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canbelto

My own video Nutcrackathon

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Since this seems to be all the rage I decided to do my own Nutcrackathon and pull out the various videos of Nutcracker I have on my shelf, and really watch them.

Up first:

Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet - Nutcracker (Larissa Lezhnina, Viktor Baranov)

Choreography by Vassily Vainonen

This is one of the more inoffensive Nutcracker videos, it's very pretty. All sweetness and love and a surfeit of pink. Vainonen's choreography is not always the most exciting, but it at least really creates a very sweet, romantic atmosphere at all times. The positives of the video are Larissa Lezhnina as Masha and Viktor Baranov as the Prince, and the always lovely Mariinsky corps de ballet, especially in the Snow scene and Waltz of the Flowers. Lezhnina is one of the rare adults who actually looks like a little girl, and Viktor Baranov strongly resembles Mikhail Baryshnikov both in looks and style. They make a nice couple. I particularly like how in the beginning of the Grand pas de deux they mirror each other in a series of beautifully placed arabesques. I like Vainonen's choreography a lot for the Waltz of the Flowers -- he seems to be incorporating some steps of actual ballroom waltz into the ballet, with its rows of dancing couples sweeping across the stage to Tchaikovsky's lilting melody, and the effect is very festive indeed.

That being said, there were a couple things which annoyed me about the video. One is the fact that in the Party scene there's little sense of a real family party. Everything seems a bit too grand, as if this were the Emperor's ball rather than a Christmas gathering. Balanchine's Nutcracker still is the gold standard in setting the tone of a real party. Second of all, there was a decision to have all the "children" danced by adults, and even more strangely, to have all the boys danced by female corps de ballet in long, Beatles-like wigs and pants. The Vaganova Academy has plenty of children, why not use them in the party scene? (And they have real boys too.) Second of all, a Nutcracker that decides to delete the Sugar Plum Fairy and simply make Act 2 about the Love between Masha and the Prince better create a real romantic setting. Vainonen's choreography doesn't do that -- Masha and her Prince don't have much to do until the Grand pas de deux, but in this case it's more a pas de six as Masha has four other cavaliers dancing alongside her and the Prince. It gave Larissa Lezhnina a good chance to be lifted around but lost some sense of romantic intimacy. I also wonder why Soviet choreographers had to delete so much original Ivanov choreography, such as the Prince's mime, the dance of the hoops and Mother Ginger, things that were lovingly preserved in the Balanchine production.

One very cool thing was I read in MacCauley's Nutcracker chronicles how in the Moscow Classical Ballet's version:

In her first pas de deux with her transformed Nutcracker Prince, Masha (Alexandra Elagina) finds world enough and time to raise one leg slowly behind her until it’s the height of her shoulder. This slow ascent of one leg, while the music swells, seems brimful with feeling.

Lezhnina does the exact same thing in her first pas de deux with the Prince and I agree, it is a lovely effect. However, this device of "plunging arabesque = LOVE" was used again ... and again. So by the umpteenth time I saw it, it had lost its initial romantic glow.

Still ... compared to some of the Nutcrackers I have in my video collection, this one is downright inoffensive, and in some cases, very sweetly pretty.

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canbelto, I'm glad I'm not the only one who likes the couples in the Waltz of the Flowers-(Vainonen's tribute to the original "Grand Ballabile" idea...?). The other thing that I find very sweet on his choreography is the Pas de Trois that substitutes the Mazipan's divertissement.

About his "revision" of the Sugar Plum Fairy PDD, well...I must say that I always find every attempt to do so as a complete breakage/change of the story line-(from Baryshnikov to Grigorovitch to Vainonen) ...let's leave the kingdom of Sweets as it was conceived...this is the whole idea of the ballet...! But well...I don't have to repeat here again how do I feel about this Pas...it is rooted deep inside... :wub:

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Here are the waltzing couples in Waltz of the Flowers:

Very lovely and ballroomish. :wub:

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Next up:

Paris Opera Ballet: Nutcracker (Elisabeth Maurin, Laurent Hilaire)

Choreography by Rudolf Nureyev

After the sweetly romantic Vainonen version, what a difference this Nutcracker is. Nureyev owes a lot to Vainonen in terms of choreography and concept. The concept of deleting the Sugar Plum Fairy and having Clara and the Prince fall in love in Act 2 is straight from Vainonen. The snowflakes scene is an exact replica. Also, in Act 2 there is supposed to be an introduction by the SPF to the Kingdom of the Sweets. But when the SPF is deleted, what to do? Vainonen has the Prince battling it out with bats in the beginning of Act 2. Nureyev has it too, but the bats are much bigger and the version the scene is much more graphic. The beginning of the Grand pas de deux has Clara and the Prince mirroring each other in a series of arabesques, exactly like the Vainonen version. The pas de trois marzipan dance is also lifted straight from Vainonen.

