Giselle in 3D

Three extraordinary performances more than made up for the unique but odd experience of watching a 19th century romantic ballet in 3D. The Mariinsky Ballet’s Giselle, which claims to be the world’s first 3D ballet, was filmed last year with Natalia Osipova as Giselle, Leonid Sarafanov as Albrecht, (he has since joined the Mikhailovsky Ballet) and Yekaterina Kondaurova as Myrtha. It opened yesterday in cinemas in nine countries. I saw it in a Sydney cinema where the audience numbered three, including me. The spooky emptiness of the place certainly didn’t help counter the sense of cool remoteness from the performance, an illusion created by the 3D glasses.
Giselle may not be the best choice for 3D as Act I begins with so few people on the stage, and at first, none of them actually dances. Hilarion appears, then Wilfred and Albrecht, all miming their various worries or obsessions. They appeared like cut-out figures placed within a vast puppet theatre stage. This disconcerting effect continued with Giselle and Albrecht’s pas de deux and was most noticeable in mid-shots, but when the camera moved closer, the three-dimensional reality kicked in. In the second act, however, the diagonal formations of the wilis filled in the space and helped give a better impression of live performance.
Osipova portrays Giselle as very young, very bewildered and very tense from the start. Her joy and compulsion to dance is repeatedly cut short by her anxiety, confusion, and her instinct that something is seriously wrong.
Osipova’s jump is explosive. She covers the stage with soaring jetes, and at the end of her Act I solo, her pirouettes are both technically perfect and taken at super human speed. The mad scene is extremely moving. Here, the 3D element comes into its own with the camera closer to her face. Her eyes show both extreme sadness and a flickering of madness that is far from histrionic, more as if a spirit has taken over her living body.
As Osipova emerges from her grave in Act II she hurls herself into the turns in arabesque, again with that speed that moves as if an internal engine is propelling her body from zero to what seems like 100 kph in seconds.
Giselle’s lover, Albrecht, may be naïve but it’s hard to believe it’s his youthfulness that makes him so. Sarafanov is 28 but he looks much younger, and more of a foolish boy than a man. His portrayal did not have the depth of Osipova’s although there is no disputing his astonishing technique, particularly his powerful jumps – soaring cabrioles and the entrechat six near the end of Act II in which he rebounds endlessly, a jack in a box on a spring.
One of the unexpected pleasures in the cast was the tall and elegant Kondaurova as Myrtha, the Queen of the Wilis. A beautifully controlled dancer, it was obvious from the moment she glided from the wings that she would power through the entire act. What can’t this dancer do? Nothing, it seems. She commands the stage with her rapid shimmering courus, masterful jumps and clean line, with no ‘she who must be obeyed’ mannerisms obvious in her mime. I would love to see more of this dancer in the Balanchine repertoire.
The design of this production is notable for the placement and costumes of the hunting party in Act 1 as the tragedy plays out (the men resemble a solemn gathering of merchants in a Rembrandt painting), and for the uniformity and perfection of line of the wilis in Act II.
In publicising the film, Valery Gergiev, the Mariinsky Theatre’s artistic director said, “It is important that as theatrical companies that we all try daring projects. There is a feeling that 3D is different to high definition, it is the future technology for all theatrical productions. This will be a progressive move to ensure that the future of ballet and opera is never questioned.”
Either words have been put in Gergiev’s mouth by the marketing machine or he doesn’t see the difference between the future of two art forms and fashionable trends in filmmaking. 3D is hardly an all purpose saviour but nevertheless, I’m looking forward to Pina in 3D next month.

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