The Royal Ballet performed “Romeo and Juliet” last month at London’s O2 Arena, projecting the work’s delicate passions to the upper deck with the aid of JumboTrons in a setting more familiar to Britney Spears than the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The experiment worked so well that another British ballet company is planning a run of “Nutcrackers” in the arena this winter.
Bully for them, I say: Anything that brings ballet to a wider audience is worth investigating. When the news landed that Russia’s venerable Mariinsky Theatre would be appearing in a 3-D film at a local multiplex, I thought: Why not?
But having seen “Giselle in 3D,” I’m thinking: So what?
It was an unlikely pairing to start: one of the oldest ballets paired with the trendiest of technologies, the stuff of summer blockbusters and exploding Decepticons. This is billed as the first-ever 3-D ballet, filmed with the same techno-wizardry used in the new “Transformers” movie, and the hype promised at least a little bit of a frisson. “Experience ballet in a new way,” an onscreen directive commanded us as the film began at the Regal Ballston Common 12, one of only two theaters that screened the movie Tuesday for its one-day run.
It sounded promising. What could creative cinematographers do with a 3-D ballet, I wondered? Make the dancers jump into our laps? Fly around us and over our heads? Leap at our throats? (“Giselle” is a ghost story, after all, featuring a coven of supernatural villainesses out for the blood of a two-timing nobleman.)
The movie, filmed by Can Communicate, captured a dream cast at the height of its powers. Audiences who saw the Mariinsky’s “Giselle” at the Kennedy Center (the still-superior old-fashioned way — live) in February will remember its refined, somewhat distanced delivery of this 1840s tale of a pure-hearted girl who is betrayed by her betrothed and dies of shock, then returns in spirit form to save him from the above-mentioned fem-phantoms. The film affords satisfying close-up views of the subtle emotions in Natalia Osipova’s Giselle and her beau, Leonid Sarafanov’s Count Albrecht.
The dancing through and through is superb; the sense of cottony lightness in the beautifully cohesive corps de ballet is especially striking. The camera brings the audience in close to bravura moments — Osipova’s high, weightless jumps; Sarafanov’s endless turns — that feel as inevitable and blazing as stars shooting across the night sky.
But none of this is made any more or less stunning through 3-D filming. The camerawork is largely straightforward; it looks just as if we were sitting in the opera house, perhaps in the upper balcony, but for the close-ups.
Other ballet movies — “Black Swan” and especially Robert Altman’s “The Company” — involve much more immersive camera action, taking the viewer onto the stage and even amid the dancers. In “Giselle,” the dancing is impressive, the filming less so.
The door is wide open for the second 3-D ballet movie to do better.