There are some things that should not be tinkered with, no matter how irresistible to the “Artiste,” who thinks he alone has the savoir faire to fashion a more personal vision. Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is one of them.
We had looked forward to this holiday Nutcracker offering from The Royal Ballet, choreographed by Peter Wright, CBE, and promoted as a cinematic presentation in HiDef with surround sound. Sadly we were dismayed from the minute the live transmission began.
The theater, the Cinemark, located at The River in tawny Rancho Mirage, apparently didn’t link up properly to receive the live transmission, purportedly in HiDef/surround sound, or maybe they didn’t think that was important – or maybe it was a cost savings measure – who knows. To add insult to injury, for those who are hearing impaired and in need of head sets, we were told “they didn’t work for those shows.” I could only shake my head in disbelief. How could they not provide the best sound possible for their classical offerings, either ballet, symphony or opera? They spare no expense for movies like “Transformers” – you can hear that sound through the walls all the way to the next shopping center!
Perhaps it’s too much to expect, since they haven’t bothered to market these marvelous offerings. I’m sure they would be quick to tell me that they are not attended well enough to bother with such amenities as quality sound and HD transmission. Well DUH. Have any of you seen advertisements or promotions for these ballets, operas and other classical concerts? The Coachella Valley population is predominately senior with money to spare and an appetite for quality cultural programming, but without an intelligent marketing campaign, the target audience has no idea these programs are available.
We, along with a wide variety of our friends, attend nearly every Metropolitan Opera live in HD, and we know whereof we speak. The Met performances are spectacular and the sound is JUST FINE; the picture quality sublime. Perhaps the employees in charge of the Royal Ballet link-up don’t know what they are doing. That would not surprise me, since their attitude is less than accommodating.
Meanwhile back to the disappointingly flat Nutcracker – and I don’t mean pitch. Without the HiDef transmission, the close up camera work of the dancers’ movements seemed out of focus. If that wasn’t the cause, I can’t imagine an organization as august as The Royal Ballet not having the best technical people on board for such an undertaking. Not only was the picture quality poor, the cameras actually cut off the dancers’ feet. Hel-lo. It’s a ballet.
Choreographer Wright took it upon himself to change certain parts of this well known classic which I found disappointing. The Waltz Of The Flowers – traditionally a lovely, magical change of pace by the Corps de ballet, complete with the romantic bell shaped flowing tutus – was danced as a mashup of multiple pas de dux in short classical tutus. There was nothing grand, sweeping or waltzy about it. It didn’t work. The mice were tall and suave and the Mouse King was downright skinny. We expect our mice corps to be round!
The short dance pieces from inside the the fairy castle in the second act were trimmed to the extent that the usual 4-6 Russian Trepek dancers were cut to two, and they appeared to be wearing some sort of shearling cowboy hats. Mother Gingerbread and her eight little children, hidden beneath her skirt – such a treat for the children in the audience – were omitted entirely.
On the positive side, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier, danced beautifully by Roberta Marquez and Steven McRae, were simply glorious. The costumes were breathtaking. The sets were on their way to being magical, but more could have been done, but the illusionary touches did their job.
The Cinema Program from the Royal Ballet has quite the ambitious line up this winter. We’ll give it one more shot, but will seek out a theater that has the sense to offer the programs in HD and surround sound, as they should be seen. And yes, I’ll send them this column. Generally there are nine of us that attend these classical programs, which are almost double the price of a regular movie. That’s over $200 a pop, when you include the overpriced popcorn and soda – not an insignificant amount.
You know there’s an old adage. Good experiences garner only a few comments. But bad experiences garner on average twenty retellings and can have many multiples.
Sadly we’re not surprised at the slipshod way Cinemark runs their theater. On countless occasions after we’ve attended the Met Operas, we’re left sitting in the dark waiting for the lights to come on. They don’t and eventually we “feel our way” down the steps. They couldn’t care less. In future we will be voting (or stamping) with our feet and purposely seeking out other theaters that have the same classical cinema offerings. Big suggestion for the Palm d’Or behind the Westfield Mall or the Camelot in Palm Springs. At least they know how to reach their audience! And they run a first class operation.