But after that the similarities end. Nureyev's version of the Nutcracker is one of the grimmest I've ever seen. It plays like a bad dream, which I suspect was the concept. The chief "concept" of this ballet is that the Drosselmeyer and the Prince are a duel role. So when Clara dreams of marrying the Prince in Act 2 is she fulfilling some Freudian dream that she has about her uncle? Or was it yet another case of Nureyev wanting more dancing opportunities for the male? Ugh if I have to ask these questions then this Nutcracker already falls to the bottom of my favorites. :icon8:

Other ways this Nutcracker is not very kid-friendly: during the Battle of the Mice, the mice actually surround her in a way that's very menacing and the mice tear at Clara's dress and parts of her dress slips off. The whole thing looks like ... sexual assault.

Here's a different performance from 1968 but the same Nureyev production:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJ-DFUICVSk

The awakening pas de deux between Clara and the Prince eschews the soft "swelling arabesque" romance of the Vainonen version and instead Nureyev fills this quiet enchanting moment with a whole bunch of busy steps. Act 2, until the Waltz of the Flowers, has no change in decor to indicate any Kingdom of the Sweets, it just looks like Clara's living room with the back walls opened up. The divertissements are danced by various people in Clara's life, so it's as if she's literally dreaming about them. The Waltz of the Flowers also has dancing couples but the choreography has a stiffness to it that looks less like ballroom waltzing than a formal Louis XIII court dance. It lacks sweep and charm. I could go on and on with the odd touches in this Nutcracker but you get the point.

If the Vainonen costumes are a little too pink for my taste, the costumes for Nureyev's production seem more out of Sleeping Beauty than Nutcracker. In the Waltz of the Flowers everyone is dressed in stiff gold tutus and suits and stiff powdered white wigs.

The video does have its strong suits though. There are real children dancing in the party scene and as the toy soldiers, and I always love seeing children in the Nutcracker. The mouse/soldier scene is well-choreographed. I also liked the woodsy, outdoorsy setting for the Snow scene. The POB corps de ballet remain one of the best in the world. The dancing on the parts of Maurin and Hilaire are superb. Maurin is a rather serious Clara, but she also looks believably girlish and most of all, her doe-eyed romanticism *almost* makes Nureyev's concept of the duel Drosselmeyer/Prince role less creepy.

The best moment of Nureyev's choreography comes in the Grand pas de deux. There is a lot of mirror dancing (as was his wont) but it also features a thrilling moment when Clara is thrown sideways into the air, she does a little twist, and is re-caught by her Prince.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=do7WmxUUfXA

The moment is better done by Park/Nuryeyev than by Maurin/Hilaire but it does finally provide a moment of magic in this otherwise dreary Nutcracker.

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Here are the waltzing couples in Waltz of the Flowers:

Very lovely and ballroomish. :wub:

Very lovely indeed... :wub:

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Moving on ...

San Francisco Ballet: Nutcracker

Large cast:

Uncle Drosselmeyer: Damian Smith

Clara: Elizabeth Powell

Dream Clara: Maria Kochetkova

The Nutcracker Prince: Davit Karapetyan

Mouse King: David Arce

Snow Queen: Yuan Yuan Tan

Snow King: Pierre-François Vilanoba

Sugar Plum Fairy: Vanessa Zahorian

Choreography by Helgi Tomasson

Helgi Tomasson's Nutcracker has one of the best first acts I've ever seen, with one of the ... well, dullest Act 2's. The juxtaposition is alarming -- all the charm and magic in Act 1 disappears in an Act 2 that's muddled in concept, joyless and bare-bones in decor, and basically a huge let-down.

