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Blockbuster ballet

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What with the phenomenal size of the budgets of some Hollywood films, it’s about time ballet got in on the action! Would there be a future for ballet feature-films? I mean those in the style of Nureyev’s Don Q, Fracci’s Giselle or the Thesmar-Denard Sylphide: realistic sets, (dare I say) special effects, dance filmed cinematically on a large scale. Surely an opulent Swan Lake or fantastical Nutcracker would pull in the crowds? Which ballets would (or wouldn't!) you like to see treated cinematically?

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Great topic, scherzo. For clairification, we are talking about filming in a studio here, aren't we? As opposed to on stage.

I realize that "Bollywood" probably refers to having splendid, colorful production values. So why do I get the image of all those broody, trapped swans breaking into manic big-tooth grins as the sitars, tanpuras, lablas, etc., strum and beat away? I think we need to keep the tone, and that includes the look.

I'd go for Sleeping Beauty. No narration, no voice-overs, no filming in "real" palaces or formal gardens. Makeup that's more subtle than some of the productions scherzo mentions. A real staged work with opulent sets, but with the expanse of a studio floor. Hand-held camera technology has developed a great deal recently; it might be nice to see the camera moving on stage as well as observing it from the outside. But not to overdo it.

How do people feel about closeups? Who would be good -- and look good -- for the leads? (I mean "look really good to a big audience," not just to their fans.) How about some Hollywood stars as King, Queen, Catalabutte, etc.? Assuming they had dance experience and could move appropriately. What about the idea director?

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I realize that "Bollywood" probably refers to having splendid, colorful production values. So why do I get the image of all those broody, trapped swans breaking into manic big-tooth grins as the sitars, tambours, etc., strum and beat away.

LOL! Even so, they might insist upon doing it.

My Bollywood experience is limited to one film 'Lagaan', and this supposed to be one of the best ones. It's according to how much singing about Radha and Krishna you are willing to have interspersed.

I don't see how it sounds desirable to have these big cinematized, opened-up-for-the-masses ballets. They rarely get it right even when filming Broadway musicals. And the general population is not thinking about ballet in quite the same way as they are many much easier things--there's no budget for ballet-movies in Hollywood, that's just over, I think. Maybe Chinese or Indians will try something, but it will get that theme-parkish look, and there's enough trouble with such things in ABT stagings of Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty already. I can see why you, scherzo, might dream of this, but I can't imagine it happening (even with poor products.)

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Indian filmmakers just might take Bayadere and do it up Bollywood-style, but IMO, they would be equally as likely to take the material straight. Viewers of that ballet from India seem to be in two schools. One sees it as a lovely tribute to their country, and the other sees it as camp. I haven't met an Indian who considers the ballet an insult, but I imagine that they are out there.

As for realism in ballet-movie sets, I don't want to be able to view Giselle's outhouse from certain angle shots.

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As for realism in ballet-movie sets, I don't want to be able to view Giselle's outhouse from certain angle shots.

Indeed not, but from what I just read with NYTimes rave review of 'Enchanted', they might do this sort of thing with a ballet theme like that, I can easily imagine cinematized Disneyfied Sleeping Beauties and Swan Lakes, half-animated--which is what I envisioned, but not that I thought they might really do it even all digitalized up like that. First time I ever read a rave review and decided from that alone that it would be the last thing I'd watch beyond the online clip.

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I don't want much to see it either, but Enchanted seems to be a different genre - the fish-out-of-water action comedy, sort of like the Back to the Futures. I think it's correct to say that American makers (except maybe some bold independent with a generous angel) aren't interested in a ballet as ballet feature film. There are no Emile Ardolinos out there that I can think of.

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Which ballets would (or wouldn't!) you like to see treated cinematically?
So far we've had Bayadere, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, Sylphide, and Don Q.

We're going to need investors/producers for this cinematic blockbustrer, and they'll probably ask us the ususal questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why?

Please keep the responses coming. :thumbsup:

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I realize that "Bollywood" probably refers to having splendid, colorful production values. So why do I get the image of all those broody, trapped swans breaking into manic big-tooth grins as the sitars, tambours, etc., strum and beat away.

LOL! Even so, they might insist upon doing it.

