Unlike the one time I was taken to a panto, where I spent the whole time terrified I’d get called up on stage to do something humiliating, the first time I saw a ballet, I fell in love immediately. Strangely though, an interest in classical dance was not a popular hobby – especially in my teens – not helped by the fact that the rare production seen on television left me cold. It was devoid of any of the magic that had grabbed me in the first place, so chances were slim that I would persuade anyone else that the people dancing in their tights could make your emotions soar.
But the so-called “high” arts seem to be experiencing a fresh revival by pairing up with the medium of the people and heart of this blog: film. Trying to bring the arts to the masses is no new endeavour but recent times has shown a fresh spate of attempts to interest the general public in art forms often perceived as exclusive and difficult to access. Scooting away from the debate on what art actually is, it’s probably agreed that there are some forms that have widely been seen as the preserve of the few: opera, ballet, fine art, theatre that isn’t a musical – all entertainment that struggles with (or possibly embraces) an image of stuffiness and exclusivity.
Stage plays seem the clearest choice to transfer to the big screen and at the same time, arguably the most pointless but the National Theatre has been broadcasting its plays live since 2009. When Danny Boyle directed Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch in Frankenstein earlier this year, there were accolades aplenty and having a ticket for either theatre or cinema event inspired envy. Less obvious was the decision to broadcast The National Gallery’s Leonardo da Vinci exhibition. Yet it was probably the only way most people would have been able to see it, considering all advance tickets have sold out and people are queueing in the early hours of the morning for entry that doesn’t require forking out £400 on eBay.
When I was eight, there was a massive difference between viewing a spectacle meant for the stage and squinting at it on a 14-inch television. But now the Royal Opera House regularly screens opera and ballet in cinemas – some live, some pre-recorded – while the New York City ballet can be seen dancing George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker this Christmas. For about the cost of a seat at the top of the balcony in a traditional theatre, where the air is thin and the dancers no bigger than they are on TV, it will be possible to watch one of the world’s top ballet companies in the comfort of your local cinemas “almost live”, although I make no judgements on how comfortable your local cinema is.
The big question is whether it’s any good. Have you seen any of these events or do they still fail to capture your interest, despite the increased accessibility? To find out for ourselves, this festive season we will be heading along to check out The Nutcracker, quintessential Christmas ballet that it is. We’ll see whether it captures the excitement of a live performance or sucks the joy out, leaving it a sterile husk. Or – the far more likely option – somewhere in between.