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Ballet leaps onto the big screen at Enzian

It’s Fourth of July weekend, outside it feels like 150 degrees Fahrenheit and every cable channel is carrying wall-to-wall Casey coverage – even the kids’ networks. Perfect time to retreat to a movie theater, right? According to Fandango, my local mutiplexes were offering a wide range of toy-robot and talking-car epics – in eye-gouging 3-D, if I’d like to pay extra.

Thankfully, the Enzian decided to offer a decidedly more mature entertainment alternative this past All-American holiday. Birds might not yet be quite as hot as superheroes, wizards or vampires (sparkly or nonsparkly), but between Rio and Mr. Popper’s Penguins, avians are in the midst of a comeback. And of course the big bird of last year’s Oscars was Black Swan, so it was appropriate for Maitland’s art-house eatery to inaugurate their series of cinematic ballet performances with the newly re-popularized classic Swan Lake.

The Enzian’s brand-new attempt at Ballet on the Big Screen began as an outgrowth of their successful Opera on the Big Screen series, now in its fourth season. Between now and Sept. 17, the Royal Ballet’s Giselle and the Bolshoi’s Don Quixote are on screen for ballet lovers, while opera fans can see the Royal Opera’s staging of La Traviata, Mozart’s Magic Flute at La Scala and The Barber of Seville from Teatro Regio de Parma without investing their life savings in travel and tickets. Just $20 (or $50 for a three-show series) will snag you a first-class seat, complete with tableside waiter, for a world-class classical production.

Live performances never come across as well on film as they do in person, and Emerging Pictures– the digital theater network that presents the series – can’t completely overcome that, but the recording came pretty close. By giving both wide angles and close-ups – but without the rapid zooms and cuts that kill most modern dance movies – viewers got a better view than they’d get from a box seat. And the iconic Tchaikovsky score came through loud and clear (along with a lot of audience applause) through the Enzian’s upgraded surround-sound speakers. Hopefully their fundraising campaign will allow them to update their digital projector soon as well; it visibly lags behind today’s 2k and 4k projectors in sharpness and contrast, undermining both the high-definition cinematography and the Bolshoi’s inky art direction.

Nothing, however, undermined Robert Hill. The Orlando Ballet artistic director was on hand to introduce the show and give some background on the work. While the original 1877 Moscow production was considered a failure by some, an “ideal” 1895 revival on the anniversary of the composer’s death cemented its place in the canon. The roles of virtuous swan princess Odette and her sensuous doppelgänger, Odile, were originally played by different dancers, but to be able to embody both is today considered the test of a true prima ballerina. We’ll see Hill’s own spin on the tale when his company’s current season closes next March with Swans: Black and White.

I wish Hill had stuck around for more commentary, but we did get some insightful anecdotes on video during the intermission from Nikolay Tsiskaridze, who danced the evil genius Rothbart. The Bolshoi’s production was based on a 1969 version choreographed by Yuri Grigorovich (after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s 1895 version and Alexander Gorsky’s 1913 revival) during the Soviet era. A censor made them remove the swan’s death at the story’s end to avoid any hint of sadness in their workers’ paradise; the proper tragic endingwasn’t restored until the show was restaged in 2001.

The ballet itself was pretty much the quintessential classical Swan Lake, assuming you like that sort of thing. As I’m relatively unschooled in the finer details of ballet tradition, I find myself constantly entertained by the oddities in the art form. Why do they bow at the end of every big scene? Why do the plots always revolve around rich people at a party watching vaguely ethnic people dance? Why is waterfowl bestiality considered romantic?

I have no answers, but I did discover that ballet goes down much better with a bite of chicken-and-bacon sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup. The audience for ballet in Orlando is definitely alive – most of the good tables were taken by the time I arrived – but I’m not sure it’s well; I was the youngest person in the room by at least a decade. Whatever your age, if you love classical dance, don’t miss the rest of this series. And if you love someone who loves it, take advantage of Enzian’s beer selection and nap-perfect comfy seats.

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