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Maryinsky's new Nutcracker

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Thanks for posting that, Marc. I just say I didn't find his remarks thought-provoking, but very ordinary. I've read that take on Nutcracker so many times, and they all think they're so original and so modern. Do a Hoffmanesque Nutcracker. Do a Death and Sex Nutcracker. Have Anne Frank as Clara, if you want, or have Timothy McVeigh be Drosselmeyer. But write your own libretto and write your own score.

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Quite so, Alexandra, but I meant within the tradition of the Maryinsky.

Ideas like this are indeed most common. But that a guy with ideas like this is actually given carte blanche by the director of the Maryinsky Theatre and allowed to replace a pillar of the Kirov's repertory (not to mention the School) since the 1930s by his own experiments, is thought-provoking. There used to be a Maly Theater or other venues for creations like this. Strange that he doesn't mention anything about Ratmansky, the choreographer who was originally commissioned for the project.

[This message has been edited by Marc Haegeman (edited February 11, 2001).]

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Since the Nutcracker premiered at the Maryinsky, I don't think this 'new' [note those quotes] will last. They will have to go back to the original ballet sooner or later when audiences will expect what used to be one of the best Nutcrackers in the world.

The Hoffmannesque approach has been done already. Shemyakin thinks he's quite original and thought provoking, when really, he comes off as vulgar and typical. The Hoffmann tale, has yes, been left behind, but with reason. People these days don't want to go to a ballet full of dark and emotional undertone. Shemyakin, IMO, doesn't understand what Hoffmann wanted, himself. Hoffmann had his reason for writing the story the way he did. He wasn't a very very emotionaly healthy person. He was ugly, and suffered a horrible childhood. Petipa had his reasons for abanding the work. He realized, and so did Tchaikovsky while writing the score, that they really had no right to toil with Hoffmann's emotions. They created a story that was a fairy tale, and became fit for ballet.

With Shemyakin's version, he doesn't know what he's talking about. The Nutcracker is a classical, romantic era ballet. They should leave it that. By far, the only company that, to my knowledge and IMO, has created a Hoffmannesque Nutcracker has by the PNB in Seattle. They did it with as much taste as possible, and I doubt this new one will.

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tchaikovsky still proves a tough nut to crack

by Galina Stolyarova


Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" has proved a tough

nut for yet another choreographer.

Ballet legend Marius Petipa simply gave up and

left it for Lev Ivanov in 1892, but his more

courageous followers, including Vasily

Vainonen, Fyodor Lopukhov and Maurice

Béjart, all tried staging the ballet. This time,

Kirill Simonov of the Mariinsky Theater turns his hand to the task.

The long-awaited new version of the ballet premiered Monday at the Mariinsky

theater, with émigré artist Mikhail Shemyakin responsible for the direction,

libretto, sets and costumes, and once again told a story different from the one

unveiled by the music.

Act One is virtually a parade, a défilé of Shemyakin's phantasmagoric art, which

as his admirers will know is Hoffmanesque in itself. The armies of rats, which

also frequent Shemyakin's drawings, wear long-nosed, Venice carnival-type

masks, and giant hulks of meat cover the walls. The Hoffmanesque grotesque

and exaggeration were certainly present.

But Shemyakin's sets for the second act are so innocent, in fluorescent pink and

green, that they are more reminiscent of the fairy tales of Charles Perrault than


The sight is very impressive, but ballet is no parade of costumes and decor, even

when they are designed by the most talented artist. On the whole, Simonov, who

is in his mid-twenties, breaks little new ground with his choreography. While

almost all Act One was a pantomime, the waltzes in Act Two, especially,

seemed trivial and fairly traditional. A striking exception was the spry Pas

d'ensemble of Snow-flakes, dressed in black and covered with white flakes of

"snow," and manipulated by Drosselmeyer hiding behind the curtains.

Simonov, however, offers a poetic take on Masha (Natalya Sologub), making her

sensitive, timid and emotional. Sologub takes a lyric and subtle approach to

Masha, dancing with ease and flow. She suffers from loneliness just as much as

the Nutcracker himself, and this interpretation of the character works very much

to the show's advantage.

The corps de ballet was lacking a confidence which could be overcome with a

stronger, tighter concept from the ballet master. What makes the new production

memorable is the design rather than the dancing. The sumptuous sets

overwhelm the choreography.

