Outdoor Simulcast of Paris Opéra Ballet Proves Harris Theater, Pritzker Dynamic Duo

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“Giselle,” performed by the Paris Opéra Ballet and the Grant Park Orchestra in Harris Theater, simulcast at Pritzker Pavilion, points to a multi-media future for Millennium Park. 

By Nancy Malitz

The best antidote to Chicago temperatures in the nineties is this surpassingly cool prospect — free Millennium Park concerts at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, where the sound is superb and the ceiling’s a canopy of stars.

Cooler still was the addition of big screen video to this outdoor mix that a huge crowd enjoyed June 27, when the Paris Opéra Ballet’s exquisite production of “Giselle” was projected live via the big screen, from inside the Harris Theater, to the traditional classical-loving audience of the Grant Park Orchestra.  (The Paris ballet continues in residence at the Harris through Sunday.)

There’s so much more to video presentation than just hanging up a big screen.  It’s costly to broadcast high-quality sound and video, and it’s quite risky from an artistic standpoint.  The camera crew must engage in its own choreography to catch the action in a way that underscores the drama and harmonizes with the music. The overall effect needs to heighten the experience for its intended audience.

That’s why it was so encouraging to see this remarkable “Giselle” take flight in a well-conceived, beautifully executed video production that drew upon the talent of video and film director Bruce Bryant, who has done similar work for the Houston Grand Opera, the Washington National Opera and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The technology, including a 32 by 16 foot LED screen, was handled by Staging Solutions, which is experienced in providing temporary multimedia set-ups for Las Vegas conventions and the like.

The result was manna for the capacity outdoor crowd,  which Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a big supporter, had estimated at as many as 15,000 people.  They saw two legendary stars of the company – Nicolas Le Riche, as the prince who toys with a peasant girl, and Clairemarie Osta, irrepressively graceful as the heartbroken heroine who nevertheless saves him.  (Both have had long careers with the Paris Opéra Ballet, and Osta made her official farewell at the end of the company’s current season.)

The female corps de ballet, in diaphanous white, forms the famous centerpiece of the second act, when these ghosts of jilted fiancées gather at night to wreak relentless revenge on unsuspecting mortal males. The effect was transfixing and eerily delicate as their game played out under the stars, especially once Giselle began her other-worldly efforts to save the remorseful prince from his dance with death. The crowd joined in whenever the Harris audience applauded; the feeling of excitement, of connectedness to the actual event taking place a few yards away, was palpable.

If local leaders need a proof of concept, they surely got it.  It’s quite possible to do video well at the Pritzker. Is it affordable on a routine basis? Probably not yet, at least with current budgets, although the marketing potential for the Harris Theater, which should be better known for its brilliantly diverse programming and dynamic young audience, seems clear enough.

As for the City of Chicago and its reputation as a cultural destination for arts of all kinds, the pairing of video with the vast crowd potential of Millennium Park’s pavilion and lawn seems a no-brainer. One thinks of the value to New York City of the central plaza at Lincoln Center, which is rimmed on three welcoming sides by homes for the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet and the New York Philharmonic, with additional theaters and open spaces all along that cultural corridor.  Throughout the summer, free programming spills out into this area, and marquee simulcasts are always big news.  Crowds flock there to take pictures, including plenty of families and young people who could be part of the paying throng, but aren’t quite yet.

The Grant Park Orchestra continues regular programming this weekend with Orff’s raucous and ribald “Carmina Burana.”  Meanwhile, there are three more chances this weekend to catch the Paris Opéra Ballet before the company heads to its next stop, the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.  The weekend program includes three choreographic settings of well-known French compositions including Ravel’s “Bolero.”

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Photo captions and credits: Home page, top and below: Crowds were at capacity for the simulcast of  Paris Opéra Ballet’s “Giselle,” presented by the Harris Theater to a free audience at Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion.  (Courtesy of Harris Theater) Above: The female corps de ballet of the Paris Opéra Ballet. (Sebastién Mathé)

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