Thanks to a venture called More2Screen, last night I went to see a ballet at the cinema. The Royal Ballet performing Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, since you ask, recorded at the Royal Opera House in 2006 and projected on the screen at the Curzon. The idea is that rather than stumping up West End prices, or indeed travelling to London, or New York, you can see theatre, ballet and opera at your local cinema (and More2Screen seem to run these events up and down the country, from Altrincham to Wolverhampton), sometimes filmed previously, sometimes bang up to date, such as Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein, or Derek Jacobi’s Lear at the Donmar, showing in the new year. I guess individual cinemas charge their own prices, but you’re paying for the convenience, and the comfort, and it’ll be a lot less than a trip to the West End of London, or to the New York Met!
I enjoyed Sleeping Beauty, or The Sleeping Beauty as it’s properly called, first staged in 1890 – but have since realised that, a relative novice, all the ballets I have ever seen have been written by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Oh, that Russian! My first ever ballet, in 2007, was Swan Lake, reviewed here, which I’ve seen twice, in two different productions, and my second was The Nutcracker, which, again, I’ve seen twice, once in traditional format, the other via the fertile imagination of Matthew Bourne. (I also saw my first modern ballet, Michael Clark’s Come, Been and Gone, last November, with music by David Bowie, Velvet Underground and Wire, reviewed here.)
I was surprised not to know any of the music from Sleeping Beauty – having been amazed at how much of Swan Lake and The Nutrcacker had seeped osmotically into my consciousness without me knowing about it – but of course the story is familiar. (The music was apparently adapted for Walt Disney’s version, but, frankly, I was very young, and I only took notice of singalong songs in Disney cartoons!) Up to now, I’ve considered Disney’s to be the definitive version of Charles Perrault’s La belle au bois dormant, but no. The ballet differs from the cartoon in many respects: more fairies, the baddie is not called Malificent and does not turn into a massive dragon, and of course the third act of Uncle Walt’s 1959 staging was not dominated by a lengthy wedding feast sequence, in which – no, really – Puss in Boots, Little Red Riding Hood and other fairytale characters turn up to have a dance. Let’s be honest, the narrative of any ballet is predicated on a number of excuses for individuals and pairs to have a dance and showboat a bit and soak up some applause. They really milk it in Act Two of Sleeping Beauty, I can tell you. The story’s pretty much over half an hour before the curtain falls. But hey, this is dance.
My favourite act was, without a doubt, Act Two: The Vision, in which the prince sees a vision of the sleeping princess Aurora and sets off in a boat that sails across dry ice to her castle, with the Lilac Fairy at the rudder. Even watching it on a big telly, as we ultimately all were, the staging of this sequence was beautiful and very clever. Because it was filmed in 2006, the picture quality wasn’t exactly HD, but the sound was crisp and revealing (one of my favourite things about live ballet is the sound their feet make on the woodwork, and much of this was captured, adding to the “live” feel), and – just like watching football on TV – it was pleasant to be able to zoom in and focus on individuals, thanks to camerawork and editing. This meant that we could watch individual sections of the orchestra, too, which is definitely not something you could do if you were at the Royal Opera House.
In all, a cracking way to officially launch Christmas.