This Nutcracker is updated to San Francisco's World Fair in 1915, and the overture has charming pictures of San Francisco around that time period super-imposed on the scrim. The ballet then starts with a very charming street scene, in which Drosselmeyer is shown carefully preparing his toys and magic tricks. The slice-of-life is very well maintained throughout the street scene, and it immediately gives one the warm-fuzzies. (The only other Nutcracker I can think of with such a charming intro is Balanchine having Marie and Fritz fight for a view through a door where their parents are preparing for the party.) The party scene is also very charmingly staged. Real children (including a child Clara) are just darling, and Claro Blanco as the Ballerina Doll was adorable. The mouse scene was staged with more humor than actual menace (a nod to Tomasson's mentor Balanchine perhaps, who also made his mice cute and silly). One change they had was Clara springs a mouse trap on the Mouse King to kill him. I didn't so much like this, I prefer Clara throwing the shoe, but as a stage effect it worked well, and I also liked the Mouse King crawling down the trap door head first to die.

The snow scene was loveliest of all. Yes having a Snow Queen and King was a bit cheesy, but Yuan Yuan Tian danced so well, who cares?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrYFJ2XNHEE

Act 2 was when it all started to go downhill. First of all, this Kingdom of the Sweets is the drabbest, barest kingdom in the world. It seemed to be framed in a spare, metallic, set where the lighting of the background changed throughout the act. Only a dark ribbon framing the top of the set indicated that this was the Kingdom of the Sweets. Throughout the act the only people watching the proceedings are Clara, Drosselmeyer, and two guards dressed in olive green uniforms. In the beginning, when child fairies and butterflies populated the stage, and they looked more at home in Midsummer's Night Dream than Nutcracker. The diverissements choreography I generally liked. I particularly liked the Marzipan trio, they waved around ribbons with charming skill. Mother Ginger was back too. There's also a cute dancing bear.

But where this Nutcracker really messes up is that throughout Act 2, the child Clara is sitting onstage. But Helgi Tomasson also wants the adult Clara to dance the grand pas de deux. What does he do? Well the Sugar Plum Fairy instead dances only the Waltz of the Flowers. In other words, it's as if the SPF becomes the Dewdrop (the choreography is also remarkably similar to Balanchine's choreography for the Dewdrop). Then, for the grand pas de deux, suddenly, the adult Clara just walks out of an enclosed gazebo-like structure that's been wheeled onstage, and she dances the grand pas de deux with her Prince. This transition is very very muddled, and I feel it's Tomasson trying to have it both ways -- the purity of a child Clara and a Clara that can get on pointe and dance a big number. It just doesn't work. (Neither does the puke-gold tutu the adult Clara is wearing.) The actual choreography of the grand pas de deux is almost an exact replica of Balanchine's, complete with the "jump to shoulder" lifts.

It's a shame because the quality of dancing in this video is remarkably high. Maria Kochetkova is a very graceful adult Clara, and has a very creamy way of shaping the phrases of the music. Vanessa Zahorian is given very little to do but she is charming with a nice, bouncy jump. Davit Karapetyan is a very regal prince, and he accomplishes impressive turns in the air. But in the end, the details do matter even in a holiday staple like Nutcracker. Such a dark, joyless decor for Act 2 matters, as does the quick-switch between child and adult Clara.

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Last one of the day! (More to come later this week)

American Ballet Theatre: Nutcracker (Baryshnikov, Kirkland)

Choreography by Mikhail Baryshnikov

Ah dear, the infamous Clara/Prince/Drosselmeyer love triangle Nutcracker. First of all, this is a Nutcracker film that seemed very specifically made for the film studios. So I'm not sure how a lot of the effects that were in the film would have played out onstage, in a regular holiday performance. But whatever the case, this is certainly one of the most, uh, memorable Nutcrackers.

Mikhail Baryshnikov follows his compatriot Rudolf Nureyev in borrowing heavily from Vainonen (the snowflakes scene and Waltz of the Flowers), but adding his own "creepy" twist. Whereas Vainonen remade Nutcracker as a picture postcard romantic fantasy, and Nureyev made it into sort of a bad dream, Baryshnikov makes this Nutcracker very clearly about Clara's sexual awakening. Except not with the Prince so much. From the very first scene, it's clear that the relationship between Drosselmeyer and Clara is "special." It's never explicit, but it's just one of those things that's there, you can feel it, and it makes me uncomfortable. Moreover, there are no children anywhere in the ballet, all the children in the party scene are danced by adults.

In the second act the conflict Clara feels between the Prince and Drosselmeyer is made more explicit in the grand pas de deux.

