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New York City “ballet” : Nutcracker

I went to see the famous New York City Ballet Nutcracker last night. I’ve seen this show once before, back in 2007, and I left feeling unsatisfied then and I did again yesterday.

It’s not that the show isn’t worth seeing – it’s a great spectacle – but there are some major flaws when compared to the Nutcracker as generally performed by European ballet companies.

In short, the problem for me is that I go to the ballet to enjoy the music and dance, to see some fantastic dancers, great choreography and incredible live music. But the Balanchine Nutcracker is essentially a Christmas show for children that skips over major plot points within the ‘Nutcracker and the Mouse King’ story leaving it as essentially a disjointed series of skits – nice to look at, but not very satisfying if you came to the theatre expecting to see some ballet.

Of course there is some dancing, for example the pas de deux in the second act just before the apotheosis, but this dance is usually enjoyed by Clara and the Nutcracker. In the New York version a couple takes the dance with no explanation as to who they are.

The Royal Ballet in London use the 1984 Peter Wright version of the Nutcracker choreography, but Wright himself drew heavily on the much earlier staging from London, which had in turn come directly from the Imperial Russian Ballet.

In short, the role of Drosselmeyer is explained, the family connection to the Nutcracker is explained, the main characters actually dance – they are not cast as children who just watch the other dancers perform. It’s a proper ballet with a wonderful score and there is even an epilogue drawing the various threads of the story together.

The NYCB production is a nice little Christmas show and they must make an absolute fortune staging it every December – it has been produced in this format for almost 50 years now. But if you are a ballet fan and expect to be watching some great dance then it might be wise to save your cash for another show – there are Broadway shows with more dance than this.

Beautiful Concentration

Photo by Pat McDonald licensed under Creative Commons

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Ballet all weekend…!

It’s really been a week full of ballet for me. I did go to see the Royal Opera House Nutcracker back on December 2nd. I love the ROH production. The tree is just the best in the world. It rises into the rafters of the ROH and I never fail to get excited by seeing it once again.

But, last weekend I went to see Matthew Bourne’s production of Swan Lake on Saturday and then the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker on Sunday.

I remember being at the premiere of Bourne’s Swan Lake back in 1995 with Adam Cooper as the Swan and Scott Ambler as the prince. I saw it several times back then, I saw it on tour, I saw it when Simon Cooper replaced Adam at the Piccadilly theatre, and I saw it when it returned to Sadler’s Wells about two years ago… this is a show I have seen a lot. And I only had cheap seats for this performance, but it was magnificent.

The show has not aged. In fact, after watching it again I started appreciating the dance more than ever before. There are a couple of really beautiful waltzes and pas de deux in this show and sometimes the humour and musical theatricality of it can detract from the ballet. But this time when I watched, I really noticed the dance above everything else and that really cheered me.

Matthew Bourne has choreographed some other fine shows. He is an amazing talent, but he must surely be able to die a happy man knowing that this production is getting better as it gets older. And I was such as fan of Adam Cooper before he started dancing for AMP, back in his Royal Opera House days, so it’s surprising to think it could be bettered.

Then, on Sunday I jumped on a train from Euston in the morning so I could see the BRB Nutcracker at lunchtime.

One of the things about matinee Nutcrackers is that they are often filled with kids, and this was no exception. The Nutcracker is a show filled with Christmas spirit and many dancing children (the BRB show featured kids all the way from Elmhurst), but I just love the score. Sometimes I’d really love to hear the entire Tchaikovsky score without listening to kids munching on Monster Munch or asking their mum ‘Who is that magician guy?’ or listening to a mother telling her child that the Arabian dancers are Egyptians…

I’d be moaning too much if I suggested that I didn’t enjoy the show, and the atmosphere in the crowd is also one of Christmas fun with all those kids around, but even so. I guess if I want to enjoy the music I can just listen to the ROH recording on my iPod anyway.

The dancers at the BRB were good though. I don’t really know any of the BRB dancers so I was not being selective in who I saw. Momoko Hirata was the Sugarplum fairy when I went. It was extremely good and surprisingly I really liked Act 2. I usually prefer the dance in Act 1 much more than Act 2, but the BRB show was special from the moment Clara appeared after the interval, flying across the stage on a huge swan.

So, I really had a weekend full of dance. And now I am off on a trip to Brazil. Guess which show I am going to go and see on Saturday at the main theatre in Sao Paulo?

The Nutcracker!