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Nutcracker 2021

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I attended the November 23th performance of Sir Peter Wright’s Nutcracker.  This is a gorgeous production, beautifully crafted and with emphasis on traditional grand ballet rather than Christmas gimmick.  I went eager to see it, given that I had, for many years, successfully avoided its recording.  I don’t  enjoy ballet on videos, and even less on little screens -(cell phone)-, so I was able to get a real and complete fresh approach to the famous British staging.  Of course…comparisons inevitably arose to the two Nutcrackers I’m most familiar with.  Alicia Alonso’s after Alexandra Fedorova for the Cuban company and Balanchine’s for both MCB and City Ballet.

The ballet starts with a prologue to the score’s overture. Alas…I’ve never been a fan of re imagined prologues to overtures.  Choreographers usually get too carried away with them, and this is no exception.  Here we get a glimpse of Herr Drosselmayer and his nephew preparing their visit to the Silberhaus home, and getting all the toys ready.  I would gladly send the prologue to time out in the corner to make company to McKenzie’s Swan Lake one. There the Drosselmayer's Nutcracker toy can make friends with Von Rothbart's stuffed swan.

Act I opens and after a brief sidewalk scene, we get the Silberhaus household.  The multilevel sets are much elaborated, with identical side flying of stairs leading to the Christmas tree.  In general, the whole party scene is bigger and fuller than Balanchine’s.  There are many children, parents and servants.  And here’s where we are faced with the main problem of this production, which has actually been the main issue of this ballet since its very conception.  And the issue is…WHO IS THE LEADING CHARACTER OF THE BALLET…?

Throughout the years, choreographers have tried to resolve this issue in all possible ways.  What the original production was is still not clear to us, given that the famous pics we have seen show Stanislava Belinskaya’s character not as a small kid like Balanchine’s Clara, and neither as an adult fully fledged ballerina as with the Mashas of Vainonen, Grigorovitch or Sir Peter Wright’s Clara.  To make things more complicated, Belinskaya was 12 at the time she was chosen for the role, and the pictures show her with pointe shoes, although I don’t believe any notation exist of any of her dances…that if she even danced.

Balanchine, being the genius that he was, doesn’t get a headache over this, and simply fallows the original libretto.  A sweet little girl for Clara in act I who becomes a complete passive spectator along her equally small Nutcracker friend in act II. Fee Dragee and Prince Coqueluche are then secondary characters, even if they are the ones who do the classical Grand Pas of the ballet.

So for Balanchine, the leading character of his Nutcracker is not a ballerina, but a non-dancing miming little girl.

Sir Peter Wright attempts to keep Clara as the leading character, and he does so by giving the role to an adult dancer on pointe playing a somehow coming of age teenager who apparently falls a bit in love with her rescuer Nutcracker, another full-fledged adult dancer. And here is where things start not working for me.  In his quest to do so he decides to give her steps and more steps all over the place at all times.  Unlike the Soviet versions where all Clara’s girlfriends are on pointe, here she’s the only one wearing them, with the rest of the girls in soft slippers.  There are steps for Clara everywhere, with the first act finishing with longer dances for her and her Nutcracker during the transformation scene AND the Snow scene, where we’re introduced to the constant dancing interventions of the couple that we will be seeing all along the divertissements in Act II.

As I said…the whole of the production seems grander…more expanded than Balanchine’s.  Even the variations for the dolls are longer, as they use the music that in Balanchine's version accompanies Fritz and Drosselmayer bringing  the boxes onstage and winding them up.  The tempi are also slower here and the variations more elaborated.  Hence…the whole act looks more “balletic”…more “serious” than the simple charm of Balanchine’s.

Nobody tops Balanchine’s spectacular growing three sequence. Period.

The battle scene is also more elaborated and adult oriented than Balanchine’s.  And very well done.  A highlight of it is a huge wheelchair that the mice bring with the Mouse King on top.  The entire scene is very exciting, and Clara killing the Mouse King with her slipper is clearer seen than in Balanchine’s, where many Claras miss the head of the mouse because the slipper is thrown from a distance.  Here Clara places herself behind the mouse and gives him a resounding and lethal beating with her slipper. Loved it.

A long adagio between Clara and the Nutcracker to the transformation scene music.  As with the Soviet versions….lifts and running…and more lifts and more running. Pass.

Nobody tops Balanchine’s Snow scene.  Period.  Clara and the Nutcracker again dance with the snowflakes.

Act II is more or less the same as all productions.  I welcomed back the sight of the Three Ivans in the Trepak, a segment that Alberto Alonso staged in Havana using the choreography he danced in the 1930’s for Aurora’s Wedding during his tenure with the Ballet Russes de Montecarlo.  But I still missed the precious piece of original Ivanov that Balanchine gives us with his Candy Cane.


