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.