My Bollywood experience is limited to one film 'Lagaan', and this supposed to be one of the best ones. It's according to how much singing about Radha and Krishna you are willing to have interspersed.

I don't see how it sounds desirable to have these big cinematized, opened-up-for-the-masses ballets. They rarely get it right even when filming Broadway musicals. And the general population is not thinking about ballet in quite the same way as they are many much easier things--there's no budget for ballet-movies in Hollywood, that's just over, I think. Maybe Chinese or Indians will try something, but it will get that theme-parkish look, and there's enough trouble with such things in ABT stagings of Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty already. I can see why you, scherzo, might dream of this, but I can't imagine it happening (even with poor products.)

::grimace:: As an Indian who doesn't speak Hindi, my experience with Bollywood is a little more in depth than an average European or America, but far less in depth than my other Indian friends (and parents). However opulent Bollywood is known to be, the correct director and the correct approach could make something like Bayadere tasteful and respectful to the ballet. The Bollywood "nightmare" (as I term the opulence) is only with those famous stars that command the box office. However, if you enjoy foreign films, and are up for song and dance numbers in a film, there are some amazingly done Bollywood films that are just gorgeous. If anyone is interested, just PM (message? is that the term??) me and I'd be happy to give you titles. These are movies that appeal to me, and I'm pretty much a foreigner when it comes to Indian culture anyway, so I'm sure you'd like them!

About Bollywood+Bayadere. I've shown clips to my parents (who are much more relaxed about Indian portrayals in the media than many Indians), and both of them noted that what would trip up the Indian audiences is the interpretation. The only insulting part that I can vaguely see is the Bronze Idol dance, which is a reflection of our Hindu God Shiva--a God whose Dance represents the stages of life and death to us. Also, priests in India, no matter their human flaws, are covered with a diamond curtain, where one cannot even ASSUME that they have flaws. (Oh, and temple dancers have...never really existed, or if they have, I've been going to the boring temples). I think that Indian audiences just wouldn't...get it. They'd appreciate the dancing and the art, but they wouldn't really appreciate the story as much, since it's an European's take on India.

That being said, if one views it as "Oh! European take on India"...I find it funny to watch, and it's hilariously telling how other cultures viewed us 100 years ago, and it shows me how one needs to think before viewing other cultures through perspective. :) However, the uneducated person in India goes to a movie to escape from the reality of his/her life of poverty there, so that depth wouldn't really be appreciated the way we, a dance audience, would appreciate it.

Still, any other ballet would be a very popular choice if Bollywood took it up, like Don Q, with it's opulence. Or, Corsaire, would be even more fun!!! Swan Lake and any tragedy would be good too..and Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella could go all out for production. I think it would be fun, but you'd also be hard pressed to find many Indians who do ballet at the level to be released to a movie. Indian classical dance takes pride of place, and rightly so :thumbsup:

I just wanted to put my perspective in there, as an Indian-American. So sorry that I've digressed, and I'd love to know if I was helpful or just really confusing :(

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I think that there's a reason for the unIndian interpretations and behaviors of the characters in Bayadere. In 1877, just about everything that hung off the bottom of Asia, if it weren't the Ottoman Empire or China was considered "India" to most Europeans, Petipa included. Photographs of the Cambodian complex of Angkor were just hitting the western bookshelves, and prominent in them had always been the apsaras. Ethnographers of the period did not realize that these were divinities, and took them for being a form of temple dancer in a past version of Hinduism. Some thought that Thai and Khmer dance were the modern descendants of these creatures, who were really supposed to be something like angels, and earth was not their home. The destruction of the temple is really taken from the assumptions of 19th century anthropologists that the Angkor period ended because of a huge natural disaster, like an earthquake or supercyclone. The Golden Idol could go without anymuch harm to the ballet. He was a 1921 addition to the show, and he can go, or be portrayed as some other guy, like a an ancient maharajah, or a boddhisatva being commemorated. (Buddha himself might cut too close to blasphemy!) The unsequestered holy men may be taken from the omnipresent Buddhist monks who are found in southwest Asia. Or, they could have been cribbed from the plot of Sakuntala (ca. 400 CE), which had been used by many western writers in an Orientalist mode, Gautier being one of them.

