Ballet on the Big Screen

by Don Westwood
Have you heard of a company called Emerging Pictures? No? How about their brands- Opera in Cinema and Ballet in Cinema? Maybe not. I’m not surprised. Emerging Pictures is just now beginning to “emerge” in the Jacksonville market. This company distributes top-notch cultural programming (mostly European) to about 200 movie theaters across the United States. At the moment, their product is seen at only two locations in our area- the Carmike Theaters in Fleming Island and Amelia Island. More about the company in a minute. First, a look at the product.
I went to Fleming Island on the afternoon of January 19th to attend a live feed performance of Giselle from the Royal Ballet in London. Frankly, I expected it to be good. Giselle is a popular romantic ballet, and the Royal Ballet is a top international company. An unusual story (based on a poem by Heinrich Heine), interesting and demanding roles for the dancers, and an ageless musical score by Adolphe Adam, have kept Giselle on-stage for over 150 years. All that taken into account, I was not prepared for this experience. In a word: SENSATIONAL! The performance itself was flawless. Prepared to the most exacting standard, and executed with the discipline and abandon achievable only by the world’s greatest artists, this performance was worthy of the millions of people comprising its international audience.
A key element here is the technology that allows this kind of presentation to happen, along with the technical and artistic skills required to deliver a thrilling audience experience. On the technical side, the exhibiting theater must have the highest quality digital projection and sound equipment. A distribution company such as Emerging Pictures provides a digital server as a conduit for the live performance. The technology also allows the theater to “store forward” the event for encore performances.
As for the artistic side of the delivery system, specifically directing for transmission, this Giselle simulcast was the best I have seen. Shot selection and camera movement, designed in brilliant cinematic fashion, became a human eye that pinpointed the stage action, advancing the story and underscoring virtuosic pyrotechnics. Switching (directorial execution of the shots) was precise to the nanosecond. The short statement on this is: WOW!
Moving on to the distribution company, Emerging Pictures, imagine that you and a few associates have major experience in consumer electronics, broadcasting and independent film production and distribution. The new Millennium is ticking away, with dramatic advances in visual imaging and audio popping up daily. Even with home entertainment exploding and multiplex movie theaters focusing mainly on blockbusters, you and your associates believe there’s a niche for high-quality classical entertainment- things like opera and ballet- on movie theater screens. You create a company on your home turf, New York City.
You try your niche concept in a test market- Scranton, PA- and it bombs. Rust belt town, wrong audience demographics, problems like that. So you try it in another market- Wilmington, DE. Guess what- it works! You built it and they came.
Meanwhile, a major arts organization, New York’s Metropolitan Opera- under the leadership of a new General Manager, Peter Gelb- is having similar ideas. One thing leads to another, and pretty soon your company is on board as one of the outfits participating in the Met’s first season of telecasts to movie theaters across the nation. Amid groans from the “this will never work” crowd, during Season 2006/2007, world-class opera from the stage of the Met plays to sold-out houses in hundreds of movie theaters. People raised on the Met’s long run of Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts, and their descendants, are amazed at the technology. However, for Emerging Pictures, there’s a big sour note in this Cinderella sonata: the Met drops your company after the first season. Now what?
If you’re Emerging Pictures, led by scrappy executives such as managing partner Ira Deutchman, you get up off the mat and get busy. Some three years later, Emerging Pictures has locked up distribution deals with top European producing organizations, including Opus Arte (Royal Opera, Royal Ballet, etc.), the French company Cielecran- literally “Sky Screen” (Bolshoi Opera, Bolshoi Ballet, etc.), and Italy’s Rai (La Scala, etc.). Again: WOW! “We work with local venues to create the best mix of programming,” says Deutchman. “We customize programming to suit local demand.” Emerging Pictures is currently expanding its network of multiplex cinemas and art houses. We wish them well as they line up more theaters in the Jacksonville area.
To check out Emerging Pictures on the internet, just enter the company name on any search engine. A selection of websites will pop up.