Pas de Deux Prowess
Rick | Detroit, MI | 09/13/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Rudolf Nureyev's production of "The Nutcracker" with the Royal Ballet is entertaining and edgy. It was recorded at a live performance at Covent Garden in 1968, and it chronicles Nureyev's outstanding dancing skills at the age of thirty. The ballerina is not Dame Margot Fonteyn (Nureyev's famous partner), but rather Merle Park. Not to be disappointed, Park is a worthy successor to Fonteyn, and her grand pas de deux in the second act with Nureyev is a highlight of this performance. In many productions, the roles of the Nutcracker and the Prince are combined, but in this production Nureyev has combined the roles of Herr Drosselmeyer and the Prince (which he performs), while the Nutcracker is danced by Wayne Sleep. Park dances the role of Clara, and the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy has been omitted. Many children from the Royal Ballet Junior School are also used in this production.
The ballet begins with the typical street scene where the guests arrive at the home of Dr. Stalbaum for a Christmas eve party. Nureyev has added his own twist here, as many of the pedestrians are hassled by four pugnacious street punks. Conventional wisdom has it that this is social commentary on inner city life, but I suspect that it is more likely a reflection on his childhood in the Soviet Union, where he was routinely beat up by his school mates. The next scene occurs inside the Stalbaum house, where the children are equally boisterous, and there is even a fist-fight during the puppet show. One of the highlights of the first act is the dancing of the mechanical dolls, and out of the fourteen different productions of "The Nutcracker" that I have seen to date, this is one of the most memorable. Later in the first act, Nureyev has added some good comedic touches to the "Grandfather's Dance." The "Waltz of the Snowflakes" comes at the end of the first act, featuring the Royal Ballet's corps in all of their averageness. They lack the precision of the Kirov corps, but the waltz is still pleasant because of the excellent music and wintry scenery.
In the second act, Clara and the Prince arrive at the Kingdom of the Sweets. In many productions, the two would be greeted and the Prince would tell his hosts the story of how they vanquished the Mouse King. This is called a "mimelogue," but Nureyev has edited it out. Instead, they reach the Kingdom, where Clara is troubled by bats, but the Prince calms her fears. Many critics interpret this as being a Freudian twist to the story. I have never heard why Nureyev made this change to the ballet, but I am aware that many Russians dislike mime. Trying to put the best face possible on the change, the Prince's calming of her fears serves to reinforce her confidence in him. Nevertheless, I think that the original "mimelogue" is more effective in creating a cohesive libretto.
The real highlight of the performance comes in the second act grand pas de deux. The partnering work is excellent, and a couple of the lifts are thrilling--so much so, that during my first viewing of this performance, I found myself wondering what they could possibly do for a big finish at the close of the andante maestoso section. But, Nureyev had one more trick up his sleeve. I'm not sure what the technical term for the lift is, but Nureyev basically does an arabesque ouverte while supporting Park horizontally in a joined-at-the-hip fashion; her legs are held closely parallel to his working leg, while their arms form a crown (bras en couronne). When I first saw that, I exclaimed, "Holy Cow!"
Their variations are also quite nicely performed. Nureyev's double tour en l'air looks effortless. Park's dancing is also nice, but the choreography becomes too repetitive during the celesta number. This is really Nureyev's fault, though, as he did the choreography (most of which is excellent).
In short, this production chronicles Nureyev in his prime, dancing with prowess. Nureyev's production features some interesting choreography and new comedic touches. In some ways, this isn't the most innocent of "Nutcracker" productions. It seems to push the boundaries of what is allowable on the Royal stage at Covent Garden, but it does seem tame compared to what Nureyev reputedly staged for the Royal Swedish Ballet. This production is probably more suited for adults than children, but there is some excellent dancing on display here."
Don't be fooled by the Horrible cover picture!!
Emma J. Honan | Chico, Ca United States | 01/06/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I almost didn't buy this version because of it.Fortunately,I read two reviews on a British site that said the only thing they didn't like about it was the weird cover,so I gave it a try.Boy am I glad I did!Aside from a few dated feeling costumes,and Clara looking a bit old etc.,I was very impressed.Nuryev is in his prime~in his 30's I think~and the Sugarplum Fairy does NOT look like a 50 year old woman who has had too much plastic surgery :) Even my 5 year old daughter,who doesn't usually pay much attention to the male dancers was impressed by Nuryev's dancing!I don't claim to be an expert,aside from being in ballet for several years and having seen several different versions,I really just wanted a pleasing,well done version to give to my daughter for Christmas.She is young,but appreciates a good full-length ballet performance.I had a heck of a time finding a version that was complete(or close to it),had nice,fun costumes and sets(not all one color as in the newer Royal Ballet version),that had good dancing(principal dancers and corps dancers),and that had decent picture and sound quality.You'd think it would be possible for a professional dance company to pull at least most of this together,but...Anyway,this is pretty close to that.The picture and sound quality is very good for having been recorded in the early sixties.As I mentioned before,the costumes are very nice in general~very Russian feeling~with just an occasional hint at the sixties time period.The sets are beautiful!I'm not familiar enough with the ballet to know which pas de deux the last person said was missing,but there are a few very beautiful and exciting ones in the second act that were very satisfying.I highly recommend this version of the Nutcracker.Very entertaining."
Well, dated and dissapointing!
Patrick Rocheleau | Buffalo,NY | 12/01/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I bought this version as a compliment to others I owned. Indeed this is the least satifying. The new digitally remastered pressing by Kultur is very weak. Particularly the second act. Lots of white scratches and a constant flicker from bright to deeper color. I guess the control room guys were out having coffee! The production is extremely dated and odd. The choreography is also odd and for the most part doesn't seem to fit the music. I realize that this was supposed to be a showcase for Nuryeve and he really does show why he became a big star in the ballet world.
If you are interested in a better production from Britain, I recommend the Anthony Dowell, Royal Ballet version. It is head and shoulder above this one in most respects."
Diatonic | AZ USA | 12/23/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I find the review of rss22 very wrong. There is nothing whatsoever "dissatisfactory", as she says, (I gather rss22 either doesn't speak English as her? native language, or else is poorly educated) about it. The dancing is magnificent, far superior to most other versions. Only Baryshnikov's dancing in his version is superior, but it does not overcome the other problems of that version, including an inadequate female lead. The sexual meaning of the ballet is well brought out here, but not in such a way that children should be alarmed. In many cases they will simply not "get it" at least not on the conscious level. And for the rest one has the incomparable Kirov company to back it all up. Just as the Bolshoi version of Giselle is without rival, so this version of the Nutcracker is without compare."