Under Baryshnikov's choreography, the pas de deux becomes a pas de trois, with Drosselmeyer constantly intruding on Clara and the Prince. Why does he do this? Is he jealous? Am I projecting because Gelsey Kirkland is that kind of intense actress for whom simple girlishness seemed impossible? Whatever the case is, as I said, I felt uncomfortable again, and this level of discomfort made me actually unable to really evaluate the ballet. The ick factor was too strong.

The ending of the ballet is extremely melancholy. As Clara "wakes up" the Prince backs away from her and eventually disappears, as Giselle does from Albrecht. Clara wakes up and there is no indication this dream was a happy one. She stares in the window and the snow falls.

Even though the basic premise of this Nutcracker made me really icky, there are several things I loved about the video. One is of course Gelsey Kirkland. I treasure snippets of her dancing, although the intensity with which she dances Clara makes me wonder if the film would have worked better with a simpler, less gifted ballerina. Maybe I wouldn't have felt such a strong sexual undercurrent between Drosselmeyer and Clara had the Clara been a doll-like soubrette who smiled a lot. I also love Baryshnikov's dancing, although this isn't much of a role for him. The costumes and scenery are all very pretty, as is Gelsey Kirkland's hair. Wow. I want hair like Gelsey's.

Other things about the film made me curious. I understand there was a time limit, so they had to cut parts of the score, most notably the Arab dance. Did anyone see the production onstage with the Arab dance?

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I agree about the awkwardness of Kirkland in the role. That image of her face looking thru the window at the end-(with that heavy makeup and her face alterations too visible via close-up)-is a little creepy. Her dancing is sublime though...of course.

On the other side, I love the divertissements, particularly the shepherd/shepherdess dance to the marzipan's music-(with that lovely little story of the guy scaring the girl disguised as a wolf :P )-, and the Spanish dance. I also like the Waltz of the flowers.

Edited to ask a question: Can someone identify the male dancers from the Waltz of the Flowers ...? :thanks:

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I believe the two male soloists in Waltz of the Flowers were Victor Barbee and I think (but not sure) Charles Ward.

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Moving on ...

Bolshoi Ballet: Nutcracker (Ekaterina Maximova, Vladimir Vasiliev)

Choreography: Yuri Grigorovich

Oh dear. This performance was filmed in 1987, but is by far the most primitive in terms of picture quality. Large portions of the enormous Bolshoi stage are completely dark at times. Perhaps it was just as well, because this is a horrendously choreographed Nutcracker. Horrendous production values.

The costumes and wigs, first of all, are simply ugly. There is no excuse for Ekaterina Maximova to be given such an ill-fitting dress, a sort of white thing with a tiny blue apron. There is no excuse for the Snowflakes to be wearing these old, gray, Norman-Bates-mom wigs. Why is the Christmas tree a cheerless looking gray cardboard flat? There is no excuse for such an ugly production, period.

If there was one theme of Grigorivich's Nutcracker, it seems to be: all 200 members onstage at all times! The stage is constantly overcrowded at every moment, and at the end of the party scene the curtain falls and one dancer is left on the wrong side of the curtain. Funny, but somehow indicative of this sloppy, dreary performance.

The mouse/toy soldier "choreography" is not even choreographed as a battle of any sorts. Just a lot of marching, leaping, and turning on both parts. Then when Masha and the Prince finally get to dance together, Grigorivich crowds the stage with ... more people!

Here are the horrendous snowflakes, with their Norman Bates wigs:

The only interesting part of Grigorivich's choreography is the Grand Pas de Deux, which he seems to imagine as a real Russian Orthodox marriage ceremony. People surround Masha and the Prince with candles, and lift both Masha and the Prince upwards as a sort of ceremonial march. Masha and the Prince then kneel. This is the only Nutcracker where Masha and the Prince actually get married in Act 2.

But again, the stage is way too crowded for the pas de deux. No intimacy. I can understand all the men carrying candles, but what about the women who also mill about the stage for no discernable reason?

I understand this role was created for Maximova and Vasiliev, and I also imagine that when they were young they must have been just darling, and their appeal would have offset all the quirks of Grigorivich's choreography. But it's 1987, and while both of them do have a kind of ageless beauty, Maximova is simply too old. Masha (at least Grigorivich's Masha) isn't Juliet or Giselle, where the character is young but experiences very deep, adult feelings that make it possible for older ballerinas to succeed. The role doesn't even have much dancing to speak of for either Masha or the Prince.

