bart

Drosselmeyers:which do you prefer?

35 posts in this topic

Some of the recent threads about this year's Nutcrackers had included thoughts -- and suggestsions -- about the way Drosselmeyer should and should not be conceived and performed. Sinister? Spooky? Charlatan? Buffoon? Puppetmaster? Caring uncle?

What are his motives? How powerful is he? How is that power expressed or suggested?

Mel has written

And a word about Drosselmeyer - he shouldn't be around during the second act, or anytime after the Nutcracker transforms.
Some productions, however, make him the central character. Ballet Florida's, for example, starts and ends with him, as he manipulates events to free his nephew from entrapment in the body of a Nutcracker. Balanchine's version follows Mel's suggestion, using his mysterious appearance at the Christmas party as a trigger for Marie's own propensity for dreaming. After his untypically scarey cape-flapping from the top of the cuckoo clock, he never returns.

What's your favorite way of depicting Drosselmeyer? (Or is there a way you'd LIKE to see it done?) Who has done it best, in your opinion and in which production?

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My favorite Drosselmeyer is Victor Levashov who dances the role in the dvd of the Bolshoi Nutcracker with Maximova and Vasiliev. Although it is off topic I would love to know more about him. For me he gives the role a playful touch behind which is the mystery and power of a real magician.

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Great topic, bart. Looking forward to reading these responses!

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Levashov was a principal with the Bolshoi and played grotesques and character parts. He was von Rothbart the first time I saw the Bolshoi do Swan Lake. He also did their "Paganini" in the title role. "Walpurgisnacht" was mostly Shamil Yagudin's party, but Levashov did it, too, and was very impressive and expressive. Excellent actor, excellent dancer.

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I loved playing Dross. I liked portraying him as the facilitator for the magic/dream/fantasy with a bit of humor, ala Rob Besserer in Hard Nut thrown in.

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I think Drosselmeyer "ought" to be a friendly, mystical, wizard of a character who has the power to basically "control" all the events in the story. I like the idea of humor in the part (but more the witty type, than the "clumsy, prankster, mad scientist" type I saw last week in Kent Stowell's version).

I have no problem with Drosselmeyer being in all acts. The whole ballet can be thought of as a dream that Clara has, so that her Godfather Drosselmeyer might play multiple roles in her dream makes sense to me.

Moreover, I prefer to see Drosselmeyer not scary or foreboding to children, but rather always a reassuring character. This was another "problem" I had with the Stowell production at PNB: Drosselmeyer is a clumsy trickster in the 1st half, but a friendly "master of ceremonies" in the 2nd half. In this production's 2nd act you need to see his eye patch to "get" that it is Drosselmeyer. In the PNB production, Drosselmeyer frightens Clara on several occasions while she is still a little girl in the 1st half. I see no reason for that. Let Drosselmeyer always be a comfort to the children albeit a mysterious and witty one. The Rat King can be all the "badness" required for the kids in the audience. (Poor rats, like wolves, get a bad rap in children's tales! :))

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Bart, great topic!!!

I agree with Sandy. I would like to see Dross more friendly and funny. In the Balanchine version, I always saw him as sinister and scary around kids (i.e. flapping his cape while wrapping himself around the clock). He causes Marie to have a nightmare the mice and soldiers but then becomes warm and friendly just as she and the Prince go through the snowstorm to the Land of Sweets. I know that many of the younger children in the audience become very frightened of Drosselmeyer. I prefer the grandfatherly Drosselmeyers like Andrei Kramarevsky who danced with the Bolshoi and now teaches at SAB.

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I like Drosselmeyer to remain as close to Hoffman's conception of him, i.e. kindly but slightly mysterious uncle of Marie/Clara. The version done by the Royal Ballet (Peter Wright's production) is the closest I've seen to my 'ideal' Drosselmeyer. Of course, there's nothing wrong with experimenting.

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Ostrich, it's funny you mention the Wright version (for the Royal). I just got out my dvd of this last night and intendeto look at it again as a way of thinking about this topic.

