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Bolshoi in DC -- Nutcracker


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I was hoping someone else would start this -- I certainly hope somebody here went!

I'll say this for him. When Yuri Grigorovich reworks a 19th century ballet, you don't think of the model -- he really reworks it. He creates a world. That said, this particular world was drab, depressing, and dull. A real museum piece -- Soviet Era Exhibit A, from the goose-stepping, tankard-weilding, potbellied, fatuous Germans in the "party" scene (well, you have to call it something) to the rubber wigs worn by the men (armed with candlelabras) in the last act.

This "Nutcracker" is very inconsistent -- bits of 19th century charm (the cotton balls on wands for the snowflakes, the pretty, curvey girls-dressed-as-boys in the party scene) plunked down, stripped of charm, into a cinderblock mid-century world; a party scene that teeters on the brink of depravity but stays disappointingly bourgeois; hints of darkness -- who is the Rat King and why does Drosselmeyer drag him along into the -- well, whatever the second act is? -- that never amount to anything. There's a big tree, but it doesn't really grow, it creeps, like a vertical oil slick. (The white tree in the snow scene is gorgeous, but underlit, like the whole production, so you have to look hard to see it's gorgeous.)

Friday night the dancing was as dull as the production -- not bad, just not exciting. The character dances were delivered without an ounce of brilliance. The leads were....well, maybe a matinee cast the third week into the run, but far from etoiles. The audience (from the orchestra front perspective) did not seem to be enjoying it.

Saturday afternoon, with Goriacheva (I don't have my program so may be mangling that) and Filin was much better danced, and the pair pulled the ballet together by sheer stage presence. The audience was more into it, too (although one little girl, as we were leaving, glared at her mother and said, "They changed the plot!"). There was a standing ovation at the end, and hearty clapping throughout, and the dancers responded to this -- the character dances were much brighter, but there's only so much dancers can do with that choreography.

The choreography itself was depressing. Both "snow" and "flowers" was choreography by the yard -- not a single interesting combination, nothing sophisticated or complex, and I'd say the same for the character dances. As for the pas de deux, who but Grigorovich would make a ballerina do pirouettes in arabesque and have her partner grab her extended leg and hoist her onto his shoulder?

The Drosselmeyer was quite good, I thought, very elegant, very precise. I didn't know whether he was supposed to be a demon or a magician, but I don't think that was his fault.

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This is far from my favorite version of 'Nutcracker' so I'm not surprised at your reaction or Washington audience's reticence to make comments. I far prefer the Vasily Vainonen version, which is the traditional rendering performed at the Kirov (in addition to the new Chemyakin/Simonov vers.), the Stanislavsky, etc, etc. Not that the Vainonen is an audience-favorite in America, either, due (I think) to the all-adult cast (adults cast as kids).

Just a couple of comments -

GRIGOROVICH AND GOOSE-STEPPING: I don't know what it is about goosesteps but Yuri Grigorovich never fails to insert at least one passage of it into every ballet, e.g., the Roman troops in 'Spartacus' or the fan-bearers in 'Bayadere'! Or the oriental guys in 'Legend of Love'!

ANASTASIA GORIACHEVA: She is all-the-rage here in Moscow. I'm happy that she managed to get herself onto the USA tour roster...not a simple feat! The Kultura television channel did a nice mini-documentary on Goriacheva last week, including footage of her dancing a number of roles made famous by Maximova...Kazyan Goleizovsky's 'Mazurka' miniature, for example.

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Oh, I do remember the goosesteppers in La Bayadere well! (And Spartacus too -- where, as I remember it, it has a dramatic point.) But this one -- well, I hope they don't take it to any EU festivities :D The women in the party scene aren't too bad -- just stupid and greedy and stuck up. But the men are truly horrid.

