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Kirov Ballet in D.C. - Nutcracker


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 24 December 2003 - 11:28 AM

This is a controversial production. I expected to dislike it intensely, fan that I am (not) of "updated" classics, but I have to admit I was intrigued. The designs were children's storybook brought to the stage -- grotesque, imaginative, at times magical -- and I thought the choreographer tried to make his steps compliment the designs. The result wasn't always to my taste, and there were parts that just didn't make dramatic sense (it's one of those dark Nutcrackers.) And there are bits of every choreographer he's ever seen in it -- but that's often what young choreographers do.

I haven't yet talked with anyone who agrees with me, though : ) What did you think?

#2 djb

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Posted 24 December 2003 - 11:29 AM

Whose choreography is it?

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 24 December 2003 - 11:36 AM

Kirill Simonov, about whom I know nothing -- Marc, Andrei? I belileve this is his first ballet.

Designs are by Mihail Chemiakin. (I didn't want to write in detail, at least until others had responded.)

Edited by Alexandra, 29 December 2003 - 12:42 PM.


#4 Dale

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Posted 24 December 2003 - 11:53 AM

Simonov is a young dancer within the company. There was a long discussion about this production earlier in the year, with quotes from Russian reviewers.

http://balletalert.i...t=0

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 25 December 2003 - 08:49 AM

Copied over from Links (thanks, Ari):

The Kirov Ballet's new production of The Nutcracker by Mikhail Chemiakin and Kirill Simonov is reviewed in the Washington Post by Sarah Kaufman.

Of all the bizarre sights onstage as the Kirov Ballet performed "The Nutcracker" at the Kennedy Center on Tuesday night — the prominently displayed animal carcasses, the costumes festooned with cockroaches, the ballerinas' bump-and-grind — none delivered a shiver quite like that of the Queen of the Snowflakes. Stabbing her stiletto toes into the Opera House stage, she clawed the air and snarled big, black-lipsticked snarls, resembling no natural force so much as greasepaint rock star Gene Simmons of Kiss.




At their queen's command, the other flakes — taking a page from the Goth dress code, they were clothed head to toe in black, and studded with white puffballs — closed ranks around young Masha and her Nutcracker Prince. Things didn't look good for the pair until a decidedly ill-tempered Drosselmeyer appeared, berating the inky villainesses and shooing them offstage like a cranky Broadway director.



#6 DON HO

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Posted 25 December 2003 - 11:20 AM

I agree with Sarah's review, this production was a disappointment, although a bright spot was the Waltz of the Flowers. While one can appreciate the goal of "refreshing" the tried and true, this effort fell short and could be dubbed the drab and dreary. All of this could have been tolerated had the dancing been of the calabar for which the Kirov is famous. Let's hope that next week's Swan Lake will provide the opportunity to showcase these superb artists.

#7 Ari

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Posted 25 December 2003 - 08:30 PM

I attended two performances, Tuesday's and tonight's. There isn't much I have to say about the production. The enduring appeal of The Nutcracker — pace Jennifer Fisher — can be summed up in one word: Tchaikovsky. People love the music, and they go to the ballet hoping to see a visual equivalent, or at least something that coexists happily with the score. When a choreographer/stager decides to leave Tchaikovsky behind and go his own way, as Mikhail Chemiakin did here, he creates a schism between the aural and visual experience that is the opposite of what ballet should be. I don't see the point of this, but given the number of "dark" Nutcrackers around these days, I guess this is a minority view.
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This version needed two pages to summarize all the goings-on, but some of them I failed, in two viewings, to see onstage. For instance, the program says that in the second act candy scene, "doctors [stand] ready to pull rotten teeth or cure a sick stomach." They may have been there, but if so weren't given any mime to tell us what they were.
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Nonetheless, this ballet is stuffed with incident, so many that sometimes two or more things are going on onstage simultaneously, and you're not sure what to watch. Even when the narrative is clear, the point of it all remains a mystery. Why are the Stahlbaums and their guests so odious? Why are the snowflakes murderous? If this were a Soviet-era production you could guess that Chemiakin was lampooning the bourgeousie. Maybe he is. Maybe this is his commentary on the New Russia. :yawn:
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With all this going on, choreographer Kirill Simonov doesn't have much to do, but what he does do is undistinguished. His choreography relies a lot on big Bolshoi-style split jet&eacute;s and rolling around on the floor (the snowflakes lie on their backs and kick their legs in the air, like children having a temper tantrum), plus some sweeping arm movements in the Waltz of the Flowers. Many of the second act divertissements are danced in triplicate, which gets monotonous. The otherwise classical second act pas de deux (the one usually danced by Sugar Plum) is vulgarly interrupted by some naturalistic kissing, and ends with a saucy Masha taking her Prince's hand and giving him a look that clearly says, "Cm'on, let's do it!" and the two of them running off together.
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Except for the Princes, it's impossible to take the measure of dancers given this kind of material. Both Princes I saw, Andrei Merkuriev on Tuesday and Leonid Sarafanov tonight, were elegant and precise. Natalya Sologub did all she was asked to do as Masha (but what is the story with her violently red hair &mdash; is this a wig, or has she dyed it?), and Daria Pavlenko (on Tuesday) and Tatiana Tkachenko (tonight) glowered malevolently as the Queen of the Snowflakes. Incidentally, no announcement of any kind was made of Diana Vishneva's replacement by Sologub at this evening's performance (Vishneva is apparently a no-show for this engagement). The Kirov may be used to treating its audience with contempt, but the Kennedy Center is not, and it knew of the replacement on Tuesday. The only reason I'm sure that Sarafanov actually danced tonight is because I checked out his photos on Marc Haegeman's site (thanks, Marc!).
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Well, on to Swan Lake. At least I know what to expect there.

