"The Russians can’t get reception!” All the cinemas in the other countries have received our satellite signal. The test of all the connections went well. But it appears that we’re not coming through in Moscow. What do we do now? Just two days to go and the Dutch National Ballet’s Nutcracker will be shown live in ten Russian cinemas. At least that’s the idea. Seventy other cinemas in ten (!) different countries have also put our Nutcracker on their programme. But if the Russians can’t receive us, we’ve got a problem.
It seems simple. If our TomTom can continually tell us where to go via a satellite, and Google Earth can make us feel like we’re pushing the buttons of a space station ourselves, then broadcasting two hours of ballet shouldn’t be complicated. We just record the performance, hire a satellite from a professional company and send the signal off into space, where it’s plucked from the ether by a dish near the cinema. And then we’re live. Aren’t we?
Apparently not. The list of all the things that can go wrong with a live broadcast is endless. If there are gusts of wind in Amsterdam, the satellite can’t unfold its antenna because there’s a danger it might break off. If we’re in the middle of a heavy thunderstorm above Amsterdam, there could be interference. If a pigeon is sitting on the receiver of the cinema in question, they won’t get a picture. And if the receiver’s frequencies have the wrong settings, you can forget it. It can’t be helped.
This sort of helplessness must be the worst for our AVC crew. So they’ve done all they can to have a solution ready for every eventuality. For instance, the performance was recorded three days in advance as a precaution, and the hard copy was sent to the satellite centre in Winchester. In case of a calamity in Amsterdam, the English can then put the signal on the satellites reserved for Nutcracker, as there’s always a possibility that we couldn’t dance in Amsterdam on the day of the live broadcast. There could be a bomb scare, for instance, or the centre of Amsterdam could be hit by a power cut.
The camera angles and settings have also been prepared with great thoroughness. 3 Minutes West, the production company run by ex-dancers that has also played such a big role in our three previous successful recordings, has written an extremely detailed script. Every shot by each of the six cameras has been meticulously recorded. This is absolutely essential for Nutcracker, as there’s a lot of action on stage, particularly in Act 1. You have to decide which scenes to film in close-up and when to show the whole stage. And which characters you should focus on and how best to do justice to the dancing. This involves 120 minutes’ worth of decisions, all of which need to have been prepared. So live may be live, but it’s nowhere near spontaneous.
The same applies to the programme that is shown in the cinema before curtain-up and during the interval. As the interval starts in The Amsterdam Music Theatre, the film-goer gets a glimpse behind the scenes, as our dancer Wendeline Wijkstra goes backstage to interview the principals in the performance. After Act 1, they leave the stage drenched in sweat and after answering a couple of quick questions they rush to the dressing room to prepare for Act 2. Or so we believe. But these recordings weren’t made while the regular audience were drinking their cup of coffee. They were made three days earlier, during the back-up performance. Although the ‘feeling’ is just the same in the real interval of a real performance, the shots are not actually live. By making them earlier, you can edit (cut and paste), so that an awkward answer can be shot again or a better camera angle found. So once again there is less risk of something going wrong live.
And yet it is precisely this short that goes wrong on the big day. The machine we’ve hired for playing the previously recorded film breaks down (a chance of 1 in a 100,000). It’s fixed quickly, but it really upsets the AVC crew. “If we’d had the film earlier, we could at least have tested it properly and then this wouldn’t have happened!” they said.
But never mind. The broadcast is a success. It’s an exciting thought that in London and Barcelona, in Riga and Dublin, in Berlin and Moscow, in Florence and Munich, and a whole list of other cities, countless people were watching our Nutcracker. Watching that wonderful, typically Dutch and absolutely timeless version by Toer van Schayk and Wayne Eagling, which has already been watched in the Netherlands by over 250,000 (!) people and has once again sold out every night. And soon we will be releasing a DVD of this production as well. This is concrete proof of the fact that not only do we have a fantastic team of dancers, but also a fantastic technical crew who can make a success of this sort of project.
And the Russians? They’d forgotten to tell us that it had snowed on the day the satellite connections were tested. Ice on the receivers had caused interference. But Russia had nice weather on the big day itself.
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