Live On Screen v. Live On Stage

Nutcracker Suite

Photo by Kevin Trotman — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

The Nutcracker is not known for causing controversies, but in Canada there is a bit of Prince v. Mouse King battle of consequences.

As posted this week in our Fest News feed, the National Ballet of Canada will be streaming, in high def, a live performance of The Nutcracker to sixty-nine movie theatres across Canada on December 22. The live performance will take place from the National’s season at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto.

The National’s production received rave reviews last year from Toronto’s Globe and Mail. Following on New York’s Met Opera initiative, the National hopes to introduce new audiences to the company, to ballet, and to the season’s sweetest seller.

However, where there is sweet, there is sour.

Jean Grand-Maître, the highly regarded artistic director of the Alberta Ballet, questions the timing, choice, and impact on his company. December 22 is the last Saturday before Christmas, which has been a well sold night for Alberta Ballet’s season in Calgary. Alberta Ballet, as with so many ballet companies, plays its own version of The Nutcracker during the holiday season. Grand-Maître fears that the National is going to take audiences away from his and other ballet companies who present Nutcracker on the same night.

Perhaps, to make matters a bit worse, what’s the tag line for Alberta Ballet’s season? “Like Nothing You’ve Seen Before.” Maybe they should change it to, “Like Nothing You Could Be Seeing At The Same Time.”

Still, the original tag line reveals both the problem and the opportunity.

The problem is that every ballet feels compelled to offer The Nutcracker during this holiday — a traditional choice that is as much about the work’s seasonal connection as it about boosting ticket sales. The opportunity, though, arrives in the variety of the productions.

Only in dreary school assembly halls are any two nutcrackers similar. Choreographers have been putting their own unique stamp on productions for as long as Clara’s been dreaming.

Is it possible Alberta will lose a few audience members to the movieplex? Sure. It’s also possible that Grand-Maître has built a loyal following from his work, ingenuity, and community connections.

Surely, we all need to get behind any initiative that helps new audiences discover the arts, culture, and live entertainment.

Moreover, why not begin to help audiences discover the gains to be had from seeing the same material through different lenses/productions?

We know audiences love repeat exposure to their favorites: think video rentals, pop radio playlist, and, god knows, television syndication.

We also know that audiences love repeat exposure to the same material, but with differences of approach, angle, or time: think car chase + movies, the porn business, and the Rolling Stones in concert.

If they sell so well, maybe there’s no such thing as too many Nutcrackers, after all.

- Bill Reichblum

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