|Ocean. Photo: Charles Atlas|
Within the span of a day, I saw the Royal Ballet's Romeo & Juliet and Charles Atlas' film of Cunningham's Ocean, both in HD, projected huge at BAM Rose Cinemas and the Whitney Museum, respectively. It's increasingly the way of experiencing dance that I'd either not be able to see for geographical reasons, or to record performances never to be replicated because the company has disbanded, in the case of Ocean. So there's great value in both, at relatively low ticket prices.
Ocean (1994), to John Cage's score, was filmed by Atlas in 2008 at an breathtaking venue, a quarry in Minnesota transformed into a theater in the round for 4,500 viewers and a huge orchestra. You don't get much of that scale during the dance performance itself, but Atlas includes several minutes of production set-up footage in the opening minutes. The first imagery of the dance itself is of Daniel Squire's body in an extreme close-up, and you can feel the power and explosive tension in his muscles in a way you never could in real life, even if you were dancing right next to him. These close-ups zooms transform the dancers into the superheroes I perceive them to be; their physical genius now more clear to see than ever, in companion with their fierce intelligence. Atlas splits the screen at fortuitous moments so we sometimes see the same duet from two points, or a meta-view of one of his cameras filming what we see on the other screen.
|Ocean. Photo by Charles Atlas|
The Romeo & Juliet screening presented problems that recur when filming dance, and ballet in particular. The ebullient Federico Bonelli and technically superb Lauren Cuthbertson, in the lead roles of this version by Kenneth MacMillan, were featured frequently in close-ups at the expense of the context of the scene at hand, or the overall stage picture. But both did an excellent job at modulating their projection to accomodate both the balcony patron, who sees them as the size of ants, and the HD cinema viewer, looking up their foot-high nostrils. Perhaps as such filming becomes more commonplace, producers will adapt to these genre-specific filming problems—certainly no barrier to experiencing some of the world's finest dance.