Last week in a first for me, JF and I tried out event cinema in France. We spent the evening at Covent Garden, along with Darcey Bussell, Fiona Bruce and Carlos Acosta but this didn’t involve flights, hotels and expensive tickets; we didn’t leave France, in fact we didn’t even leave our own local area. In the somewhat shabby 1970s surrounds of the Alma Cinema at the CIV lycée in Sophia-Antipolis/Valbonne, a place where I’m more used to watching student plays and attending parents’ meetings, we were transported to the glamour and excitement of a live ballet performance from the Royal Opera House in London.
We went to watch a quadruple bill of 4 very different ballets from The Royal Ballet relayed live from London. I liked the idea of 4 short dances rather than one long one to ease me back into classical ballet as I must admit it’s been a few years since I last saw one. But little did I know what a treat we were in for, for it turned out we were witnessing The Royal Ballet’s lead male star Carlos Acosta perform for the last time at the ROH and he’d created a very special version of Carmen especially for the night. But more on that later.
First let me explain a bit more about how in fact we managed to watch a live performance from London in a cinema in France. Event Cinema, as it’s known, aims to bring the best in cultural entertainment – live opera and ballet, dynamic art exhibitions and theatre productions – to everyone, no matter where they live, at the affordable price of a local cinema ticket. The idea is to democratise what is often seen as elite entertainment. There are cinemas dotted across France (and the world, in fact more than 10,000 screens in over 70 countries participate in the scheme run by the Arts Alliance) and I happen to be lucky enough that my nearest is just down the road at my son’s school!
As I mentioned already, the cinema itself is a little tired, but the seats are super comfy and the sound quality is good. I didn’t really know what to expect with the actual live relay. I wondered what would happen during the long intervals, long enough for patrons at the Royal Opera House to stand in enormous queues for the loo and bar, remembering that the last time I was actually at Covent Garden I bumped into an old school friend I hadn’t seen for 15 years or so in one of those queues! There’d be no glass of bubbly or a pot of ice-cream for us at CIV cinema and JF and I joked that we should have brought our own. But we needn’t have worried. Of course we weren’t left just to twiddle our thumbs (and tweet our thoughts!) as the intervals, and time before the performance started, were filled with juicy extras like interviews with choreographers, glimpses behind the scenes and even a chat with Carlos Acosta himself. The BBC’s Fiona Bruce and ex-Prima Ballerina Darcey Bussell presented the evening, talking to the Director of The Royal Ballet and keeping us entertained. It was an added bonus that viewers inside the Opera House didn’t get and it well and truly made up for lack of atmosphere in the basic local cinema.
Back to the performances. I’m no ballet critic, I’m not an expert in dance at all, but I know what I like and I adored the programme. It was such a treat to watch world class ballet, to be immersed in the show and genuinely feel like we were there, inside the ROH in London. Shots of the audience settling into their seats as the lights dimmed set the scene and with the arrival of the conductor I forgot I was in the cinema. The perfectly clear sound really could have been coming from a live orchestra just a few rows ahead of me instead of a thousand miles away. At quiet moments it was possible to hear the tap tap tap of the ballerinas’ points scuttling across the floor, and the odd cough from the audience; sounds which made it “real”, sounds which I feel would have been edited out had this just been a film of a theatre performance.
And just as I felt we got more out of the evening from the behind the scenes films, I also loved the occasional close-ups of the dancers’ faces showing their emotions in heightened detail. I felt we had the best seats in the house. Acosta’s Carmen was the highlight for me – the set, lighting design and costumes were brilliantly simple, raw and beautiful. The musical adaptation of Bizet’s opera into 55 minutes with singers from the Royal Opera and drummers and guitarists on stage was dramatic, unusual and perfectly complemented the intense passion of the dance. I got goose bumps when the castanets rippled through the silence. But above all I felt it was a privilege to watch the greatest male dancer of a generation perform for the last time in one of the most magnificent theatres in the world. I felt I was there; what a night!
So while a night at the local cinema doesn’t have the excitement and sense of occasion as an evening at Covent Garden it doesn’t come with the hassle or the price-tag either. We left home half an hour before the show started, parked right outside the cinema for free and were home again 20 minutes after it ended. You’d have to live very, very centrally in London to be able to do that! And I haven’t even mentioned cost. Tickets at the Alma Cinema at the CIV are 12€ or 8€ for subscribers (subscription costs are 15€ individual, 25 € family, 5€ student), (prices elsewhere will vary.)
I went to this performance in my capacity as an Ambassador for the Arts Alliance and was kindly given 2 tickets for the purpose of review (but all opinions are my own). The aim of the Arts Alliance Ambassadors is to try and “increase access to the arts and help people understand that the barriers that might have stood in their way previously, such as cost, geography or simply believing that the arts weren’t for them, are no longer there”. I hope by reading this some of you might be tempted to go along to a future performance, either at the CIV or elsewhere in the world. In the words of Liam Scarlett, choreographer at The Royal Ballet, “dance is wonderful because it can be read and understood by everyone….the dancers are telling you something with their bodies and no matter what language you speak you can understand them“.
The next performance of the Royal Ballet at the CIV is The Nutcracker, and what’s Christmas without The Nutcracker? What a festive treat to look forward to, I can’t wait! It’s on Wednesday 16 December at 8.15pm (tickets from 7.30pm on the night, no advance booking available.)
For the full programme of upcoming events at the CIV check here (CIV also shows live relays from Milan, Rome and Venice).
On the Côte d’AZur there are also participating cinemas in Beaulieu sur Mer, Vence and Nice.
To find a cinema near you wherever you are in the world and get the programme check here.
Please excuse the quality of my photos, all taken on an ancient dying iPhone from the back of the cinema in the dark except the lovely first one (and Pin) provided by the Arts Alliance!