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.