Ballet fans, rejoice: Movie technology has come to your rescue. At the very least, it can help salve a recent wound. You know the one I’m talking about — the history-making news that hit many of us so hard, the recent announcement by Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet that it has hired David Hallberg, star of American Ballet Theatre, as its first foreign principal dancer. When we got over the shock, stateside enthusiasts of the leggy, boyishly blond Hallberg — one of ballet’s reigning charmers — prepared for withdrawal.
But all is not lost! Hallberg’s poetic skills may be breaking hearts half a world away, but you can still watch him live, even larger than life. Through the miracle of satellites and pixels, ticketholders can see his Nov. 20 performance in the Bolshoi’s “The Sleeping Beauty” in real time on a big screen at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring. (Live in Moscow means 11 a.m. here. But you can bring your coffee into the theater.)
(Bausova/Courtesy of Bolshoi Ballet) - Image from the movie ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ performed by the Bolshoi Ballet, which is being presented as part of the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center's ‘Ballet In Cinema’ series.
That “Sleeping Beauty” is part of the AFI’s inaugural “Ballet in Cinema” series, which it rolls out starting Sunday. The theater’s “Opera in Cinema” series got started this month. Among the ballets will be live Bolshoi performances of “Esmeralda,” based on the Victor Hugo story of gypsies, softhearted police and an unholy deacon, and, in addition to the Russian version, a Royal Ballet production of “The Sleeping Beauty.” Each ballet will be screened live, followed a few days later by one or more “encore” installments of the same show. The week before Christmas, there will also be five showings of the Bolshoi’s “Nutcracker.”
As you’d expect from these two world-class companies, the casting is top-notch: The dark beauty Maria Alexandrova, known for her thrilling jump, takes on the title role in “Esmeralda.” (Washington audiences may recall her ebullient flirtations in various “Don Quixotes” at the Kennedy Center and Wolf Trap.) In “The Sleeping Beauty,” Hallberg will pair up with Svetlana Zakharova, a showboat of great charm and warmth. Leading English-born ballerina Lauren Cuthbertson helms the Royal Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty,” in the production the company brought to the Kennedy Center in 2006. Headlining the Bolshoi’s “Nutcracker” are the delicate classicist Nina Kaptsova as Marie and Artem Ovcharenko as the Nutcracker Prince.
The opera series began with “Adriana Lecouvreur” from the Royal Opera House; next month viewers can see its “Tosca” with Angela Gheorghiu and in December, La Scala’s “Don Giovanni” with Anna Netrebko.
Live broadcasts of opera have not been uncommon — the Metropolitan Opera has been beaming its “Live in HD” series to cinemas for the past six years. But why has it taken so long to get ballet — not a Hollywood copy, but the real thing — in the movie theater? Mostly, it’s economics. Before digital projections, it was prohibitively expensive to film a ballet and ship 35mm prints to moviehouses for only one or two showings. The costs couldn’t be recouped without the mass audiences that mainstream movies draw.