Des Totengräbers toter Nussknacker
Noam Eitan | Brooklyn, NY United States | 04/05/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
"(The Gravedigger's dead nutcracker)This Berlin 1999 "Nussknacker" followed the successful 1997 "Schwanesee" (reviewed separately). It was received indifferently by the public, for good reason. Berlin critics were not only content with trashing it viciously, but mounted a focused, politically motivated attack on Patrice Bart and the value of his work. Horst Vollmer called him a potential "Totengräber" (gravedigger), meaning he was killing off the tradition of classical dance in Berlin. Despite this the ballet starts promisingly enough. Scene one seems to indicate that Bart solved the two main issues Ivanov's choreography poses: use of mime vs. dancing and that of dancing children vs. experienced dancers posing as children. He employs mime side by side with dancing as well as children mixing naturally with experienced dancers. However what follows is a fascinating flop.Like his Swan Lake, Bart pushes the limits of his miniscule intellect in an ill-conceived pseudo-Freudian face-lift of the libretto. This `dernier cri de Ballet-Psychanalytique' mutilates the original work. Instead of clarifying or adding to the performance it is presumptuous to the point of ridicule and distraction. Marie is now a "traumatized" child. She was abducted and separated from her mother. She grows up unhappily as the adopted daughter of the Stahlbaum family. Drosselmeyer gives her a nutcracker similar to the one she had before the abduction as part of his therapeutic endeavors to undo the repression that keeps it away from her consciousness. She holds on to it as a transitional object invested with the repressed memories of the trauma. `Dr. Siegmund Drosselmeyer' uses it to induce hypnotic like acting-out of fragments of the repressed memories. The booklet attached to the DVD explains: "She is not a `normal' child, playing with toys carefree and happy on Christmas Eve; the trauma will not leave her...the wooden puppet, whose uniform awakens memories of her father, is the catalyst for Marie's renewed confrontation with the gruesome event in the dream - therapeutically speaking it is the first step towards becoming aware, towards healing. Drosselmeyer leads Marie back to her mother in her land of ice and snow, which in the end reveals itself as the land of love: the Nutcracker changes into a Prince."Dragging this piece to the psychoanalyst's couch creates expectations for an aesthetic language informed by "psychological realism." However, the abducting revolutionaries in the prologue appear like Turks from a Mozart or Rossini comic opera. This sets a lighter fantastical fairy-tale tone. The audience needs to know from the outset which stylistic language a production will use. Usually it will be receptive as long as the language is consistent. What follows here, though, is an unmethodical confusion of styles with an arbitrary choice of costumes and décor by Luisa Spinatelli, which are ugly, uninspired and point in conflicting and incongruent directions.These difficulties weaken the basic premise of the new libretto, which collapses under the weight of its own implausibility. Patrice Bart and artistic and organizational manager Christiane Theobald wove this banal story around the concept of abreaction as a cure for traumatic neurosis. Freud introduced this idea about a century ago. It reached its peak infiltration into popular culture around half a century ago and has been considered outdated and simplistic for decades. There is by now a significant clinical and scientific body of knowledge, which indicates that it is preferable NOT to make victims talk about past traumas that were overwhelming and consequently became partially repressed. Encouraging patients to relive these experiences is emotionally detrimental for the short term, with absolutely no long term benefits and possible long-term mental damage in some cases. This common-sense concept, that what is forgotten (repressed) is better left forgotten seems to have escaped Bart and his ilk.The dancing is technically breathtaking. The achievements of the individual dancers are almost beyond belief. The star of the evening is Malakhov as the Prince. He is a first class `danseur noble.' The Grand Pas de deux, which was left intact, gave me goose bumps. Unfortunately, the choreography pushes the limits of what is humanely possible, occasionally blurring the line between ballet and circus acrobatics (e.g., in the Danse Arabe). Bart pushes the dancers at a hectic pace. Each number is an excuse to extract every possible geometrical-acrobatic combination in space ad absurdum. The result is hollow because the convoluted choreography does not add up to anything emotionally meaningful. Rather it is a showpiece for the dancers. The last straw is Generalmusikdirector Barenboim. He conducts this piece as if he were Karajan conducting Parsifal. He manages to transform the Flower Waltz into a funeral dirge. Under his baton, Tchaikovsky's light and delicate score assumes the grace and charm of a military drill. Barenboim was harmless enough as a conductor until he became a regular at Bayreuth. The ex-wunderkind kills anything he touches by reducing it into a cerebral construct. The act II divertissment should be at least what its name implies: a relaxation of the structure defined by the plot, which hopefully provides a sense of fun. I did not observe this anywhere. Bart and Barenboim deserve each other--their divertissment is as stiff and joyless as their respective egos.This mésalliance is symptomatic of an artistic void. Classical ballet is about magic. For the magic to work you have to believe in it. In order to believe in it, you need to be able to exercise a certain naïveté. The ambience on this stage on the other hand smacks of cold, highbrow and jaded refinement of the kind that is "above" taking a work at its face value. Among the three Berlin ballet companies, the Staatsoper is the most academic. They provide excellent technical training but that is all. Great tradition loses its soul when you stop believing in it. Picture quality suffers in much of act I from inadequate lighting designed to express Marie's progression from clinical despair to therapeutic bliss. The stage suddenly lights up in the divertissment. Excellent sound."
Forget the Story; Enjoy the Dancing!
L. Klaja | New York, New York | 08/19/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In order to enjoy this DVD just listen to the wonderful Tchaikovsky music, enjoy the dancing and forget the story. Oliver Matz as Drosselmeyer steals the show as more or less a Master of Ceremonies and dances oustandingly as he entertains the guests at the ball with the traditional divertissements done with flair. Vladimir Malakhov in a minor role as the Nutcracker Prince has a couple of solos and pas de deux with Saidakova climaxing with the traditional Nutcracker pas de deux. The audience seemed to love the ballet."