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Blast at Nutcracker

Mel Johnson

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What do people think about reworkings of the Nutcracker?I'm thinking of Graham Murphy's Nutcracker. I found it moving in that it paid homage to those Dancers who came to Australia before the war and gave us a ballet tradition which had not existed. I also liked some of the reworking of the actual dances particularly the snow sequence although the flashbacks to the red army as rats was pretty horrible.

You might find these links about Murphy's Nutcracker and Swan Lake interesting - lots of different opinions!

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:P:flowers: Well Mel I hope you are happy now you have got that off your chest..... The Nutcracker, has never been one of my favourite ballets, it may be something to do with the fact, it was the second ballet I ever saw, not just once, but every year at Christmas, it was my two Aunts, it was a good production, but after about 7 years got a bit boring. Since then I have worked in the genre, and learnt a lot about the subject, and my knowledge has somewhat widenend.

Having seen different "Nutcrackers" I am not so biased now, and can appreciate three different versions, Nureyevs for The Royal Ballet, Sir Peter Wrights for Birmingham RB, and surprise, surprise, a very different one by Grahame Murphy for The Australian Ballet, that tells the story of Clara, a Russian Ballerina. It touches on the Ballet Russe history of their arrival in Australia, and features some older dancers, as well as current stars. The music and well known content is used as a performance in the production, which is choreographed in the style of the era. I wont go any further with a description now, but will post a more detailed report as soon as I can. :clapping::bow:

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I think one issue with trying to appreciate The Nutcracker is the fact there are two very distinct "reference" variants (in my humble opinion! :) ), the Vainonen version from 1934 and the Balanchine version from 1954. There is no Sugar Plum Fairy in the original Vainonen version, if I remember correctly.

Americans are so ingrained by the Balanchine version and its subsequent variants that anything different is going to confuse the viewer. I believe Europeans are more used to the Vainonen version, so they might not be used to the Balanchine version.

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An important and profound distinction. Thanks, Sacto!

You're welcome. :thanks:

At least with two other famous Tchaikovsky ballets, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, we pretty much have a good idea of what how the story more or less goes in the most commonly-produced versions (despite all the divergent versions of the ballet's end, almost everything else about most versions of Swan Lake have a lot in common in terms of plot points).

Because the story of the lead character (Maria or Masha) in the Vainonen version is quite different than the story of the lead character (Clara) in the Balanchine version, trying to compare various different versions of The Nutcracker is a hard nut to crack (pun definitely intended! :wink: ).

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I think one issue with trying to appreciate The Nutcracker is the fact there are two very distinct "reference" variants (in my humble opinion! :thanks: ), the Vainonen version from 1934 and the Balanchine version from 1954.

Neither one was my point of reference while growing up. I think it's pretty fare to add "Fedorova after Ivanov" to the list, considering the millions of Cubans who, like me, are totally strangers to any other version, and for which the ballet is as very well known and much loved and for which depriving the PDD of its variations and/or coda seems something unthinkable-(links regarding a similar choreographic "diversity" phenomena in other ballets are many). Said that, i will also want to clarify that this is just ANOTHER opinion, (and also humble, if i may...)

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And long before the Wright version, in 1934, the Ivanov was staged by Nicholas Sergeyev from his Stepanov notations for the Vic-Wells Ballet. This version was a springboard for other productions, including the London Festival Ballet's, and to a lesser extent, the National Ballet of Canada's. Bits of it showed up in the Les Grands Ballets Canadiens' production.

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Anyway, in the end there are just as many variants of The Nutcracker as weeds in my backyard in summer. :thanks: As such, you can't describe the "best" version, because even the two "reference" versions I mentioned (the 1934 Vainonen version and the 1954 Balanchine version) have their own strengths and weaknesses.

By the way, the reason why I mentioned Swan Lake in this discussion is that most versions performed today are pretty much very close to the 1895 Petipa/Ivanov version in terms of plot line, despite all the different versions of the end of the ballet. That's why the 1953 Bourmeister version caused such a sensation when it was first performed because it was so different in many ways from the Petipa/Ivanov version. In contrast, because Balanchine dramatically changed the storyline of the main female character in The Nutcracker (even changing character's name from Maria/Masha to Clara), that's why Europeans like one version and Americans like another version.