As I remember it, Wright's version fits into the category of productions that make Drosselmeyer the central character who holds the rest of the ballet -- Marie's story, the variations, the visit to the Kingdom of the Sweets, etc. -- together and gives them an essentially non-dance reason for being there. Given this kind of story line, you almost have to have a kindly, caring, feeling Drosselmeyer, though one willing and able to use mysterious powers to achieve his ends.

Russian librettos -- and Balanchine -- make much less of Drosselmeyer. Sometimes he seems to be a fascinating plot device -- and wonderful opportunity for a character dancer -- who is there primarily to get Marie's journey and the dancing started.

Do modern audiences -- many of whom nowadays are not there primarily for the dancing -- require a personalized plot-line with which they can identify? I wonder if there is a connection between this and the kind of "dance theater"-- whose primariy purpose is to tell stories -- that Matthew Bourne and others have developed so successfully?

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With all due respect to Mel, Balanchine doesn't follow his suggestion but follows Tchaikovsky. The reason Drosselmeyer doesn't return after Act One in the NYCB Nutcracker is that there is no musical (and hence, no dramatic) reason for him. He is only as quirky/sinister/amusing/important as he needs to be. One can invent and stage all sorts of variations on this character, but most of them don't have much to do with Nutcracker's true intentions.

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The reason Drosselmeyer doesn't return after Act One in the NYCB Nutcracker is that there is no musical (and hence, no dramatic) reason for him.
What are the musical adjustments necessary for opening and closing the ballet with Drossselmeyer -- or is this in the original score? Is Nutcracker a fixed score, or one of those historically open to editing (as Swan Lake)?

Also -- on a parallel theme -- please, everyone, don't forget to vote for your own favorite Drosselmeyers, regardless of the version used. And maybe tell us why. :)

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Ruth Page's Nutcracker had a great Drosselmeyer, grandfatherly, stern but kind, mysterious, magical. Her first Drosselmeyer was Anton Dolin and the character was also portrayed for many years by Richard Ellis.

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Dolin also played Drosselmeyer for the premiere of the Grands Ballets Canadiens production, too. My favorite was Shaun O'Brien with NYCB. He was even better than Balanchine, when he took the part. And the reason that Tchaikovsky doesn't quote the Drosselmeyer leitmotiv later in the score is because of the libretto and the choreographic plan, written, respectively, by Ivan Vsevolozhsky and Petipa. It's in Hoffman. Try to find it in the Dumas translation. The original is way scary and weird. Remember that Hoffman was among the 19th-century Neo-Gothics. The last we see of Drosselmeyer is sitting on the capital of the grandfather clock, flapping his coattails and arms. In Hoffman, there's even a song he's supposed to be singing, along the lines of, "Zig, zig, zig, the Mouse King's time is up!"

That having been said, I cringe inwardly when I see that a choreographer has "gone back to Hoffman, and made it more authentic to the original fairy tale". Let me just say that if you were really true to Hoffman, you'd have crying kids running from the auditorium and some adults, too, scared out of their wits! The original "grim fairy tales"! I also don't care for retired premiers danseurs performing the part as if they're about to break into Albrecht at any second! Drosselmeyer is an odd duck. He's funny-looking, but good-hearted. He does have good sense about him, he's a City Councillor, and is there because of his long friendship with the Silberhauses/Stahlbaums. (Dumas is the "silver house", Hoffman is the "steel tree") He is loving, and gentle, but is rather unlovely to look at. (It's part of the Mouse King's curse) Balanchine added the nephew part to add credibility to the idea that after the lights go out in the house onstage, most of the rest of the ballet is a dream. Or is it? We're left with a question much like another fantasy, Harvey. Is Elwood hallucinating because he can see the rabbit, or are we just a little off because we can't? Is this exclusively Clara/Marie's dream, or are we peeking into the world of magic and miracles, where we are not usually accustomed to go?