Overall, a most disappointing Nutcracker.

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People surround Masha and the Prince with candles, and lift both Masha and the Prince upwards as a sort of ceremonial march. Masha and the Prince then kneel. This is the only Nutcracker where Masha and the Prince actually get married in Act 2.

I find this whole business with the candelabra too bizarre...brrr!! :speechless-smiley-003::speechless-smiley-003:

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Yes and the candelabras ... wouldn't go away. It was indeed massively irritating.

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Moving on:

Royal Ballet: Nutcracker (Collier, Dowell)

Royal Ballet: Nutcracker (Yoshida, Cope, Cojocaru, Putrov)

Choreography by Peter Wright

I saw these two Nuts together. Sir Peter Wright's version of the Nutcracker for the Royal Ballet relied heavily on original Ivanov notation. And it's interesting to see how much Balanchine's version of the Grand Pas de Deux resembled Wright's:

The climactic jump to shoulder lifts, the pulling of the Sugar Plum Fairy in arabesque, are in both versions. Balanchine installed a little slider on the stage, Wright has the SPF stand over a gauzy looking cloth and pulled. Other similarities: both Balanchine and Wright start Act 2 with sliding angels. The clock looks like an owl. And there are real children, boys and girls, dancing in Act 1.

But this Nutcracker was something I admired more than liked. I remember Ninette di Valois once saying that notation is valuable, but it doesn't make a ballet. Production is important. The Royal Ballet's production is for the most part joyless, serious, a bit pretentious, and thus not really my idea of holiday fun. It lacks both the light touch of Balanchine and the sweet romanticism of Vainonen. Wright chooses to frame the story with a mini-story of Drosselmeyer's nephew Hans-Peter, and this framing device takes the focal point away from Clara and onto Drosselmeyer (always one of my pet peeves). It also gives the ballet a very serious tone, and Wright lacks a sense of humor. Clara is danced by an adult, something that makes less sense considering there is a Sugar Plum Fairy, and the original Clara was clearly danced by a child.

In Act 2 with all the emphasis on Ivanov notation, why change the candy canes? Why delete Mother Ginger altogether? But more importantly, Nutcracker is NOT Sleeping Beauty! The heavy rococco costumes of Act 2 just about kill the ballet for me. Heavy, heavy powdered wigs, very royal, heavy costumes, WHY? Dowell and Collier seem to have forgotten that they were dancing in a holiday staple -- they dance as they would presumably dance the Sleeping Beauty pas de deux. Serious, regal, hidden behind those heavy wigs and costumes, they barely smile.

In 1999 Wright revised the production considerably. Clara and her Prince now have a lot more dancing to do (they hop in and out of the Act 2 divertissements), and some steps have been deleted from the Grand pas de deux. This is Ansanelli and Hristov, but you can see what Wright took out of the grand pas de deux.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBc_uVevnkY

Strangely the production of the 2001 video is more muddled, but the performance is stronger. Yoshida as the SPF was a last minute substitute for Bussell, and she's paired with Cope, who towers over her. But somehow their performance is less aloof than that of Dowell and Collier. Clara and Nutcracker are played by Alina Cojocaru and Ivan Putrov, and they prove that you can have a bad ballet but a strong performance will erase those doubts. Cojocaru is one of the few adult Claras to look like a girl, act like a girl, and it's really like watching a Star being born. Ivan Putrov has now departed from the Royal Ballet but he's an incredibly strong partner.

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For me, on the contrary, the appearance of Collier and Dowell made a lot of sense for which this is the only time that two dancers have really transmitted me the illusion that they're not human, but more like two little porcelain figurines, like those that are placed sometimes on top of a wedding cake, which could break at any moment. Collier is especially good at this, and her measured, regal dancing-(never too "human")-makes her character totally believable...I find them lovely to watch.

Not crazy about Wright's Snow Scene. The one thing I love about both Alonso's and Balanchine's versions is the use of the romantic skirts for the snowflakes, which gives them a distinctive, easier flow.

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I love the Waltz of the Snowflakes in the Royal Ballet's version as it is the original version as given in the notations of the original Mariinsky production. The patterns are meant to represent a snow storm.

