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"Vassily Vainonen's Nutcracker choreography was probably as influential in Europe as Balanchines Nutcracker was in the United States. Vainonen omitted the Sugar Plum Fairy altogether and instead made Clara's story a Romantic Awakening. Most European versions of the Nutcracker follow Vainonen's lead, although they may retain the Sugar Plum Faiy. From the Royal Ballet version (available on several videos, the latest with a truly enchanting Alina Cojocaru as Clara) to Grigorivich's dreary Bolshoi production and Nureyev's more surreal one, the Vainonen influence can be found. On the other side of the pond, Baryshnikov's film with Gelsey Kirkland is also based on the Vainonen, although with considerably darker overtones. The Kirov video is the only tape I know that is actually Vainonen's choreography. Unlike the Bolshoi video with Maximova and Vasiliev, the Kirov's video is blessed with excellent production values. The costumes, sets, and performance are all pretty, sumptuous, and well-organized. I particularly love the Snowflakes scene in the Kirov, with its background of evergreen trees. The Kirov corps is as usual elegant and their use of their upper bodies is a real plus for the ethnic dances in Act 2. I also like the cast for the Kirov video. A very young, waiflike Larissa Lezhnina is very believable as a teenaged girl. Of the "adult" Clara/Mashas only Gelsey Kirkland and Alina Cojocaru can match Lezhnina's youthful, innocent persona. Merle Park (on the Nureyev video), Ekaterina Maximova (Bolshoi), and Lesley Collier (Royal Ballet) are all way too mature to be believable as a teenager. Viktor Baranov is a very handsome, dashing Prince. How is the Vainonen choreography? I like it a lot. I think the divertissements are well-choreographed, and the Kirov dances them with the usual elegance and aplomb. I particularly like the Arabian dance in this video. While not as family-friendly as George Balanchine's (no Mother Ginger here!) once you get past the convnetion of adults playing children, I think the choreography is very beautiful, and emphasizes the more romantic aspects of Tchaikovsky's score. It all depends on what you prefer, I guess. A Nutcracker as a child's dream fantasy filled with sweets and fun (Balanchine) or a romantic dream of a teenaged girl (Vainonen)? I like both. Unlike the Baryshnikov video there's no darkness here (the Baryshnikov video suggested romantic feelings between Drosselmeyer and Clara). The Kirov has since abandoned the Vainonen version for a darker Nutcracker so I count myself lucky that this is on videotape."
Solid performance with minor weak spots
J. Lizzi | Costa Mesa, CA | 11/11/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is an enjoyable, straightforward performance of the Nutcracker Ballet, which I'd rate very good overall in terms of dancing, music and video composition. It is important to point out that this version, choreographed by Vasily Vainonen (libretto by Petipa), follows a slightly different storyline that the most common version. In this performance, the Sugar Plum Fairy is absent, and the role of Drosselmeyer (Piotr Russanov) is far more prominent. I won't quibble with which interpretation of the ballet is better than which other one; the story is intact and very recognizable, and a different twist here or there shouldn't keep anyone from enjoying this.
On the positive side, the amazingly clear and bright orchestral music (played before a live audience) was superb, to the point of actually being moving. I'd be pleased with this as a CD. The Kirov dancers all performed admirably, and the lack of any major standout in the cast didn't detract. The pas de deux with Masha (Larissa Lezhnina) and the Prince (Victor Baranov) was very well done. A welcome surprise was the Dance of the Mirlitons, performed by three young and impressively skilled students of the Vaganova Dance School.
On the downside, there were a few instances of image framing that cut the dancers off at the knees, which I consider a faux pas because ballet videography should make every effort to capture a dancer's entire form. The result was some missed footwork. The only glaring annoyance arose during the pas de deux (the highlight, it figures), which was marred by the waving silhouettes of the conductor's hands intruding into the field of view. Unfortunate. Also, the DVD menu is without a chapter selection mode, so that a reference back to the liner notes must be made in order to jump to a specific scene.
All things considered, the few negatives are far outweighed by a fine show. This Nutcracker is likely to please most everyone."
Excellent traditional Nutcracker
Marc Haegeman | Gent, Belgium | 03/22/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"With the complete absence of videos from the major Russian ballet companies after 1992/3, this live recording at the Mariinsky Theatre of Vassili Vainonen's "Nutcracker" as danced by the Kirov Ballet in 1993, has now attained the status of treasurable rarity. Headed by that magnificent little jewel Larissa Lezhnina (long since a leading ballerina with the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam) and the charming Viktor Baranov, this recording gives a fair idea of this particular production which remains since its creation in 1938 one of Russia's most beloved "Nutcrackers". Part of Vainonen's lasting appeal is his ability to devise a choreography which superbly matches Tchaikovsky's at times monumental musical inspiration. The masterful Waltz of the Snowflakes, the Waltz of the Flowers, and the final Grand Pas de deux are excellent examples of his art.A remarkable asset of this performance is the presence of the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, conducted by the incomparable Viktor Fedotov, one of the most able ballet conductors of our time.Good video transfer and excellent digital sound."
Great performance, even if picture quality is so-so.
C. Gonzalez Aviles | La Serena, Chile | 07/04/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Every time I play this DVD the orchestra seems to play better than the previous time. The winds are just amazing. On the other hand, the choreography, by Vasily Vainonen, is excellent, and Lezhnina and Baranov are superb in the main roles.The only drawback of this DVD is its "below average" picture quality, which may be somewhat improved by watching it in "cinema mode" (if bright colors are enhanced, then the figures acquire a ghost or shadow). But the quality of the performance more than makes up for this drawback. Recommended."
Beautiful staging, but I have some reservations.
Alan Majeska | Bad Axe, MI, USA | 11/28/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This production of Tchaikovsky's evergreen ballet "Nutcracker" is very fine, but I have some reservations about the camera work. This is a wide screen production, and having a small (13 inch) television makes it difficult to watch, as many shots are taken from a distance to see the dancers on stage interacting with each other, and in a counterpoint to one another - the architecture as a whole. I suppose the answer would be to buy a larger TV set, but this is hardly cost effective to playback of one DVD...
That said, the Kirov orchestra plays very well under conductor Fedotov, and the precision of the dancers is very engaging, especially in Act 1. I was impressed and intrigued with the dancing of Herr Drosselmeyer. The "Dance of the Snowflakes" and "Waltz of the Flowers" are beautiful and very moving. However, in Act 2, tempos seem really slow, especially in the "Dance des Mirlitons" and the omission of "Mere Gigone and the Clowns " (The old woman who lived in a shoe) seems curious to me: it's one of my favorite pieces from "Nutcracker" and I was disappointed not to see/hear it in this production.
Still, the sound is top notch digital, warm and enveloping, and it would sound terrific on Surround Sound systems. There is much to enjoy here, and I recommend this DVD with a few reservations."