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Recordings

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker
16 Mar 2006

TCHAIKOVSKY: The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker is one of the most popular ballets. Tchaikovsky’s score alone is synonymous with Christmas—one can even say that it is what keeps this ballet alive.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker

Natalya Arkhipova, Irek Mukhamedow, Yuri Vetrov, Andrei Sitnikov, Ilze Liepa, The Bolshoi Ballet, The Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra, Alexandr Kopilov (cond.).
Choreography by Yuri Grigorovich based on the original choreography by Lev Ivanov.

ArtHaus 101119 [DVD]

$19.99  Click to buy

The great Marius Petipa was charged with choreographing the ballet. Unfortunately, he fell ill and the task fell upon his assistant Lev Ivanov. Nonetheless, having been restaged and rehashed countless times, many argue that little of the original Ivanov choreography remains.

Based on the E.T.A. Hoffmann story, The Nutcracker is about a young girl, Clara, who receives a Nutcracker doll as a Christmas gift from her Godfather Drosselmeyer. After the party she sneaks back into the living room when everyone is asleep to get her doll and falls asleep under the tree. In her dreams, her doll turns into a handsome prince who leads an army of toy soldiers to defeat the Mouse King and his minions. The Prince then escorts Clara through magical lands, culminating in the Kingdom of Sweets.

There have been many versions of this tale. In the New York City Ballet version choreographed by George Balanchine, Clara is replaced by Marie, though the main story line remains the same. Balanchine also utilizes many children, something not consistent in all Nutcracker versions. In American Ballet Theatre’s version, choreographed by Mikhail Baryshnikov, Clara is the central character and the sugar plum fairy is omitted. This version has many undertones, and it becomes a sort of coming of age story for Clara.

In The Bolshoi Ballet’s Nutcracker, the cast is made up of adults playing children’s parts, and Clara dances the Sugar Plum Fairy’s variation. Out on DVD as part of The Bolshoi Ballet at the Bolshoi series, the 1989 performance features Natalya Arkhipova as Clara, Irek Mukhamedov as The Nutcracker Prince, and Yuri Vetrov as Drosselmeyer. Directed for video by Matoko Sakaguchi, this video is straightforward with a full view of the stage. This is particularly good for scenes with a large corps de ballet because close-ups and odd camera angles often take away from a myriad of patterns that the choreography was meant to show.

The ballet begins with a magical opening, with snow falling on guests on their way to the party. Our first glimpse of Drosselmeyer shows us that he is not ominous or scary as he is usually portrayed. In this version, he is sans cape and with his mask and hat he looks almost comical. Even the Nutcracker doll looks like an oversized stuffed toy rather than a wooden Nutcracker. Early on in the first act, I realized that the problem with watching the DVD versus a live performance is that on video you can clearly see the adult faces. In a ballet where adults are supposed to play children, this was distracting. Fortunately the dancing, particularly Natalya Arkhipova’s intricate footwork, more than makes up for this. Irek Mukhamedov also did not disappoint, with his athleticism evident in the way he attacked his leaps and pirouettes.

The major corps productions, particularly the Snowflakes and the Waltz of the Flowers are where the company really shines through. The precision and uniformity of the movements were astounding. The quality of the dancing was excellent, the large Bolshoi stage serving the choreography of Yuri Grigovich well.

The colors of the lighting and the sets translated well in this video. The sets, particularly in the Kingdom of Sweets were in wonderful hues of red and copper. This is a deviation from the usual candy colored pastels many seem to favor. There was something Byzantine about them, reminiscent of Baskt’s Ballet Russe sets.

The costumes were inventive and almost post modern. It worked extremely well with the sets to give this production of The Nutcracker a revitalized feel.
The sound quality and picture quality of this video are excellent. However if you are looking for special features like behind the scenes footage, you will be disappointed. This is a no-nonsense DVD—all you get is a performance. On the other hand, the ability to see the spectacle that is the Bolshoi today, with a full cast and larger than life sets, more than makes up for it.

Cherish García

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