Saturday, 8 February 2020

"The Nutcracker" by St Petersburg Classic Ballet

Lyceum Theatre Sheffield

St Petersburg Classic Ballet Thr Nutcracker  7 Jan 2020 Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

According to the programme notes for its recent tour of the UK, the St Petersburg Classic Ballet "has built a fan following of audiences who appreciate the artistry and technique of this company of exquisite young dancers and stars of the future". Maybe I saw it on an off-day because I have to say that I have seen better performances of The Nutcracker.

My heart sank with the opening bars of the familiar overture for it sounded thin and tinny.  My spirits were not raised when the curtain revealed a set that looked cheap and artificial,  So, too, did the costumes even though they were supposed to have been made by "craftsmen of the legendary Mariinsky Theatre Workshops."  The blue Father Christmas hats which were worn by Fritz and the other little boys at Mr and Mrs Stahlbaum's party and the moon and stars outfit of Dr Drosselmeyer particularly irritated me.   I saw some competent dancers but none of them seemed to be particularly young and I should be very surprised to see any of them in leading roles with major companies.  Somehow they managed to fill the Sheffield Lyceum but I suspect that had more to do with the attraction of brand "Russia" and brand "St Petersburg" than anything else.  Many in the audience will have seen clips or read reports of the Mariinsky or Kirov and I should not be surprised if one or two of them thought that that was the company that they had seen that night.

As I said in The Nutcracker #2 - The Bolshoi Screening (25 Dec 2019), there is a difference between The Nutcracker as performed in Russia and the versions that are performed in the West.  Here it is a Christmas show - almost a pantomime - with expanding Christmas trees, toy soldiers, a really saccharine choral bit in snowflakes and lots of jolly divertissements about chocolate, tea and coffee in the kingdom of the sweets.  There it is much more dramatic and in some ways darker with lots of psychological undertones.  The version that we saw in Sheffield was decidedly Western.  They called the Stahlbaums' daughter "Clara" rather than "Marie" or "Princess Masha" and although they separated the roles of Clara and Sugar Plum in the cast list both roles were danced by Yulia Yashina. 

On reviewing my notes a month after the performance, I see that there were some bits that I really liked.  I starred the Chinese dance by Mikhail Bogmazov and Alina Volobueva. Although I wasn't moved sufficiently to mark the dancers' performance I much preferred the Russian dance to be performed by a man and a woman as it was in this show than by four lads pretending to be Cossacks as happens in other productions. 

The Nutcracker is already a very short ballet as it consists of two acts but this production seemed to be even shorter than usual.  Two acts of 50 minutes each with a 20-minute interval.  Divertissements seemed to have been left out of both acts.  There were some touches that I just could not understand like the appearance of 4 men in the scene where the Sugar Plum appears with her beau.   I know that this is a touring production that requires compromises to be made but this seemed to have more than most.

 My ticket to this performance had been an early birthday present and I hate to winge when someone else is treating me.  Being a bit of a duffer when it comes to ballet, it ill behoves me to criticize those who make their living from dance.  But I just can't give this show a ringing endorsement and I won't be seeing the St Petersburg Classic Ballet on any future tour it may make to the UK.

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