Wednesday, 25 December 2019

The Nutcracker #2 - The Bolshoi Screening

Standard YouTube Licence

Bolshoi Ballet The Nutcracker Screened in cinemas worldwide, 15 Dec 2019, 14:00

In Coppelia in the Cinema 12 Dec 2019, I wrote that the conversation between Merle Park, Darcey Bussell and Marianela Nuñez was the high point of the screening of Coppelia.   Pathé Live went one better with an interview with Ludmila Semenyaka that consumed virtually the whole interval.  As her interviewer, Ekaterina Novikova remarked, Semenyaka was one of the greats of Soviet ballet. She danced all the leading roles including the lead in The Nutcracker.  There are some ballerinas like Antoinette Sibley who could tell a story or transmit emotion with their eyes.  I suspect that Semenyaka must have been able to do that too,  Though now is in her late 60s her eyes remain as expressive as they must have been at the height of her career.  The interview was conducted at a high level because Ms Novikova is exceedingly well informed about ballet.

I arrived at the screening shortly before the curtain rose but I caught the last part of Ms Novikova's introduction to the ballet.  She explained why the Bolshoi's version of The Nutcracker is so different from those in the West.  In the former, Clara (or Marie as she is called there) and the sugar plum are one and the same person which turns The Nutcracker into a journey to adulthood instead of a succession of divertissements as happens here. A few days after the screening I listened to a podcast by Tom Service called The Nutcracker - Strange Enchantments that argued that there was a dark side to the ballet and that the transition from the Stahlbaums' sitting room to the kingdom of the sweets might actually be an entry into paradise.  Mr Service reminded his listeners that infantile mortality was much more common at the end of the 19th century than it is now and that the final pas de deux was performed by the Mariinsky Orchestra at a concert to commemorate the children who were killed in the siege of Beslan.

If one views The Nutcracker through too dark a lens it can look very sinister indeed.  A world of monster mice and outsize Christmas trees can be seen as symptoms of delirium or worse and Drosselmeyer appears more as a child molester and less as a kindly uncle with a line of conjuring tricks. Mr Service even interpreted the Spanish, Arabian and Chinese dances as a defence of imperialism even though the Russia of Tchaikovsky and Petipa possessed no territories in lands that produced chocolate, coffee or tea. 

The version that Pathé Live screened on 15 Dec does not stray too far from ETA Hoffmann's story. Marie may have lost her innocence but she still wakes up in her own home. Semenyaka explained in the interview that there is a tension between Hoffmann's story and Tchaikovsky's score and where he had to choose between the tale and music the choreographer, Yuri Grigorovich chose the music. She added that was why she preferred Grigorovich's version to all others even though she could see merit in other companies' productions.

In the screening of 15 Dec 2019, the title role was performed by Margarita Shrayner, a first soloist in the company who danced more confidently than many principals. She can act as well as dance and has an impressive repertoire.  The male lead was Semyon Chudin who is now a principal with the Bolshoi. Interestingly, he trained not in the Bolshoi's own school but in Novosibirsk and joined the company from the Universal Ballet Company of South Korea.  Drosselmeyer was danced by Denis Savin who was suitably creepy.  Compared to the Royal Ballet's production (a recording of which was screened a few days later) the Bolshoi's sets and costumes seemed a bit dowdy. There was, however, nothing wrong with the dancing or acting which are the most important components of any ballet. There were a couple of nice touches which other companies might consider.  For instance, the Russian dance is performed by a couple rather than a bevvy of boys dressed as Cossacks and Bo Peep and her sheep (on casters) were substituted for "mirlitons" whatever they may be. 

Altogether I enjoyed the screening very much.  I can't wait to see the company in its own theatre which is my Christmas present to myself for the New Year.  As I see that I have finished my review on Christmas morning, I wish all my readers a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year,

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