‘Swan Lake Live’ leaps into the 3-D theater scene

What does the cutting-edge, digital 3-D world of James Cameron have in common with the centuries-old Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia?

For the last few years the venerated ballet company, which dates back to the 18th century, has been exploring ways to create a live 3-D broadcast of one of its stage productions and has partnered with the Cameron-Pace Group, the 3-D technology company in Burbank founded by Cameron and cinematographer Vince Pace in 2011.

On Thursday, Mariinsky dancers will leap off the screen in a live broadcast of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” The ballet will be transmitted from the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg to 50 different countries via satellite, though viewers in Los Angeles will have to experience it in a time-delayed fashion, with screenings starting at 6:30 p.m.


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“Swan Lake Live” will be the first ballet production to be broadcast live in 3-D. In the last two years, the Mariinsky created pre-recorded 3-D versions of “Giselle” and “The Nutcracker” that were shown in cinemas around the world.

Thursday’s performance of “Swan Lake,” featuring Ekaterina Kondaurova in the lead double role, will be captured by cameras on seven separate rigs situated around the Mariinsky. The 71-person technical crew consists of people from Burbank, Great Britain and Russia.

Preparation for the broadcast has been a technically challenging process, according to John Brooks, an executive at Cameron Pace, who is helping to oversee Thursday’s transmission.

Not only do the U.S. and Europe have different video standards, he said on the phone from Russia, but the performance will be uploaded to satellite in two different formats so that cinemas can also screen it in 2-D.

The crew has to determine a frame rate that will be optimal for both formats. “Honestly, I don’t think we’ll make a decision until next rehearsal,” Brooks said on Tuesday.

Cameron-Pace conducted preliminary tests for the broadcast at its Burbank facility when the Mariinsky was touring California in 2012. The company has worked on live 3-D broadcasts of sporting events and concerts, but this is its first experience with ballet.

“Swan Lake Live” will be available in 3-D in only 70 cinemas in the U.S. because many theaters aren’t equipped for live 3-D broadcasts. It will be shown in 2-D in more than 300 theaters nationwide.


In Southern California, cinemas that will feature the 3-D version include the Rave Cinema 18 in Los Angeles, the Edwards Long Beach 26 and the Century Huntington Beach 20.

“It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation. There has not been enough content to date for a mass expansion across the U.S.,” said Dan Diamond, a senior vice president at NCM Fathom, the distributor handling the broadcast of “Swan Lake” in the U.S.

Cinemas need special equipment that can handle the two separate broadcast streams required for live 3-D. When the Mariinsky presented its pre-recorded 3-D versions of “Giselle” and “The Nutcracker,” the movies were delivered to cinemas on hard drives, said Diamond.

Ticket prices for the 3-D version of “Swan Lake” generally range from $15 to $18 nationwide, while the 2-D version is less expensive at $10 to $15, according to a Fathom spokeswoman.

Valery Gergiev, the Mariinsky’s artistic and general director, will conduct Thursday’s performance.

“I was thinking about doing this for a long time,” he said by phone from Russia. “To be honest, I have many other things to worry about … but I think 3-D in ballet can be magical.”

“Swan Lake Live” is being produced by Glass Slipper Live Events, a British company specializing in bringing dance productions to movie theaters. The broadcast will be archived for future repeat screenings, said Ann McGuire, executive producer at Glass Slipper.

The Mariinsky brought its “Swan Lake” to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa last year. A Times review called it an “experience of classicism that few can duplicate 117 years after the ballet’s premiere.”


‘Swan Lake Live’

What: Mariinsky Ballet’s cinematic broadcast of “Swan Lake” in 2-D and 3-D

Where: Local movie theaters

When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday

Tickets: Varies by location