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National Ballet of Canada to Broadcast Nutcracker to Movie Theaters

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I was thinking about comments about National Ballet of Canada and Australian Ballet and how limited touring was for companies that are funded as "national," and this article about National Ballet of Canada's plans to broadcast their Nutcracker across Canada on 22 December 07 might describe the beginning of a more equitable distribution of resources. Or at least give people outside the capitals and major cities a taste of the pie.

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It will be interesting to see how this new way of reaching audiences will develop. In this case many pros and cons.

Some of the Pros:

Many more people will be able to access top-notch ballet performances paid for by Canadian tax dollars.

Reasonable prices.

Some of the Cons:

How will it effect local Nutcrackers, produced by local companies?

Will it ever be able to substitute for live performances?

Will it be able to pay for itself, or be another drain on the limited subsidies available?

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Sounds like a great idea -- I just wish it weren't Nutcracker.

[ ... ]

Some of the Cons:

How will it effect local Nutcrackers, produced by local companies?

[ ... ]

A good question. I hope someone will be looking at the impact of this carefully. The great success of last year's wonderful Met Live-HD -- starting up again today with Romeo et Juliette -- has apparently not hurt the two big opera companies in our region. In fact, sales for this season's opener at Palm Beach Opera (Turandot) seem to have been up.

The large number of operas in ongoing rep allow for cross-over purchases. (I.e., "If you liked "X" you'll LOVE "Y.") However, Nutcracker is Nutcracker. There's just one. For many it's a one-time-a-year tradition that does not necessarily carry over to other ticket purchases at the ballet. Will people to to the movie AND to their local production (especially a "company" as oppossed to "school" production)?

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Helene posted a link to a Montreal Gazette story that addresses your questions exactly, bart:

A Nutcracker for everyone, and controversy on the side

Perhaps this mini-scandal will finally force the Canada Council to confront the apparent conflict of interest of having Karen Kain as its chair while she is also artistic director of the dance company that receives the largest chunk of funding from said Council. It's really beyond me how she can hold both posts. I admire Jean Grand-Maître and Gradimir Pankov for having the guts to criticize her publicly.

In principle I approve of the National Ballet of Canada's initiative. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation stopped broadcasting full-length ballets years ago, so simulcasts are probably the only way Canadian ballet companies can hope to reach broad audiences. But instead of "poaching" Nutcracker audiences, why not broadcast a Sleeping Beauty in October or a Romeo & Juliet in May? As for me, I'm torn over whether to see this Nutcracker broadcast or not.

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Here is another report from Vancouver - I don't think this article is at all negative about the decision or the funding, not surprising since all of our media and the arts writers are currently dependant on or hoping to be beneficiaries of the Canada Council (which hands out writer's grants as well as public broadcasting money). http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/ar...db-2002ddbb9096

It's really beyond me how she can hold both posts. I admire Jean Grand-Maître and Gradimir Pankov for having the guts to criticize her publicly.

Yes, so do I. But the good thing in all of this is the internet is getting more vocal (in spots - carefully) and it is no longer possible to hide behind a controlled media. And the more that Canadians (at least in the west) see of the quality of this company, and its school, the more they will realize that the emperor has no clothes. "top-notch ballet performances"? I don't think so!

It's interesting that the estimated government subsidized overrun on this one project "She estimated the total budget will be around $700,000 -- more than three times what the National Ballet expects to bring in from ticket revenue." is more than the Goh Ballet's total annual budget of $400,000 p.a. for a 30 year old company of 30 dancers which performs and tours more than this lot. And I expect that budget included their potential Nut revenue. Ballet BC gets 20% of their income from Nutcracker according to the article above. That's income, not shortfall.

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I think that Karen's position as the Chair of the Canada Council is the best thing that could have happened to the ballet world in Canada. Since the "ballet boom" is over, having such a high profile ballet person in the federal agency that hands out the majority of the available grants is crucial for the survival and growth of the art form in the country. As the Chair she does not participate in the selection of who or which company receives funding. As with all grants at the CC grants are reviewed and approved by a constantly changing peer assessment committee. Let's support and applaud the fact that it is the artists that are in "positions of power" rather than the bureaucrats or god forbid the politicians.

Nutcracker shows, specialy in big cities, sell out no matter what. The simulcast of the NBC Nutcracker will just raise the profile and bring more people in to the theatres. It will also give audiences as well as dancers in smaller cities a chance to view a top-notch production which can only stimulate more interest and higher standards.

As to the financial shortfall of the production, I am sure the NBC had sponsors lined up around the block to have their name attached. A perfect opportunity to reach their target audiences. For those of you who will attend the event in the movie theatres, keep an eye out for the credits and the advertisements in the intermission.

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And the more that Canadians (at least in the west) see of the quality of this company, and its school, the more they will realize that the emperor has no clothes. "top-notch ballet performances"? I don't think so!

Now are my thoughts laid bare... Truth is, the prospect of a National Ballet of Canada simulcast doesn't exactly excite me. I saw the company give a pretty ragged performance of Giselle during its biennial western Canadian tour a few months ago, and not being a great fan of James Kudelka, I'm in no hurry to see his Nutcracker either. For the record, I've seen my local Nutcracker already, so chances are I'll skip the NBoC simulcast at Cineplex Odeon theatres and instead opt for the San Francisco Ballet's Nutcracker showing at a local Empire Theatre (same day, more or less same time), because I suspect the quality of dancing will be superior. It'll be interesting to see what happens on the afternoon of December 22 in places like Montreal, Winnipeg and Calgary, where people will have their choice of three Nutcrackers to see.