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wiley's article in DANCE RESEARCH: On Meaning In NUTCRACKER makes a key point that what takes place after the palor lights go out is NOT a dream, it is magic. he's clear about that and i think that such a reading is true the ballet's/libretto's original intentions.

balanchine i THINK understood this and agreed. in fact marie and the little prince marry and head off into their own life/world at the end.

i guess somewhat sadly her parents 'lose' their daughter, but they gain a princess.

article in question:

Wiley, Roland John. On meaning in Nutcracker. Dance research. London. v 3, no 1, Autumn 1984, p 3-38

the attached scan shows Timofei Stukolkin, NUTCRACKER's first Drosselmeyer/Drosselmeier/Drosselmayer

post-848-1197391410_thumb.jpg

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Shaun O'Brien, also my favorite Drosselmeyer, is quoted in Repertory in Review: "He's changed over the years -- changed and darkened. In the beginning, he was fat, in a Biedermeier costume. Now he's slim and wears period clothes, more like the original illustrations. I devised a lot of the new things with the clock. Once Balanchine told me to look a little more like Robespierre. Balanchine himself played the part rather like a very dotty old doctor, with glasses."

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Balanchine was the best.

He needs to be an old bachelor with an obsession for gadgetry, someone who'd blow his nose on his handkerchief after taking it off the nutcracker he'd just fixed -- eccentric, queer in the old-fashioned sense (and maybe in ours), whose bridge back to society is made through his fantastic understanding of what appeals to the imagination of a child.

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Good point. In the apotheosis at the very end of the ballet, the original production didn't have the Prince and Clara/Marie fly off in a sleigh, as in the Balanchine version, but remain to reign over the Kingdom of Sweets. The backdrop flew out, and they were seen in front of a gigantic beehive, which sort of looks like the Imperial Crown of Russia, which is surrounded by dancers dressed as bees. A beehive is good. It has honey inside, but outsiders should beware, for bees can sting! (a little political statement there) Balanchine's version does remain true to the original general plan, but with the nephew/Prince added, there's an additional dimension of possibilities as to what's happening. (Maybe they're flying back home to her house!) It satisfies the backstory, which you don't have to know to enjoy the ballet, whether it's in the nephewless or nephewed version. And there's another creepy thing about some productions. Nephew and uncle have to relate to one another in that traditional relationship. Some stagings verge creepily into near pedophilia. Ick. :)

You gotta love Stukolkin's too-long breeches (obviously Dr. D. was much stouter at one time) and his sailor's stockings!

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TV publicity photo of Balanchine as Drosselmeier in his prod. for television in 1958? the year 1947 is written in pencil on the back but that's likely an error since the 1954 NUTCRACKER wasn't telecast until '57 & '58. (the annotation in CHOREOGRAPHY BY BALANCHINE says it was telecast both years but only gives '58 as the year balanchine performed Drosselmeier. (the NYPL seems to have a number of stills taken of balanchine for the '58 telecast, so that date might be the correct one here.)

post-848-1197394502_thumb.jpg

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Balanchine was the best.

He needs to be an old bachelor with an obsession for gadgetry, someone who'd blow his nose on his handkerchief after taking it off the nutcracker he'd just fixed -- eccentric, queer in the old-fashioned sense (and maybe in ours), whose bridge back to society is made through his fantastic understanding of what appeals to the imagination of a child.

Yes, to all points. It is useful to remember that part of the backstory is not only based on "The Nutcracker and the King of the Mice", but also "The Sandman" which is also a basis for Coppélia.

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Shaun O'Brien, hands down, with Balanchine in second place. I grew up with the NYCB Nutcracker as an integral part of our Christmas celebrations. As a child, I did find Drosselmeyer to be a bit frightening, but it seemed right that he be. It reflected the way some adults in my own life (in the 50s) frightened me. In a good way. I almost enjoyed being nervous when they were around! Drosselmeyer was a validation for that kind of grownup. He is kindhearted beneath his façade, and most certainly well-meaning for his strictness. That is the kind of father (and uncles) many children had in the first half of the last century and children got used to growing up under a firm hand. It brought its own brand of the security every child needs, the feeling that they are protected by you, even when afraid of you.

Balanchine was absolutely wonderful in the role, but I would've been very happy to have Shaun O'Brien as my own uncle.