Such a movie of classical ballets wouldn't have to be made in India, with Indian dancers, and intercutting authentic Indian performance material, but the producers could/should be Indian, to add the "flash" that the big Bollywood musicals have, even if it's over-the-top. Now, to find someone like that!

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That being said, if one views it as "Oh! European take on India"...I find it funny to watch, and it's hilariously telling how other cultures viewed us 100 years ago, and it shows me how one needs to think before viewing other cultures through perspective. :(

There are bound to be Bollywood people who'd want to do it this way, everybody's in touch with the various ironies by now. It doesn't sound terribly gripping to me no matter how it would be done. But I'd imagine that the more worldly Bollywood producers would want to see it as a Western thing more than an Indian 'version', since Asians are doing more Western 'collecting' now; it used to be more the other way around.

Still, any other ballet would be a very popular choice if Bollywood took it up, like Don Q, with it's opulence. Or, Corsaire, would be even more fun!!! Swan Lake and any tragedy would be good too..and Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella could go all out for production. I think it would be fun, but you'd also be hard pressed to find many Indians who do ballet at the level to be released to a movie. Indian classical dance takes pride of place, and rightly so :thumbsup:

Yes, the Indians to dance a great Swan Lake would never be artistically optimum--in the near future at least. It would need to be Indians, as Mel suggested, who were in love with the Western ballet as in the indie-type thing with the angel-money (if they're Bollywood movie moguls, they wouldn't have to be like in 'The Music Room', with all that aristocratic money spent for one last performance--nor would they know how to be), because it's the same as with Bharata Natyam: I had an American friend who worked on it for many years, studied it some in India, and it always came across as lesser than, say, Yamina Krishnamurt, Viti Prakesh (who is the best I've seen, it really didn't seem like there was anything that weighed anything on stage, it was so subtle and delicate, but assured), or even Ritha Devi. This American dancer always added a hard sharpness to the Indian movements no matter what. These differences do go away in time, but I don't think we're to that point yet--and at that point everything might be more homogenized, not necessarily more versatile experts in all languages. The Indian production wouldn't have to be pure Bollywood, and could combine Hollywood and Bollywood, I suppose, but I personally am just throwing out thoughts; I'd even rather just see a telecast of the stage version of most of these, and don't want to see any of these done as big movies. Although Mel's mix for 'La Bayadere' does sound like the one viable option and that could be really new-combining Old European with New Indian like one of the Fusion Cuisines, even though it begins to seem like we should have Japanese 'Madame Butterflys' and Egyptian 'Aidas'.

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I don't want much to see it either, but Enchanted seems to be a different genre - the fish-out-of-water action comedy, sort of like the Back to the Futures. I think it's correct to say that American makers (except maybe some bold independent with a generous angel) aren't interested in a ballet as ballet feature film. There are no Emile Ardolinos out there that I can think of.

Ah but as a producer-director and former professional ballet dancer, (who's made several dance films: doc, short, performances) I studied Emile Ardolino's technique on DiA for years and thought often, long, and hard about creating all sorts of ballet films. And yes, being bold AND persuasive is important when pitching, as is that "generous angel" or enlightened co-producer.

Personally I always thought Giselle would make a good suspensful/ghost story if it began with hints of something strange in the woods, nervous villagers, and a bored rebellious duke who goes thru the traditional plot arc of love, loss, and learning something (about himself? about life/death?)as a result. It's also easier to do on location than pirate ships or major Bollywood temples collapsing.

(Miniatures, DFX, etc. still look v.fake to me; the more "stylized" approach with results similar to "The 300" or "Beowulf". is too scary to contemplate. RE: those "motion-capture" animation techniques Zemekis et.al. are using--wasn't Merce Cunningham doing this about 25 years ago?)

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Personally I always thought Giselle would make a good suspensful/ghost story if it began with hints of something strange in the woods, nervous villagers, and a bored rebellious duke who goes thru the traditional plot arc of love, loss, and learning something (about himself? about life/death?)as a result. It's also easier to do on location than pirate ships or major Bollywood temples collapsing.
Wouldn't you have to add elements to accomplish this? Additional music for the non-dance background scenes, for instance. Or -- assuming you were shooting on sound stage -- some sort of human (or willi) presence not found in the original choreography to establish mood. Any suggestions as to how this might be done while still keeping the original Giselle at the core?

