Opportunity to Watch the Kirkland/Baryshnikov partnership
I. Martinez-Ybor | Miami, FL USA | 11/03/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"There are not many video opportunities to watch Gelsey Kirkland dance at all, much less when partnered by Mikhail Baryshnikov ("Baryshnikov at Wolf Trap" is the only other one I know of). For those of us who watched them on stage, it was a magical partnership even if at the time we did not know its tragic undertones. Other than an occassional outing with Makarova, Baryshnikov was never as evenly or stimulatingly matched. Pity there is no record of their Giselle or La Sylphide or Gelsey's "The Leaves are Fading". Both artists were at their peak when they danced together, and their peak to this day remains of the highest order. So, we are lucky that some record exists.
Unfortunately, one wishes this were a better document. This is a studio performance, and at times looks rather cramped. For some reason, even on DVD, everything seems taped in soft-focus, with a bluish gauzy overlay that becomes irritating. The choreography is thoroughly undistinguished if not boring. As noted elsewhere, the Arabian Dance is missing. It's fun to spot some ABT regulars of the period such as Warren Conover and George de la Pena, even if they don't do much. But this Nutcracker has been re-conceived to be Gelsey's and Misha's show, and, limited a show as it may be, they are the only reasons to purchase this DVD, if at all. If you are looking for a Nutcracker for the sake of having a DVD of the ballet, this is not for you. Try the Royal, or Balanchine's with NYCB, the Kirov or the Bolshoi."
A coherent "Nutcracker" at last
John C. Parsons | Orlando, FL United States | 12/20/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Probably the most popular of all ballets, Tchaikovky's "The Nutcracker" is pretty much required holiday viewing for children and the experience is one to be shared with parents, too. The sparkling score, by turns intensely dramatic and supremely exhilarating, is as familiar as any Christmas carol or hymn.
The essential problem with the ballet's original staging is that the story line falls apart in the second act. The first act has a reasonable plot line given that this is a child's dream story. But after Clara helps the Nutcracker defeat the Mouse King and he turns into a handsome prince, they depart for the Kingdom of Sweets and, after the Waltz of the Snowflakes, the story line evaporates. Once the pair arrive in the Kingdom, poor Clara sits out the entire second act watching a succession of sweet treats dance the audience into diabetes, while Prince Charming deserts her for the Sugar Plum Fairy. In other words, the original staging gives the entire second act no plot line whatever, only a succession of divertissements with solo turns and a final pas de deux for the prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Mikhail Baryshnikov's inspiration was to give this fragmented succession of dream images into a coherent story. Unfortunately as witness Celia Franca's infamous "it makes me want to vomit" rant, Baryshnikov's version is often misunderstood. Clara is not having an affair with Drosselmeyer, nor does he desire her.
The key to understanding Baryshnikov's interpretation is the Mouse King. It is immediately obvious from the King's costume--a long purple frock coat & short violet cape--that he is Clara's dream transformation of the drunken adult male party guest who wrenches off the Nutcracker's head (replacing Clara's brother as the culprit). In fact the mouse army are ALL Clara's dream transformations of the male party guests, including the paunchy, bemedalled general who throws out his back dancing the Champagne Promenade with Clara's nurse. (In the party scene, the guest who injures the Nutcracker is the ONLY one wearing a frock coat; all the other adult males [except the general] wear cutaways.)
In other words, the adult males are threatening to Clara (& this pretty much rules out any notion that she's involved with Drosselmeyer). Her dream, Drosselmeyer's gift as Baryshnikov's prologue explains, gently allows her to discover the womanly feelings with which her dawning womanhood endows her. At the party, then, Clara is a child among children, playing with toys (including the Nutcracker) as any child would. Her unexpected tenderness for the Nutcracker foreshadows her adult emotions for the prince after she helps him defeat the same individual who broke the toy during the party. Baryshnikov's staging of the first act stresses this theme by juxtaposing and contrasting the adults' and children's experiences of the party, in contrast to versions that foreground the children, such as the familiar Royal Ballet staging.
In the second act, Clara discovers new depths to her feelings. By banishing the Sugar Plum Fairy, Baryshnikov as the prince keeps Clara in the foreground and their near-ecstatic dances reveal her growing ease with adult feelings. But in the end, Drosselmeyer reappears to usher Clara out of her dream: her transformation into womanhood must take place in the real world, not in a dream fantasy.
