Friday, 30 December 2016

An American View of the London Nutcrackers

Standard YouTube Licence

I have not been to any of the productions of The Nutcracker that I previewed in The Good Nutcracker Guide 31 Oct 2016 other than the live screening on 8 Dec 2016 (see The Royal Ballet's Nutcracker in the Merrie City 14 Dec 2016) but Roslyn Sulcas of the New York Times has and she does not seem to have been too impressed (see Roslyn Sulcas London Nutcrackers Defy Logic, and Still Delight 28 Dec 2016 NY Times).

She begins her article with the observation:
"LONDON — It hasn’t always been an inevitable truth here that 'The Nutcracker' plays during the holiday season. But things seem to be changing, perhaps influenced by the belt-tightening in British arts funding and the moneymaking powers of this ballet: For the past few years, the English National Ballet and the Royal Ballet have both had long December-into-January runs of 'The Nutcracker.'”
After summarizing the traditional scenario derived from Hoffmann's tale of The Nutcracker and the Mouseking she discusses the way the story has been adapted by different choreographers in the past. She observes:
"The English National Ballet and Royal Ballet versions are no exception to the choreographic desire to mess about, even if they do keep the period setting of a prosperous 19th-century German household and the basic structure of the plot."
She is particularly critical of Sir Peter Wright's version which is said to reconstruct parts of Petipa's scenario and Ivanov's choreography:
"But Petipa certainly never imagined an incomprehensible back-story for the ballet that involves Drosselmeyer’s nephew, Hans-Peter, being turned into the Nutcracker doll by a wicked Mouse Queen as punishment for his uncle’s invention of a mousetrap that has killed off half the rodent population. (Yes, read that again. I always have to.)"
Unless you have read this is the £7 programme (it is a long time since I last visited the USA so things may have changed but on all previous visits to the theatre in that country programmes were included in the ticket price), Ms Sulcas points out, you are unlikely to understand
"why Drosselmeyer is gazing longingly at a portrait of a young man in his study, or whether the perky ginger-haired assistant has anything to do with this (she does not), or that Drosselmeyer gives the Nutcracker doll to Clara in order to free his nephew from his wooden imprisonment. What’s more, the breaking of the spell needs the love of a young girl as well as the Mouse King’s defeat. Why the king, then, if the queen had cast the spell?"
Now that the critic mentions it, I did wonder whar was going on when I saw the opening and closing scenes of the ballet in the cinema.  She concludes:
"Drosselmeyer’s reunion with his nephew ends the ballet; we haven’t lived through a child’s magical dream, but an adult soap opera."
She concedes that she may be griping - and if and to the extent that she is I have every sympathy because I don't like change for change's sake either. However, I don't think Sir Peter Wright is the worst culprit by a long chalk. I have seen far worse, believe me.  Ms Sulcas notes with a hint of exasperation that "London audiences and the British dance critics love Mr. Wright’s (sic) version."  Maybe it is a case of faute de mieux.  I should love to know what she makes of shillelagh-wielding wilis or bikes in Swan Lake.

Ms Sulcas is a little kinder to Wayne Eagling's version for English National Ballet. She says that "under Ms. Rojo, the English National Ballet seems to be improving from production to production". But not even that production escapes criticism:
"The Mouse King (a valiant James Streeter on Thursday) just can’t be killed, which rather obviates the reward trip to the land of sweets, and he doesn’t stop popping up in Act 2 until he is — with a strange lack of theatricality — put to rest offstage."
Ooh! That irritates me too.  The Bolshoi is just as bad in that regard by the way (see  Clara grows up- Grigorovich's Nutcracker transmitted directly from Moscow 21 Dec 2014). Ms Sulcas does not seem to like Clara's morphing into the Sugar Plum:
"And then there is the fact that Clara is a child in Act 1, but changes into an adult dancer (the wonderful Alina Cojocaru) halfway through; and Drosselmeyer’s nephew (Cesar Corrales, a new star) and the Nutcracker (James Forbat) incomprehensibly keep switching places as they partner her."
That's another thing that the Bolshoi does and I don't like it either.

Next Christmas it may be worth Ms Sulcas's while taking a trip to Edinburgh to see Scottish Ballet perform Peter Darrell's version of The Nutcracker for that's a real treat (see Like meeting an old friend after so many years 4 Jan 2015).

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