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I think that there's a reason for the unIndian interpretations and behaviors of the characters in Bayadere. In 1877, just about everything that hung off the bottom of Asia, if it weren't the Ottoman Empire or China was considered "India" to most Europeans, Petipa included. Photographs of the Cambodian complex of Angkor were just hitting the western bookshelves, and prominent in them had always been the apsaras. Ethnographers of the period did not realize that these were divinities, and took them for being a form of temple dancer in a past version of Hinduism. Some thought that Thai and Khmer dance were the modern descendants of these creatures, who were really supposed to be something like angels, and earth was not their home. The destruction of the temple is really taken from the assumptions of 19th century anthropologists that the Angkor period ended because of a huge natural disaster, like an earthquake or supercyclone. The Golden Idol could go without anymuch harm to the ballet. He was a 1921 addition to the show, and he can go, or be portrayed as some other guy, like a an ancient maharajah, or a boddhisatva being commemorated. (Buddha himself might cut too close to blasphemy!) The unsequestered holy men may be taken from the omnipresent Buddhist monks who are found in southwest Asia. Or, they could have been cribbed from the plot of Sakuntala (ca. 400 CE), which had been used by many western writers in an Orientalist mode, Gautier being one of them.

Such a movie of classical ballets wouldn't have to be made in India, with Indian dancers, and intercutting authentic Indian performance material, but the producers could/should be Indian, to add the "flash" that the big Bollywood musicals have, even if it's over-the-top. Now, to find someone like that!

Those were thoughtful analyses Mel, and papeetepatrick! Thanks for that, I had completely forgotten about what "India and the Orient" meant back then. :thumbsup:

But, of all the Bayadere productions, I have to say, Nureyev's was my favorite, if only for the costumes made of real saris. However, my mother watched it (keep in mind, she has her saris from her wedding, 20 years ago) and muttered about the destruction to beautiful clothing as she made plans to buy duplicates in India.

I like your idea of HOW the production could be done, but the authentic Indian performances could be introduced into the wedding scene, the Golden Idol music does seem to lend itself to Bharatnatyam or Kuchipudi, if done loosely. As for casting, we could have an Indian Solor (Amar Ramasar!). The story does take place in North India, where the skin tones are very light (especially in Kashmir), so the casting wouldn't need to be Indian (::shudders:: Aishwarya Rai would be hideous as a tragic heroine). I don't have much opinion on Gamzatti, as long as she's good, but Lopatkina MUST be Nikiya (too bad Asylmuratova retired, she'd have been my first choice). My other requirement would be that the dancers, whether they are blond or red haired or green haired, must ALL have dark hair, just to be authentic, since we are telling an Indian story :(

As for a director or producer: Gurinder Chadra or Deepa Mehta, one is over the top, and the other is subtle, and neither is Bollywood, which would allow for ease of production AWAY from India. It would be so pretty done in Agra or Jaipur though, amongst the rivers and ruins.

I am getting way ahead of myself! Now, if only I could find the money to do this.

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If you do find the funding for this, please be sure we see the feet when dancers are dancing. A pet peeve of mine is a facial close-up when we should be seeing a full-body shot.

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Lots of interesting stuff here!

I don't see how it sounds desirable to have these big cinematized, opened-up-for-the-masses ballets. They rarely get it right even when filming Broadway musicals. And the general population is not thinking about ballet in quite the same way as they are many much easier things--there's no budget for ballet-movies in Hollywood, that's just over, I think. Maybe Chinese or Indians will try something, but it will get that theme-parkish look, and there's enough trouble with such things in ABT stagings of Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty already. I can see why you, scherzo, might dream of this, but I can't imagine it happening (even with poor products.)

I realise I might be taking your words the wrong way but surely ballet 'opened-up-for-the-masses' would be a good thing? There is always the conception that only a certain type of person goes to ballets (the idea of dressing up and sitting in opera houses surrounded by other 'patrons'), whereas cinemas are universal and unthreatening. Of course, it would be difficult to 'get it right', but surely with appropriate artistic consultation a satisfactory result might be gained. Although this is hypothetical since as you say there would be little or no budget for such a fiilm, unless some Hollywood dignitary makes it their pet project (Spielberg does Corsaire, anyone?). I think there could be real potential for filmed ballet as an art form in itself as opposed to ballet dressed up in film glitz.