For myself, I have two favourite Nutcracker productions, the first one is the 1990 BRB version as it is the very first Nutcracker that I ever saw on TV and I believe that this version is held in very high regard. I love it because it tells a clear story and the dancing is never less than absorbing. I love the sets and costumes as well. The acting is not too bad either. :cool: Sandra Madgewick in particular is very believable as a young girl that turns into a young woman.

My second one is a unconventional one and it is the Australian Ballet's version. It is not the usual Nutcracker story, instead it is a story of a Russian ballerine who emigrates to Australia after the Russian Revolution. The ballet is her memories of her life in St. Petersburg and it is a very good and moving version. The acting and dancing are outstanding and the dancer that plays the elderly Clara is a dead ringer for Vanessa Redgrave.

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Nutcracker (TV special) - Edward Villela, Patricia McBride, Melissa Hayden

Omigod. One of the most bizarre Nutcrackers I have experienced, bar none. I am just going to try to explain, blow by blow, this "Christmas special."

This severely abridged Nutcracker is less of a ballet performance than a cheesy made-for-tv special. It's incredibly cheesy -- the sitcomish soundstage sets, the narration, the costumes. Everything is Americanized -- Drosselmeyer is now "Uncle Alex," the brother is now "Tommy," and pretty much all of the first act is gone. There's no party scene to speak of, just Marie's Nutcracker being broken by her brother and his friends. No mouse scene either -- Marie goes to sleep, and out step Edward Villela in a bright red suit and Patty McBride in a weirder black, Bournonville-style village dress and red pointe shoes. They dance the Awakening pas de deux. The fluffy cotton candy outfits by the snowflakes have to be scene to be believed -- they look like stuffed polar bears.

Oh, I forgot, the Nutcracker Prince is not really a Nutcracker, but an "enchanted prince," and the Sugar Plum Fairy is his mother. An evil Mouse King changed him into a Nutcracker and only in his mother's palace would he again become a prince. They travel to the Land of the Sweets by an airborne sled. Coffee, Russian, and Mother Ginger get their due, but the other divertissements are rearranged to occur later. Mother Ginger by the way in this video is a rather severe-looking elderly lady with a black dress and out of her widow's weeds pop three clowns. I'm not making this up you know. :smilie_mondieu:

Then Nutcracker and Marie take off and arrive in the "Land of the Bluebirds." This is an occasion for a random insertion of the Bluebird duet. The Florine by the way is in these rather dirty-looking flesh colored pointe shoes. Considering how massacred the score has been, the Bluebird/Florine duet is strangely presented complete, along with variations and coda. Helga Heinrich and Nils Keleth are the dancers.

"They had to fly over the seven seas, over many continents and oceans" to reach the Sugar Plum palace. Now the Arabian variation is inserted. Then Marzipan. Traditionally Marzipan is a female dance, but the Marzipan performers are all male, and the main Marzipan dancer seems to be doing an exact replica of the Bluebird variation. Waltz of the Flowers - fairly standard, women are wearing blue and white romantic tutus with huge organge, white, and blue wigs. Women do a series of simultaneous fouettes. Then there is a male and female soloist who barge in and make the Waltz of the Flowers a sort of pas de deux with women dancing in the background. More fouettes.

Finally the SPF appears (Melissa Hayden). Yay, mother and son are reunited. Edward Villela is now dressed like a prince in a dark costume. And then he ... dances a pas de deux with the Sugar Plum Fairy. His mom. A bit creepy, if you think of it. Choreography for the grand pas de deux is basically Balanchine's. In the middle of the duet, there is some strange overdramatic reorchestration, and a cut in the middle of the music. Villela and Hayden both get to dance severely abbreviated variations. Both of them dance a very cut coda.

Child Marie wakes up in his room. Mom blows out Christmas tree candles. The end (as music from the OVERTURE plays).

I didn't comment much on the dancing because there's practically nothing to comment about. McBride dances for MAYBE two minutes, tops, Villela not much more than that, Hayden a little more. But it's not a fair judge of their dancing, so I'm not going to comment.

But my, what a bizarre "Christmas special." :smilie_mondieu:

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NYCB's Nutcracker - Adams, Kent, Mitchell, Villela, Balanchine (1958)

Choreography: George Balanchine

This was a Playhouse 90 special, but unlike the other Christmas special I just reviewed (horror!), this is an invaluable video. Yes for the sake of TV Balanchine had to make some cuts (the Prince's mime in Act 2), and there's an annoying narration by June Lockhart. And the dancers are obviously cramped by dancing on a tiny soundstage. The growing tree in particular looks cheesy under such cramped conditions. The second act suffers the most, with its array of cardboard gingerbread houses that look really cheap.