#8 MYBkid

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Posted 25 December 2003 - 09:50 PM

Well let me tell you it sure is not a Nutcracker to see on Christmas night!!! I am a very open minded person the sky is the limit but this....lost me.....there was so much going on that at some points for the first time I had to read the program to see....where is this going (with all the sub plots going on)?I did get the whole idea of the interpretation.

It is not my kind of interpretation but I must say I am fascinated that there are choreographers out there that will go to that extreme. By the end everything seemed to take a sudden turn and the whole mood changed by the pas de deux. After the whole tone being sad you then see the nutcracker and Masha run into each others arms, which is refreshing. The dancers themselves were amazing there were certain ones I saw that stood out. I had to look past the choreography.

I thought the sweets dances were weak...not much there...and the Mother Ginger dance wow was that bizarre. I felt that the solos and variations that Masha danced were strange....not even really in with the music. I think most of all the solos she did were out of place with the music. Also the electric orange hair did not endear me. She individually though an extraordinary dancer. Fritz scared me!! As did the revolving ball projected during what is normally the christmas star, or spirit of christmas :grinning:

There were points where I would think yes I know what he is trying to do but it just didn't end up to my liking. I can go for new, differnt, and strange but I just don't think I cared for this version.

I am really looking forward to seeing Swan Lake though, because I think the dancers of the Kirov are amazing and I know that Swan Lake will be...Swan Lake. I also remember loving Sleeping Beauty they did here a few years ago.

Well I certainly don't think this is a production to bring the kiddies to :unsure:

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 26 December 2003 - 10:01 AM

I'm of very mixed mind about this production. On the one hand, I agree with every point that's been made here, and with Sarah Kaufman's review. I don't think this Nutcracker was ready for export. But looking at this as the work of a young choreographer, I found what he was doing very exciting and I'd like to see more of his work.

First, any version of the Nutcracker that "discovers" that the Hoffmann tale is darker than the music and is lured down that path is going to have problems, because the music is telling a different story. End of story. And for the Kirov, which always puts the music first, to go down the "wow! look at this! it's grotesque!" path will lead to insurmountable problems.

That said, I liked Chemiakin's designs very much -- it's the only Nutcracker I've seen where the divertissements are actually related to the "sweets" they represent (the Chinese dancers enter in teapots) for example, and the overall look is the kind of imaginative grotesquerie from children's storybooks. It sets the stage: everyone, except Masha and Drosselmeyer, is fat. Even Fritz is stout -- a loutish boy. And because of this, he doesn't look like a man playing a child's role (something I don't think works). He's oversized, like everyone else.

The designs are so grotesque and the libretto is so dark -- what is the choreographer to do? Make grotesque dances, or pretend that the designs aren't there and do a conventional version? I agree with Sarah Kaufman that there's not enough ballet in this ballet -- but I think Simonov made the right choice, given the hand he was dealt. And I'd make the case that his off-classical dances are grafted onto a classical base. They stray far from it at times, but they always come back to it.

The choreography looks as though Simonov had many models -- as Ari noted, there's a bit of this and a bit of that. The Sugar Plum Fairy is a heeled shoes role, like Lilac in the new/old Sleeping Beauty, for example. BUT he doesn't just take something superficial -- like the heeled shoes and costume. He understands the idea. Sugar Plum has her role -- it hasn't been distorted. She just doesn't dance the solo, but everything else is there. (I agree with everyone that the character dances were awful.)

The Waltz of the Flowers -- that, and the Prince's solo are the only purely classical dances in the whole ballet -- is Ashtonesque, reminiscent of the ballroom waltz in Cinderella, with those Ashtoninan arms en couronne a la swoop as a motif.

Masha is an awkward adolescent -- I was reminded more of Neumeier than MacMillan. She begins too shed her awkwardness in the pas de deux. That, and the non-classical dancing (lots of loopy moves, shrugged shoulders, rubber ankles) becomes more classical as the pas de deux progresses.