However, the dark side of the ballet was present, in the form of the Mariinsky

symphony orchestra under the baton of Valery Gergiev. Shemyakin was not

exaggerating when he said that Gergiev has turned The Nutcracker into a

revolution. But since The Nutcracker is a ballet, turning the music into a

revolution requires a choreographic upheaval, otherwise the inequalities between

sight and sound risk destroying the whole performance.

Despite the captivating performance of the orchestra, the show - Shemyakin's

sets aside - failed to hold the audience's attention.

Anton Adasinsky, founder of the "Derevo" experimental dance theater, and former

member of the "Litsedei" clown-mime, theater brought in an avant garde and

eccentric note in his virtuoso grotesque performance of Herr Drosselmeyer.

Adasinsky's vigorous and confident dancing at times made quite a contrast to

the corps de ballet, which was short on spark and synchronism. The dancer

excelled in his role, turning Drosselmeyer into a central character.

Though not without some undoubted successes, like the Pas d'ensembles of

snowflakes in Act One or the Oriental Dance in Act Two, in general Simonov's

choreographical efforts lack solidity and fail to fit into a substantial and

consistent concept, which makes it doubtful that the production will have lasting

resonance in the ballet world.

Critical opinions aside, the show is yet to pass the test of time. The production

will not be shown until March 10, giving the Mariinsky extra time to consider the

faults of the production.

And those unhappy with the new version can always go for the familiar old one -

the two Nutcrackers will co-exist in the repertoire, just like the Mariinsky's two

productions of "Sleeping Beauty."

We can believe to this critic, but the same time, I heard a wonderful review of this performance in Russian(sorry, very difiicult to translate).


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I'm afraid I don't have any favourable view either. I had a chance to catch only four performances. The highlight of the Festival was no doubt the premiere of the Nutcracker. Alexei Ratmansky was first assigned to stage this new production, but unfortunately his ideas did not get along well with Mikhail Shemyakin, who dominated all the work. With an attempt to revive the spirit of Hoffmann, Shemyakin wanted to liberate from 'saccharine sentimentality' which, as he said, is common in most other productions. He aims to present modern child psychology rather than nostalgia for romantic era ballet. But his approach, I'm afraid, is not in tune with the music and the result is not what he tried hard to acheive. The whole ballet is too symbolic for many children, and perhaps for some adults, to understand its metaphors. This surrealistic and eccentric version is not what i expected to see. I booked a ticket with some hopes that the new production would preserve some classical splendor of the original ballet and be more spectacular than the old version which received bad reviews from the critics in london back in 1996 for its poor choreography and too pinkish design.

In this new production Masha is played by one dancer. there is no transformation into a ballerina. Natalia Sologub was very musical. her masha was a playful and passionate girl who is an unloved child. The choreography, I think, is an interesting mix of modern and classical styles. The Nutcracker, danced by the choreographer himself--Kirill Simonov, is not a wooden toy anymore. The ballet focuses on this 'humanised' Nutcracker, but strangely his role was not outstanding enough.

I found the opening scene quite a horror, full with bizarre elements such as sausage-people, a human soup tureen, a boar's head, and a captured 'Fly-Person' trapped in the cage. The villains are rats also first introduced in this scene. I was unable to distinguish between the Nutcracker and the rats. Both were under weird masks with very long protruding noses that looked more like mosquitoes. Drosselmeyer danced by Anton Adasinsky was no where in the leaque of avuncular magicians. He is ghostly and perhaps has some kind of neurosis. The Counselor's reception hall where the party took place lacked festive atmosphere. It looked like a slaughterhouse with several stuffed animal heads. the transformation scene had nothing to do with enlarging the Christmas tree. There was only an image of a ball with Nutcracker's face on it and it got bigger after each toss. the Battle scene in the rat Kingdom was a mess, another disappointment.

However, when it came to the scene of the Snowstorm, the most and only convincing part, I decided to ignore all terrible things I saw earlier. Snowflakes in this production were represented as malevolent nature, not anymore a mercifil poetic pause on the way to the kingdom of sweet. The background was designed in dark tones with silhouette of bare trees, quite spooky but striking. The corps, dressed in black with white snowflakes sewn and painted all over, and Daria Pavlenko as the Queen, dressed in white with black snowflakes, danced briliantly in such an arousing tempo conducted by Valery gergiev. the performance was indeed the fireworks.

