Backdrops for NBC’s Anna Karenina
Prepare. Commit. Leap. These words preceded the one the National Ballet of Canada chose as the overarching adjective for its collaborative production of Anna Karenina: “Soaring.”
Arts critics such as Michael Crabb of The Toronto Star, agree.
“Story ballets thrive on white-hot emotion,” Crabb writes, “but rarely does the mercury soar as high as it did in American-German choreographer John Neumeier’s…treatment of Anna Karenina that opened the National Ballet of Canada’s hometown season in its North American premiere.” This specific production, choreographed by John Neumeier, was a collaboration between the Hamburg Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada.
According to James Thornley, Director of Production for the National Ballet of Canada, each company created their own copy of the scenery, props and costumes. “The Hamburg Ballet was the first company to mount the production and their technical staff decided to print large format graphics on fabric,” Thornley explains. “The Bolshoi Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada took advantage of being second and third to build the production and piggybacked on the work already done for the Hamburg production.”
Challenges and Solutions
The scenic design for this magnificent production included large-scale graphics. Big Image Systems was added to the team to produce four gigantic seamless prints on Cloth 201 HzN: a 65’ x 35’ backdrop featuring sky and cloud art and three 34’-6.5” x 23’-7.5” election-scene drops, each of which featured multiple headshot photos of a specific dancer.
“As is quite often the case, that role was danced by multiple cast members,” Thornley says. “Consequently, three versions of that drop were required for three different dancers and that drop was rehung every performance to match the person who was dancing.”
Big Image’s digital experts assisted by creating the sky and cloud art for the fourth drop as well as the step-and-repeat motif for the election-scene drops. Big Image also helped by making sure the digital art was properly adjusted to suit the National Ballet of Canada’s venue.
“On one hand, because the drops were a recreation of an existing production, the process was very straight forward,” Thornley says. “On the other hand, the differences in the size and layout of the three venues meant small but important changes were required. So, it was a case of ‘make an exact copy, except…’ Big Image was very good at understanding those small adjustments.”
This was the first project the National Ballet of Canada completed with Big Image, but it won’t be the last.
“Everyone involved was very pleased with the results,” Thornley says. “The production was very well received by the audiences and will have a long life in our repertoire. Although as a classical ballet company we are steeped in tradition and use classical scenic art made by artists, there is definitely a place in our productions for large-format fabric drops, both as stand-alone pieces or in conjunction with traditional scenic art.”