As has been noted often enough, Baryshnikov was constrained to omit the Arabian variation in order to keep the film within the time frame for a television broadcast. This is unfortunate, as one can only imagine what he and Kirkland might have done with it. Mother Ginger is absent. Otherwise the score is intact; the familiar Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy survives with its angelic celeste accompaniment, here danced by Clara. The choreography for this number is the high point of Baryshnikov's tale: Clara's wonderfully hesitant yet ecstatic foot-dragging is forecast in her first-act pas de deux with the prince and reappears in a pendulum-like step in the second-act pas de deux (which she and the prince here share with Drosselmeyer).
The production values in the film are high with the exception of the scenery, which could have been more literally rendered; the backgrounds are often murky to the point of mystery. But the uniformly outstanding dancing and excellent costumes go a long way to offset this one minor liability.
DVD is impeccable & preferable in sound & picture quality to VHS."
Beautiful and provocative performance
Elly | California, USA | 09/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm not a dancer, former dancer, or big ballet fan -- just a musician who's seen several different "Nutcrackers" and, frankly, not been thrilled by any of them. But this one is thrilling to me, and to my three-year-old daughter!
I've always found "The Nutcracker" boring and syrupy in plot, though I enjoyed much of the music and some of the dancing. Yes, this ABT version has an "adult" theme (or several) -- but I find this enriches the ballet for me and it's interesting to try to figure out who's who and what's what among the characters. (I've really enjoyed reading other reviewers' interpretations!)
Meantime, my three-year-old daughter is enjoying the story from her new-to-ballet point of view. The "adult stuff" goes right over her head. She's interested in the silly people dressed up like mice, the "big machine that makes fog" (the cannon), the Christmas tree that grows, etc. She gets out one pretty dress after another from her closet and tries them all out as "dance suits" as she twirls around the diningroom imitating the dancers' dramatic arm movements.
I find Baryshnikov's choreography fresh, free, and full of life. And full of surprises -- for example, I love the dance where Clara is gracefully tossed from one male dancer, or pair of male dancers, to another. I've read that Baryshnikov felt stifled by the strict classical choreography of the Soviet ballet, and in this "Nutcracker" I see him breaking free of that stifling tradition and creating a beautiful, thought-provoking, and -- yes -- provocative (for adults) new dance.
Baryshnikov's dancing is spectacular -- his strength, form, precision -- and rich in feeling. Kirkland's dancing is near perfection and her portrayal of her awakening feelings for her prince is excellent. The choreography is, again, rich in feeling and meaning and just plain rich, rich, rich.
I'm sure my daughter and I will watch this "Nutcracker" hundreds of times over the years and it will continue to be a rich and fulfilling and inspiring experience.
I say, if you've ever been bored by a "Nutcracker", try this one!
Hele-Mai | Europe | 11/16/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I must apologize for my bad english, but I just had to write this rewiev. I had vhs tape of this ballett and I waited DVD version for years, so there's no need to say that I'm extreamly happy. Most of rewievers here said that the production is not excellent, you may like other versions more. So... I have seen all the versions and I must say they can't compete with this one. They all lack true feeling. If you read memories of soviet balletdancers, you realize, how monotonous was the repertory politics in Kirov or Bolshoi Ballett. ABT gave Baryshnikov a chance to do things differently and who can claim that it's bad?
Example:rewier "rss28" claimes that the great pas de deux is actually pas de trois...only because Drosselmeyer appers to be in the scene! I see it otherwise. Mr. Drosselmeyer is NOT a person here, but he appers to be the TIME. Time flys by, if we like something, we always have to little time to enjoy it, Clara doesn't want to go home, but she has to and time has come. In all other versions the Prince and Clara are watching the pas de deux, but here they are actually involved, it's their story and this dance gives a ballett hole new meaning and depth. I'm sorry, but normally this pas de deux is boring, it's only fireworks and tehnique, no EMOTION! But it was Anna Pavlova who said that ballett is not a tehniqe, but soul. To me the pas de deux is extreamly beautiful, I can see love, sweet passion, all these tender feelings. Thank you, mr. Baryshnikov for that great experience."