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The casting isn't up for the December 22 matinee at San Francisco Ballet yet. The decor for that production sounds gorgeous, but I haven't heard any raves for the choreography.

It is being produced by KQED with Great PEformances, and "Opus Arte" is listed in the end-credits of the preview, which, hopefully, means there's a chance it will be distributed on DVD.

According to the NBoC website, the cast is:

Sugarplum Fairy: Heather Ogden

Peter/The Nutcracker: Guillaume Côté

Snow Queen and her Icicles: Xiao Nan Yu, Etienne Lavigne, Nehemiah Kish

Baba: Victoria Bertram

Uncle Nikolai: Piotr Stanczyk

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Helene--do you know how these cities are chosen? It seems odd that most of them are small cities. I was just thinking how much fun it would have been to see the SFB one in particular at a movie house on Saturday and the LABallet one live on Sunday, which I will. It sounds cryptic to me, but also that even though more people would see these things in New York even with NYCB Nutcracker, and other big cities, maybe there are problems of scheduling that make them have to show them where they can be shown. I wouldn't mind seeing NBoC either, but would choose SFB among those showing theirs if I were in Winnipeg. I've gotten less curmudgeonly in the last several years and thoroughly enjoy Christmas for some reason, so could definitely tolerate at least 2 Nutcrackers in one season.

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I have no idea. I know when the Met started their broadcasts, I had to travel an hour south of Seattle, after which they added a theater on the East Side (closer, but I rarely go there on the weekends) and then, eventually downtown Seattle. It took a while for the negotiations to take place to expand the theater networks. This may be an experiment.

I would think that since NBoC gets substantial public subsidies, but rarely ventures outside of Toronto, this is a cost-effective way to "share" the company without the cost of a major tour, and certainly without losing revenue during the lucrative "Nutcracker" season.

I'm not sure what kind of deal SFB made. Sad that both are on the same day. I love Cote much more than I dislike Kudelka.

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Digiscreen is a Canadian company based in Montreal that has made a deal to screen Opus Arte content. Apparently Empire Theatres, a Canadian movie chain, has decided to screen the programs. The Digiscreen Channelizer shows tantalizing clips of Alina Cojocaru in The Sleeping Beauty, though I can't find any show dates on the Empire Theatres site as yet. (If this means that Opus Arte is planning to issue the ballet on DVD, I'll be very pleased indeed.) Presumably at this point there are relatively few U.S. movie chains that have Digiscreen delivery systems.

My guess would be that the NBoC/Cineplex Odeon and Opus Arte/Empire deals were being worked out simultaneously. The NBoC press announcement was made on November 20, while Digiscreen made its announcement on December 3. It is a pity that most people won't have an opportunity to see both Nutcracker broadcasts, but I suppose there's only one Saturday matinee before Christmas.

It's interesting that both Cineplex Odeon and Empire Theatres show the Met broadcasts. Last season in my city of residence they split the dates between them. This year Empire is showing the operas in its home base of Atlantic Canada, while Cineplex Odeon has rights to the rest of the country. That's Canada for you. Everything's always one step away from total monopoly.

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This makes sense: it seems to me that San Francisco Ballet's strategy is to position itself as one of the world's best companies. To use a figure skating analogy, SFB can't win the national title, but it trying for respect from the international judging community, like Sasha Cohen when she competed against Michelle Kwan.

If they can broadcast outside of the US and become the "Nutcracker" of choice, the company that people recognize, then they are one step closer to bypass the judgement of US critics.

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The almost complete casting has been posted to the SFB website:

Nutcracker Matinee


Conductor: Robert Wood

Drosselmeyer: Ricardo Bustamante

Queen and King of the Snow: Julianne Kepley, Anthony Spaulding

Sugar Plum Fairy: Sarah Van Patten

Grand Pas de Deux: TBA

I've never seen Kepley or Spaulding in solo roles (or at least that I can remember). A broacast (and, hopefully DVD) is quite a coup for this soloist/corps pair.

I think it's going to be SFB at Empire Granville 7 Cinemas on Saturday :wink: (And for us West coasters, the performance starts at a more reasonable 1pm [vs. 11am]).

ETA: I just bought a ticket online -- it was $22.15 (Canadian) with all fees for an adult ticket. (I've got my fingers crossed for Nedvigin in the Grand Pas de Deux.)

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Eric Dawson of the Ottawa Citizen weighs in on the screenings in his "Naughty & nice" column:

Tripping up: Alberta Ballet artistic director Jean Grand-Maitre is a smart man -- one too clever, you'd think, to object publicly when the National Ballet announced it was getting on the arts-in-cinemas bandwagon Dec. 22 with its production of The Nutcracker. Grand-Maitre's point was that he's fighting to pay the bills with his company's own Nutcracker and doesn't need competition. But we could use more arts programming at the multiplex.

The day when the Shaw and Stratford festivals, the Vancouver Recital Society, Alberta Ballet and the Montreal Symphony all are available live-by-satellite at the local popcorn emporium will benefit everyone, providing national exposure for the nation's artists and a new revenue stream for Canadian arts companies.


Wouldn't it be ironic if the older theaters that have been converted into movie houses were to become the epicenter of live performing arts via satellite?

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