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Dancing Screen

Author Jake Rudnitsky Illustration Graham Roumieu


Next time fans of 3-D technology see a willowy hero jump out of their screens, it won’t necessarily be a blue Na’vi warrior. On a cool night in downtown St. Petersburg, the Mariinsky Ballet, better known in the West as the legendary Kirov, is set to join the ranks of Vincent Price horror flicks and the recent James Cameron blockbuster by becoming the world’s first ballet to televise a live performance in 3-D.

The Mariinsky Theater has been outfitted with high-tech cameras for a gala concert, a medley of the company’s most acclaimed works, which is being broadcast for free across most of Europe. For viewers who have yet to buy a 3-D TV (just about everyone), the organizers have set up viewing salons in Paris, Moscow and here in St. Petersburg.

The house lights dim, the curtain opens, and after the orchestra quietly plays the first bars of Swan Lake, Mariinsky prima donna Ulyana Lopatkina takes the stage. For once, the best seat in the house isn’t the tsar’s box but the foyer outside the auditorium. That’s where Mariinsky’s superstar artistic director Valery Gergiev and assorted other theatrical VIPs don specially designed glasses and take in the show on a giant 3-D flat-screen. Immediately after the exhibition concert ends, the theater kicks off the 10th Mariinsky International Ballet Festival with the premiere of Anna Karenina. Unfortunately for viewers in Moscow and Paris, that performance can only be seen the old-fashioned way—by ticket holders.

Sports channels have already embraced 3-D, with ESPN, Discovery and Sky Sports all jumping on the bandwagon; now high culture is getting in on the act. New York’s Metropolitan Opera has been simulcasting performances in HD since 2006, but the Mariinsky appears to have taken the technological lead. “We need to continue to experiment,” Gergiev says with a smile, promising that this is only the beginning for the 150-year-old theater.

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