But this video is an absolutely wonderful Nutcracker video. It's an interesting point of comparison how Balanchine changed his Nut over the years. In 1958 it was still relatively new, and there are some differences. Coffee (Arabian) is danced by a male smoking a hookah. The Grand Pas de Deux is not danced with one cavalier, but with four supporting cavaliers. I much prefer Balanchine's final version of the Grand Pas de Deux.

Yet this video is unmistakably Balanchine's Nutcracker, with all of Balanchine's charming touches. The charming beginning has Clara and her brother pushing each other to peak through the door of the party. Real children populate the party, and they act like kids too. I always love the children and adults dancing together, with the children imitating the adults. Balanchine himself plays the Drosselmeyer and he's an absolute delight -- not at all sinister, but dotty, eccentric, and most of all, extremely kind. I love the moment when he tenderly fixes the Nutcracker, but not before blowing his nose on a hanky. Little touches like that are heartwarming without being corny. The mouse fight scene includes the seven-headed mouse king and the cheerleading mice, who sit bleacher-like and cheer on their mouse king as if it were a football game (always one of my favorite moments of the ballet). The angels, Candy Cane, the Marzipan sheperdesses, and Mother Ginger never lose their charm. And most of all, the wondrous choreography for the Snowflakes and the Waltz of the Flowers is all there. Balanchine's Nutcracker for me never loses its charm, its wonder, its humor, its magic.

Balanchine was often criticized for making great ballets with ugly decor and costumes. Nutcracker is one ballet where this is untrue. Like Cristian, I adore the soft, flowing romantic tutus for the snowflakes -- gives a real impression of snow flying around. I love the look of the Stahlbaum home -- not too fancy, not too shabby, just the right amount of coziness. I love the Flowers costumes, with their multilayered pink and lavender romantic tutus. And most of all Balanchine managed to create mice that are cute. Furry, rotund, they're more funny than scary. In 1958 the snowflakes aren't yet carrying their snowflake wands, but the magical effect is there.

The best part of this video is that it's an indicator of how strong of a company the NYCB was in 1958. Not a bad performance in the whole video, from the corps to the soloists. Allegra Kent, tiny and enchanting, zips through the choreography of Dewdrop as if it were child's play. Diana Adams is regal, gracious, everything a SPF should be. But most of all, the variations were breathtaking. After you've seen Edward Villela's Candy Cane all others pale in comparison. Arthur Mitchell makes the most of a variation that could have veered easily into camp. And the corps de ballet is the biggest surprise. They are dancing on a tiny soundstage, and I could imagine them feeling cramped, but the corps dance with trademark Balanchine attack and brio. The conductor sets almost impossibly fast paces for them (one has a feeling they needed to make the 90 minute timeslot without running over) but the corps de ballet rise to the challenge.

Despite a certain artificiality and less than ideal filming conditions, as well as cuts in the ballet, this video remains one of my favorite Nutcracker videos.

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Last but not least:

NYCB - Nutcracker (Kistler, Nichols, Woetzel)

Choreography: George Balanchine

George Balanchine's Nutcracker was presented as a feature film, and the "big draw" was Macauley Culkin as the Prince. I understand it did very poorly commercially, which is a crying shame because of all the Nutcracker videos, this one is my favorite.

It has flaws. Culkin does no harm as the Prince but the bright red lipstick and a certain stiffness make him look awkward and out of place. Also, as this was a studio film, and not a staged performance, I think some of the stage flats could have been made more three-dimensional, to give the film a more "movie" look. And the film suffers from some of the usual business in camera-work -- all jump and cutting off dancers at the knees and whatnot. Not a lot of it, but enough to occasionally be annoying.

But as a preservation of Balanchine's Nutcracker, this film must be counted as a major success. I've already spoken a lot about why I love Balanchine's Nutcracker, but this film at times even enhanced the work, if possible. For instance, during the Snowflakes scene the Snowflakes are filmed through a lens that make them literally sparkle. Their soft blue romantic tutus, their shiny crowns, their silvery snowball wands, all are filmed in such a way that they seem to be from another world. Emile Ardolino, the director, knew how to make dancers look good. In the Kingdom of the Sweets Darcey Kistler also seems to really glow. It's enchanting.