The waltz of the flowers follows the original Ivanov  scheme of couples, with a Dewdrop-like character named Rose Fairy.  It was a beautiful waltz, but here, just as with the Snow, I’m completely partial to Balanchine. 

Nobody tops Balanchine’s Snow and Flowers.  Period.

The one thing that annoyed me the most was, as I said earlier, that Sir Wright, in his quest to position Clara and her Nutcracker as the lead characters of the ballet, has them intervening and dancing in all the divertissements.  In this sense, Balanchine also prevails , for he gives each of the soloists of his divertissements a bit of a choreographic moment to shine, and this is particularly wonderful with his Candy Cane and his Dewdrop.  At the Royal, with the exception of the Arabian dance, it is Clara and the Nutcracker who get the leading bars and finale with the ensembles.  I think this as a real faux pas.

The Chinese dance has lost all traces of Western Orientalism-(makeup, wigs, miming gestures)-, as I could see when comparing it with photos of past seasons.  But that also happened, in a less dramatic way, to Balanchine’s.

The very highlight of the ballet is the Grand Pas de Deux, a huge chunk of original Ivanov that has been lovingly kept intact from Imperial times and that I learned to love via Alonso’s staging after Fedorova.  This is, for me, the most beautiful classical adagio of the whole Imperial repertoire…even more than the White Swan or the Sleeping Beauty one.  And Marianela Nunez with Vadim Muntagirov were as regal and poised and marvelous to watch as they could be.  It was indeed wonderful.

At the end of the ballet, I found myself really liking it, but in a different way than Balanchine. 

I just wish Clara and the Nutcracker would had stayed quietly seated in act II.

Edited by cubanmiamiboy
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11 hours ago, cubanmiamiboy said:


The ballet starts with a prologue to the score’s overture. Alas…I’ve never been a fan of re imagined prologues to overtures.  Choreographers usually get too carried away with them, and this is no exception.  Here we get a glimpse of Herr Drosselmayer and his nephew preparing their visit to the Silberhaus home, and getting all the toys ready.  I would gladly send the prologue to time out in the corner to make company to McKenzie’s Swan Lake one. There the Drosselmayer's Nutcracker toy can make friends with Von Rothbart's stuffed swan.


In addition to everything else these prologues undermine the mystery of the characters' actual entrances as traditionally staged...I can't say the Nutcracker prologues irritate me as much as the Swan Lake ones do because...well, I'm not as invested in the Nutcracker, but still....Glad you are seeing a lot of great ballet.

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I always think of these added prologues as answering the questions that no one is asking (and I totally agree about the Swan Lake prologues in particular). I guess the companies have the  idea that the audience can't be expected to listen to music that isn't accompanying any onstage action.

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Sir Peter also has a Prologue in his Swan Lake production for BRB which takes the form of a funeral procession to explain why the prince is under such pressure to marry. I find his Nutcracker Prologue less objectionable than the one he devised for Swan Lake which I find intrusive even if  for once it does not depict Odette's abduction. I find his Nutcracker Prologue far less intrusive possibly because it represents his attempt to attach the action of the ballet more securely to the ETA Hoffman story which provides the source material for the work. 

Sir Peter Wright has tinkered with his Covent Garden production over the years. When first seen it had more elements based on Wiley's research on Tchaikovsy's ballets than it does now. In its first iteration I seem to recall Harlequin and Columbine emerging onto the stage from a large pie and a vegetable of some sort ; Clara and the Nutcracker being largely non participatory and non dancing roles; the choreography for the Kingdom of the Snow being based on what we were told was Ivanov's choreography and floor plan and the Kingdom of Sweets somewhat more stereotypical when it came to the dances representing the lands which provide chocolate, tea and coffee. The production has been altered over the years, the pie and vegetable disappeared quite early on and when Clara began to be performed by an adult dancer rather than a student from the school  the choreography began to be altered to give Clara and the Nutcracker who is Drosselmeyer's nephew opportunities to dance in the Kingdom of Snow of the first act and in the second act divertisements which are no longer entertainments for them but sections of dance in which both characters participate.

The production has undergone further alterations more recently. The Chinese dance was completely re-choreographed by Sir Peter a couple of season's back turning the dancers involved in it into tumblers, This season he has altered the Arabian dance in an attempt to eliminate the racial stereotype he found in his own choreography. Some big changes were made in last season's revival as a result of Covid. The battle with the mice has been completely re-choreographed for adult dancers which has had the effect of reducing the involvement of the White Lodge students in the ballet and eliminating not only the coveted student  role of the Rabbit Drummer but the touches of humour in the choreography for the student version of the battle. The Mouse King in this version is trundled on in grandfather's bath chair rather than appearing centre stage via a trap while the number of Snowflakes in the Kingdom of Snow has been reduced in an attempt to make the section more Covid secure. It will be interesting to see how many of the Covid changes are retained in future seasons. 


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