However, the second act left me completely cold again. The dancing was not allowed to stand out from a very very bright and colourful backdrop of the kingdom of sweet. I felt as if I was seeing a musical play in West End theatre or a matinee show in Disneyland, not a classical ballet from one of the best companies in the world. All in all, pink is still the kirov's favourite colour.

Too bad that in the Divertissements Chinese dance was scrapped. Then we have Spanish Dance, Petrouchkas, Bees Pas de trois, Mother Gigogne and the Pulchinelli, and Eastern Dance (Arabian Dance) in which Pavlanko was dazzling in a seductive glittering green costume.

Again, the corps danced beautifully in Waltz of the Flowers. But with that dull and shabby costumes, the Flowers seemed to wilt and their fragrance gone.

In the grand pdd, Andrian Fedeev did his best as the prince but it's pity that his role is incredibly small and his solo is very short. The Sugar Plum Fairy in this production is only an onlooker.

In the Finale the Prince and Masha stand atop a huge wedding cake decorated with candies and flowers. Most of the audience seemed to be very impressed, counting from numerous curtain calls. But I left the theatre with only the scene of Snowflakes stamped on my mind.

Other three performances I saw were a great delight and more impressive than the Nutcracker.

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I think the audience seemed to enjoy Act 1 better than Act 2. Everytime the new scene was revealed, the audience applauded. They loved in particular the intermedia 1 in which the guests were filled up like balloons and filed out of the house after licking the boar's head from dinner clear to the bone. Shemyakin who sat in the Tsar Box was greeted by thunderous applause both before and after the performance.

I've heard that some stage props had to be scaled down from the originals to fit into stage space. Some props were even manufactured in America!

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Geoffrey York in the Canadian Globe and Mail,

Wednesday, February 21, 2001:

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA -- Less than an hour before the 7 p.m. scheduled opening of the premiere, the Kirov Ballet dancers are still struggling through their final rehearsal.

Disaster is looming. The rehearsal is riddled with glitches. A lighting computer has broken down, leaving key scenes in garish colours. Last-minute changes in the choreography are being introduced. A painter is still touching up the set.

Outside on the snowy streets of Russia's northern capital, a crowd of ticket-holders is gathering, unaware of the chaos inside the hallowed walls of the Mariinsky Theatre. The long-awaited world premiere of the experimental new production of The Nutcracker has been sold out for weeks. Anticipation has been building for months.

Inside, on the historic stage where The Nutcracker was first produced in 1892, tension is mounting. The producers are bracing for a catastrophe. But when the curtain rises, only 20 minutes later than scheduled, the turmoil has vanished. The performance is flawless, the sets are stunning -- even the lighting works. Two hours later, the audience leaps to its feet for a rapturous standing ovation.

Transforming chaos into genius is the daily miracle of the Kirov Ballet. From the poverty and corruption of post-Soviet Russia, the Kirov has fought back to regain its historic status as one of the world's great ballet companies.

The Kirov (known in Russia now as the Mariinsky) is now widely recognized as Russia's best ballet company, surpassing the more famous Bolshoi Ballet of Moscow. Its foreign tours have been commercial and critical triumphs. Its performances have dazzled the demanding audiences of London and New York.

None of this could be guessed from the gloomy warren of narrow corridors and cramped rehearsal rooms in its 141-year-old permanent home.

>From a glance at its back rooms, a visitor might wonder how the Kirov manages to survive in the 21st century. Its cafeteria staff rely on an ancient wooden abacus to tot up prices. Its cleaning ladies use bundled twigs to sweep the floors. Its rank-and-file dancers are paid a basic wage of barely $100 (U.S.) a month, not including revenue from foreign tours.

But the Kirov has built its success on an improbable combination of obsessive work, exhaustingly long hours, daring productions, Russian national pride, the legacy of a glorious history and the personal flair of the Mariinsky's charismatic musical and artistic director, Valery Gergiev.