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there seems some confusion here: Clara is the name, in Hoffmann, of one of Marie's dolls and that became the name of the girl character in the 1892 Petipa libretto.

Balanchine went back to Hoffmann and called his little heroine Marie.

most NUTCRACKERs keep to Clara. Balanchine's is one of the few hereabouts to use the name Marie.

also just how did Balanchine change the main story line?

Marie stays Marie and the Sugar Plum Fairy stays the Sugar Plum Fairy (albeit with some of her music re-arranged to place her solo earlier in the last act than Tchaikovsky and Petipa planned. it's always seemed possible that Balanchine was 'answering' some of the complaints lodged against the original production, which bemoaned the fact that the ballerina's dancing didn't come into the action until late in the last act.)

it would seem that the one who made more changes in the libretto was Vainonen, who had Masha take on the music/role of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

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I believe that there's one more flip-flop in the Clara/Marie saga on its way to becoming a libretto. Alexandre Dumas pere wrote a translation of the Hoffman story, and that telling was what Petipa used to draw his libretto. Somewhere in there, the names change, too. Marianne is a name of an Act I partygoer who may be Clara/Marie's older sister. Sometimes, her business is acted by the maid, or productions interpolate a "favorite auntie" among the adults. Whoever she is, she's close to the principal little girl.

The 1892 Petersburg version of the story makes Drosselmeyer and the Nutcracker doppelgangers. Balanchine adds a "Drosselmeyer's nephew" and thus a dreimalsganger! But by adding him, and an additional pantomime set to the violin entr'acte from Sleeping Beauty, Balanchine added both more logic and more magic to an ambiguous storyline. It seems to have worked out all right.

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And long before the Wright version, in 1934, the Ivanov was staged by Nicholas Sergeyev from his Stepanov notations for the Vic-Wells Ballet.

...which Markova danced and tought it to Alonso...

Well, the pas de deux, anyway. The Fedorova had some different mime at the beginning of Act II, but that's not a big deal for the Sugar Plum Fairy. The waltz finale was somewhat different, too.

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5. Pas de Deux to the Act I transformation music. Pavlova's been dead and gone a good many years now, and the Snow Queen/King (let them melt into oblivion) are only a memory of her vaudeville act set to this music. See the above Loathing. If you can't fill the transformation music with a transformation, don't do this ballet! Choreographers have to be told when to step back and let other stage artists work their magic!

5. Snow Queens and Kings as noted above.

So which Company's production was that which some Danilova's pics in the SQ costume come from...? BR, Denham...?

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That's the Fedorova production. BR used to play all sorts of places that didn't have a sufficient fly space or machinery to do any sort of fancy effects, or even some basic ones. Sometimes, they would have everything deadhung, and on a three-bill, the stagehands were all up on ladders striking one set of curtains and hanging another. Incidentally, in that production, the party scene kept shrinking and shrinking until it was only five minutes long! The show really started with the snow scene, with the transformation music used for my objected-to pas de deux. I wish I knew how they cut it, and what they left in.

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In the NYCB production it isn't SO bad, but still maybe in the harrumph category. 

In talking to several people who were there at the time, I learned that part of the reason Balanchine chose to have a nephew in there was to showcase the talent of a wonderful child dancer/actor named Paul "Rusty" Nickel (later soloist, ABT).  He padded the Nutcracker part to create a cognate in the "real world" of the party, but if you cut that part out, and the interpolated entr'acte from Sleeping Beauty, very little, in fact nothing, would be lost from the original intent of the libretto.  Another part of the reason for the addenda was that Balanchine also wanted something more for his original Drosselmeyer, Mischa Arshansky, to do.  While this is a part of the usually-execrable practice of "making sense" of a fairy tale (who are the Grinches who thought this trend up?), it was much less offensive when done by Balanchine.   And what tragic music?  It's a descending C scale!  Furthermore, they're mice, not rats.

Mel Johnson,

Rusty Nickel was my brother. As you may know, he died way too soon at the age of 33. I wanted to thank you for your comment about him. I showed it to our mother and it made her day, possibly her year. Thank you, Joan Nickel Craig

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