"People across the country will see this ballet for the first time," said executive producer John Goberman. "We give the viewer a front row seat."
Both the television viewers and in-house audience will see the same performance, but the broadcast is designed to tell the story with maximum drama on screen. And that drama was part of the reason that Martins selected the ballet: "You have ample opportunity to get inside, to get the close ups, and to capture the choreography. I felt there was an opportunity to get the audience engaged."
During the broadcast, there will be eight cameras strategically placed throughout the David H. Koch Theater: two cameras onstage (controlled remotely); four in the Orchestra level audience seats; one at the center of the First Ring; and one on the right side of the Second Ring.
No camera shot or angle will be left to chance. "It's fair to say that the camera work is as scripted as what's on stage," said Goberman.
The process of scripting the broadcast begins with director Alan Skog. A veteran member of the Live From Lincoln Center team, Skog starts by watching archival footage of a previous performance and analyzing every movement, gesture and interaction. "I sit with the score in front of me and imagine how to present it best to a television audi- ence," he said. "I am always looking for the drama that is going on."
The challenge with dance is that the viewer naturally wants to see head-to-toe shots of the dancers, but at the same time, there may be something additional happening on stage that is central to the narrative. In order to convey the full story, a carefully crafted series of close-ups and wide angles must be worked out to show both expressions and movement. The director decides on each of those moves.
"In a duel, I am not just shooting two guys chopping away at each other," said Skog. "There are important reaction shots to get. When Mercutio and Tybalt mix it up for the first time, Romeo is thinking: 'This is stupid. Get over yourselves.' His reaction is important, as is the crowd's."
In general, when the performers are engaged in more acting than dancing, the camera can capture it closely. "When Paris leans in to give Juliet a kiss, they're not moving, so I can go in closer," said Skog.
Each shot is transcribed into a camera script and given a number so that each cameraman will know his role in the sequence. But at this stage, it's all written down in pencil: Even though it may look good to the director, the choreographer gets to have his say. Skog and Martins go over the ballet shot by shot to see if there are trouble spots or if a change in the choreography is needed.
"If the director has a fantastic idea, I'm open to it," said Martins. "I grew up with Balanchine, and we used to go to Nashville to film his ballets. I used to sit with him in the control room, and I was always so impressed with how flexible he was. He would re-choreograph something in the studio in order to translate it to the screen."
The flexibility works both ways: "I have a big eraser with me," said Skog. "I will make his corrections and come back again with draft two."
From the producer's perspective, this is the central difference between working with a ballet as opposed to an opera. "When we broadcast dance, the choreographer is part of the process, which is not true in opera. Puccini's not with us," said Goberman. "It's a collaboration with the choreographer. We did that a lot with Balanchine. And we have done that with Peter."
But even with all the back-and-forth, no one really knows if the script will work until the first rehearsal, which happens about a week before the broadcast. When the crew sets up and runs through the work, changes may be necessary. "Maybe the dancers won't line up the way I thought they would," said Skog. "I deal with issues such as shots that happen too fast or that just don't work."
By the night of the broadcast, every cameraman will know his exact angle and timing in this elaborate plan. Skog will oversee it all from the best seat in the house: which is not even in the house, but in a van parked outside. "What I'll have in front of me is my script and camera monitors showing me what every camera is seeing," he said. "A house audience member has only one seat. But I have eight."
Even so, members of the audience who are present on the night of the broadcast are usually privy to an added level of excitement in the air. "It's as much a performance for us as it is for the dancers," said Goberman. "With a couple of exceptions, every performance [broadcast by Live From Lincoln Center] has been a better performance for the people in the house."
And the hope is that the high quality will inspire the home audience to come see the Company perform live. "I'm in the business of dreaming," said Martins. "My hope is that everyone will see it, and say 'That was fabulous. We have to go see it onstage.'"
Romeo + Juliet will be performed May 15, 16, 17, 19 and 21. The final performance, at 8 PM, will be broadcast by Live From Lincoln Center. Check local PBS listings.
For live performance tickets and information, visit New York City Ballet.
Pia Catton writes about the arts, culture, and fashion.