While the Bolshoi remains shackled by museum-like stodginess, Gergiev has pushed the Mariinsky in bold new directions, experimenting with fresh adaptations, creating dozens of productions and recruiting the talent of young newcomers and imaginative outsiders such as the Hollywood filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky (who directed the Mariinsky's acclaimed version of the opera War and Peace) and the former Soviet dissident artist Mikhail Shemyakin (who provided the designs and artistic vision for the latest staging of The Nutcracker).

"Gergiev works at a pace beyond any human norms," Shemyakin says. "The entire collective has tremendous enthusiasm. When Gergiev says, 'We're going to rehearse all night,' the dancers say, 'Okay, we'll rehearse all night.' That would be unthinkable in the West. It's a peculiarly Russian madness. Perhaps only the Russian organism can endure it."

Shemyakin had never done a ballet before, but Gergiev took a gamble and invited him to create a new concept for The Nutcracker . The visually powerful production, filled with grotesque masks and psychedelic colours, took almost two years for Shemyakin to prepare.

"One has to take a risk, and we risk a little more than others," Gergiev said in an interview backstage after the curtain had fallen on the premiere of Shemyakin's adaptation of The Nutcracker.

"My concern is to bring the best of the best here," he said. "People don't like grey, unimaginative, boring productions. We respect tradition, but we also respect the taste of international audiences. It helps make our season more colourful."

Another recruit was Anton Adasinsky, a well-known mime artist and founder of the avant-garde Derevo theatre company of Dresden, who was invited to play the crucial role of Drosselmeyer in the new staging of The Nutcracker, giving a stylish twist to the classic role of the heroine's godfather.

Adasinsky, a former Soviet underground artist who emigrated to Czechoslovakia in 1991, remembers the Kirov ballet as a stately and pompous institution in the Soviet era. He was astonished to discover that the innovative new Kirov could adapt to the radical ideas of his modern dance and theatre company.

"They're even crazier than our company," he marvels. "When you see 200 people running around and screaming at each other, it looks like chaos, but I call it Russian Dadaism. When six people are screaming at the same time, it's actually a conversation."

The Kirov's brilliance, he says, stems obsessive work habits. "They work from 8 a.m. until midnight. You can't imagine the hours and hours, every day, with no time off. If they had a trade union, they would work until 6 p.m. and then stop -- but the Kirov is an army of artists. They're like soldiers. It's in the Russian blood to compete and be better than others. They just work harder."

Shemyakin's adaptation had its genesis two years ago, when Gergiev phoned the artist and asked him to create something "insane" for a new production of The Nutcracker. Shortly after, Gergiev called back and added: "Within the realm of reason, of course." This notion of "sane insanity" symbolizes the contradictions of the Kirov, where Gergiev searches for novelty and imagination within the boundaries of classical ballet.

The Kirov is keenly aware of its legacy as the wellspring of Russia's greatest dancers -- Nijinsky, Nureyev, Baryshnikov -- and the first theatre to stage some of the world's greatest ballets, including The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake.

Its history goes back more than 200 years, to the creation of Russia's first imperial opera and ballet company in St. Petersburg in the late 18th century. The theatre's building, named after the wife of Czar Alexander II, dates back to 1860. "Everyone, from the simplest cleaning ladies to the international ballet stars, understands that the walls of the Mariinsky are sacred," Shemyakin says.

Yet while preserving this tradition, the Kirov still manages to mount 12 new productions a year -- an extraordinary number for a classical-ballet company.

Though the workload is exhausting, the payoff has been enormous. The Kirov has garnered rave reviews around the world, from North America to Japan. The American billionaire arts patron Alberto Vilar announced last year that he is giving $14-million (U.S.) to the Kirov to finance new operas and ballets. This year, he donated a further $15-million for a series of Kirov visits to the Kennedy Center in Washington.

Even in Moscow, home of the Bolshoi Ballet, the Kirov has won the battle for critical success. The Moscow press, which routinely comments on the superiority of the Kirov, has advised the long-troubled Bolshoi to try to learn something from its northern rival.

"Comparing the two theatres, you cannot help noting the openness of the Mariinsky and the closed character of the Bolshoi," the weekly Argumenty i Fakty wrote recently.