I liked Goriacheva-- I had not seen her before. Do you know how old she is, Jeannie? The choreography doesn't give her much to do except jump and turn, but since she has a lovely, light, fast, HIGH jump and beautifully centered turns, one could say the choreography suited her :)

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Military historian to the rescue here. The goose-step in modern marching goes back to the Russian army before 1812, hence a Russian audience would see them more neutrally, saying only "professional military" vs. "Wehrmacht". One of Napoleon's officers recorded that he saw a Russian review in which the soldiers marched at the quick march, and planted their feet with a straight-legged stamp, which he thought might have been required by the ice on the frozen parade ground.

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Mel, you've just explained something to me!

Now I know why the Bolshoi audiences go gah-gah whenever the youngest pupils of the Moscow Ballet Academy enter the stage doing goosesteps, in the classic children's piece 'Suvorovsky Quadrille'. (That is the Bolshoi's answer to the Vaganova Academy's 'Paquita Children's Mazurka'.) THE highlight of every kiddie performance is the Quadrille - the trumpet blares, the kids goosestep onto the stage, the audience stands up & claps in time, moms shed tears...it all has to be experienced to be believed!!!

The kids now wear Tsarist-era costumes (girls in frilly pale dresses and boys in tsarist military uniforms). During the Soviet era, they all dressed in Young Pioneers outfits, complete with red kerchiefs.

Vaganova Academy performances are tame compared to these.

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Oh no, Alexandra, the Germans consciously copied the goose-step from the Russians. Thinking back on the history of cadenced marching, the Russians may have got it from the Holstein Guard kept by Pavel I, Catherine the Great's late, ungreat hubby. They in turn would have been copying the Prussians, but the Germans then only used it at the slow march as a parade step and then judiciously put the foot down toe first, thereby making a most balletic pas marché! (The British Army still uses this slow march, only slightly modified) It's the straight-legged heel-down at quick time that makes a goose-step.

Jeannie, I've seen photos of the Quadrille, and had no idea it was named for Suvorov, an old favorite General of Catherine the Great in her wars against the Turks and for Pavel II, Revolutionary France. He had been defeated by Pro-Napoleonic forces at the Second Battle of Zurich which defeat launched him into a depression which weakened him so, he died shortly thereafter, leaving the Field Marshalship vacant, and the Russian army under the capable but underrated command of General Kutuzov, who eventually annihilated the Grande Armée under Napoleon himself at Beresina.

Anyway, the boys look very handsome in their high-collared tunics and smart white gloves, with the the saucer hat tucked properly into their left arms. The girls are dressed equally beautifully, in a sort of Empire-Revival short petticoat, with flowers in their hair. Since this picture I see, clearly labeled "Bolshoi School" is black-and-white and practically grainless, I'd say it was either very old or very new.

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I saw the Bolshoi's Nuts on Thursday and Friday evenings, and agree with most of what's been said here. I thought that, by Grigorovich's standards, this was a very subdued production—I could sense him restraining himself. I could almost feel him aching to insert some Tarzan passages for the men or outrageously cheesey divertissements, but remembering that this was meant to be a traditional version.

Adults playing children never works for me, and when you have grown women trying to be little boys, all attempts at suspending disbelief go out the window. Grigorovich tells the story so poorly (or, more likely, is so uninterested in telling it at all) that it's impossible to differentiate Fritz (also played by a girl) from the other kids. Marie herself was just barely distinctive. In this version, Drosselmeier (the program billed Alexey Loparevich on Thursday and Vladimir Moiseev on Friday, but they looked like the same dancer to me—and he was fine :D ) seems to give the nutcracker to both children, which makes us not quite as shocked as usual when Fritz breaks it. Moreover, Drosselmeier comes on carrying the nutcracker, unwrapped, in his arms—and it's another young woman, in an orange costume. So, at the end of the first act, when the orange woman suddenly becomes a red-clad man, it's, well, confusing. I wonder if people seeing the ballet for the first time will understand it. And after the snow scene, the stage is suddenly populated by strangely costumed people who are not explained. When you return for Act Two, you discover that they're the divertissement dancers (whoever or whatever they're supposed to be—the place where Marie and the Nutcracker Prince go is not spelled out). Well, the program does call them "the dolls revived in Marie's fantastic dream," but I didn't notice that until just now. These are just some examples of Grigovorovich's poor dramatic sense, but I'll spare you the others.

