Yesterday I was invited to a pre-screening of a filmed version of the Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker, which will be shown later this month at cinemas in New York and around the country by Emerging Pictures’ Ballet in Cinema series. Check their website for local schedules.
The Royal Ballet version was very good, albeit different from what I’m used to (which, as a New Yorker, is basically Balanchine’s). The Royal’s was directed and choreographed by Peter Wright (after Ivanov), the orchestra conducted by Koen Kessels, and was originally shown at the Royal Opera House in Convent Garden in December 2009.
The biggest difference between this and Balanchine’s is that Clara and the Nutcracker Prince dance all throughout the second half, the Land of the Sweets (here called the Sugar Garden). They participate in the Arabian dance, the Russian dance, the Chinese dance, and the flower dances. The dancer who dances Clara (unfortunately, I don’t have a full cast list and didn’t get her name from the quickly scrolling credits at the end of the film, so I don’t know her name) was older – not a child – and she was a really beautiful dancer. Very fluid, light, willowy, with an innocence in her movement. Very child-like (in a good way, because it was called for here). At first I didn’t like that they danced throughout because I thought at points it almost looked like they were making fun of the various styles of dance. But then I realized, no they weren’t doing that at all; they were playing and having fun, like children would, and like audiences composed heavily of children would want to see them do, and would want to do themselves. The Nutcracker Prince’s name I do have – Steven McRae, and he was very good.
The Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince were danced brilliantly by Miyako Yoshida and McRae. The ending pas de deux was a traditional one and it was danced just about the best I’ve ever seen it. Yoshida in particular was really stunning. She’s a small dancer but has a lot of power – particularly in her developes - her leg just seems to shoot up there! Her assisted pirouettes and her fouettes done in a diagonal line were also stunning. She’s a fast, spirited dancer with great clarity in her lines, which were never over-extended and which she always finished with zest. But even with all the demanding athletics of that pas, she didn’t turn into an Olympic performance; she remained sweet and princess-like. It was really magical. It’s a performance I could have watched over and over again.
Drosselmeyer, the magician, really blew me away too. He is a main character here – he doesn’t just appear at the beginning to present the toys and give Clara her nutcracker doll; he acts as a guide all throughout the second half, bringing Clara and her prince on a tour through the Sugar Garden, presenting the various national dances to them. He’s clearly in charge of Clara’s dream, although at the end, there’s a little twist on that. You’ll have to see the production to find out what it is And Drosselmeyer was portrayed very well by Gary Avis. It’s not a dance role, but requires a big stage presence and Avis really came through on that. He received lots of applause at the end and took all the curtain calls with all the main dancers.
The only thing I have to say – and this is not at all bad – but did Macaulay ever review dance in the U.K.? He was a theater critic for most of his career there, right? Because if he ever reviewed the Royal, I’d think he would have had to remark on the weight of some of the dancers. Some of them made Jenifer Ringer look like a twig. Not that they danced badly because of it. I think for a while I’m always going to be thinking “hey, she’s bigger than Jenifer Ringer, she’s bigger, she’s way bigger”…
Anyway, if anyone reading this is in the U.K. and / or has seen this production, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Photo taken from the Ballet in Cinema website.