"The Mariinsky has fire in the eyes. At the Mariinsky, you can find almost all national schools and styles; at the Bolshoi there are only a minimal number of Russian and foreign classics. The Bolshoi had its golden years in Stalin's time. . . . Today, the president prefers to visit the Mariinsky."

According to the Moscow media, the Kirov has attracted far more money in sponsorships than the Bolshoi has ever seen. When British Prime Minister Tony Blair came to Russia last year, he chose to attend a performance of War and Peace at the Kirov -- with President Vladimir Putin at his side -- rather than go to the Bolshoi. And, in a final insult, the Bolshoi has been dumped from a prestigious run at the Royal Opera House in London this summer to make room for the Kirov.

The adventurous new staging of The Nutcracker is typical of how the Kirov transcends the Bolshoi's musty repertoire. Gergiev and Shemyakin demolished the cloyingly sentimental tone of the traditional Christmas children's-matinee version. Reviving instead the nightmarish mood of Hoffman's original fairy tale, they designed the ballet for adults -- or at least for the streetwise kids of today, reared on the violence and surrealism of video games and computer graphics.

"You can't frighten children today with plush mice," Shemyakin says. "You can't interest them with scenes of a nice bourgeois life. Look at the psychology of today's children. Look at the police blotter."

What he unveiled at the premiere in St. Petersburg last week was a phantasmagoria of wild creatures in birdlike masks and carnival costumes, including a rat aristocracy in magnificent wigs and a rat army brandishing cheese flags. A huge rabbit's-head trophy was mounted on a wall. Giant flies and wasps crawled up rainbow-coloured candy canes. Even the snowflakes were dressed in fashionable black, speckled with white flakes to suggest a blizzard.

"It was completely different from any version I've danced in before," said Vladimir Malakhov, former principal dancer at the National Ballet of Canada, who attended the premiere. "It was wonderful, amazing -- exactly like a fairy tale, with lots of surprises. The scenery was fabulous."

The new adaptation (expected to be performed in a Kirov tour of Paris, North America and Japan next year) also features Gergiev's adaptation of Tchaikovsky's music, in which he has restored its original fast tempo. The whole performance, including intermission, whizzed by in two hours, compared with a dawdling three hours in traditional versions. Generations of ballerinas had insisted on a slower tempo to make it easier to dance, so Gergiev's faster version led to some consternation among the Kirov performers.

"On the first day of rehearsal, nobody could dance," Adasinsky recalls.

Even after years of innovation at the Kirov, some of its traditionalists resisted the avant-garde outsiders who descended on them for the new Nutcracker. Tensions rose when a veteran choreographer quit, to be replaced by a 23-year-old novice.

"There had to be some confrontations," Adasinsky says. "It was an artistic fight, but it turned out beautifully."

[This message has been edited by Marc Haegeman (edited February 23, 2001).]

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I have to poor some cold water on this very emotional review from somebody, who never was in the theatre before, I believe. This is a mormal life of artists, but I have to make few corrections. Corridors may be gloomy, but studios are spacious in the Mariinsky. The normal salary in Russia around $70 US, so, have $100 Us in the month is not very bad, specially, when you spend 6 month abroad as minimum with touring, paid by Western standards. Ballet artists never rehearsed at night and they didn't do it for this production either, the choreography wasn't change one hour before the show. Ratmansky (previous choreographer) is not old and renown at all.


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This Nutcracker must be real magic, according to the now immortal words of Mr. Adasinsky: "On the first day of rehearsal, nobody could dance" wink.gif

No further comments, Leigh... Yet, I'd like to live to see that year wherein the Kirov Ballet will mount 12 new works.

I was also very much intrigued by the final line of Mr. Crisp's review.

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The final line, like Mr. Vilar's sponsorship?! That really took me aback. What is that about? I'm guessing Vilar sponsored Crisps' trip to review and perhaps disagreed with the production and so encouraged the review..... BUT, I want to know more. Very intriguing, indeed.

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Good catch, guys! Could you imagine the same sort of thing elsewhere, e.g:

"Clive Barnes - sponsored by The Irene Diamond Fund"

No, no...this one (Crisp - Vilar) is bizarre.

- Jeannie (p.s. - Do I smell a resurrection of my favorite "Junketeers" topic? Naw...)

[This message has been edited by Jeannie (edited February 23, 2001).]

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