Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Macaulay Culkin, Kevin Kline, Heather Watts, Darci Kistler, Kyra Nichols
Director: Emile Ardolino
Genres: Special Interests, Musicals & Performing Arts
Studio: Warner Home Video Release Date: 10/28/2008 Run time: 93 minutes
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A Spectacular, Traditional "Nutcracker"
Enamorato | Washington, DC United States | 01/19/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In 1954, Russian-born choreographer George Balanchine staged a new version of "The Nutcracker" for his New York City Ballet. What sets Balanchine's version apart from the subsequent incarnations that would emerge in Soviet Russia and Europe is that it utlizes the original 1892 libretto. As such, we get a very pure version of the ballet - no strange Freudian undertones as with Maurice Bejart's production, no hokey Soviet realism as with Vasily Vainonen's production, and no adults playing the children's roles as with all of the above and including Baryshnikov's popular version for the American Ballet Theatre. Here, we have simply a story of childhood whimsy as well as some spectacular visions of Christmastime, including a giant Christmas tree, a torrential snowstorm, and a magnificent Land of Sweets. We also get conventions that were eventually weeded out in other productions such as a distinctly German setting for Act I, and Act II divertissement representing actual confections as opposed to just geographic regions. In fact, we also have Balanchine to thank for preserving much of what is left of the original choreography from the 1892 production by Marius Petipa, especially the Prince's pantomime and the Pas de Deux in Act II.
Here we have the 1993 film version of the Balanchine production, some forty years after its premiere; and a very fine film it is. It is directed by Emile Ardolino whose influence on the filming of American dance cannot be underestimated. For years, he racked up Emmy Awards for his work profiling dance on PBS's programs "Dance in America" and "Live from Lincoln Center." It is Ardolino's finesse in dance cinematography that sets this "Nutcracker" apart from others - in particular Carroll Ballard's version of Pacific Northwest Ballet's version and the recent San Francisco Ballet release (which, though beautiful in its own right, is marred by insensitive camera angles). Ardolino understands ballet and understands what a dance audience looks for. As a result, we get some gorgeous shots that are perfectly framed that maintain a respectful distance from the dancers. Oftentimes in dance films, we get so many close ups and odd camera angles it is impossible to get a holistic feel for the dance. Not so in this case.
The actual production has never looked better. Rouben Ter-Arutunian's set designs are absolutely stunning up close and, although Barbara Karinska's costumes are somewhat outdated by today's standards (including some rather heavy tutus for the Waltz of the Snowflakes scene), they have a nostalgic, stately charm. Jessica Lynn-Cohen is a surprisingly mature Marie - her performance is nuanced and fully concieved. I wish I could say the same for her co-star, Macauley Culkin as the Nutcracker, in an odd example of stunt-casting; his performance is comparatively stilted and awkward. This would be perfectly serviceable in a stage production, but up close on film, it doesn't pass muster. Thankfully, his time on screen is relatively limited.
This production was filmed just before the New York City Ballet's status as a "Balanchine company" began to wane somewhere in the mid-1990s (althought some would attest this happened earlier). Thus, we get to see some performances that represent the zenith of the company's potential, indlucing Darcy Kistler as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Kyra Nichols as Dew Drop and even Bart Robinson Cook as a delightful Drosselmeier. Likewise, the way the corps throw themselves into numbers like the Waltz of Snowflakes and Waltz of Flowers is unparalled.
All that said, the true star of the show is still Balanchine's sensitive choreography. With the libretto being so barebones, it is up to the choregrapher to make or break the ballet. Balanchine's choreography has always charmed me over. Here, we get a true atmosphere of warmth and love; we get a true feel for the familial air of the Staulbaum household. The dances are organic extensions of Tchaikovsky's brilliant music; in fact, with Balanchine, the dancers become embodiments of the music in the corps numbers - this is especially the case with the Waltz of the Flowers closing the divertissement of Act II. Just seeing the melodic patterns work themselves out through the dancers is breathtaking. Speaking of the music, Tchaikovsky's score gets a wonderful, sensitive performance here from David Zinman and the New York City Ballet Orchestra.
Seeing Balanchine's "Nutcracker" after so many other incarnations always feels like returning "home." By keeping true to the libretto, we get a rather wholesome experience; sweet but never saccharine, spectacle without excessive bombast. It is a lovingly constructed rendition that I am glad has been preserved.
Al Forman | USA | 01/25/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Best production of all. Superb ballet. This the NYC Ballet Group, and the Orchestra is conducted by David Zinnman---it doesn't get better than that.I have seen this ballet performed many times by the above group--its almost like being there."
K. L. Perry | lost wages NV | 01/26/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"A classic. Allows all to see the beauty of the ballet without spending the high ticket prices to see it in person."
A. Kramer | 06/27/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My daughter loves the Nutcracker and she was glued to this as soon as we got it in the mail. I appreciate that there is not JUST music - there is some narration. Very pleased with this purchase!"