The performance is also extremely strong. I saw Kistler as the SPF much later in her career, and most of the time she grabbed the Cavalier's hand as if her life depended on it, and grimly tried to complete her supported pirouettes without much success. What a change it was to see her sail through the role in the film, and also emanate true graciousness and charm. Damian Woetzel -- how handsome he is! What a good partner too. The Cavalier role is so short but Woetzel made the most of it. And Kyra Nichols is taller and statelier than most Dewdrops (I'm used to this being a role for the short whiz-bang allegro dancers), but she also is so confident and joyful in her dancing. Wendy Whelan does a wonderful job as Coffee too.

Overall this film captures the charm, joy, and magic of Balanchine's Nutcracker and it remains my favorite video of this holiday classic. It's also available on dvd for pennies. :thumbsup:

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If I were to rank the Nutcrackers here is how it'd go:

Top Tier:

1. Nutcracker (NYCB) - Kistler, Woetzel, Nichols. A faithful recreation of Balanchine's final version of the Nutcracker, and a strong performance. Highly recommended.

2. Nutcracker (NYCB) - Playhouse 90 television special. Despite being filmed on a tiny soundstage, and some unfortunate cuts in the ballet, captures the NYCB in maybe the company's peak, and has the added bonus of Balanchine's wonderfully humane Drosselmeyer.

3. Nutcracker (Kirov) - Lezhnina, Baranov. Vainonen's version is my favorite of the "adult" Nutcrackers because of its sweet, uncomplicated romanticism. Lezhnina's Clara is a true charmer.

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Middle Tier:

4. Nutcracker (Royal Ballet, both of Peter Wright's versions) - The earlier Wright version has more original Ivanov choreography, the latter has stronger performances, but both versions suffer from a certain crippling stuffiness and seriousness. Still, very interesting for the historical perpsective.

5. Nutcracker (San Francisco Ballet) - an EXTREMELY strong first act, wonderful performances by the dancers, and some charmingly choreographed divertissements compensate somewhat for the dreary Act 2 production values, and the muddled concept of having the Sugar Plum Fairy with almost no dancing and an adult "dream Clara" that pops out of a box.

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Low Tier:

6. Nutcracker (ABT) - The concept definitely has an ick factor, and the intensity of Kirkland somehow seems wrong for this innocent role. The production is very pretty, and the choreography borrows a lot from Vainonen, but in the end, I just can't get over the fact that Drosselmeyer seems to have a thing for Clara.

7. Nutcracker (Paris Opera Ballet) - the charms of Elisabeth Maurin, Laurent Hilaire, and the elegant POB corps are offset by truly atrocious choreography and a muddled, creepy "concept" Nutcracker.

8. Nutcracker (Bolshoi Ballet) - ugh, what a busy, fussy, charmless production. All 200 Bolshoi dancers seem to be onstage at all times, and any sense of intimacy is lost. Unfortunate.

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Bottom of the Barrel:

9. Nutcracker - Christmas special with Villela, McBride, Hayden. No explanation necessary.

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I don't know how to post a quote in the format I see you all posting so I'll just cut and paste regarding NYCB's Nutcracker - Adams, Kent, Mitchell, Villela, Balanchine (1958)

Canbelto, where oh where did you get this video/DVD?! Don't see it on Amazon..... Any help is appreciated. Thank you.

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AlbanyGirl, at the bottom right corner you see "quote" buttons. You hit that and the person's whole quote appears in your reply box and you can edit it. Just wanting to be helpful.

However, someone else can hopefully explain the difference between pressing the "MultiQuote" button and the "Quote" button. Whenever I press either one I seem to get the same result (the entire person's posting as a quote).

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AlbanyGirl, at the bottom right corner you see "quote" buttons. You hit that and the person's whole quote appears in your reply box and you can edit it. Just wanting to be helpful.

However, someone else can hopefully explain the difference between pressing the "MultiQuote" button and the "Quote" button. Whenever I press either one I seem to get the same result (the entire person's posting as a quote).

Thank you, Birdsall.

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NYCB's Nutcracker - Adams, Kent, Mitchell, Villela, Balanchine (1958)

Choreography: George Balanchine

Doing this post over with the quote format so Canbelto receives an email and can respond.

Canbelto, where oh where did you get this video/DVD?! Don't see it on Amazon..... Any help is appreciated. Thank you.

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