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Drosselmeyers:which do you prefer?

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#1 bart


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Posted 10 December 2007 - 09:39 AM

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?

#2 innopac


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Posted 10 December 2007 - 12:09 PM

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.

#3 dirac


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Posted 10 December 2007 - 12:14 PM

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

#4 Mel Johnson

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Posted 10 December 2007 - 12:15 PM

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.

#5 Brioche


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Posted 10 December 2007 - 12:39 PM

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.

#6 SandyMcKean


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Posted 10 December 2007 - 01:09 PM

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! :))

#7 printscess


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Posted 10 December 2007 - 03:29 PM

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.

#8 Ostrich


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Posted 11 December 2007 - 05:01 AM

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.

#9 bart


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Posted 11 December 2007 - 06:03 AM

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?

#10 EAW



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Posted 11 December 2007 - 06:11 AM

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.

#11 bart


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Posted 11 December 2007 - 06:21 AM

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. :)

#12 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 11 December 2007 - 06:40 AM

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.

#13 Mel Johnson

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Posted 11 December 2007 - 07:10 AM

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?

#14 rg


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Posted 11 December 2007 - 08:13 AM

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

Attached Files

#15 Farrell Fan

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Posted 11 December 2007 - 09:10 AM

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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