies are fundamentally partly responsible for what the cine director does. I agree with Dolfus – look at Rudi’s Australian Ballet Don – it’s close to perfect as a training document, because it is already cinematic in Rudi’s head; and it was filmed in a vast hangar with tons of space for the cameras to move. Ballet directors should also help prepare a story board for the tv company, to show the key scenes, where NOT to take close ups and chop of legs and feet (or heads and arms), videoclips from rehearsals or a list of You Tube clips for the tv crew to learn something of the ballet, and its style, and why they should avoid the banal tricks they like to play.
Fortunately I saw this performance live. I was excited by the chance to see it again after few days… fortunately I was there!!! I hope that Scala will learn something by the many mistakes done in this DQ production that was a mess from the beginnig to this bad tv end
Sounds like the television director in question had one and only previous training as for filming ballet: Amici.
Agree. Amici does that close up of judge when you want to see the dance. Horrible. But here is more than Amici – Osipova and Sarafanov – Double horrible!!! Booo RAI TV.