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My own video Nutcrackathon


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#1 canbelto

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Posted 11 December 2010 - 03:23 PM

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.

#2 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 11 December 2010 - 07:54 PM

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:

#3 canbelto

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 06:03 AM

Here are the waltzing couples in Waltz of the Flowers:



Very lovely and ballroomish. :wub:

#4 canbelto

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 07:27 AM

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:



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.



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.

#5 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 09:29 AM

Here are the waltzing couples in Waltz of the Flowers:



Very lovely and ballroomish. :wub:


Very lovely indeed... :wub:

#6 canbelto

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 01:36 PM

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?



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.

#7 canbelto

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 04:52 PM

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?

#8 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 06:57 PM

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:

#9 duffster

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 08:10 PM

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

#10 canbelto

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 04:43 PM

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.

#11 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 07:19 PM

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:

#12 canbelto

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 08:36 PM

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

#13 canbelto

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 06:20 PM

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.



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.

#14 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 10:28 PM

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.

#15 CHazell2

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Posted 15 December 2010 - 09:36 AM

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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