As to the changes of stage set, and after having to get used to Clara (now Marie) and the Nutcracker Prince taking to the air in a sleigh (I really missed the walnut shell boat :( ), my least favorite is moving the clock to center stage. It was always in the corner before, and that's where I expected to find it, as in any grand living room. When Drosselmeyer appears in place of the owl, it was scary-delightful to see it happening in the corner of the room, where the clock belongs. Bringing this piece of action into the middle of the stage removes some of its magic for me. It makes the nightmare's clock too prominent, as if we would not have noticed this transformation on our own and had to have it shoved in our face.

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Fantastic replies, all. Thank you. :(

A small point regarding the placement of the clock. The current MCB Balanchine production keeps the corner location. Unfortunately, Drosselmeyer (here with a flapping cape, unlike Balanchine in the photo or the NYCB productions I remember from my own youth) were entirely invisitble to a good part of the house! :wallbash:

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My favorite Drosselmeyer is Francisco Moncion in Balanchine's version. I saw him perform the role in the '80's, I think just before he no longer appeared on the list of dancers. He was gentle and kind to Marie, and although she would have to face an ordeal, he created a magical world for her when it was over.

Although I dislike "Nutcracker" interpretations where there is a Freudian battle between the adult Drosselmeyer and the Prince, I very much like Kent Stowell's take on the role. Appropriate to the Sendak sets is the story of a girl on the verge of becoming a teenager, and that period is fraught with anxiety and new understanding (and mis-understanding) of the assumptions of childhood. Drosselmeyer isn't just a meanie who picks on children, like the uncle who makes cruel fun and expects the child to laugh at his own expense, or the aunt who gets joy out of pinching cheeks that much too hard: he's a strange, older man who treats Marie like a child, but also gives her the shivers as a tween. During the second act, when he plays the Pasha, she avoids him as much as she can, enjoying the spectacle, but having the underlying anxiety that there's something dangerous, or not quite right. It really captures the quality of anxiety dreams that turn nightmarish; the adult ballerina, a representation of Marie, might be mature physically, but psychologically, she is mainly the younger Marie. It plays the very fine line of "ick," but always at that adolescent state.

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[ ... ] I dislike "Nutcracker" interpretations where there is a Freudian battle between the adult Drosselmeyer and the Prince [ ... ]
Didn't this occur in the version that Baryshnikov put together for ABT in the late 70s 0r early 80s? Drosselmeyer lost that particular competition and Marie (Clara?) danced and danced as a newly recruited citizen of the Land of Sweets.

I don't recall the ABT Drosselmeyers, but I do remember feeling odd about the way the character was defined.

P.S. Cygneblanc responded to my request and posted the following in the thread about a Paris Opera Ballet performance of Nutcracker.

I can't say tonight's Drosselmeyer was very memorable, so I will rather refer to my old tape, Laurent Hilaire being Drosselmayer.

Here, Drosselmeyer's part is a part involving a lot of pantomine.

He's quite mysterious but not sinister and definitively not at all spooky. He isn't a charlatan or a buffon either. I thin he's rather a caring uncle, but always distant and can have some fun but not on the buffon's mode. His mysterious temper is always there but he also seems very concerned about Clara when the Nutcracker is broken.

I believe this mysterious trait and this restrained attitude are linked with the fact that in Nureev's translation of the story Drosselmeyer and the prince are one. The prince is the opposite of Drosselmeyer in the sense he doesn't have a restrained attitude and isn't mysterious. He's a beautiful and loving prince !

Merci, cygneblanc! The POB thread is here: http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/index.p...c=26175&hl=

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[ ... ] I dislike "Nutcracker" interpretations where there is a Freudian battle between the adult Drosselmeyer and the Prince [ ... ]
Didn't this occur in the version that Baryshnikov put together for ABT in the late 70s 0r early 80s? Drosselmeyer lost that particular competition and Marie (Clara?) danced and danced as a newly recruited citizen of the Land of Sweets.

I don't recall the ABT Drosselmeyers, but I do remember feeling odd about the way the character was defined.

Yes, the one that was taped and shown on TV, with Kirkland.

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That was Alexander Minz, and his Drosselmeyer had a subtext so sub, that nobody could figure out what it was! It brought out the worst in the armchair psychiatrists: "He represents Baryshnikov's relationship with his father." "He represents Kirkland's alienation from her sister." "He's been smashed the whole time, and is just wandering around getting in everybody's way."

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