writers on dancing


Christmas Present

“The Nutcracker”
Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet
Royal Festival Hall
December 22 2004 – January 9 2005

“The Nutcracker”
English National Ballet
The Coliseum
December 21 2004 – January 8 2005

Royal Ballet
Covent Garden Opera House
December 2 2004 – Janurary 14 2005

by John Percival
copyright © 2004 by John Percival

Christmas and New Year always bring lots of “Nutcrackers” but this year there seem to have been more than usual. (The other wildly popular Tchaikovsky ballet, “Swan Lake”, has also been doing the rounds—more about that next week.) No “Nuts” at Covent Garden this year, but Birmingham Royal Ballet had their usual run of Peter Wright’s fine production, made as a thank-offering to the people of Birmingham when the company moved its home there. Scottish Ballet has a version created by its new director Ashley Page last year, which claims to be closer than most to the original story by Hoffmann, although he has set it in 1930s Berlin. I’ve already reported on Mark Morris’s “Hard Nut” which played at Sadler’s Wells, and there are several free-lance Russian companies from Moscow, Petersburg, Latvia, Siberia and Chisinau touring the regional cities.

London has two interesting productions playing in competition, and both doing good business. The Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet is back for its third season at the Royal Festival Hall. The choreography of its “Nutcracker” is attributed to Vasily Vainonen, who did several different versions over the years. This staging is orthodoxly conventional except for the recent designs by Vladimir Arefyev, which use hanging cut-out shapes apparently intended to suggest snow flakes; no doubt they were adopted for easy touring.

As many as five or six dancers are listed to play some of the leading roles. Having seen the first cast last year, I asked for a more junior team this time, and found myself watching Anastasia Pershenkova as Masha. She comes from Voronezh—most of the dancers trained in Moscow but there are others from Kiev, Krasnodar, Petersburg, Perm, Saratov, Tashkent and Ufa, comparing with the diverse origins of American and British companies, although these are all from former Soviet republics. Ms. Pershenkova, who graduated eight years ago, ranks as one of twelve first soloists, who are preceded by nine principals and followed by twelve second soloists and 33 corps de ballet dancers. Her Prince was Georgy Smilevski, principal, whose prominent nose and chin could hardly be more suited for a Nutcracker. Sergei Goryunov, second soloist, was the surprisingly young looking Drosselmeyer—a somewhat under-developed role. The most gratifying thing, however, was to note the good level of all the ensemble dancing. I look forward to the “Don Quixote” which will be given for the mid-January final week of the Stanislavsky season.

Personally, I enjoy English National Ballet’s “Nutcracker” better, and it seems to go down well with the public, although for some reason most British critics have taken against it. The designs by cartoonist Gerald Scarfe provide a colourful set of characters, including a highly libidinous Grandpa played by Kevin Richmond with a flask of alcohol, a zimmer frame and an eager girl friend (named as Miss V. Aggra) with white gear and high blonde hair. Among the other excellent jokes are a huge refrigerator from which leap the Snowflakes and Jack Frosts.

Some commentators complain that the dances in Act 2 don’t relate to the ballet’s first half, but that ain’t so: Drosselmeyer and little Clara not only provide a context for them but join in much more than usual, especially the Russian dance and the waltz of the flowers. I don’t see why the choreographer Christopher Hampson did away with the Ivanov pas de deux and solos, but mostly his dances are fun.

Again, the cast I picked was mostly a young one, with Elisa Celis and Fernanda Oliveira, soloists from Spain and Brazil, as Sugar Plum Fairy and Clara, a new principal from Cuba, Arionel Vargas, as the Prince, and Fabian Reimair, soloist from Vienna, as Drosseleyer—all of them good. And this company also has another attractive work coming up for its final week: Rudolf Nureyev’s production of “Romeo and Juliet”.

Meanwhile, the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden chose Ashton’s “Cinderella” as a Christmas offering at enhanced prices. The new designs introduced last year (sets by Toer van Schayk, costumes by Christine Haworth) are not ideal, but neither were the former ones they replaced; you have to go far, far back to Jean-Denis Malclès’ originals for a satisfactory look. More problematic are Wendy Ellis Somes’s tacky production and some heavy miscasting, especially for the Fairy soloists and the Stepsisters—probably the only solution for these latter is to cast women in the roles, as has occasionally been done before.

In the leads, Roberta Marquez and Ivan Putrov made moderately promising debuts. I was more impressed, however, by Viacheslav Samodurov as the Prince and by Leanne Benjamin in the title role, to which she brings a nice sense of drama. Good to see that both Benjamin and Birmingham Royal Ballet’s deputy director Desmond Kelly have been appointed OBE (Officer of the Most Honorable Order of the British Empire) in the Queen’s New Year honours list, while the versatile black dancer Brenda Edwards becomes MBE (Member).

Volume 3, No. 1
January 3, 2005
Copyright ©2005 by John Percival


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last updated on January 3, 2005