Wouldn't you have to add elements to accomplish this? Additional music for the non-dance background scenes, for instance. Or -- assuming you were shooting on sound stage -- some sort of human (or willi) presence not found in the original choreography to establish mood. Any suggestions as to how this might be done while still keeping the original Giselle at the core?

What does anyone think about using ambient sound in certain places? I think it works really well in Nureyev's Don Q (my favourite filmed ballet, btw).

Unlike bart (and probably others) I like the idea of filming in real locations: a bit of glamour and the thrill of the unusual. I'd have to add myself to the Big Fat No list re: animation, though. :D

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I'd have to add myself to the Big Fat No list re: animation, though. :yucky:
Those are fighting words! The Disney (Fantasia) version of "Dance of the Hours" has always struck me as one of the great comic ballets -- and tributes to ballet -- on screen. I haven't seen Wheeldon's version, but can it possibly top those lovely classically-trained hippos, ostriches, elephants and faux-villainous alligators? :D

And why does the idea of a Simpsons' Nutcracker seem so intriguing and promising (to me at least)?

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I realise I might be taking your words the wrong way but surely ballet 'opened-up-for-the-masses' would be a good thing?

Not necessarily. It's opened up enough by having more and more regional and small productions of real ballet. Like theater, ballet will be more 'opened up for the masses' by multiplying itself in its own form, rather than vaporizing into film, where most of its physicality is lost (even the TV broadcasts, however depleted, are at least of the real thing.) It's partly the responsibility of the 'masses': If they want to 'open up ballet for themselves', the drive or train ride is not usually going to be too far by now. As it is, there is enough ballet on film already, with Czinner's 'Romeo and Juliet' and numerous others, as well as all the DVDs of hundreds of ballets for people who are really interested in ballet to immerse themselves in. In any case, you will not open it up if out comes this big bloated thing that wants more to be 'innovative' and 'populist' more than it wants to just be 'ballet'. You might accidentally get one or two successful things, but we'll just have to see if anybody wants to do it.

There is always the conception that only a certain type of person goes to ballets (the idea of dressing up and sitting in opera houses surrounded by other 'patrons'), whereas cinemas are universal and unthreatening.

I am not worried about that personally, as that's what is a part of many special things, but only the most VIP seats still hypnotize their patrons into wearing something other than any knockabout clothing. People used to dress up to take a plane flight. If they decided to start dressing up to go to the ballet again, I wouldn't object. Ballet is not a 'mass form', and its essence wouldn't survive attempts to make it one. The 'masses' already have 'Les Miserables' and 'Phantom of the Opera'; I hardly see that it's anyone's duty to make 'Sleeping Beauty's available at the movie house, when even people who won't or can't drive to a regional or metropolitan ballet performance can slide the POB Jewels into the DVD on their computer and get cultured right in their cubicles.

Of course, it would be difficult to 'get it right', but surely with appropriate artistic consultation a satisfactory result might be gained. Although this is hypothetical since as you say there would be little or no budget for such a fiilm, unless some Hollywood dignitary makes it their pet project (Spielberg does Corsaire, anyone?). I think there could be real potential for filmed ballet as an art form in itself as opposed to ballet dressed up in film glitz.

Yes, I can see it as being possible only under those circumstances, but that still wouldn't be Blockbuster or opening it up to the masses. It would be like Bergman's Die Zauberflote, and this kind of thing should be expected to be the very occasional exception. I don't see most Hollywood filmmakers likely to do this, although actors like Joanne Woodward have taken interest in ballet--but even if they are picture people, this doesn't mean that their interest in ballet would make them want to put it onscreen. If they did, though, they'd be some of the ones with the connections, I'd think. You see, if you don't want to see 'ballet dressed up in film glitz', you wouldn't 'open it to the masses', because the current taste of the 'masses' is always anything 'dressed up in glitz' (and themselves dressed down.)

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I'd have to add myself to the Big Fat No list re: animation, though. :yucky:

And why does the idea of a Simpsons' Nutcracker seem so intriguing and promising (to me at least)?

:D

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