He's messed with the divertissements, too, of course. As in Baryshnikov's version, they're all duets, which is monotonous. The Arabian dance is now Indian, a ludicrous contrast to the music. The Waltz of the Flowers is absurdly stodgy and undancey. No Sugar Plum Fairy, of course; their pas de deux goes to Marie and the Prince. I saw Goriacheva and Elena Andrienko. The latter was okay although her legs shook badly after the pas de deux; I liked Goriacheva quite a bit (but, Jeannie, first movement Bizet? I would have said third), she had a soft, gracious quality to match her lovely dancing. Dmitry Gudanov, partnering Andrienko, had the kind of attractive danseur noble manner that you don't always see these days, even if his dancing didn't quite equal it.

The designs, by Grigorovich favorite Simon Virsaladze, were drab and didn't quite fill the stage, making me suspect that this was a downscale touring version.

I would really, really like to see the Bolshoi in something untouched by Grigorovich. :rolleyes:

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I found it more appalling than shocking -- maybe this is unfair, as there have been so many "I'll top THAT rethinks of "Nutcracker" -- but it was drab, not dark, very "middlebrow," not at all on the edge. (NOT that I think Nutcracker has to be on the edge, but if you're going to stir it up, then stir it up!)

Ari, thanks for your review -- anyone else see it? If so, please write.

AND I agree -- after three Grigorovich ballets in six months, I'd love to see the Bolshoi in something else. A rerun of the Lavrovsky "Romeo and Juliet" would be nice. They looked like a different company. I'd still like to see the full "Spartacus" -- I've only seen one act of it live, though of course I've seen the videos. But "Bayadere," "Swan Lake" and 'Nutcracker" to me looked old and shopworn. And his "Raymonda" (danced here last summer by his own Grigorovich Ballet) was a 5-star Shocker -- he moved the grand pas classique INTO THE FIRST ACT, which made an already long act excessive, and ruined the structure, the build of the ballet.

All of this is not to discourage anyone who LIKED this production from writing, please. :D

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I won't in any way interfere in your assessments of Grigorovich's art - please continue :D:) Just to mention that Goriacheva indeed danced the 1st movement of Symphony in C the first time at short notice in New York, in July 2000.

More can be found on

http://users.skynet.be/ballet-lovers/Goriacheva.html and (for those who master the language of Pushkin): http://www.ballet.classical.ru/b_goriacheva.html

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I had been looking forward to seeing the Bolshoi's Nutcracker all year. I saw the Friday evening performance and am glad that I did. Even so, it was a disappointment. This version differed so much from the version that I am used to seeing that it was a bit confusing. I agree with previous posters that it was under lit, the costumes were drab, and adult women as little boys were a distraction. There was nothing in the dancing that really sparked my enthusiasm. I was particularly disappointed in the switch from Arabian (one of my favorites) to Indian. And to me the costumes for the Russian, French and Spanish dances all seemed too similar.

On the plus side, for the most part the women's pointe shoes were quiet… a considerable accomplishment when compared to the noise they made when the Bolshoi danced La Bayadère at KC in June.

The 1st tier was full and the audience seemed appreciative although there were no wild demonstrations of enthusiasm. Actually the audience was very good as there is usually a rush to depart before the dancers have taken their final bows. This time everyone waited until the company had been thanked. Perhaps this was due to the earlier start time of 7:30 or the fact that the weather was miserable, or both.

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I liked Goriacheva in the first movement of Symphony in C. It wasn't really the 1st movement the way I'm used to seeing it at NYCB, which I admire very much. She was light, fresh and musical, not mannered. I believe it was her birthday when she went on, too. And I never tought of her doing the 3rd movement because the Bolshoi because the divine Ms. Maria Alexandrovna did that movement and she was something special. A big woman with a big jump, she had so much verve.

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