You know you're watching a high definition (HD) television channel because all the station ident logos, like the one above, have lots of wispy clouds of colour floating around to emphasise the fact there is more detail in the picture. They also add the "HD" tag onto absolutely everything lest the poor viewer becomes confused about why their television picture has been a bit rubbish for the last 50 years.
Over the Christmas break we, here in TheLab™ were lucky enough to catch the BBC's broadcast of a couple of Royal Ballet performances in all their aforementioned HD glory and a couple of things immediately became apparent.
First of all ballet dancers, no matter what other skills they may posses, couldn't act their way out of wet paper bag with a big hole in it decorated with a large flashing neon sign, in pink obviously, saying "Exit"!
The simplistic facial expressions and gestures that ballet choreographers use to describe everything from "I love you" to "there's an army massing to the east, a force 10,000 strong, shouldn't we do something about that your highness?" are exposed for what they are. That is; nothing more than filler in-between the interesting bits. Unfortunately the interesting bits in Kenneth MacMillan's version of 'Romeo and Juliet', one of the performances on offer, are few and far between but that's another story.
When the BBC cuts to its frequent close ups on the dancers "acting" all you really get is Carlos Acosta with a sweaty face and neck looking a bit dim-witted. Tamara Rojo's frightening make up was no better!
Mimes in ballet were supposed to be seen from a minimum distance of about 30 feet and even at that range nobody is being fooled.
The other problem is the BBC. They can't shoot dance. For some reason the producer/director of the filming on both occasions (the other performance was Darcy Bussell's excruciatingly long farewell show) was trying to pretend that the dancers were not in an auditorium.
In a desperate attempt to keep the frame full and the front edge of the stage out of the shot the dancer's feet were getting cut off all too often or they were so tight to the bottom of the screen the framing looked awkward. Only when they retreated to the middle or rear of the stage was the shooting acceptable.
Broadcast television has two mantras which are; "Fill the Frame" and "the more edits the better", or words to that effect. Like a school boy/girl on a sugar high the director was chopping the shots all over the place including some ill-advised hand held work from the wings. Whomever this person was, we couldn't find out at the time of writing, needs to learn that a live theatrical performance is not an episode of Eastenders. Applying a little more subtlety and craft in the shooting and editing departments is what's needed.
It's a shame because HD video is perfect for dance. The image quality was superb and the level of detail in the wide angle and full frame shots of the dancers, when they were framed properly, was stunning. Sure, the limitations of the dancers acting ability was thrown into sharp focus but you don't go to a dance performance for good acting.
It will be interesting to see some contemporary work in this new format, I wonder who will get there first?