The increasing popularity of "live" transmissions of performances — ballet and otherwise — from some of the best companies around the world has given even those in the hinterlands the opportunity to see artists and productions of exceptional quality for the price of a cinema ticket.
So I won't quibble with the fact that, in most cases, the screenings are not actually in real time. The screening of the Royal Ballet's "Giselle" Monday night, for example, was clearly delayed — unless they've taken to having midnight shows at London's Covent Garden. Nevertheless, with the imperfections left in — a rake falling over in Act I, a male dancer losing his balance on a kneeling landing, even an unintentionally transmitted remark when interviewer Darcy Bussell left her mic on by mistake — it was virtual enough to provide a remarkable rendition of ballet's most beloved Romantic classic, featuring Natalia Osipova, the former Bolshoi principal who joined the company on a part time basis last year, the Cuban star Carlos Acosta, with the Royal since 1998 and the Royal's heralded corps de ballet.
But why bother mentioning anyone besides Osipova? Everyone else faded into the background. Her breathtaking technique and daring phrasing were almost overpowering and her interpretation of a role danced by history's best ballerinas since its debut in 1841, intriguing if unusual.
Osipova gave a physical frailty to her peasant girl, while still managing an astounding athleticism and buoyancy. The mad scene at the end of Act I, when she collapses on learning of Albrecht betrayal only moments after flying through the air, is not only convincing, but almost macabre, in a way ballet is usually not.
In her Act II return as one of the Wilis, ghostly spectres of women scorned who dance to death the men who enter their kingdom, she alternates between ethereal other-worldliness and gritty evocations of her mortal self; her range is almost psychopathic.
But was I the only one who found the rest of the production underwhelming and her chemistry with Acosta lacking? The difference in their ages — she is 27; he, who has announced his retirement next season, is 40 — was part of it. Her overwhelming presence was the rest. She overshadowed even Acosta's enduring magnitism and his waning technique was all the more apparent next to her virtuosity.
As for the rest, Hikaru Kobayashi's Myrthe was a disappointment from her opening — and very unsteady — penché, to her lack of emotion (yes, the Queen of the Wilis is severe, but she doesn't have to be frozen-faced).
Thomas Whitehead was convincingly ardent as Giselle's suitor, Hilarion, and Christina Arestis as her mother appropriately protective. But Yuhui Choe and Valentino Zucchetti in the Act I pas de six were the only ones who drew my eyes away from Osipova.
That is, when I wasn't battling with the camera. All too frequently it zoomed in for freneticly changing closeups that made it all but impossible to admire the Royal's polished corps de ballet or the overall action. During Act I, it even made Osipova's facial expressions, meant for the back row seats, seem histrionic and overblown.
The art of how best to capture a ballet on film is still evolving. Still, that technology can bring a production of this caliber to the world — it was transmitted to 1,382 theaters in 30 countries — can only be commended. And who wasn't touched by the email and Twitter responses solicited from viewers, including this one, my favorite:
"At 70 years of age, my first ballet, seen in the cinema at Lucon, France. Stunning! Totally converted! What have I been missing all these years?"
GISELLE, live transmission from the Royal Ballet, part of the Royal Opera House cinema series. Reviewed at the Hollywood 20, Sarasota, on Jan. 27; next ballet transmission, "The Sleeping Beauty," Feb. 20. $15. www.roh.org.uk/cinemas.