I liked the snowflakes. Think "In the Middle Somewhat Elevated" in Goth dress, not in the movement vocabulary, but the way Forsythe will have dancers do their bit and then drop out of performing mode, into casual mode. The original headdress of cotton balls looked just right here (the flakes are dressed in black floppy tutus, black toe shoes, black tights, with cotton balls sprinkled over them.) I liked the idea that snowflakes would misbehave. It's a storm (I didn't find it murderous, and Masha didn't find it very frightening, and that's one of the many dramaturgical faults of the production. Was there a battle of the mice?)

Drosselmeyer reminded me of the Legat caricature of Cecchetti as a grasshopper. Why he's always scampering about, carrying huge platters above his head I don't know. But that's what happens in children's books, too. There are always odd people -- grown ups are odd people -- who don't make any sense, but children don't seem to mind. I also had no idea why the rat king was a cardinal (Not having read the Hoffman in years, I don't remember if there's a cardinal in it). Or why he didn't die in the battle. Or why he's in cahoots with Drosselmeyer.

There's a happy ending, of sorts. Masha and the Prince get to stay in the Kingdom of the Sweets forever. As ornaments on top of a cake.

#10 Mel Johnson

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Posted 26 December 2003 - 07:24 PM

Somebody wrote:

Productions which lay aside the original theme (of the Vsevolozhsky libretto), allowing that the ballet is merely a paean to childhood, or a Christmas pageant, or a Freudian exploration of emergent sexuality, already cross over into the region of the bland, or worse, sour Nutcracker.


Oh, I think it was me!

#11 kfw

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Posted 27 December 2003 - 04:42 AM

I skipped this production because I didn't want to see a dark story danced to Tchaikovsky's music. Now I'm wondering, does The Waltz of the Flowers as it's staged here cohere with the rest of the ballet? It sure doesn't sound like it. Does it make any kind of emotional sense? What sort of set is that danced to? Thanks.

#12 Alexandra

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Posted 27 December 2003 - 06:00 AM

The Kingdom of the Sweets is a more conventional -- less dark -- set. The impression is of lots of icing (there's an enormous cake that's brought out.)

I think the idea was to make the Kingdom of the Sweets ideal. If that's so, then it make sense for the Flowers and the Prince to be purely classical dancers. But this is only a guess.

kfw, despite my comments above, I"m not sure I'd recommend this to someone who has to drive far to see it.

#13 Alexandra

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Posted 27 December 2003 - 06:15 AM

I got a phone call in the middle of posting yesterday, didn't quite finish, and didn't get back to it.

The production's biggest sin, perhaps, is that it doesn't show off the company. You wouldn't have known this was one of the world's great ballet companies.


One other imaginative aspect of the choreography -- in the procession of the guests, as they exit the party (out the back door), you see only their backs, and they're clothed, from head to toe, in grey cloaks. Each cloak and hat combination is different. There's a dance in the Moiseyev repertory where the dancers' bodies are also obscured by clothing, and they move very quickly, giving the appearance of gliding. He's taken that dance, and given it to the guests. It's quite funny -- and between the scurrying and the grey clothes, they really do look like mice and rats, and set the scene for the battle scene. But Masha isn't on stage and doesn't see them, which unsets the stage -- if she doesn't see them, she can't dream them.

If I had gone expecting to see a Nutcracker, and/or expecting to see great dancing from a great company, I would have been screaming with disappointment. My positive comments are because I think Simonov has promise as a choreographer. He takes from here and there, but he knows what he's taking and he puts it in context. Now, he may well develop in the direction of the loopy-slouchy-moderne style he used for Masha rather than the classical style he used for the Flowers, but I'd still like to see other work from him.

#14 kfw

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Posted 27 December 2003 - 02:00 PM

Thanks, Alexandra. I have np interest in seeing this.

#15 koshka

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Posted 28 December 2003 - 08:33 PM

I went to today's matinee. I don't always agree with Sarah Kaufman's take on things, so I was prepared to be pleasantly surprised. The best thing I can say about the performance is that I'm glad I saw it...once.

The sets and costumes were terrific (I loved the snowflakes but not the Snow Queen), with the exception of Masha's costume, which I thought was dreadfully bland. Also, her red-to-fuschia hair color was frightful with the pistachio-green costume, and the first-act ponytail was even worse. Yikes.

Uncharacteristically for the Kennedy Center (felt like I was at the Wang Center!), there was a bit of a problem with the scrim toward the end of the first act--it landed with a loud clank coming down at one point and then got stuck on something on the right side of the stage on the way back up.

I agree with all the others that the choreography was just not satisfying.

Notes on the program:

(E)Lena Vorontsova, one of the older dancers featured in the mid-1970s movie "The Children of Theater Street", is listed as a teacher now.

The local children who performed were mentioned but not named, which I thought was odd.


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